Sometime around 9:30 on Monday night, Josh Begley, a New York University graduate student, got fed up and began tweeting times, dates and casualty counts for every drone strike the United States has ordered. He’s tweeting the drone strike history from DroneStream, an account he created.
Originally, Drones+, an iPhone app of Begley’s design, was intended to send a notification to users every time the U.S. ordered a drone strike. Apple rejected the app three times — twice for technical reasons, and once for objectionable or crude content.
Wired explained Apple’s response in August:
Begley is about at his wits end over the iOS version of Drones+. “I’m kind of back at the drawing board about what exactly I’m supposed to do,” Begley said. The basic idea was to see if he could get App Store denizens a bit more interested in the U.S.’ secretive, robotic wars, with information on those wars popping up on their phones the same way an Instagram comment or retweet might. Instead, Begley’s thinking about whether he’d have a better shot making the same point in the Android Market.
[See what it could be]
Begley told The Huffington Post he can’t point to a specific thing that pushed him toward Twitter. He was still searching for an alternative medium for the message of Drones+, so the tweet seems to him now like an impulse or reflex instead of a decision — a snap commitment made from his computer in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., to document attacks from unmanned drones.
Begley told the Daily Beast that Jane Mayer’s 2009 New Yorker piece, “The Predator War,” served as his inspiration.
“A bureaucratic chain of command deciding to execute [people] outside any law is a very interesting concept intellectually,” said Begley, whose Clay Shirky-led master’s program focuses on interactive telecommunications.
The concept got others thinking, too, and hit the front page of Reddit on Wednesday afternoon.
Begley told Reddit’s community “the purpose of it is just to surface this information in new and different ways. The app was simply a package for that. glad to hear that some (or at least a few) of you are interested in following along as well.”
The Redditors, by and large, contributed to a growing crowd already speaking out against drone strikes in arguments centered on what Begley pulled from the Mayer article. The Pew Center found major opposition to the use of drones in each country it surveyed, but Begley said he hoped it would grow further.
Though the Reddit thread’s most upvoted comment confused his purpose, assuming his tweeting was somehow a dig at Apple, others latched onto the information and began to have a conversation, just as Begley said he intended.
“What this guy is tweeting should serve to enlighten people about the terrible things these drones do, apparently every second day according to the posts. Instead we get over 300 people upvoting about Apple, not the folly of war or the military industrial complex, but about a company,” said Redditor TheGanjaLord.
Begley doesn’t describe the project with “shoulds,” though. Instead, he said he will leave it to others to make their own opinions.
“I just hope people find the information instructive and useful,” Begley told HuffPost. He added, “I just want to surface the data so people can say, ‘Wow. It’s an arresting thing to see that this has such a large footprint.’”
He tweeted for 10 hours, reaching as far back as 2010.
Just one day in, it’s already working.
“So far I’ve gathered this,” wrote Redditor bootnish. “There has been a lot of f**king drone strikes conducted by the U.S.”