iProtest: 'Graduates with no future' or 'spoilt hippies'? (part 2)

A study of the 4 top tools for protest organisation and information exchange, and the reasons behind why the Internet has influenced so many activist events around the world.

In the concluding post for the iProtest study, we take a look at the four most popular tools for citizen broadcasting and student activism.

4. YouTube

YouTube remains of the most popular free tools for citizen broadcasting and protest coverage.

Although it is often used to record 'traditional' marches, it can also be used as a means to demonstrate anger against political figures. The video above is of UC Davis Chancellor Katehi walking to her car, watched by utterly silent student protesters.

They do nothing but sit and watch, but the message is clear.

The nonviolent, 'silent protest' happened after students at UC Davis were attacked by police with pepper spray -- and it shows their displeasure and disgust far more than a bottle or round of egg-throwing would.

Jody McIntyre, a young political activist with cerebral palsy attended a student protest in London this year. He was recorded being dragged out of his wheelchair twice by riot police, and the footage was quickly uploaded to YouTube.

Witness videos are a means in which to show what 'actually' happened -- witness bias allowing -- and grant activists a way to fight back against press 'spin', or promote things that otherwise may be swept under the carpet by officials. By being immediately accessible by a global audience, it can also be a method to enrich our understanding of protests around the world.

3. Flickr

(Source: Flickr)

Thousands of images have been uploaded and shared through this free service. Pages are dedicated to 'Occupy' demonstrations from the U.S to the U.K, and photographs can be found from the use of watercannons in Amsterdam to Syria protests in Cairo.

Many of the image uploaders allow the images to become Creative Commons, which further allows media outlets to 'spread the word' on demonstrations with 'on the ground' photography.

2. Facebook

(Source: ZDNet)

A social networking giant with over 500 million global users, this has become a key platform for 'spreading the word' on local events and demonstrations.

Groups such as UCL Occupation update Facebook users on local and national protests, and there are a number of examples where the social platform has been used to organise and create demonstrations.

Recently, lecturers at Tel Aviv University in Israel were asked to turn in students who participated in protests across campus. Both students and lecturers have accused the university of using "secret policing" methods to oppress legal protests on campus grounds.

The university in question's security department attached a YouTube clip containing students urging others to attend a planned social protest -- with a request for the staff to hand over student names, identification numbers, and phone details.

Professor Eli Friedlander, head of the philosophy department, responded to the request, saying: "I strongly protest the security department head's disgraceful demand in the email. There is no place for a secret police on campus."

The security department was tracking the student's activities by gaining information from a closed Facebook page, indicating the university likely spent a lot of time and money pursuing the protesters.

Keele University agreed to change its third-year student accommodation policies after students physically protested and created an accompanying online petition through Facebook.

Belarus' 'silent clapping' protest was made possible by a rallying call across Facebook.

After setting himself on fire a student from Jakarta, Sondang Hutagalung, sparked a recent online movement. The Facebook group, 'An Anti-graft Solidarity for Self-Immolating Sondang' was almost immediately set up after the student died from his self-inflicted injuries.

Although the method was extreme, the message is clear and now recorded on a platform available globally.

It is arguable that some activists may just go because it's 'trendy', as one author stated concerning a Russian protest for honest elections. This may be the case for a small minority, but the high numbers of people who respond to Facebook rallies still shows it to be a valuable tool for genuine, peaceful protesting.

1. Twitter

Perhaps the 140 character limit of Twitter can make the platform seem like a strange contender for the top spot in 'protest tools', but the sheer rapidity of information exchange and networking potential sends it flying across the finish line.

Not only does Twitter allow instant co-ordination, promotion and broadcasting of protest activities, it can also be used as a means to promote other broadcasting solutions like Ustream or YouTube.

The networking functionality is why Twitter is the 'best' option for organising demonstrations. In some manner, all activists know each other, and the this potential is far more than Facebook can offer. To test this, I followed an Occupy Boston protester and found an Egyptian activist; which then carried on to a linked French student who had participated in the pension riots, and back to a member of Occupy Wall Street.

However, there have been attempts to limit the use of Twitter in organising protests, such as Boston PD's bizarre Occupy Twitter subpoena.

As The Guardian's Clifford Singer noted, protests over the last year have changed opinions on Internet use for campaigns being little more than 'clicktivism'. Using the example of UK Uncut, a movement based on promoting alternative methods to government spending cuts, social media was shown to have fostered new and effective methods to organise and promote demonstrations.

On 'March for the Alternative' March 26, the protest group used Twitter to announce the venue of their occupation. Aware that the authorities were just as able to see the venue as other protesters, it was only announced after the march begun. Within minutes, outside of authority control, hundreds of supporters ran to occupy a luxury food store designated as the premises.

There are a number of reasons why it 'all kicked off' in the last few years. The conclusive effect has been an emergence of a new political breed. We use the same technology, and all of us, in a way, look familiar.

Occupy Wall Street was once visited by a group of activists drawn together by the Egyptian Facebook-based 6 April movement, who blessed the camp with the spirit of Tahrir Square; demonstrators outside St Paul's Cathedral conducted a live video linkup with pro-democracy activists in Syria.

The location of the protest matters very little; but the messages are the same. Unrest can form and bring communities together, and now this applies to those created online.

Social media has allowed not only the spread of dissenting messages, but created a new way to become politically organised.

A meme, or idea, can apply to one country and immediately become rooted in the minds of people within another, as we have seen in multiple demonstrative examples in 2011, and are likely to see continued in 2012.

"A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures."

(Source: Wikipedia)

This is incredibly important when attempting to understand the reasons why online protesting has had such a profound effect, and why protests no longer remain within country borders. Online networks have created extended communities of people bound together by similar ideas or opinions, and granted the means to organise and act upon them.

Online networks have also given dissenters the means in which to fit protesting around their lives. If you were part of the U.K miner's strike in 1984, there was no option to stop, or simply choose not to get involved that day. However, by becoming part of an online activist community, you can 'pix and mix' the days or events you want to participate in.

Perhaps because the 'pressure is off' in this way, people feel emboldened and more willing to participate in activist movements.

Authorities do not hold resonating respect, and arguably online communication has caused an increase in individual power and knowledge. We are able to spread ideas and keep movements going by maintaining audiences and support with continual streams of imagery, video and live broadcasts.

It is worth keeping in mind that it is not only the young. Sometimes people forget that previous generations also have been hit by the economy and have reason to protest. They cheerfully participate, knowing they have little or nothing for their retirement or may be forced to work past previous retirement ages.

The 'graduate without a future' is likely to utilize any method they have to make their anger known. Social media and online networks facilitate this to an incredible extent. The methods now employed to promote and organize activism are likely to be here to stay.