iProtest: Streaming to hashtags, a study of student activism (part 1)

When student protests seem to be reaching a peak, what are some of the tactics students across the world are implementing online to organise and execute them, and why do they protest?

Social media and the use of mobile devices have threatened to change the way protests are organised and promoted. What are some of the methods that protesting students are utilizing?

Student protests have risen across the globe at a rapid pace. From the 'Occupy' demonstrations in the U.S, students retaliating against fees rises in the U.K, to anger at the cost of student living in Israel. Much was made of the hand online networks played in the Arab Spring, and ideas are now swapped on a global level that was not possible 50 years ago.

From student sit-ins to 'kettle' avoiding applications, the means of protest has changed for the Generation Y.

See also: Gallery: Thought-provoking protest and 'Occupy' Tweets

(Source: Flickr)

Stacy Stevens, of the UK Uncut movement, said:

"We use blogs, Twitter, Facebook and e-mail but these technologies mean nothing without a great deal of creativity and spirit behind them."

Protests have taken on a mix of both traditional and modern methods. It takes passion and drive to ensure a protest instigated online is a success, and there have to be key elements for others to want to involve themselves.

'Traditional' Western activism can have its supporter numbers bolstered by advertising and information exchange across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. YouTube videos are released to give audiences a personal report on events, and online forums can be utilized to share concerns and co-ordinate efforts.

In a two-part analysis of this expanding global phenomenon, I will be exploring the main tools that young people now use to orchestrate and promote activism.

9. Sukey

'Kettling' is a controversial policing method to contain and demoralise protesters. Ways to avoid 'kettling' -- holding protesters within restricted areas -- is not always achieved when demonstrations appear on the streets. In many British protests, police successfully manage to 'kettle' thousands of protesters, making them unable to leave an area for several hours and denying them basic access to toilets, water or food.

The controversial tactic is supposed to be a means in which to prevent violence from erupting. However, many examples suggest otherwise.

After U.K police kettled hundreds of teenage student protesters inside a tight grid, they subsequently destroyed an abandoned police van in frustration. The worst violence documented from this incident was after furious, confined protesters were given permission to leave.

Sukey's prerogative is to stop people getting kettled, and keeping protesters 'safe, mobile and informed'. It is a set of tools that includes an application for reporting and receiving news, a messaging service to sort and rate data that's coming in, and a mapping console to visualize the data it collects.

Phones with GPS can access 'Roar' through a web browser, an application that contains an in-built compass built around your current location. Different bar colours point you to which road junctions are passable, questionable or blocked.

Sukey functions as a personal news desk, collating reports from protesters on the ground to keep people informed. Information is submitted from user reports; via Twitter, GPS information, texts and news feeds. The Sukey team then update a live map of the protest area that users can access through smartphones and the recently released Sukey app.

The platform also utilizes Twitter to store photos and videos, and is used as a key component in releasing map updates and protest information.

On 9 December last year, the day of the U.K parliamentary vote on tuition fees, thousands of protesters were kettled in Parliament Square. Students were trapped for up to 12 hours; property was damaged, dozens were injured and 60 people were arrested. In the previous London protest, with no kettling, there were only nine arrests and no injuries.

The Sukey platform may still be in a fledgling stage, but if it can help steer protesters away from unintentionally becoming trapped within kettled areas, then it can be used by activists to keep confrontation to a minimum and to prevent injury.

According to a Sukey Tweet, the platform code has recently been released on an open-source basis in order to extend the technology to 'friends overseas'. However, it is named under the alias 'Snarl' to keep the U.K version separate.

If this kind of technology is going to take root, then protesters abroad may need to get past barriers -- consider the famous example of Egypt's dictator Mubarak  'turning off' the Internet to prevent communication. Protesters in Egypt have already begun improvising by using dial-up connections and new "speak to tweet" technology, which converts voicemail recordings into Twitter messages.

8. Ustream

(Source: ZDNet)

Tim Pool, a 25-year-old protester turned independent broadcaster, used his smartphone to stream the full events of Occupy Wall Street. Police in riot gear evicted thousands of protesters from Zuccotti Park in New York, provoking Pool to stream live coverage to document the situation.

Ustream is a live service that boasts millions of subscribers, and also comes with a mobile app. Whilst camera crews were denied access to the park, the Occupy stream propelled the activist in to the media limelight.

The free service allows instant messaging and you are able to view live streams across the globe. Currently, channels are available covering events from the Occupy Wall Street campaign to protests at the U.K's Warwick and Bristol universities.

One of the interesting things about Ustream is its platform for continual, real time footage, whereas YouTube can only be used to watch uploaded content. With immediate promotion available via other social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, it has the potential to captivate immediate and large numbers within its audience.

7. The Student Room

The Student Room is currently the largest U.K student-dedicated website, and used as a popular communication platform for students on a national basis.

It boasts a large forum-based platform, which offers threads including UK and International politics, current affairs and study assistance. It is also known to have been used by student activists to discuss political affairs and plan national student protest events.

The website includes features like a university fee tracking map, which offers up-to-date information both for the potential university student, and the young political activist.

6. The Get Heard Project

(Source: Get Heard)

The Get Heard Project labels itself a 'pic-tition' against cuts to social services and welfare proposed by the coalition U.K government.

In order to participate, you simply write down what your activity or opinion is, take a picture of yourself holding it, and send it in. The website may currently be inactive, however, I have seen this idea taken and used across social networks in the aftermath of its peak in popularity.

5. Personal websites, e-petitions and live blogs

(Source: Wase Demonstration)

A number of websites have sprung up over the last few years to cover live demonstrations. An example of this is Elephant, an independent student media website that documents protests, expositions and elections.

Occupy your rights contains a wealth of information for New York protesters to access, with detailed explanations of topics from personal rights, police confrontations to permits.

Resources like False Economy keep online users informed on issues concerning spending cuts and economy fluctuations. Social media links via Twitter and Facebook ensure subscribers are given the latest information on campaign details and dates.

Personal blogs should not be left in the shadow of large, community-driven websites. An interesting example is a popular Tokyo-based blog that discusses Japanese students protesting against intensive job searches while still at university.

Online petitions, although their value is arguably low, are still fighting for existence and used as a tool for students to demonstrate their opinion.

NUI students requesting DeKalb City Council to consider moving the location of its new police station, believing the current proposed location to be too close to the university's Center for Black Studies and Women's Resource Centre.

De Montford University graduates are currently signing a petition to try and prevent a change in their graduation venue.

Facebook groups such as 'The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts' spread the word on e-petitions and global protests. The campaign also has a website that collates activism information across U.K universities.

The online tools explored in this article have demonstrated some of the lesser-known means in which activists are able to collect information and express their views both online and within traditional Western means of protest. Without online networks, much of what we understand about protests globally and what we are able to do would be completely limited.

For the conclusive part of this study, continue reading --