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Jacob Chabeaux

How to rally in the digital age

Ahead of the anti-Tory demonstration this weekend, learn these new tactics for online app-tivism that could actually make an IRL difference

This Saturday, the People’s Assembly are organising the biggest anti-Tory demonstration since the Conservatives came into power on 7 May: assembling in the heart of London, in the shadow of the financial and political establishment, 65,000 people will be voicing their anti-austerity opinion with their feet. Or, at least, that’s how many people are attending on Facebook. For a connected generation, there’s no doubt that Facebook and Twitter have proven invaluable tools for boosting a movement and allowing protesters to tell their own story. The power of a hashtag in connecting common causes has been evident in recent anti-police brutality protests across America. Agenda-setting movements #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter have not only taken on the weight of more than a thousand Americans killed by police in 2014-15 (515 so far in 2015 alone, according to The Guardian’s data), but have emerged as statements of self-organisation on an unprecedented scale.

But are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram the only digital tools that allow us to represent and unite? As a so-called ‘millennial’ generation readies itself to fight, the system is fighting back harder: David Cameron is pushing ahead with his Snooper’s Charter, which will require everyday sites like Facebook to make a provision to decrypt and deliver to police any of its users’ messages. Faced with a broken system that needs to be fixed, and a virtual space that could be increasingly unsafe, young Brits might well seek new tools to build communities in 2015. So stop ticking petitions in your sleep: here’s Dazed’s take on the new tactics for online app-tivism that could actually make an IRL difference.


The word of mouth provided by posts on Facebook is basically unbeatable, it’s true – and not only when it comes to self-organisation. At the anti-Tory demonstration last month, protestors posted photos and statuses – set to ‘Public’ ­– to dispute the biased coverage of events by mainstream media on the day. But amid rising fears over privacy on sites built on the ownership and commodification of our data, alternatives could be a prospect to take seriously. Anonymous have this week announced plans to develop a new social network that’s totally encrypted, therefore acting primarily to protect the data you share. The site is, and with Facebook’s uptake of users among society’s youngest nose-diving, might well be one to watch in the social networking world.


Thanks to one app experiencing major growth in 2015, your usual Whats’App group chats could be made bigger and more secure. Telegram, the messaging app founded by the founder of “Russian Facebook”, Pavel Durov, is specifically designed for the needs of those who need to keep an event secret: you can group chat with up to 200 people at one time, and the app supports two different levels of secure encryption. For extra International spy kudos, there’s the Secret Chats mode: using an additional layer of end-to-end encryption, not even Telegram can decipher these messages, and you can even set messages or photos to self-destruct after a set amount of time. But as anyone who’s been to a music festival will know, large crowds are a nightmare for keeping connected. For broadcasting messages when the network’s down, there’s always FireChat: the off-the-grid messaging service was downloaded over 100,000 times in a single day during the Hong Kong protests last year, but it’s worth bearing in mind that access to the mesh network is equally open to police as your fellow activists.


As the almost total blackout of the police clash with protestors outside Downing Street showed last month, you can’t rely on broadcast media to give you the full picture of events. But with Facebook’s algorithm geared towards showing you the popular press’ interpretation, it could be worth sharing your protest images on other platforms, and in other ways. In the US, where smartphone videos and photographs of police brutality have had a huge role to play in sparking the past year’s movements – the most recent being footage of a Texan police officer aggressively manhandling a black teenage girl at a pool party – new apps have emerged to make the process of sharing footage of violence on the front lines faster and more imperceptible to those around you. Among the most popular following protests in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore has been Cop Watch, an app that lets you start recording as soon as you open it and uploads to YouTube automatically. The Mobile Justice app is also designed for citizens to film interactions between themselves and the police, taking the technology one step further by allowing users to send footage to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with a single shake (to be reviewed for potential legal action). While such apps are growing out of an American context, the desire to be able to record events with more immediacy than ever is relevant to protesters everywhere.


Keeping an eye on your friends in a demonstration is easier said than done when the riot vans start pulling up. For simplicity, there’s always Find my Friends, the free iPhone app that lets you locate friends who have also downloaded the app with ease. You can even set up alerts to let them know when you’ve reached a particular meeting spot. If the situation escalates, there’s I’m Getting Arrested, an Android app inspired by events at Occupy Wall Street. It enables anybody, with one click of its bullseye, to alert contacts via SMS when they’re getting arrested – what’s more, it’s currently available in 14 languages.


For a self-aware generation under no illusions that their future is secure, the changing face of protest can easily negotiate between the offline and online worlds – in the process, a sense of humour can be a worthy weapon. At the People’s Climate March in London last March, the team at Pentagram created Earthmoji placards: designed to reflect how social media has contributed to protest, the emoji-inspired placards sent a strong visual message about climate change in the world’s universal language. Over at the Mushpit zine, co-editors Char Roberts and Bertie Brandes are “tired of the same old pricks” in Parliament – the mag has been telling us to vote New Labia with cool-girl t-shirts and a manifesto for equality in their upcoming seventh issue (out 25 June).