The internet generation is mad as hell, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. The Occupy Wall Street protest that started in New York is spreading, not just across the US but also around the world.
Similar protests have spread to 100 cities in the US and two dozen cities around the world. For instance, plans are now developing for similar protests at the London Stock Exchange, where there have already been mass protests against the austerity policies of the Conservative British government.
This thing is growing in Internet time and no wonder, for it is built on networked culture,” wrote digital democracy advocate and analyst Micah Sifry. The Occupy Wall Street protest even has its own internet committee.
Sifry writes at the Personal Democracy Forum’s tech President blog where he comments on digital technology and political campaigns. He listed the wide range of technologies that are being used to organise the protests in New York and allow the protesters to communicate amongst themselves.
The We are the 99 Percent Tumblr collection of “collection of autobiographical photos from people facing all kinds of economic hardship”
• The Carpool to #Occupy Wall Street Facebook page
• The Occupy Together “news hub”, which is collecting links about the protests across the US and around the world.
However, the technology driving the protests goes much further than the use of sites and social networks, such as the collection of stories on social news site Reddit. The protesters are using a very old network technology, internet relay chat or IRC, to communicate. The channel is run by Anonops, part of the Anonymous collective, the group that describes itself as internet freedom fighters and have attacked major websites in support of Wikileaks.
In the first few weeks of the protests, there were many claims online that the traditional media was ignoring their efforts. To get around what they perceived as a media blackout, they used video service Livestream to show live video of the protests.
One of the more novel technologies being used is the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise money to create an Occupy Wall Street Journal, a “four-page broadsheet newspaper” with an initial print run of 50,000, aimed at the general public. They originally set a target of raising $12,000, and as of Monday night in the US, they had already raised more $40,000.
Wall St protesters like Tahrir in social media savvy, carnival mood, and deep sense of frustration & disenfranchisement.”
After taking some heat on Twitter for the comparison to the protests in Egypt that unseated forced Hosni Mubarak to give up power, he defended the comparison in is column:
True, no bullets are whizzing around, and the movement won’t unseat any dictators. But there is the same cohort of alienated young people, and the same savvy use of Twitter and other social media to recruit more participants.”
Anonymity is not security
However, the protesters might be abandoning Twitter for a new technology after fears that police might be monitoring the micro-blogging platform to target them. Instead, they are using an app called Vibe, which allows users to post messages anonymously and choose how far they broadcast those messages. For instance, if they “whisper” using the app, only people within 150 feet of the user’s mobile phone will be able to see the message. The range increases a “shout” that can be received by other Vibe users up to 3 miles away to a “bellow” that can be seen worldwide.
Users can also set the messages to self-destruct so that they disappear after 15 minutes, an hour, a day or seven days. The creator of the app, Hazem Sayed, told the New York Daily News that he created the app because he was worried of a loss of anonymity on the internet. Users don’t need to register to use the app, only to allow the app to access the users’ location data.
While anonymous, this is hardly secure. There is nothing stopping the police from downloading the app and using it to monitor messages from the protesters. It might make it more difficult to identify the sender of a message, but it rather seems a perfect tool for surveillance. Real secure communications would not simply prevent police from identifying the sender of the message but would allow trusted members of the network to communicate without fear of interception. If they were worried about being monitored on Twitter, it would seem that Vibe, while anonymous, is actually easier to monitor than Twitter.