Media Ecology of Protest (Updated)
by Adam Robbert
I just came across THIS article about action the SFPD took to snuff out cell phone signals in anticipation of a protest over the shooting of a man shot by BART police last month (this happened last year as well, a very controversial issue in the bay area). What strikes me here is that this was done prior to any demonstrations actually taking place, and was enacted as a measure to prevent organizers from being able to coordinate their assembly.
I’m also struck by the use of media in the recent UK protests- on both sides of the episode. On the one hand, rioters and protesters were using their cell phones to coordinate their movements (which from news reports seemed to based in vulgar acts of violence in addition to genuine political activism. THIS article details how the protests outside London led to the burning of the UK’s largest indie record distributor- my heart goes out to any artists, and indeed, everyone else, who is suffering from this debacle). On the other hand, satellite tracking systems have been used by authorities and news reporters to observe the movement of rioters and protests (as in the image below).
We know that many of the protest movements in the middle east were coordinated by the use of digital medias such as facebook and text messaging, etc. and now it seems that the digital door is swinging both ways, and, in the case of the planned BART protests, is being used by authorities to shut down the ability for coordinated planning amongst demonstrators.
Update: Another news article on the same issue. This quote jumped out:
These situations are largely new ones, of course. A couple of decades ago, during the fax-machine and pay-phone era, the notion of people organizing mass gatherings in real time on wireless devices would have been fantasy.