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June 11, 2012

New Media’s Evolving Connections

Rixey Browning

As social media has expanded by leaps and bounds, it has also engendered the coordination of expanding protest movements around the world. Communications networks have provided the links for horizontal movements to move out of the geographical confines of one city and into the beginnings of a loosely structured global movement.


It’s the 20th of May 2012, the NATO summit is well underway; police have surrounded peaceful protesters, leaving most without a way to comply with the three fleeting police dispersal orders (belted out over the most feared and misunderstood police weapon: the Long Range Acoustic Device).


But there were many vital components of the mass-mobilization not ensnared in the kennel, or subject to the resulting police riot that left countless unarmed civilians with photogenic head wounds, gleaming with blood. Those behind-the-scenes players were sitting in Chicago IndyMedia’s headquarters.


On the right is a huge flat screen with Google Chrome browser windows, each containing a different angle of the conflict. Most of these feeds come from live streamers, self-appointed real-time documentarians armed only with some sort of 4G Internet access (usually either from a laptop or smart phone) and a camera (either a video camera or integrated smart phone component).


Their footage is uploaded to UStream where it can be accessed by anyone, including the Chicago IndyMedialivestream mixer, tasked with taking multiple streams and integrating them into a single feed similar to that of a sports bar playing different football playoff games on each TV.


Seated nearby is the Twitter guy who, using a program called Tweet Deck, monitors dozens of Twitter users’ activity for trends and breaking developments of the last few minutes. Anything noteworthy is announced in a frantic, pained half-shout. These announcements are followed up by someone else to be checked for authenticity and possibly further promotion among sympathetic websites, social media junkies and media outlets.


The woman who has taken on this responsibility simultaneously has frantic runners in the protest giving her current march locations and a running verbal narrative of events on the ground. She is – in turn – shouting those updates out at one-block intervals.


This scene is not uncommon in mass-mobilizations. Everyone involved in the communications group is also affiliated with a smaller affinity group on the ground, whether it is the street medics, student groups, the lawyers, or the veterans. Together they track the march (or sometimes multiple marches) and also provide information to protesters on the ground, who are either lost or need an exit route.


The social media web for mobilizations such as this is extensive, and is even larger for the network of movements taking place worldwide.


As students rise up in Quebec City, Mexico City, and Santiago, Chile, and as the movement in Egypt remains strong, there is no doubt that communication between the groups takes place. As these movements gain strength and global recognition, they begin to show support to each other. This requires communication, for which the Internet is the most reliable resource.


As more movements have cropped up around the world, so has a revolutionary translator’s network. In this way, activists can read the communiqués and the declarations, the blogs and the tweets, the information directly from the sources as opposed to the international mass media.


Blogs such as Translating the Revolution ( have been influential in fostering not only communication, but understanding and camaraderie with different movements around the world. The use of social media in the form of translation services has become incredibly useful. Teams of translators work to transcribe documents, tweets, communiqués, and declarations of goals.


The tools people use every day for their own entertainment have evolved into a network of communications for global youth movements. The real beauty lies in the fact that the majority of these movements are non-hierarchical, allowing anyone and everyone to pitch in in whatever way they can, whether through guiding marchers or coordinating medics or translating important documents. This allows people from around the world to contribute to movements they support, even if they are physically thousands of miles away.


What once were simply tools to keep in touch with old friends or a means of personal expression have become tools of organization, connection, and idea sharing, and the beginnings of building a global solidarity movement.


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