New possibilities… sharing, prioritising, communicating

In their 8 Tools for New Possibilities post, ISIC have pulled together 8 social media tools for connecting, hearing and organising people and their views.

I’ve had a quick look and can see some of them being valuable additions to the toolkits of networks and NGOs with networks of grassroots groups. I imagine that next time we’re asked to dialogue with a network on behalf of an NGO we might well explore these possibilities.

I particularly like to look of All Our Ideas, and open source tool that allows a community not only to vote on options, but also feed in new suggestions. Of course we haven’t tried it yet, but in principle….

As always we’d be interested to hear your thoughts, how you use the tools, what works for you and what doesn’t.


Taking action for activists

I’m an unashamed fan (and user) of Riseup, the Seattle-based autonomous tech collective. Here’s an item from their latest email bulletin – a nice bit of action to protect activism.

We Fought the Law, and We Won

(warning: legal stuff specific to the United States)

What do right-wing churches, kiss-ins, homophobic lawyers, and Riseup have in common? They were all involved in “Mount Hope Baptist Church v.” in US Federal court. The short story: we kicked ass.

After a right-wing church subpoenaed the account records of several Riseup users, we went to court on behalf of these users to defend their right to anonymous speech. By winning our case, Riseup has established an important precedent in US Federal court. Riseup’s legal victory is important because it strengthens our ability to defend the anonymity of Riseup users.

The legal system in the US has consistently ruled that the ability to speak anonymously is an important part of the right to free speech. However, there is a bit of a catch-22: when someone tries to identify you online, how can you defend your right to anonymous speech if defending your anonymity in court reveals your identity? At the moment, this is untested law in the US, and some courts have ruled that internet sites cannot protect the anonymity of their users without the users coming forward themselves. Our success in defending the right of users to remain anonymous, on their behalf, helps to establish a vital precedent in the US: you don’t lose your right to anonymous speech when you go online.

Google also received subpoenas as part of the same case, and turned over their gmail information without any attempts by Google to defend them. Legally, online service providers can receive subpoenas and hand over data without even informing the individuals that their data was requested. Riseup would like to thank movement lawyers for the long hours put into this case. Without you, the world would be a scarier place.

Thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Lawyer’s Guild, and our very own Sunbird. We would also like to thank the opposing counsel for suggesting that the Riseup users in this case don’t deserve protection because their speech was not “patriotic” free speech. Hilarity ensued. We wish you safe travels back to the bizarro world where you came from. More details about the activist action in Michigan.

Doing it by the Facebook

I understand the merits of Facebook as a campaigning tool.  By nature I tend to be averse to anything that’s a)mainstream corporate and b)so fashionable, but I’ve taken the time to listen to those that use it and understood what they see in it as an information and organising tool. More to the point I’ve often said that we need to meet people where they’re at, and Facebook is the cyber equivalent of setting up a stall in the local high street on a Saturday morning.

The danger is that we become seduced by the popularity of the medium. When I’m in the high street I’m not buying into all the corporate consumerist nonsense being advertised at me through countless shop windows. I’m using the space because it attracts people.

This is my appeal not to buy into the ‘promise’ of Facebook. They’re a useful tool as far as they go, but they can’t be relied on when push comes to shove (see below). We need a plan B, alternate technologies that have our best interest at heart. In that sense I’m a Luddite  –  a much misunderstood group who opposed “technologies harmful to the commonality” and not all technology per se.

And if you need any persuading, cast an eye over this week’s edition of radical news-sheet, schNEWS:

Whether you are orchestrating an uprising against an Arab dictator, or planning to wave a few placards to protest the closure of your local library, Facebook has rapidly become a key organising tool for activists around the world.

Facebook’s faceless masters however, seem to have taken issue with being a revolutionary weapon and have instigated a purge of pages of UK activist groups. Around 50 sites disappeared down the internet memory hole in a ‘night of the long nerds’ on April 29th. Anarchist, student and anti-cuts protest groups were amongst those pages erased. No warning was given and no permission asked.

Enraged by this outrageous but perhaps unsurprising political intervention from the multi-billion pound business, Bristol IMC [Indymedia Collective] investigated the closure of the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair page. They were informed the site had been disabled as it was an “inauthentic account” that violated Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” by not providing a real first and last name. SchNEWS is now rifling through the phone book for the personal details of Mrs Clothing at Tesco, Ms Geeks Are Sexy and Mr R.I.P Raoul Moat You Legend…

If you were outraged at Google’s censorship of the internet in China, get outraged all over again. Let’s not sit by and let Facebook censor activism in the UK simply because we’ve come to see it as indispensable. I’m minded of the, admittedly, overused words of Pastor Niemoller and offer this version updated for the occasion (no offence to the Pastor):

First Facebook came for the anarchists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not an anarchist
Then they came for the direct activists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a direct activist
Then they came for the student activists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a student
Then they came for me
And there were no facebook friends left
To speak out for me

Here’s a link to a list of pages that have been deleted. A simple search on Scroogle will find you more info.

Virtual meetings

Just a quick nudge towards Adrian Nixon’s recent post Facilitating Virtual Meetings on his On Facilitation blog. Some good and detailed tips on using Skype in particular, but I imagine many of them are relevant to other VoIP applications.

Lest we forget that other applications exist, and allow Skype to become the new Hoover, I’ve also successfully used Ekiga, an open source equivalent. Then your virtual meetings can also be that little bit more virtuous!

Also thanks to Adrian, because he’s spurred me on to mention a few other posts I found useful on the topic of working collectively but remotely, but failed to mention at the time.

Penny Walker has posted a couple of things in recent months. I particularly found the comment on anonymity in her post on virtual dialogue to be a useful insight – anonymity has the potential to prevent us from seeing contributors as people. More recently she’s also posted a nice list of tips for video-conferencing.

I was also amused and enlightened by 8 Interpretations of Silence when using Instant Messaging over at the Couch Manager.

Clicktivism….a few links

The debate about clicktivism (online activism) is raging on… is it an effective substitute for good old-fashioned face-to-face activism? does it encourage shallow, almost meaningless engagement? is it the way forward? are local groups a thing of the past. All good stuff.

Political Dynamite have just uploaded a clicktivism post sparked by 38 Degrees recent, and very successful, forests campaign. It’s worth a read, but follow the link to the Our Kingdom post for the full experience!

Collaborative writing online

I’m just back from working with a development education organisation (more on that soon) who need to finalise the vision we were working on, and hope to do it online.

I promised to send some suggestions for tools they could use, and decided to broaden my horizons in the process. So a quick thanks to Robin Good for his excellent mini-guide to online collaborative writing tools available on the Kolabora site, including many alternatives to the monolithic Google and their like, should you wish to avoid them.