A Digital Guide for Modern Citizens in Turbulent Times

Photo by MB298 || Transferred from Flickr via Flickr2Commons || edited

We like, we share, we comment. And hence we feel that we did something good. Online activity and social media, instead of encouraging being more active in real life, became a substitute of real action. Meanwhile, those who rule our countries will not get scared because of our “likes”.

Don’t get us wrong. It’s not that we support the low-tech movement. We’re not cutting off the branch we are sitting on, nothing like that. And we still haven’t lost faith in Internet as a power which could become a stimulus for driving a positive change. Modern citizens of a democratic state (or even of many non-democratic states) have at their disposal tools for gathering and promoting information – ones that dissidents, reformers or revolutionists from the times long gone could have only dreamt of.

This article is addressed to all of you out there who wish to make good use of these tools. Good use, meaning that it has nothing to do with violence – even symbolic – or lynching (even the virtual one). We wish to show that technology can serve democracy and the public debate well, and not only hamper it. It can also have a great positive impact in facing the challenge of transparency of the authorities and public life. This is, in our opinion, especially important. We believe that thorough, objective and ethical journalism can be, at times, imperfect, but it is still invaluable. It is first and foremost journalists and editorial offices that check facts and confront them with fiction, control decision makers and give us an insight into reality from the perspective that would not be available to us in the first place.

As WE the CROWD, we write in an apolitical way every day because we focus on universal social phenomena that occur in the Web. Nevertheless, we can no longer ignore the process of vassalization of public media in Poland and depriving the press of the function of the society’s eyes and ears in the Polish Parliament. What entices to join demonstrations are the education reform, deforestation act, paralized Constitutional Tribunal and even (oh, the irony!) an attempt to amend Assemblies Act. In general, the arguments for going out out of our homes on winter evenings seem to accummulate pretty fast. More of us (and lauder than ever before) express our outrage in social media. But only some of us do someathing about it in real life. It’s high time we stopped treating social media activities as a goal and start treating is as a means to achieve the goal.

This is precisely why, after a series of fake news, we’ve decided to deal with false involvement. We wish to motivate you to leave your houses and at the same time stay online. We offer several suggestions in terms of free, open-access and simple Web 2.0 tools. You probably already use most of them. Used on a mass scale and with a purpose, they can work in favor of our democracy and civil society.

“We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.”

Fawaz Rashed from Cairo, who demonstrated during Arab Spring

Before You Join Demonstration

  1. Know your rights and why you demonstrate

As a rule, to read is to know. Even reading such “heavy” documents as the Assemblies Act. It is good to be familiar with the specificity of different kinds of assemblies (especially spontaneous ones) and when the police can break them up. In order to do so, simply check your state legislations to be up to date.

Reading is crucial since knowledge is the key. Many people who demonstrate have actually no idea whatsoever what the legislation against which they protest is about. Don’t be the one who, when asked, mumbles nonsense into the microphone of a reporter – you may do more harm than good. It’s simple: just read the goddamn thing beforehand!

Moreover, check the publicly available voting reports from the Parliament in order to know what for and against whom do you protest 😉

  1. Be aware of when, with whom and how will you protest

Most protests and demonstrations start on Facebook, or, more precisely: on the event site of a given action. It is a great solution thanks to which we may create a dedicated “site” for a discussion, which also features basic organizational information and where we may declare our willingness to partake.

If you’re considering joining a demonstration, start with typing “demonstration” in the Facebook search engine. Check all the results – there may be more than a few demonstrations happening at the same date. Find out more about who organizes the respective ones, what should you expect to happen and when and where do you meet.

If a demonstration has its #hashtag, it would be good to check what people write about it on Twitter.

  1. Monitor and be up to date

    Instead of searching for information about demonstrations randomly, stay informed.

    1) follow activists, journalists and politicians on Twitter;

    2) subscribe to the newsletter of movements and organizations that often organize demonstrations. Preferably, the ones that you find appealing;

    3) like their Facebook fanpages in order to have additional news feed;

4) check discussion groups which feature information about demonstrations. You may also use RSS or the Feedly app, so you won’t miss anything.

  1. Encourage others to join and advocate civic attitude

Public assemblies are one of the tools of our civic, democratic expression. If you already know that you will join a demonstration, share this information. Share the event or create one on your own. Inform your friends via Facebook and Twitter what is the purpose of the demonstration, and who are you going with.

Sociologists for years have been pointing out that the more people demonstrate, the more other people are willing to join in. But there always have to be “those first” brave ones.

When at a Demonstration

  1. Take out your smartphones and livestream

Of course, do not forget why are you there and that you are surrounded by other people. The Periscope app (now owned by Twitter) started a livestreaming revolution and Facebook Live further reinforced it.

  1. if you can, comment on the situation. Become a reporter at least for a moment;

  2. react to comments submitted by your friends and followers;

  3. ask for opinion other protesters;

  4. do not provoke other protesters! Camera can be disturbing. Be ready to turn it off and encourage others to do the same, should the situation require it.

  1. Tweet, document, make photos and selfies

You have at your disposal Facebook Messenger Day, should you wish to reach with your video message all or selected people via Messenger.

You can also report on the events via Snapchat or Instagram Stories, thanks to which you may save the content on your phone memory and republish it later via Twitter or Facebook, or in the form of photoreports via Medium. This will allow you to re-use the same content several times, especially after the demonstration. Thanks to that you may reach a larger audience on different platforms.

3. Respect others and have a sense of humor

By “others” we have in mind not only your co-protesters.

  • Take care of the language you use and do not copy (without first reflecting on it) offensive phrases that are widely used;

  • avoid scuffles or any illegal behavior. And not just because someone might film you while your acting in such a manner but rather because it is simply worth to act as a decent human being.

  • Substitute anger with humor. It is much healthier.

If You Can’t Go on a Demonstration

Even if you are “grounded”, you still may do something useful in this respect. First and foremost, use social media to suport those who are there:

  • share their livestreams, photos, reports;

  • write encouraging comments – this may help the protesters who stand out there in the cold. “Thanks for being there!” will do wonders. And please,refrain from mentioning that there’s a hot chocolate on your desk.

Generate buzz for a good cause, participate in the discussions. But don’t forget to be up to date by reading reports in professional media.

After the Demonstration

  1. Share content and create new feeds

  • use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube to disseminate your own or someone else’s content from a demonstraton;

  • create an entry or a photoreport via Medium or on your own blog. This will increase the value for the obsrveres and may serve as a potnential source of information for professional journalists;

  • start creating new content. You may use Canva or Piktochart apps to illustrate the data, create infographics, visualize quotes or memes. The more user-friendly your content is, the more it is possible that it will be forwarded or retweeted.

  1. Monitor and react

If you were actually there, at the demonstration, react when someone distorsts or misinterprets the facts. Whenever you can, provide evidence (videos, photos) in the comments to show what really happened.

  1. Create a Culture of Fact-Checked Information and Civic Attitude

  • subscribe to and follow at least one professional medium, created by professional journalists. Experience and know-how make a difference, so value the work of journalists and share their articles and/or support them financially.

  • Take part in other demonstrations for a different cause. May it not be a one-time event.

  • Sign petitions that supplement the cause of the demonstration. This helps to count the people involved and raise the spirits after the protest has ended.

  • Support non-governmental organizations (just like ours) which stand a real chance of influencing the reality. Or best, become a volunteer, join one of the NGOs.

For Advanced Users

You consider yourself an engaged activist? We have for you several additional suggestions:

  1. Write a petition and collect signatures online

A petition is another tool that we have at our disposal as digital citizens. If people want to demonstrate, they should be even more inclined to sign a related petition. In Poland, there is a variety of tools which may assist you in executing this idea:

It is a very intuitive solution which can have a spectacular effect, if you connect it with your own network of friends in social media.

  1. Use crowdfunding and crowdsourcing

Social finansing becomes more and more popular with each day also in Poland. Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) already collected PLN 203,000 via Zrzutka.pl platform.

Nothing stands in the way of you organizing your own crowdfunding campaign for a demonstration or some other civic activities.

Crowdsourcing also employs the social potential but is not aimed at collecting funds. Maybe you need photos for an article or for a photoreport? Or you are looking for the right place to hold a demonstration? Ask Internet users. Sometimes Facebook, Twitter or a discussion group are enough to get you what you need. You may also use open documens or Google forms.

It’s a Comma, Not a Fullstop

This, of course, does not exhaust the topic entirely. We rather hope to open it even more and continue it in the future with the assistance of journalists and with your support. We want to encourage the right kind of behavior – that’s our main objective. Tools, methods and good practices are only a means to an end. This is why, after reading this article we want you to remember one thing: nobody has yet decided to go to the barricades after reading just one tweet. It is, however, worth to go out and become a part of civic society. Be a good example to follow. At the beginning, this requires a bit of effort. But after that, it’s just as easy as rolling off a log.

The article is a part of our series titled „Aware and active in Web 2.0”. Read more (in Polish) here: WE the CROWD.

The article was originally published in Polish at: http://wethecrowd.liberte.pl/social-media-w-demonstracjach/

Translated by Olga Łabendowicz