Wednesday, 5 December 2012

#OccupySandy using Web 3.0 technology for social ends

Occupy Sandy has merged real world organisation and team building with cyber tools allowing rapid agile collective response in a decentralised fashion.

Occupy Sandy is using Web 3.0 technology, vfor example to map where people need help in Staten Island.

Social media and social change: I had my doubts about cyber-activism

In 2011 I was interviewing members of the media team of one of the first of what would come to be called Occupy camps in Madrid.  At one point I said my concern was that people in Madison Wisconsin protests could have become too concerned with social media and not social change. Tahrir and Madrid had shown that one can get a message out on social media, but was social media itself a dead end?

Many people, myself included, assumed that the end of Occupy last year, the failure in Bahrain Protest and the victory of the Islamic Brotherhood showed the weakness of cyber-activism compared to on the ground activism or state power.  In Madison Unions could fill Twitter but not recall a governor.  It seemed that the communities formed in protests and online social networks were too shallow to be effective in real life political struggle over the long term.

and maybe I was wrong...

Though the issue of the effectiveness of cyber-activism is still open, recent events are starting to make me think that the agile, global and low cost tools like Facebook and Twitter can provide movements may give them an effective organisation edge.  Occupy Sandy, which emerged almost over night has shown that rather than just fading away the Occupy movement kept a virtual structure that could re-emerge quickly and effectively when  crisis took place.

A simple tool like Facebook events, that anyone can use and anyone can access have given OccupySandy means of fund raising, communicating and community building that would have required buildings, staff and budgets just 10 years ago. 

The new "smartCrowd"

This new kind of smart crowd can exist in virtual ghost like states on line for long periods.  Major media and authority may assume they are dormant.  But by combing social networking, real time communications and geo-aware service these movements can spring back in to active existence much faster than more traditional social organisations like parties or churches. 

The speed and effectiveness of Occupy's response to the Hurricane Sandy is historically unique.  I venture to say that no other organisation so young, and so attacked by politicians and people in the media, could have ever mounted such an effective relief effort before the age of mobile phones and social media. 

The roots of Occupy Wall Street are the anarchist traditions of mutual aid and mutual respect. That each person can contribute value, that most will, and that given the opportunity to participate in decisions that affect them, and the autonomy to act, people will collectively implement the most fair and effective way of delivering the results desired by the community. It's really a simple concept, but one that can be hard to articulate using real world situations. Like many things, you need to experience the benefit of mutual aid, not be lectured about it.

Occupy has managed to become an anarchist movement, but its not just about ideals and philosophy making Occupy Sandy, technology is playing a key role.  In Staten Island Occupy has proven that rather than being a rabble of drug out rapist is a new generation of idealist youth and community members wanting to make a difference.  And mobile and Internet technology give this new generation of digital natives a new tool in self organising and activism. 

The Occupy movement has been able to use the tools of Twitter and Facebook to reform almost over night as a new kind of organisation with a new kind of purpose.  Facebook and Twitter networks provide fixed social networks that could be called upon right after the disaster to get help.  These social networks contained more than just people who liked something on Facebook, much of this was formed in real social action a year earlier that was recorded in Facebook and Twitter social graphs.

Twitter the ultimate organisation tool

Online social networks like Twitter have an advantage over traditional forms of recording social organisation.  Twitter forms social networks, any social network of any kind and any size. And it can record any layer scaling from a small group to the entire planet. It is that simple.  The networks might be very lose and meaningless like people who follow Lady Gaga, or close like members of the same family or workplace.  But more important it can be anything in between.

Using Twitter has allowed networks to share information not only with each other, but it various circles of contacts including the entire world.  It can do this without having to be concerned about publishing official information, communications can at the same time be address to a small community, a larger social network and the entire global network. Occupy can orgnize its relief in an agile way using tweets about specific meeting and people between members following a common hashtag, but it can extend these to global reach.  Request for support or information can be made on a global level with the same tool used by a team of people cleaning up one house or street.

Fior example if a member tweets that they are finding a lot of damage to asbestus buildings in Staten Island it not only can be read and shared by a group working in Staten Island, but also a expert on the dangers of asbestus work in Canada or Ireland may pick up the tweets on the term asbestus.  They can then retweeted to social networks of experts and advice the group about risks and best practices.

People can quickly find a expert or subject matter and post either direct or general questions, either requests for local work that only apply to a few hundred volunteers to requests for money or aid that can be global.  The same tweet can do both.

Facebook is the telephone, the phone book, the mail system and the photo album now

Facebook provides a tool almost everyone has, a tool that allows formation of social networks, of planning and inviting to events, and of messaging in IM.  On Facebook people who had liked Occupy Wall Street could be messaged by a group administrator for help with Occupy Sandy.  People would send invites to specific events and messaging could move from IM to email to group posts seamlessly.

Mapping technology gives command and control to everyone

And Google Maps has provide a tool for co-ordinating all on maps.  The Occupy Sandly can aggregate relief information in real time on maps that make it clear where there still is a need.

Working with informal social networks using these free tools Occupy has managed to impress its old enemies that it is a real engaged social movement not to be dismissed stoned media obsessed kids.

Occupy Sandy will be remembered as a proving ground for a new kind of social engagement, one that merges real world organisation and team building with cyber tools allowing rapid agile collective response in a decentralised fashion.

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