The severe price of Tweets: communication sensitivity

On September 24th, 2009 Elliott Madison and Michael Wallschlager were arrested in a motel room during the G20 Protests in Pittsburgh. Their crime was allegedly listening to police over radio scanners and sending this information out over Twitter, a popular microblogging site.

Most would think the harassment would end there, but a week later police served a warrant to raid Madison’s house, in NYC, and seized all kinds of items such as mercury and pictures of Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin. Both Madison and Wallschlager’s charges have been dropped from their arrests in Pittsburgh, but Madison is facing a grand jury investigation aided by the raid on his residence.

This current round of police state repression follows a growing use of technology in protest situations. A month before the G20 protests, Iran was seeing its largest uprisings in years, aided by sites like Twitter and Youtube. In regards to the Iranian protests, the US State Department asked Twitter to hold off on updating its site (which would take it offline) so that the people of Iran would be able to use it.

It is very clear that the government and Twitter are willing to work against activists at home but with them when it meets their interest. No surprise there, but the issue of using popular websites for social organizing is a large one. The rise of new media has allowed the anarchist movement in the United States to reach whole new crowds with their message and keep people out of harm’s way. Twitter was also used during the 2008 RNC protests. Sites like Facebook and Twitter offer a good way to connect with fellow radicals at a severe price. We must all remember that these corporations work hand in glove with the state. Using their services gives away our autonomy. This fact needs to be considered when using these sites to organize.

Groups in the anarchist movement have already taken steps to increase security for activists such as and, who seek to create non-corporate tools anarchists can use. In the last few years, the Riseup Collective has launched which is a Facebook-like social networking site for organizing activists. Other groups are working towards a system of “on-the-street” communications that would cut Twitter out of the loop allowing people to pass back messages from their phones or stream live video from the street to be used in cases against the police.

Having new advances in technology allows anti-authoritarians to organize in new ways, but reflections should also be made in regards to new technology. Do we need this sort of organizing? Is it making our movement more effective while factoring risks? Whatever happened to yelling “what’s going on” at a mass action instead of texting it? Often the digital world takes us out of our realities into ones that may seem more fulfilling yet do the opposite. There is a good balance between technology and Ludditeness for the anarchist community to embrace, but we must be safe in doing so or we will see increases in the effectiveness of state oppression.

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