Armenia's Revolutionary Experience Will Help Online Activists

29.05.2018, Critique

Main interests: blogs, social networks, new media, information security.

The Velvet Revolution will be analyzed for a long time to come, since it was a fairly interesting, fast movement, which was based on networking techniques.

In reinventing the experience, one can advise activists who want to use networking tools during various acts of protests.

a.) At any time, authorities can begin blocking or filtering the internet. That’s why phones and computers should be armed with VPNs.

Moreover, it’s preferable to have multiple VPN services at the same time, since they can also begin to get blocked. Aside from that there are risks for work disruptions It’s better to have Tor on phones or computers, to more seriously secure the internet in cases of danger.

b.) In cases of social networks, it’s better to use all possible tools and platforms. It’s never a good idea to accumulate everything on one platform. For example, in the case of Facebook, there is a big possibility that you might get blocked at the worst possible time.

In many countries, there’s a factor of troll factories which are sponsored by the state. Their potential can be used against activists by organizing complaints via mass reporting.

Facebook’s approach often allows people to find old posts and report them, temporarily pushing the user out of the game. The same goes for YouTube, where you can block videos by taking advantage of copyright laws.

For example, the Armenian police succeeded in blocking a video on the oppositional SOS YouTube channel, since footage shot by the police was used in it.

c.) Apart from the threats of being blocked, it is important to use different social networks, as each of their audiences have unique characteristics. For example, in the case of videos, you can get a vastly larger audience through Facebook, especially if it is a live post. After a few days however, archived videos become available on YouTube, where a much more accessible and logical search engine operates.

Instagram is a younger platform. Twitter is more accessible for those interested from abroad, etc.

Of course, every country has its own peculiarities, but taking advantage of the the differences of platforms is advised.

d.) Armenia’s experience has shown, that live streams on Facebook and YouTube have the biggest impact. Slightly weaker, Instagram live streams also have an impact. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Lives break the influence of traditional TV. Experience shows that TV in authoritarian or hybrid regimes are often found under the influence of the authorities.

  • Today’s youth relate more to live streams than text materials.

  • They create the impression of immediate engagement with those who are not physically participating in the protests at the moment.

  • Lives remove mediators, politicians, analysts, and propagandists, which weakens the potential influence of the government, the use of manipulative technologies, and makes events seem more immediate.

  • Live streams from almost all social networks are perceived as the most important type of content and are shown to larger audiences.

e.) It should be taken into consideration, that making posts on social media from the street, especially going live, can be wrought with technical difficulties, which are mainly tied to mobile network’s burdens in areas where there are a large number of activists at once. In such cases, the following things should be taken into consideration:

  • It’s better to have multiple SIM cards, with a few different mobile operators which offer different capacities in specific locations. In some cases, one operator’s nearby towers are not able to handle a large number of users at once, and people will simply be offline. While other operators may be able to continue to provide mobile internet in the same area.

  • In the case of a bad connection, Facebook Lite can be used, which is much lighter, and which has much less capabilities than the full app. Twitter is much more modest in terms of traffic. You can open a Telegram channel, which will allow you to publish news with a much weaker internet connection.  

  • In the absence of internet and mobile phone connection (which can occur both in the case of network overload and by the government’s cellular connection), Fire Chat should be used to connect between users without internet or mobile connection.

f.) In general, one should stop using direct mobile calls and SMSs for connecting with people, which can be intercepted. It’s necessary to move on to encrypted connections, which are not accessible for special services. Signal, Telegram (Secret Chat), Whatsapp, Viber.

Of course, aside from all of this, many technical issues need to be taken into consideration.

  • You need to have an extra Power Bank.

  • The phone should be password protected with a PIN code, in order to prevent the police from entering the phone if it is confiscated.

  • The phone must be connected to an online backup system, to store the photos on the cloud when the phone is lost. It should be possible to connect the backup using mobile internet, with Wi-Fi connection as your primary setup.

Samvel Martirosyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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