NewsAmerica in Crisis


Technology influencing ability for protesters to connect and share real-time experiences worldwide

Posted at 4:42 PM, Jun 09, 2020

As protests continue around the world against police brutality and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, technology is making it easier for protesters to stay connected to one another. Technology is also giving people more platforms to capture and share information.

“It’s incredibly important that I lift up my voice in times like these, so that people know what’s happening and people feel inspired and empowered to take action themselves,” Minnesota resident JaNae Bates said. She is also the Communications Director at Faith in Minnesota and ISAIAH.

Bates has been to a number of protests and events in Minneapolis -- sharing them on Facebook Live.

“George Floyd has been the catalyst for some really massive and amazing protesting that’s led to some actual concrete changes here and across the country,” she said.

Apps, social media, live videos -- all make it easier than ever before for people to share experiences through their eyes, and not solely rely on traditional media outlets.

“We carry a computer around in our pocket that's also a broadcast camera and a phone all in one,” Shawn Tuma, a cybersecurity attorney in Dallas, Texas, said. He is the Co-chair of Data Privacy and Cybersecurity at Spencer Fane Law Firm.

Tuma said there are pros and cons to having these technologies. “It’s become a very good thing in a way, because a lot of us had no idea of the kind of things that could be happening to a George Floyd and would not have any idea of that if it weren't for someone standing there with a cell phone,” he explained. “But the other side of that is, there are now, this potential for people just going about their lives doing other activities having their lives broadcast in the same manner.”

In a time of widespread protests, technology offers more perspectives, more real-time reporting, and more awareness. However, there is also less privacy and safety.

“Things that are developed with the best of intentions and for good intentions and good purposes, will always be used for other purposes and with other intentions,” Tuma said.

This is something Bates stays aware of. “I do consider my surroundings and making sure I stay as safe as possible,” she said.

More perspectives also open the door for false information to be spread, which can cause chaos and confusion.

“You’re going to have people who have different agendas, who use those same tools for a malicious purpose,” Tuma said.

Besides Facebook and other social media platforms, an app called Citizen was developed in 2017 to do just that -- notify people of what’s happening in their community in real time. The app started in New York City and is now present in almost two dozen cities

“Police, fire, and the community all have equal access to real time information,” Andrew Frame, Founder and CEO of the Citizen app, said. He said he’s seen use of the app grow in the past couple weeks.

“You can use it for whatever you're looking for, from a transparency and a value perspective around public safety. So protests are in the app. You can decide to join a protest, you can decide to stay away from the protest, it's up to you,” Frame explained.

Considering the downsides, Tuma explained, “We can now be monitored at any point in time anywhere we are, anything we’re doing, when we’re out in public.”

Tuma also said it’s important to remember: “Nothing is free in this world. When a company develops an app and gives it to you or me or anyone else for free to use for free, we are the product.” He said to keep this in mind when sharing your information. Most apps tell you how they share your information in their privacy policy.

Our phones are giving us more access to a variety of perspectives and information in real time, and more freedom to tell our stories.

“It's important to use our own social media clout, our own mechanisms, and leverage and to amplify the message that really needs to get out there,” Bates said.