Use of Non-Traditional, Emerging, or Unique Social Networking Tools

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Use of Non-Traditional, Emerging, or Unique Social Networking Tools

This discussion thread focuses primarily on the use of non-traditional, emerging, or unique social networking tools. The example provided in the conversation description references the use of FireChat during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. The app, originally built for use at music festivals, operates through the use of "mesh networking" allowing users to converse within one another without access to a traditional data network or wi-fi. This allowed users to organize and discuss with those near them, without fear of government monitoring. This is but one example of a new networking tool being used in a unique way.

Below are a few questions to frame the discussion and provide a starting point for discussion.

  • How do organizations or individuals use social networking as a method for organizing?
  • How do you identify new social networking tools to match needs?
  • What are the new and emerging social networking tools that are or could be used in advocacy?
  • What is needed or missing? What social networking tools need to be developed to assist activists, advocates, and defenders?
Emerging tools for organizing

In my work as a technology consultant, I spend a lot of time looking for new tools and ways of creating and sustaining meaningful relationships online. I recently wrote a blog post on several of the tools I've been looking at recently. I'm generally looking for interoperability - the right tool for the right job, with the ability to sync actions across the board, which is why I volunteer with the Open Support Data Interface (OSDI). Text-messaging tools are also very interesting as open rates are much higher than email - the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns have both used a tool called Hustle, and I'm presently working with an OSDI developer who's building a tool that puts text messaging and email into threaded conversations in a dashboard for distributed organizing of small groups. 

Interesting organizing tools...

Thank you, Adriel. I hadn't heard of Hustle, it looks really interesting. Do you know of any issues as far as opt-in/opt-out requirements? I would imagine that since it is using SMS, the individuals would have the choice to text back a code to remove themselves from the list, but are tehir best practives for creating your original list to import into Hustle?

I am also really interested in hearing more about the new interface you are developing at the moment. Do you see it eventually working primarily as a tool for organizing groups... much like Hustle? Or do you see other potential uses for it, particularly through the lens of human rights activists?

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I don't want to speak for Adriel on OSDI, but as I understand it, both of these tools are really about reorienting digital outreach to focus on relationships with constituents. OSDI makes it easier to track supporter behavior across different platforms used by social good organizations. Hustle allows organizers to reach lots of supporters via SMS as a way of starting one-on-one conversations. Along with The Groundwork and others, they're part of a new generation of tools that recognizes that power doesn't come just from having a lot of people on your email list or liking your Facebook page, but from having deep relationships with supporters who are willing to take action on behalf of your cause beyond clicktivism.

This is just as critical for human rights advocacy groups as any other. Building power to expose abuses, free prisoners or reform an oppressive regime requires thinking in terms of relationships and deep organizing just like any other goal. In the case of human rights, it may actually be more critical given the need for ordinary people to provide on-the-ground information, observation, video documentation, etc.. Organizations like United for Iran have done tremendous work built upon the contributions of highly committed supporters.

One piece that will be interesting is seeing how these technologies translate across contexts. I could imagine Hustle being incredibly powerful in places where SMS is really dominant. Does anyone have good case studies of deep, SMS-based organizing outside the US?

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SMS organizing case study


I am particularly interested in the way you are emphasizing these tools for building relationships with consitutents. You asked about case study examples. The case study, Sending Out an SMS: A rapid-response mobile phone network engages a youth constituency to stop torture fastdescribes how Amnesty International - Netherlandsdeveloped their text-message alert network and how it helped them attract an entirely new constituency of support for their work.

This case study, now well over a decade ago, is still incredibly relevant, and I think will be fun for people to see the progress that has been made in mobile phones!  AI-Netherlands were very cutting edge at the time and they provide very good insights, particularly in terms of building new consituencies. They were seeking to both educate and engage young people in their anti-torture advocacy work with a focus on building a solid relationship with this new constituent group. 

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Additional SMS organizing case studies


Here are two advocacy campaign examples from a Strategy Guide #2: Using Mobile Phones in Advocacy Campaigns: 

  • Greenpeace, "Zero Waste" SMS text message campaign in Argentina to shape waste management policy to institute a future with less landfill use, more recycling, and no waste incinerators in Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Fahamu, South Africa, used SMS test messaging in a Pan-African campaign to mobilize public support and succeeded in the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in African

There are also some more recent case study examples specially from using the Frontline SMS tool. Frontline SMS was a ground-breaking tool first used in election monitoring (Nigeria, Kenya) and many places since and now for a wide variety of other advocacy areas including environmental conservation, health, and human rights, etc.

Do you know of other tools that have been collecting stories of their effective use in activism and advocacy?

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SMS and opt-in

I've reviewed some legal opinions about text messaging recently that indicate the opt-in requirement in the U.S. is a lot more fluid than you'd think. Organizing apps may fall outside of the FCC's definition of "autodialer" and related restrictions. However, there should definitely be ways to easily remove yourself from a list. Building a mobile opt-in list can be challenging - one best practice is shortcodes with direct calls to action at events ("Take your phone our right now and text 'human rights' to xxxxx"). I've asked a friend who works in SMS to join the conversation as I'm sure she has more examples.

The new tool a colleague is developing is similar in some ways to Hustle - but for human rights activism, I see its use of threaded conversation as being the most helpful. It can collect incoming texts and emails in an activist profile for coordination by a remote organizer. 

How do you identify new social networking tools to match needs?

Adriel's post on Emerging tools for organizing and the Frisco5 example and Brent's post on social networking apps that link people together got me wondering about additional ways in which mobile applications could advance advocacy efforts. Is there already an app that combines the following features for the PURPOSES that I want?

  • SMS - a text messaging feature that provides the critical component for relationship building in the social network. PURPOSE: connect people together with information about the issue, current developments regarding the issue, what action people can take or do about it, etc)
  • Opt-in feature - the feature that provides for direct engagement. PURPOSE: people choose to make themselves known to others in the social network (commit to join a demonstration, host an event, sign a petition, give money, etc.)
  • Crowd source data collection - the feature that provides a way for people share, collect, aggregate and analyze information. PURPOSE: make a problem visible, show the extent of the problem, and have leverage to hold those responsible accountable

Using the Frisco5 example, what are the potential next steps in advancing their amazing work to address police reforms in San Francisco? How might the police reforms being discussed become ways to document change with social networking tools helping them to do so?

Many other communities in the United States are facing similar challenges and not unlike those faced by communities in other parts of world. The Nation article provides some interesting ideas emerging and particularly how police body cameras can be useful to monitor police and community interactions. Citizen participation and tools for effective monitoring would be essential for accountability. I've taken a couple of the ideas from the article that I think could be accessible for "citizen monitoring" - by those directly interacting with police as well as citizen witnesses - and highlighted the tools:

  • Commendation [Complaint] Rate -  police obtain “customer” evaluations. How often do officers receive commendations or complaints from residents? Commendation requirement: the “thanks” be recorded by officers’ body cameras and flagged for evaluators. Commendation rate would be measured against citizen complaints collected like harassmap. The complaints could also be verified by the officers' body cameras. Toolsbody camera, citizen SMS, Opt-in feature regarding both complaints and commendations, and crowd source data collection would verify locations, types of interactions, and for those that "opt-in", personal verification
  • Successful de-escalation rate - encourages de-escalation to minimize the use of force, prevent crime, and measurement of this kind of skillful practice in the field.  Toolsbody camera, citizen SMS, Opt-in feature and crowd source data collection would verify locations, these types of interactions, and for those that "opt-in", personal verification.

Based on the types of information collected, documented and analyzed, a "Travel Advisor" type of rating system (1 - 5 stars) could be generated for police stations and verified by citizens in the community.  

Are these features already available in one app? What other tools do you see organizations, communities or movements using for monitoring and advocacy efforts?

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"Mobile Justice"

Texting is really powerful because it doesn't require a download. But your post made me thing of the suite of new apps from the ACLU for documenting interactions with the police. Video gets pushed to app in the cloud even if the physical phone is seized or destroyed.

Mobile Justice


Thank you for sharing these terrific articles. I was particularly struck by the different Apps in this article you highlighted, many were developed because of personal experiences with law enforcement. I think it's worthwhile to highlight a few of them such as:

  • Hands Up 4 Justice,” allows people to discreetly record interactions with police officers during traffic stops, etc
  • I’m Getting Arrested,” inspired by Occupay Wall Street movement, sends texts to emergency contacts that you’ve pre-programmed into your phone. 
  • The SWAT App, captures video and live-streams it to friends nearby as well as automates the police complaints process.
  • "Five-O", created by three teenagers, allows citizens to record and store data from every encounter with law enforcement and allows the community to rate individual officers and police departments as a whole.
I am also aware of a similar app developed for Egyptians similar to the "I'm Getting Arrested app, called Beyt2ebed 3alia, also translated as, “I am being arrested,” which works on Android and Blackberry phones.
I'm sure there are other apps being used in other countries. Are there other such apps that people are aware of that they can share of how people are using social network tools to not just connect with each other, but using apps for accountability and justice?
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Emerging tools for organizing

I understand  the messaging app - Telegram is reputed to be encrypted and very secure for users. I'm wondering if anyone has any experiences and recommendations regarding the Telegram app?

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@Nancy I know some folks who

@Nancy I know some folks who are using it. It took off as an alternative to WhatsApp when WhatsApp was bought by Facebook and I'm glad to see it's gotten some traction.

Give the limited attention that Silicon Valley pays to privacy, I think having support for development of apps like Telegram is critical. The Guardian Project has done some great work here, and the new Irancubator is interesting. Do others have go-to resources for secure, privacy oriented tools?

Example from Conversation Description

I wanted to share a few links to articles related to the example outlined in the desription of this conversation. Specifically the use of Firechat, a mesh networking tool, during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. A bit of background -- the app is used as a way to communicate between individuals without the use of a data network, relying on bluetooth and wifi. The app was never intended for use in protests or organizing, but was adapted to serve that need during the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan and the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, when it was difficult to use data with so many people on their devices. However, the app was not perfect:

While using the peer-to-peer network allowed protesters to message off-the grid across distances of up to 200 feet, all communications were public, and its users were unauthenticated. This left Firechat users wide open to potential monitoring and manipulation by Chinese authorities. via

The Motherboard article referenced above discusses some encrypted messaging platforms that may be a more secure way to chat, including "TextSecureThreema, and Cyphr, an app developed by Switzerland-based Golden Frog, whose VyprVPN can vault the Great Firewall of China." Also, a CNN article on the use of Firechat during the Umbrella Revoolution stated: 

FireChat is now only one of a number of apps -- Serval MeshCommotion and Storymaker - that are competing in the mesh-network services space. A Russian mesh-networking app called Telegram was used in South Korea in May after the government announced a crackdown in response to rumors that were spreading on the Korean homegrown messaging sevice Kakao Talk. via

Both the Motherboard and an Adweek article ( reference how the experience has forced Firechat's developers, Open Garden, and others, to reassess and adapt their apps for other purposes. This is an interesting unintended impact of the protests in Hong Kong. As an example, "Firechat announced that it was partnering with news-gathering platform Storyful on Wednesday to create Open Live Newsroom, a place for verified journalists to chat with citizens around the world." via

Monitoring of Networking Tools

Thanks for sharing the usage of other alternative networking tools, Brent and Adriel. The advancement of new networking tools is important for activists as a mode of communication and discourse with each other. Increased monitoring and surveillance of traditional networking tools like FB and Whatsapp can impede free speech and advocacy. Therefore new networking tools that can escape governmental monitoring and surveillance is greatly welcomed!

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Usage of Telegram

Nancy, a friend of mine uses Telegram for work purposes. She finds it extremely useful and better than Whatspp as she can send Word documents and pdf files.

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Mobile app connects individuals at risk to legal support

I just saw this story and thought it might be of interest to this dialogue:  Soldiers' Mothers of Saint Petersburg developed a mobile app that builds upon their legal support work that has previously been featured on the New Tactics site:

In addition to providing legal information and resources to draftees, the app allows individuals to connect directly to the organization's lawyers and safely send messages to family members on an emergency basis if they are detained and forcibly drafted.