Barclays claim they comply with spirit of tax law

This statement from Barclays was read out on BBC news at 11:23am

“We comply with taxation laws in the UK and in all the countries where we do business – both in the spirit and the letter. In 2010 the group paid over £2.8bn in taxes in the UK and we’ve signed up to the government’s code of practice on taxation.”

Read this Guardian article for details of accusations that Barclays paid only 1% tax on profits of £11.6bn.

UK Uncut are out in force today holding a “bail in” at branches of Barclays bank across the UK.

For live photo updates from Barclays protests, follow these photo streams.

http://www.yfrog.com/froggy.php?username=UKuncut

http://www.yfrog.com/froggy.php?username=MissEllieMae

http://twitpic.com/photos/UKuncut

http://plixi.com/8333076

http://www.yfrog.com/froggy.php?username=directreaction

http://www.demotix.com/news/596509/ukuncut-protest-occupy-banks-londons-west-end

Why campaigning online isn’t such a waste of time

This article is partly a rehash of things that I have said before, but I think it bears repeating.

You have probably heard that the student movement against the increase of tuition fees made extensive use of Social Networks. You probably know that UK Uncut and other anti-cuts groups are organised entirely via Twitter, Facebook and their website. But the key thing, we are told, is getting out there in person to protest. Actually protesting on the internet (rather than organising) seems to be frowned upon. I recently read an article titled  Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism. The gist of the argument is that activism on the internet has no effect because it consists of adding names to petitions and sending out form emails to MPs.  I think that article missed the point; and missed the huge opportunities presented by the internet.

In a Guardian article last month Clifford Singer said that Social media has transformed protest. He talked about how social media has been used to unite activist groups and organise real-world actions,  and he was correct to say that protest has been transformed, but there is another important point to make about the power of the internet in its own right.

As a political activist who is chronically sick I have found it extremely frustrating to be undergoing a severe relapse at a time when I want nothing more than to be out protesting. I want to stand up and be counted but at the moment I can barely stand up at all. But have I really been deprived of a voice? Has my chance to change things been lost because of my illness? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no. In fact, I think I personally have had more influence through the internet than I would have had out on the streets.

Activism on the internet is not just about adding your email address to petitions, or clicking “Like” on Facebook. Petitions have their place, but tend to carry less weight than letters and debate, which is where the real power of the internet lies. I think the key areas where the internet can change things are Awareness, Debate and Influence. With millions of people using social networks raising awareness is much easier than in the physical world. Current issues come up in daily conversation online, and an interesting thing about social networks is that your friends get to see what you are talking about, even if they don’t follow the whole conversation.

The nature of the internet is such that with a bit of luck a good blog article or Youtube video can “go viral” and end up in front of hundreds of thousands of people who would not otherwise be aware of the issues. Although I was taken by surprise when this has happened to me in the past it is good to know that I had some impact even though I could not go out on the streets myself.

Social networks are a great leveller. Journalists, TV presenters, CEOs, celebrities and politicians all use social networks. It is easy, even commonplace, to have a discussion involving someone influential and to either become more informed by them or to inform and influence them yourself. I have witnessed a party affiliation change after a discussion with Ed Milliband via twitter, and I have seen MPs decide to sign Early Day Motions after constituents contacted them through twitter. I have seen journalists write about issues and bring them to a wider audience after they became aware of them through Facebook and twitter.

Websites like They Work For You and What Do They Know make it easy to keep tabs on what your elected representatives are doing at all levels of government. Sites such as Write To Them give an effortless way to send our thoughts to our politicians, sending our missives by email where it is an option, or by fax where it is not. The Tweetminster website can put you in touch with your MP via twitter. Form letters are not so effective, but thoughtful discussion through these methods can make a difference.

I am not arguing that everyone should cease protesting immediately or that they should move back from the streets to the internet. Far from it. I believe that changing opinion requires the use of every available method of protest. But here’s the thing: If you want to change opinions and like me, you can’t go out to protest, the internet isn’t such a bad place to be.

The internet, oppressive regimes, and Tor

Tor logo

A common feature of oppressive regimes is control of information. In Egypt recently the government not only blocked television signals from the likes of Al Jazeera, but they actually resorted to almost completely shutting down the internet across the whole country in an effort to prevent protesters from organising. In China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and many other places, the governments block access to sites that they consider a threat to either the government or to the moral values of the people. This usually includes social networks like Facebook and Twitter and  news organisations like the BBC and Al Jazeera.

The solution

While a partial connection to the outside world is available, there is a way to get full access – with the Tor project which you can find at www.torproject.org. Tor makes use of a network of volunteers across the world to smuggle information across the borders. The Tor website describes it like this:

“Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.”

How Tor works
How Tor breaks through the information blockade. Illustration by @Apricotmuffins

Any person in any country can run Tor software on their own computer. When someone in, say, Iran wants to get access to Facebook, Tor sends their request to someones personal computer in the UK or USA, which passes it on to Facebook or perhaps through another couple of computers first. The authorities in Iran will see only a connection between two personal computers and they will not know what web site is accessed, if they notice anything at all. Tor is aimed mostly at web browsing and instant messages as there is not enough bandwidth to allow file sharing and video streaming.

Tor relies on volunteers in “safe” countries to run their software in order to give access to the people in oppressed countries. This is where you can help. It doesn’t take long to download the software, and following the guide you can be helping people get access to subversive information in no time.

What are the drawbacks?

Tor can be used by anyone, to transfer any information. There is no guarantee that people you don’t like will not use Tor. If you run Tor on your own computer, it is likely that information that you disagree with will pass through your computer. This could be of any nature, including information helpful to terrorists, pornography, or other distasteful matters, and it is possible it could be appear to come from your computer, although it will only ever exist in passing and will never show on your computer later. It could have the same legal consequence as allowing others to use your WiFi. This is a drawback, but if we are to ensure freedom of speech then it is something that must be dealt with in ways other than by blocking their connections. In the end this is an ethical question which you must make up your own mind on.

Tor uses some of your bandwidth. If you have a download limit, Tor could use up that limit quite easily. It can also be inconvenient if Tor is using too much of your connection when you want to use it. You can limit the speed (bandwidth) used by Tor so that it does not intrude on your usage, but you cannot set a download limit other than by turning off the relay yourself if too much is downloaded.

It is not illegal to run Tor in most places outside of those oppressed countries. It might, however, break rules set by your employer, internet provider or parents if you use their connection. This may or may not be a reason to change your mind on running Tor, or you might be running Tor to break through restrictions set by those people.

Some people think it is possible that there might be a “backdoor” in the software that would allow US government agencies to track down users of Tor. Tor was originally created for the US Naval Research Laboratory before being sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and then becoming an independent non-profit organisation. Tor is open source, that is, anyone can look at the code behind the software to check for things that shouldn’t be there. I personally think it unlikely that there is a backdoor. The Tor project have this to say about it:

“There is absolutely no backdoor in Tor. Nobody has asked us to put one in, and we know some smart lawyers who say that it’s unlikely that anybody will try to make us add one in our jurisdiction (U.S.). If they do ask us, we will fight them, and (the lawyers say) probably win.”

What about elsewhere?

Tor is not just useful in countries known for oppression, but could also be useful in other places. Australia wants to censor connections against a list of bad websites. In the USA the president is talking about getting an “Internet off switch.” If that is implemented badly, then Tor may get around it. The UK already censors connections through the Internet Watch Foundation. (IWF) Our government want to filter all connections for pornography by default, and is even now attempting to keep records of of all our communications. Not the contents of them, but a record of every phone call made, every email sent, every web page looked at. Using Tor to help those in other countries can have the added advantage of erasing your own records should the government ever decide to take an interest in you.

Useful information

How to install Tor by Latentexistence

How to setup a Tor relay or Tor bridge by AnonyGreen

Measuring Tor and Iran Some information about how much Tor is used in Iran.

Countries that censor the Internet

Top 10 Countries That Censor The Internet

Diabetes

I was told that I had diabetes on the day before my 30th birthday. I wasn’t obese, and there wasn’t much that I could have done to avoid it. In fact given my family history, I pretty much expected to get Diabetes one day. I just thought it would be at least another ten years further down the line.

The doctor that diagnosed me also reassured me that with modern treatments I could still expect a reasonable life span, and I would not have to go on a diet of pure lettuce in order to survive. The other medical staff that treated me said much the same. Unfortunately no one told the diabetes that. This disease is not sticking to the plan.

My cholesterol was already below average, at 4. (The target for a healthy person is below 5.)  The first change I made was to my diet. My new diet did reduce my average blood glucose (HbA1c) down to about 10. The target for this is 7, though, and so I started taking Metformin. Metformin is like the wonder drug of diabetes. Someone taking Metformin can expect to extend their expected lifetime by as much as fifteen years, and as such it is now given to nearly everyone with diabetes.

At first a 500mg dose of Metformin got my blood glucose back in the desired range of 4 – 7 mmol/l and my HbA1c back to 7.1. After a few months it had all crept back up, and my dose was increased to 1g per day. That kept is down for a little while longer, and then my blood glucose went back up again and my dose was increased to the maximum of 2 grams per day. My next checkup found my HbA1c to be around 8 and so I was given Gliclazide in addition to the Metformin. 40mg per day seemed to be very effective – too effective, in fact, and I had several hypos. (Hypoglaecemia, where the blood glucose drops below 4mmol/l and results in shaking, dizziness, even fainting and coma.) Despite the hypos, my HbA1c was STILL not below 8 so I ended up increasing that to 80mg per day.

I have been ill in bed through most of December and all of the time from January onwards with fatigue and pain from what is probably an M.E. relapse. In that time whenever I have checked my blood glucose I have found it to be up near 10 – 15 mmol/l which is very bad. My GP put it down to me being immobile and prescribed an increase in my Gliclazide dose to 120mg per day. In the few weeks that I have been taking that dose, I have rarely measured less than 10 mmol/l.

During that time in bed I have been in intense pain on a whole new level from my previous aching caused by the M.E. The pain seems to be neuropathic in nature, with lots of burning sensations and stabbing pain in addition to the aching that I have had for years. There are several potential causes of this, with one suspect being fybromyalgia, which often accompanies M.E. Another possiblity is diabetic neuropathy which is caused by deterioration of the nerves as a result of high blood sugar but my doctor did not think this likely as I have only had diabetes for 30 months. I am undergoing lots of blood tests to try and get a diagnosis.

Then today I got a letter that I really didn’t want to get. At my recent diabetic retinopathy screening, background retinopathy was found in my right eye. Retinopathy is basically damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels. It eventually causes blindness. Nobody would expect to get diabetic retinopathy until they have had diabetes – and uncontrolled hyperglycaemia – for many years. It seems that I am already starting to be effected. The level I have at the moment does not receive any extra treatment but it must be monitored closely in case it deteriorates further.

So there we have it. I have had diabetes for a mere two and a half years, at least ten years earlier than anyone expected, and I have already exhausted the possibilities of two medicines used to treat it, am already getting eye problems, and I have a crippling pain that is potentially caused by the diabetes too. This is progressing at a staggeringly fast rate. If it carries on then I will soon be injecting insulin, may well go blind within a few years, and could well have neuropathic pain for the rest of my life.

I am crying as I write this. I’m scared. Very scared. I want to live to see forty.

A message to the SWP and Labour

People of the Labour Party, and of the Socialist Worker Party, I have a message for you.

Please don’t destroy our opposition to the cuts.

If that seems harsh, it is. But that is what you are doing. I have had several personal testimonies from people that have attended meetings of anti-cuts protesters but have left or are strongly considering leaving the movement because of takeover attempts by the SWP and recruitment efforts by Labour. Some people attest that people actually walked out of meetings because of the actions of the SWP at those meetings.

SWP, you are seen as too hardcore. You seem to want to run every meeting and every protest. You seem to feel that everyone should agree with you on all issues, and you berate anyone that disagrees with you. Your newspaper sellers are seen as so annoying and persistent that Laurie Penny said “It is highly likely that even after a nuclear attack, the only remaining life-forms will be cockroaches and sour-faced vendors of the Socialist Worker.” Not a nice comment to make, but it does show the common perception of the SWP.

In a quick poll that I conducted on twitter @suziruk said “The SWP patronise and undermine students by making it ‘all about them’ rather than allowing individuals to protest for their own reasons. They see themselves as vanguards of the movement but I think they overestimate their relevance to it.” She later added “Actually one thing I’d say is that when I talked to them individually they are mostly nice people in it for the right reasons.”

Commenting on more prominent people in the anti-cuts movement, @millie_epona said “exactly, and people who think they’re more important and can talk down. I feel pushed out of it at the moment they just make me feel like I have no role. Have stopped going to local meetings so now know I am becoming an armchair activist because I didn’t want to join SWP, basically.”

Labour, you have let down too many people. Your last government privatised and sold our country just as much as our current one, and introduced some terrible authoritarian laws. You aren’t trusted any more, and you haven’t earnt back any trust since losing power last year. You are seen to be drifting along with the governments savage cuts with barely any opposition. You are seen as responsible for many of the same problems which are used as an excuse for the cuts by the Conservatives. It is possible that you have changed, probable that you will change, but as you try to recruit people through their opposition against the cuts you simply alienate them from both your party and the cause. The Netroots UK conference held a few weeks ago was criticised because it was (perhaps unfairly) seen as a recruitment drive for Labour. People felt that the message given to them throughout the day was that they should join the Labour party. Other people have since espoused the view that people should join the Labour party, fight to change it, and then fight against cuts.

@seancourt said “I’m annoyed with people who believe that change can only come if we all say nice things to Labour and ‘reform’ it. Joining Labour won’t reform it, they’ll be the same party that they always were. Only by agitating and forming resistance can we really reform politics.”

The trade unions also need to hear this message. Many people think that they have been slow to join in against the cuts because they want to organise the protests themselves, and would rather people joined them than the other way around.

I have great respect for those that choose to work within a party to achieve their aims, but the fact is, most people do not want to join Labour or the SWP, or a trade union. Many disagree with policies of all of those. People share some causes and disagree on others but it should be acceptable to unite on the causes that we agree upon without pressure to accept the rest. Everyone can and should join the anti-cuts fight if they agree with it, regardless of party affiliation and I am not telling anyone otherwise. I am simply asking the SWP to please refrain from taking over meetings and protests, and I am asking Labour and the SWP to stop using the anti-cuts fight as a recruiting ground for their own ends.

Monopolise Resistance? – how Globalise Resistance would hijack revolt

How to deal with the SWP

The financial giants own you

Many have argued that the only hope for the British economy is to prop up the financial institutions. I have been told that since the UK no longer has a manufacturing industry and cannot compete for work against the likes of China and India, we must focus on being the financial centre of the world as our only hope for our future economy. I strongly disagree. The financial industry is insular and self serving. It might account for a vast percentage of the GDP, but ordinary people do not gain any benefit from that.

It may be true that safeguarding our financial system will keep the GDP of the country up and will keep safe all those investment funds and pensions. People that have had well paid jobs for many years have an interest in keeping “the city” and all those banks going so that they can receive their pension for the next 20 years of their retirement. Unfortunately it does very little for anyone else. It does nothing for those that can’t get jobs, can’t afford to save anything for a pension, can’t buy a house, that perhaps are even struggling to pay for rent and food. Giving tax money to the banks does not result in loans for small business, it results in multi-million pound bonuses for bankers. It was certainly not right to prop up financial institutions at a cost that hurt millions of people.

The government argues that high taxes will drive business away from the UK. I say let them go. Big businesses do not look out for the interests of ordinary people. Imagine if our banks were replaced by credit unions. If our supermarkets were replaced by co-operatives and by small shops on the high street once more, and they purchased their food from local farms at decent prices and did not toy with farmers livelihoods.

Adding to the outrage about the tax changes for the largest companies, the City of London works directly for those financial giants. The City is, astonishingly, independent of the crown and is not governed by parliament. It has a £900 million investment fund. It is not a democracy; instead it is governed by a council of Aldermen. Only a  freemen of the city may stand for election to the council, and someone can only be granted that position by a city Livery Company. You can’t stand for election just by living there.  The City has a Lord Mayor whose stated role is to travel the world to promote the financial industry.  Above all, the City does not work in your interests. It exists to serve the rich financial institutions, and it doesn’t even hide it. Source: www.taxresearch.org.uk

It is not surprising that the government is making these changes, especially in light of this information:

A study by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has found that the City accounted for £11.4m of Tory funding – 50.79% of its total haul – in 2010, a general election year. This compared with £2.7m, or 25% of its funding, in 2005, when David Cameron became party leader. Source: The Guardian

I am not an economist, and I could well be wrong in my opinion of the importance of the financial industry. But I don’t think I am wrong in this: big business pay for the Conservative party. They control the committees that advise the government. It might be conservative ideology to sell us all to their big business pals, but the Liberal Democrats gave the Conservatives the power to do what they are doing and Labour was no better. Democracy has been hijacked and capitalism has failed us.

The government have sold us out

“Our political system protects and enriches a fantastically-wealthy elite, much of whose money is, as a result of their interesting tax and transfer arrangements, effectively stolen from poorer countries and poorer citizens of their own countries. Ours is a semi-criminal money-laundering economy, legitimised by the pomp of the Lord Mayor’s show and multiple layers of defence in government.” George Monbiot

Since the Conservative government came to power I have been trying to understand the reasons for their actions that I disagree with so much. I have wanted to find a balanced view of what is happening, and tried to convince myself that they really think that what they are doing is for our benefit. I have been assured by my own MP that he thinks that despite the changes to benefits and the cuts to public services, the vulnerable are protected. I wanted to believe that the government thought they were fixing the economy, even if I disagreed with their methods.

I was a fool. The government are lying to us and they know exactly what they are doing.

The headline you will probably have seen today is Government to increase bank levy to £2.5bn and if you read the article you will see that the banks are “livid” about it. It looks like the government is actually doing something about the injustice in our tax system. In fact, it will raise just £800m extra in taxes.

The problem is, that £800m gain will be completely wiped out by what George Monbiot has called “the biggest and crudest corporate tax cut in living memory.

David Cameron told us that while he would like to cut tax, the country is in so much debt that we just can’t. Despite this, he and his government plan to quietly adjust the tax acts of 1988 and 2009 to scrap the requirement for large companies to pay tax in the UK on money earned abroad but not taxed at our levels. We will become one of only two countries in the world that does not charge tax on money that has passed through tax havens. The changes to the law will apply strictly to vast multinational corporations such as banks, oil companies and worldwide communications companies. The quantities of money involved will make even the £6bn of tax that Vodafone wriggled out of look like a pittance compared to to what our economy will lose now. This isn’t just about money either. These changes will make it pay to send jobs abroad too, and many more people will join our unemployed on the scrapheap.

Whose idea was all of this? The government consulted committees about changes to corporate tax law. Here’s some businesses that had representatives on those committees: Vodafone, Tesco, BP, British American Tobacco, HSBC, Santander, Standard Chartered, Citigroup, Schroders, RBS and Barclays.

We did not vote for the changes. This was not in any election manifesto. This was not in any party policy documents. As far as I know, it was not discussed at any party conference. The changes here amount to nothing less than vandalism and theft.

Our government is giving money back to the super rich at the same time as selling off our health service, privatising our education system, removing vital income from the sick and the disabled, cutting care services, killing libraries, even getting rid of public toilets, and much, much more. They are not your government. They exist to serve the filthy rich. Most of the cabinet ARE filthy rich, and they are treating you with contempt.

If you are not angry about this, you should be. If you are not already prepared to stand up and protest, start now. If you are not telling the government that we don’t want this, you deserve what the government is going to do to you. Find an action group. Start your own group if you can’t find one locally. The TUC are organising a massive demonstration on the 26th of March and we should support it. If you can’t physically join a protest, campaign on line. Join a campaign, get involved and say no!

Resources

UK Uncut

National campaign against fees and cuts

False Economy

March For the Alternative

Guest post: Where is my paranoid computer? – Well it’s here

This is a guest post by Frank Roper, on twitter as Walthamfrank

This piece was inspired by latentexistence’s blog article Privacy online: Where is my paranoid computer? http://www.latentexistence.me.uk/privacy-online-where-is-my-paranoid-computer/ which references something that Cory Doctorow in the book Little Brother calls Paranoid Linux. If you haven’t already read this piece then I suggest you do before reading further.

It would perhaps be better if I called this piece Where is my paranoid computer? – Well it’s here (well sort of and only under certain conditions) as we don’t yet have something that meets all of the requirements.

Before we start let’s remind ourselves of the requirements for a Paranoid Linux. These are:

  • Mesh networking
  • Random anonymous routing
  • End-to-end encryption of all traffic such as web pages, email, chat and voice
  • Digital signatures and proof of identity
  • Fake internet traffic (Chaff) to provide a decoy and hide real information

latentexistance then suggests some technologies that could meet these requirements.

After some research and searching I have managed to identify a Linux live system – this is a system which can run off either a CD or a USB memory stick – that has most of these technologies built into it. This is The (Amnesic) Incognito Live System [T(A)ILS] https://amnesia.boum.org/ T(A)ILS is designed to preserve your privacy and anonymity – all outgoing connections to the Internet are forced to go through the Tor network and no trace is left on local storage devices (the computer it’s plugged into) unless explicitly asked.

It includes the following software and services:

  • Tor and the Vidalia graphical frontend
  • Firefox preconfigured with Torbutton for anonymity and protection against evil JavaScript, FireGPG for e-mail encryption and all cookies are treated as session cookies by default; the CS Lite extension provides more fine-grained cookie control for those who need it
  • Claws Mail e-mail client, with user-friendly GnuPG support
  • Pidgin preconfigured with OTR for Off-the-Record Messaging
  • Aircrack-ng for wireless networks auditing
  • Gobby for collaborative text writing
  • onBoard virtual keyboard as a countermeasure against hardware keyloggers
  • Shamir’s Secret Sharing using gfshare and ssss

CD and USB images for T(A)ILS can be downloaded from their website (note that you may receive a security certificate error when accessing the site but it’s fine to accept an exception in this case). I’d recommend the USB distribution as you can save files to the stick.

What it does not include is mesh networking. However some work is being undertaken at present to look into providing mesh networking. The issue is that mesh is not cheap – think of it as being a mobile phone network – if you want to provide it across any significant area. For those who wish to explore providing small scale mesh networking open source systems are available that can be ‘plugged’ into existing hardware. A detailed look at this is beyond the scope of this piece but I could have my arm twisted if enough people ask!

Hey, I’m not a Linux geek I want to run stuff on My Windows PC or Mac (or even my mobile or mobile devise)

This is less easy (for this read very hard) if you don’t want to leave traces of your activities all over your computer or mobile.

As a basic you could install Tor http://www.torproject.org/index.html.en on Windows, Mac or mobile device (Tor supports Android-based phones, tablets, computers; test packages are vaialble for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and experimental instructions are available for Nokia Maemo/N900).

An additional basic step is to install email encryption. Many email clients – although it’s easier to install in some of the free /open source packages like Thunderbird – support encryption.

The next possible step is to run your applications from a USB stick, although this will still leave traces of activity on the host computers hard disk. There are a variety of pendrive applications available:

An interesting alternative is MojoPac http://www.mojopac.com which can be installed on any USB mass storage device, even an iPod. Depending on who you believe practically everything, or everything, personal (bookmarks, documents, etc) is kept within MojoPac, always with you and never touching the host computer. Currently this only works with Windows XP systems as the host.

The role of online activism

Much has been said recently about the role of the internet and online activism in protests in the UK and in more serious uprisings in places such as Tunisia and Egypt. Many people speak derisively about the use of social networks in activism as something that will never bring about any change and as a waste of time. Clearly some people disagree, for example the Egyptian government recently shut down most of the internet across the whole country in an effort to stifle the protests there.

There are two natural uses of social media in activism. The first is in simple organisation of events, typically on Facebook. People are now used to responding to party invitations issued as an “event” on Facebook and it is a logical step that protests and marches be organised in the same way. It is now standard for protests everywhere to have a Facebook event page and for many people to indicate on that page that they will attend.

The second natural use is as a way to keep in contact which replaces the mailing list. Groups such as 38 Degrees and Amnesty are good examples of this. Their members sign up on their websites, Facebook and so on, and then receive messages indicating progress made and issuing calls to action. The action is mostly in the form of emailing or writing a letter to various politicians but also covers making sure that news media are aware of the situation and give it coverage. It is clear from recent successes of online campaigns that they do make a difference, even without physically going out into the streets to protest.

Now there is a new use of social networks, and twitter in particular, and that is for online activists to support and promote the “offline activists” that are actually out there on the streets protesting. Those of us connecting up information at home have a big role in it all. We’re collating media, commenting, and linking in all the people that are following the protests, keeping it a cohesive whole.

During every demo, we are frantically passing information to people on twitter, facebook and through blogs to raise awareness amongst our friends that would otherwise be oblivious to what is going on. We have also orchestrated campaigns to get people to complain to the BBC and other news outlets about the lack of coverage. (There have been many many more protests than have been covered by the news, but only the ones with vandalism or violence seem to get coverage.) During the protests photos, video and comments are continuously sent out to twitter from the scene. Activists at home watch the stream of information coming in from those that they follow and via the relevant hashtag. We read the comments, look at the photos and videos and retweet the best ones. The ones that get retweeted by enough people end up causing a retweet storm, appearing in the hashtag timelines over and over again. We pick the best stuff from Facebook and twitter, and write about it on blogs or post it back to social networks where our friends that aren’t directly involved will see it. Once the protesters have returned home and looked at twitter, it is the most popular items that they see. In this way the ones at home have selected the best items and passed them on to all the protesters both to let them know what was happening at all the other protests and to allow them to share the best bits with their own family and friends.

Another aspect of this process that takes place online during the protests is the sharing of information between protesters. As many of the protesters post up information about what is happening around them, others nearby can see and react to this information. The point at which I first realised this was during the protests on the 30th of November. Protesters were desperate not to be kettled by the police and so they broke into groups and scattered across London at the first sign of police blocking anything. As they ran across London, many people sent messages to twitter asking where the police where, and others tweeted about where they had seen the police. People at home responded by passing information from the ones that knew to the ones that did not, and also added in information taken from watching live TV footage. Protesters on the ground actually changed direction based on this information to avoid the police. At other protests twitter has been used to clarify information about how best to leave an area, to find people, and to warn people away from danger such as areas where police where using batons or charging with horses.

So useful has this been, that a group of clever people have taken this whole process and packaged it up into a system called Sukey. Sukey collates information from all the protesters, the police, and the people watching TV or just retweeting information from the scene, and then feeds it all into computer algorithms that watch for trouble spots forming. Sukey then alerts people at the protests via text messages and through maps on their mobile phones and hopefully gives them enough warning to get away before any trouble. This worked admirably well on the 29th of January and even forced the police to be more open and provide more information. My only regret is that Sukey may have made some of my contribution redundant!

In this world of online activism it is still of vital importance that people actually go out and protest in person. To this end there have been quite a few events, workshops and campaigns aimed at turning online activism into offline action. One blog that you should look at for this is Beyond Clicktivism. While it is vitally important for people to have real involvement away from the internet, there are many people that are unable to do so for various reasons including responsibilities at home or work, or illness and disability. For these people online activism is the only way that they can play a part.

Online activists, then,

  • Write articles and blogs about the cause, both for activists and for the public
  • Sift through photos, videos and articles then promote the best ones to other activists.
  • Present the cause, and news about events to activists and non-activists
  • Convey information between activists, keeping them linked and safe
  • Keep a continuous presence on social networks, thus keeping other people engaged
  • Allow people that cannot physically attend protests to play a large part anyway

I was fascinated by a recent article from Market Sentinel and a network graph about connections on twitter related to UK Uncut. The connections are assessed by how often what a person says in connection with the #ukuncut hashtag is retweeted by other people. This is a very rough indication of how involved each name is within UK Uncut. The graph does not show the names of leaders, but the names that the most people find interesting enough to pass on. Because anyone can tweet on the #ukuncut hashtag the graph also shows some of the trolls – unpleasant people trying to bait and taunt others – that were retweeted by other detractors of UK Uncut.

A graph showing influence and connections within UK Uncut on Twitter
Network graph of people most active on #ukuncut - Click to show the full size version