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Twitter this! Police follow activists into cyberspace using old school techniques

by Kate Milberry

Twitter this! Police follow activists into cyberspace using old school techniques

The Toronto Police Service and Integrated Security Unit have waded in to unfamiliar territory with their use of microblogging and social networking services in their effort to keep G8/G20 messaging “on point.” Following the buzz around social media, law enforcement have followed grassroots organizers, media activists and community groups onto Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The Toronto Police Service released "A Social Media Guide to G20 Summit” aimed at securing public confidence in the security measures authorized by the Harper government and enforced by various law enforcement agencies. “If the purpose of the security measures are properly explained...from the source, the payoff will be an educated and informed public...” stated TPS public affairs liaison Meaghan Gray.

Both the TPS and the G20 Integrated Security Unit have Facebook pages, where they post “news” updates, including reports on traffic delays, perimeter information and press releases. The TPS has its own channel on YouTube where it posts “public service announcements.” They have also been making use of Twitter in a similar fashion, in addition to broadcasting geolocations of marches in progress.

However, it seems that TPS is missing the boat when it comes to the true spirit of social media, employing instead a broadcast or “industrial media” approach when it comes to social software in cyberspace. Social media are generally understood as web-based technologies that transform the traditional one-to-many “monologue” model into into social media dialogues. According to Wikipedia, social media “support the democratization of knowledge and information and transform people from content consumers to content producers.” 

TPS tweets include promotional posts like: “Protesters gather outside Children's Aid Society of Toronto. Peaceful Protest is the key!”  Tweets from the ISU range from informational— “Security Measures Begin to Take Effect for G8 Summit“—to propagandistic, such as “Correction: : ISU does not use provocateurs.”

Rather than fostering conversation and collaboration amongst users, law enforcement seem to be struggling to catch up as activists blaze a new trail in cyberspace. One memorable TPS tweet was a response to the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, which had asked TorontoPolice to “stop sending cops to marches, demonstrations, meetings and our community spaces. Especially undercover ones.” TorontoPolice responded: “Why?”

Despite the old school use by police, social media have joined the ranks of traditional communication channels such as television, radio and print as well as online news outlets, not just as tools but as bonafide sources of information.

In the months of organizing leading up to the G8/G20 Summits, activists used Facebook to do community outreach, disseminate information, coordinate actions and publicize meetings. As the week of resistance unfolds, Twitter has emerged as the unofficial back channel, with activists, independent media and community groups using it to report about events as they occur in real time, including arrests and police harassment, as well as to keep in touch with the action from remote locales. Activists also use the microblogger to issue updates, call outs and advisories, such as the one warning activists to travel in groups to deter police harassment.

YouTube is also a hotbed of activity as activists record arrests and police interference at peaceful assemblies. Media activist Franklin Lopez uploaded his first video report, called “Escape the Freedom Fence.” Activist Dan Kellar has been uploading live streams taken from his iphone. The Media Co-op  a coast-to-coast network of local media cooperatives, is aggregating the various social media feeds on its special G20 website,

The site design reflects how “the way we share information has changed,” explains Dru Oja Jay, an independent journalist with the Co-op. “The idea is to aggregate everything so there's a single point of promotion. People who are contributing to their own Twitter account or YouTube channel are not necessarily going to get much attention. When we bring it together in one location we can amplify those voices and keep people better informed.”

Global justice activists have been at the bleeding edge of social media development and use since the birth of Indymedia, an online network of radical media making collectives. Indymedia debuted its open publishing software at 1999's Battle of Seattle, the massive public demonstration against the neoliberal policies of the World Trade Organization.

Open publishing was the first tool to enable direct, unmoderated publishing to the web, allowing citizen reporters to bypass mainstream media gatekeeping. “Indymedia was a really radical thing in 1999, when there weren't the online tools to easily share your information. That was really the beginning of social media,” says Jay. “Since then, there's been an explosion of more refined corporate tools – YouTube, Blogger, Flickr and Twitter— which have really decentralized way people share information online."

If you want to contribute to the G20 conversation online, use the hashtag #g20report.

Curious as to why tens of thousands are protesting the G8/G20 summits?  Go to for up to the minute G20 and G8 Summit Protest Reporting, straight 'outta the Alternative Media Centre!

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KateMilberry (Kate Milberry)
Toronto & Vancouver
Member since June 2010


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Solid Work

As managing editor for B Channel News, being here in Victoria while others with my collective are actually in Toronto, I have been watching the twitter feeds quite a bit. So I can say with some authority that the author of this article has presented a very cohesive snapshot of the social media landscape around the G20. Solid work.

cyberspace security +police

it is better to share new and practicale art. about cyberspace security +police and send me or buy.

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