The apps empowering BLM protesters right now

Police brutality is the enemy, racial equality is the goal, and technology is becoming the vehicle for change. 

Many of you won’t be old enough to recall this with much clarity, but I remember the 2011 London Riots like they happened yesterday. A 29-year-old black man named Mark Duggan was shot dead after the Metropolitan Police followed up on ‘intelligence’ that he was seeking to distribute controlled drugs and firearms. The unit on duty claimed to have feared for their lives and ended Duggan’s in self-defence. The Londoner’s firearm were later found in a grassy plain five meters away on the other side of a fence. Suffice to say, the details were sketchy. 

England’s capital city erupted into chaos in the days that followed. Five lives were lost, businesses were looted citywide, arson was rife, and over 3000 arrests were made. Now, while this radical event is in no way comparable to the Black Lives Matter protests unfolding today; in terms of both authenticity, and democratic legitimacy, it did provide us with a glimpse into how social media could be harnessed to aid those fighting the system at ground level. Almost a decade later, digital exploits continue bringing power to the people.  

BlackBerry Messenger was the go-to platform for rioters in 2011, as it offered encrypted messaging through the sharing of BBM PINs and was entirely untraceable to the authorities. It became the central hub for coordinating mass gatherings, sharing live locations through GPS, and spreading new revelations about the Duggan case. The police were powerless to intercept attacks ahead of time and were entirely reactionary. But today, with the Black Lives Matter movement growing by the day in the US and the UK, just how are protesters staying connected locally and making the best use of their time? 


The apps of today


Signal 

2020 is proving to be a good year to cover your face. People are understandably keen to conceal sensitive information like photos and videos, especially those protesting in US states notorious for cases of police brutality, and Signal has become the go to app for protecting identities. 

While similar apps may have technologies that retain the original unedited photo within a cloud network, Signal’s face detection and blurring take place solely on the phone. The software automatically detects nearby faces and can blur them all at the touch of a button – though Signal warn that the automatic recognition may not detect partial faces or those in the periphery, so manual blurring is advised too. 

People can message one another within the app’s chat feature without worrying about user data being turned over to the authorities too, because it doesn’t collect any. For this very reason, the app has been propelled into the iOS top 10 (most downloaded) for the first time in its history. 


Citizen 

According to analytics from App Annie, Citizen has been downloaded a whopping 600,000 times in the last week. Through monitoring 911 reports live, the app is working 24/7 to bring alerts revealing the location of ‘public emergencies’ to its users across the US. Complete with a timeline of videos uploaded by those already in the area, people can amass to peacefully protest if any injustice is deemed to be taking place.

Others are using the app purely for transparency, safety, and situational awareness when attending protests. In future cases of police brutality, you can bet you’ll be seeing public intervention on an unfounded scale. We will always innovate and adapt.


Twitter 

When it comes to current affairs, Twitter has long been the best place to receive updates minute by minute. And predictably, it has become the social media platform of choice for those partaking in the protests. 

What we didn’t predict, was that Twitter would overtake Facebook and Instagram in the weekly download stats. For those who don’t keep up to date with this kind of thing, that’s a very big deal and seriously rare. Previous records for daily active users and weekly downloads have been smashed, with the spikes reaching 40million and 677,000 respectively. 

With thousands wising up to the swift nature of Twitter and its ability to empower and educate the masses, it will be interesting to see if it can sustain its challenge to Facebook and Instagram once the protests lower from boiling point to a steady simmer. 

People are clearly veering away from perennially popular apps in order to contribute towards something that can really make a difference, and companies who actively oppose this movement will likely suffer in the long term. We’ve already seen the birth of the #deleteFacebook campaign, following Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to take down Donald Trump’s post – which many claimed was a deliberate action to incite violence against protesters. 

We’re undoubtedly bearing witness to one of the most crucial moments of the 21st century right now. And global institutions are going to be massively impacted by the stance they take. Fight the good fight.  

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