Occupy as a Testbed for Protest Technologies

While the OWS (and affiliated Occupies) have taken up a great deal of our space here during the first month of the blog it has been good to see that many of my colleagues have been making connections between Occupy and other movements. My own interest was piqued by this piece in Wired’s Threat Level blog on a State Department funded initiative at the New America Foundation aimed at supporting democratic protestors but which is using the Occupy movement as a test bed for their technology.

The idea is to create a portable wireless communications and internet network that activists could use to coordinate activity and disseminate news and accounts in a way that gets around media filters and state censorship regimes; think of some of the censorship that occurred during the Arab Spring and the problems that protestors in places like China and Iran still have to find a way around. The problem faced by this initiative, as well as many attempts to bring complex and delicate technologies into places that may not have the infrastructure, or even an hostile infrastructure, is the number of problems that arise in real-world situations that are difficult to predict or model in a lab.

By using Occupy the researchers are able to gain some real world experience for how their technologies may be used (so far not so well) but it also raises issues of who should have control of this technology and whether a planned sort of technology like this is better at addressing this sort of problem than DIY hacks and local work-a rounds.

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