Let me get this out of the way from the start. The argument, “I have nothing to hide,” holds no merit. It’s a personal choice to use one’s real name online, and those who choose to do so should respect those who choose not to. My immediate concern is not with the NSA (while that is a grave concern of mine) but with individuals who insert themselves into activist forums to disrupt and, gather intel, and destroy the careers of supporters of social justice causes. These individuals could be law enforcement, private contractors, or unstable individuals who develop vendettas and seek only to harass activists online and in real life.
A recent example of surveillance affecting one’s livelihood occurred in October of 2013 when an Oakland activist was allegedly fired after police tracked him at protest and alerted his employer.
The activist, who goes by @Anon4Justice on Twitter, tweeted the details Monday morning in what appears to be police use of surveillance footage in combination with private and public records that identified @Anon4Justice and led to his employer.
Kenneth Lipp reports in “How Police Use Social Media To Monitor, Respond to, and Prevent Mass Gatherings”
Blair also says that the organizer of the event was very effectively using twitter and Facebook to promote it and direct congregants. He says this person was their “best intelligence officer,” as he was not only posting video and images from on scene with descriptions, but had left on his GPS and was allowing them to closely track his real time location. Toronto PD’s intelligence on the Palestinian demonstration was enhanced by the media the organizer posted, allowing them to survey the setting and identify people from images and video. The Star has reported that Toronto Police used the Canadian Banking Association’s facial recognition software in attempting to identify suspects involved in a actions at the 2010 G20 Summit. (An intense set of photos can be found here of the property damage and clashes between protesters, called “thugs” by the mayor, and police).
Recently, during the January 2014 trial of the “NATO 3,” prosecutors introduced Facebook messages from defendants as evidence. Also entered as evidence were news stories the defendants had posted on Facebook.
Kevin Gosztola reports that
“[Betterly] sent a Facebook message saying he had the cops’ faces “etched” in his brain. He joked that this showed the police were afraid of protesters too.
The tough talk is supposed to show that they would have committed the crimes, which they charged with committing. It is about using the language of their daily conversation to present characters that come off as repulsive to the jury.
The messages where explosives or taking on the police, perhaps violently, do not come off as serious at all. They are juvenile and laden with “lol” or “lmao” or “lmfao.” It seems to be funny how far they might go to show police they are tough protesters willing to confront the police state.
Then, there are some serious messages. They genuinely believed that the protests at the NATO summit were going to turn into a riot. They thought the combo of National Guard and Chicago police might have something to do with it because tens of thousands of protesters would be there. Together, they thought some kind of shit was gonna go down. But what exactly?
None of the messages specifically indicate that they were going to be the ones to start the riot. “We’re gonna get our riot.” That is not the statement of a person planning to start the riot. That indicates a belief that the riot is likely to happen and they will enjoy it because of the thrill from being in the midst of protest activity where police and protesters are fighting each other.
Thus, it would appear the extent of the state’s case is that they committed multiple thought crimes and undercover police were there to show they may have acted on those thoughts because there are recordings of them making Molotovs with undercover police.” http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2014/01/30/nato-3-trial-prosecutors-present-facebook-messages-with-very-little-evidence-related-to-alleged-offenses/
Concerns should not be limited to law enforcement and government agents, however. Activists, journalists, and non-activists should be wary of posting their personal details on Facebook and other parts of the world wide web. What’s troubling about Facebook is its demand for individuals to use their real names, and the constant requests to inform Facebook about just about every detail of one’s life. Those who think they are doing nothing wrong and should therefore post their details all over the internet should consider that it leaves them vulnerable to cyber criminals. An identity thief only has to go through someone’s pictures on Facebook and can usually learn family members’ names, names of former schools, favorite books, siblings names. The recent security questions for my online banking account included answers like mother’s maiden name, street my high school was on, youngest brother’s middle name, and first pet. Numerous individuals share this information publicly on Facebook. There is no reason for this. Until you’ve been a victim of identity theft or cyber-harassment, it’s hard to understand how horrific this experience can be. I see no reason to make it easier for people to gain information about me. Government surveillance is only one factor that should cause an activist to share details sparingly, if at all. Unfortunately, activism can attract unstable individuals or people with vendettas that go beyond trolling.
Merely blogging about activism or giving one’s name at a protest can result in attacks from community members who hold conflicting political beliefs. A New Orleans woman attended a protest neutrally to write about it on her blog, and for three weeks, commenters on a local news article listed her name, address, and employer. Despite the fact that she didn’t identify as an anarchist or organizer, she was described as an anarchist and the leader of most protests in that city. This was simply not true, but because she had been involved in a local anti-gentrification cause to save a park from developers, she was photographed by real estate agents, and false information regarding her involvement in vandalism she was not even aware of was fed to her landlady who works for the same realtor. This sometimes activist and citizen journalist and educator is now being threatened with eviction over issues like having tools in her yard. Earlier that year, she had organized a permitted march that included musicians playing instruments to protest a noise ordinance. She was interviewed on television for this, and a woman she had never met was jealous for not receiving credit for the protest. This woman had done nothing to organize the protest, but launched into a 3 week campaign in which she stalked the activist in real life, uploaded photographs of her to the Facebook pages of news stations, and identified the activist as a violent anarchist. This sometimes activist and sometimes writer has difficulty finding a job because of the numerous smear campaigns.
If someone absolutely has to use social networking to meet people to organize an activist event, they should be allowed to make initial contact and then set up a meeting in real life. “Sock puppets,” or fake accounts set up to gather information about activists are all to frequent, and anyone using social networking sites should be wary of individuals who ask a lot of questions about activism and then never show up in real life. This also goes for Facebook pages set up to organize huge marches but are managed by individuals who never attempt to hold face to face meetings. If someone is organizing a local event and doesn’t want to use his or her real name, that’s understandable. If it’s a legitimate organizer, they’ll try to contact interested attendees, have a meeting or a sign-making party, and discuss the critical details somewhere besides Facebook. However, individuals who create Facebook pages for huge marches and then never attend the events should raise a few red flags. It makes no sense to set up multiple Facebook pages for local events, collect information about attendees, and then not attend the event. A particular individual who does this manages the hijacked Occupy New Orleans Facebook page and is living in Florida. This individual scours Facebook searching for National Days of Action and then creates events which he does not organize. Typically a few people attend and wonder why activism is so awful. Meanwhile, others are organizing offline and have successful rallies that address real local issues.
This is a brief introduction to a series of articles on Occupy New Orleans and agent provocateurs who use Facebook to disrupt movement building.