Rory Cellan-Jones

G20: The social media battle

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 31 Mar 09, 15:01 GMT

Members of the police, it seems, are bracing themselves for trouble on the streets of London as the G20 summit gets underway. But there's also a battle going on in cyberspace, as the various protest movements use all the latest tools to organise.

We've become accustomed to seeing Facebook, Twitter and other social networks used to bring together protesters or to run campaigns. What's different this time is that it's not just opponents and critics of the global get-together who are using these tools - it's also the organisers themselves.

g20meltdown226.jpgLet's have a look across the online G20 landscape.

First of all, you've got the usual websites where protesters gather - not very different from what was around in 2003 when major protests against the Iraq war took place in cities around the world.

So, for instance, there's "G20 meltdown", which says it has these three goals:

1. Participate in a carnival party at the Bank of England
2. Support all events demonstrating against the G20 during the meltdown period (from March 28th onwards)
3. Overthrow Capitalism

There is no timetable, I notice, for that last goal. But protesters are also using new tools that weren't widely available in 2003. All sorts of Facebook groups are organising all sorts of events around the G20 summit.

And "G20 meltdown" has one of the biggest with more than 3,000 members. I see that there's a lively discussion on the topic: "Is G20 Meltdown an MI5-backed infowar, propaganda exercise?"

Then, of course there is Twitter - but while this may well be a good way of exchanging information, I doubt that it's a major force in organising demonstrations - one social media expert told me he reckoned Twitter was "an older person's tool" and that young anarchists were unlikely to be tweeting their exploits.

london_summit226.jpgOn the other side of the fence, it's not hard to find official G20 material online - websites, Twitter feeds and so on.

But more interestingly, there's what you might call a "third way" - a swathe of social media activity which is sponsored, or encouraged by the government.

One of these projects is Yoosk London Summit, run by a business which is attempting to provide a debating forum where the public can engage directly with politicians. Yoosk says this particular venture allows anyone to put questions direct to "an impressive line-up of ministers, business and civil society leaders" about the financial crisis. I notice that today, for instance, "SadBog74" is asking Gordon Brown:"Should G20 nations agree to tax bailed-out-bank bonuses at a minimum rate of 90%, as Barack Obama has done so in the USA?"

Yoosk is an independent business, but this project has government money behind it - so how independent can it be? Tim Hood of Yoosk told me, "We're walking a fine line - we have a level of access that we wouldn't get otherwise. It's not as independent as we'd like - but we're getting there."

whitebandaction226.jpgThen there is G20 Voice - a group of 50 bloggers who are going to be given access to the summit, in an exercise organised by Oxfam but sponsored by the Foreign Office. They range from Daniel Kaufman, a writer on corruption and financial crises to Rui Chenggang, a blogger and financial news presenter for Chinese TV.

Also among them is Lloyd Davis, a British social media consultant who told me that 25 years ago he'd stood on picket lines during the miners' strike but was now a little old for that kind of thing. "They might say we've all been 'captured'," he told me, "but I'm interested in the issues here, and how we can organise our way through this recession or depression."

Mr Davis and his fellow bloggers have had security clearance so that they can get into the Excel centre and attend the press conferences, which means there could be an alternative view of events from that provided by the mainstream media.

So new social media tools can provide ways for demonstrators to wreak havoc on the streets, though they are very public places if you're planning anything you don't want the police to read about. They can be used by governments to parrot an official line about the G20. Or they can provide a forum for a genuinely open-minded debate about a crisis which affects us all. Then again, the Twittering, blogging and Facebooking about the G20 could turn out to be a minority interest. Maybe we're about to find out just how interested young social networkers are in world events rather than in celebrity gossip?


  • Comment number 1.

    World Food Programme has a call to action on their site:

    This was posted yesterday and already is making waves on Twitter, Facebook,, Stumbleupon and a number of other social networking sites.

    In terms of activism and mobilizing the world of social networker have already proved their interest!

  • Comment number 2.

    Not one mention of Unite the Union? and they are the largest union in the country and behind most of the demonstrating activity.

    eg @uniteg20demo,

    I'm not a member or an activist or anything but this seems a large omission!

  • Comment number 3.

    I think the prospect is extraordinary -- i have argued before that the current crisis is not economic alone but at its core it arose from a broad cultural phenomenon and will be resolved with significant cultural changes. In that regard, I have also identified three features that virtually all the protests in every segment of the world share in common: 1) the protests represent an alignment of the middle class to the working class, rejecting the standards and lifestyle of the upper class (in part because that lifestyle has clearly been unattainable for some period of time); 2) their anger is not focused on one or two issues in particular, but a general feeling of disgust aimed at governments, bankers, the investment community, and certain corporations and their executives; and 3) they all want the same thing: more money and programs designed to aid them at the expense of not helping those they identify as responsible for the crisis in the first place. Furthermore, they want that help even if the government doesn't have the resources without borrowing.

    If you think about it, these conditions are very similar to the period preceding The French Revolution (as well as other revolutions). But of course the way those conditions emerge and give shape to some political movement will be different now than then. What will be different? A global population that can access each other and coalesce into communities on line very quickly and able to communicate real time 24/7/365 -- with very little start-up costs -- in a world where "journalists" are going the way of the newspapers that hired them and "neo-journalists" in the form of bloggers and users of social media opine and report and assert often with no credentials and a hidden agenda. How would the French Revoluion be fought in the age of the Internet? As I see protests surrounding the G20 occuring around the world, with the base community of people networked against "the system" growing each time somebody adds their email to a list, I think it's very possible we just may find out.

  • Comment number 4.

    Number 2 - Rob Murray - this is a blog post, not a comprehensive list of G20 web resources, but happy to see people posting links here.

    Since writing this, I've also been contacted by the people from AudioBoo - which allows you to upload sound recordings to the cloud from a phone. They say there will be "booing" from inside and outside the G20 summit. I bet there will!

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm expecting an image of green mohawk'd crusty climbing on a statue in tomorrow's London Lite as much as i'm expecting thousands of pointless arrests, as there's here's an all-too-standard format for mainstream media reporting on activism. The difference this year is that these new platforms will provide a more indepth and far less generalised story to a wider audience than ever before, without letting one vox-pop speak for all.

    I'd certainly get value engaging with bloggers granted access to the proceedings inside, but it depends entirely on how moderated their posts are going to be, and whether it will be uncensored opinion, whether comments will be allowed and how many channels. I wouldn't suggest that this is collusion dressed up as dissent, but the execution of it will determine whether this is just a social media party piece to give the illusion of 'openness' - one which is almost laughable given the palpable security presence on my street in london today.

    Amidst fears of a violent 'mob mentality' coming out during the impending protests, instant tools like twitter are going to give a much more realistic, individual viewpoint of the thousands of disparate people protesting disparate issues. I find more value in that than the cherry-picked images and voices that newspapers and official sources will decide on to paint a picture they've already decided upon.

  • Comment number 6.

    Just an hour or so before you posted this, me and some colleagues were revelling over the three goals of G20 meltdown. I can't decide whether it's irony or their honest beliefs.

  • Comment number 7.

    Demotix, the citizen-photojournalism for which I work, will be publishing live photo uploads from the protests at

  • Comment number 8.

    People are protesting their anger over something that they are very upset about but is past, rather than showing unity by demonstrating and petitioning the changes that they wont.

  • Comment number 9.

    No. 5 - the G20Voice bloggers are completely uncensored. They've been chosen to attend and although the UK approved the list, they didn't reject a single blogger put forward.

    The bloggers will be writing on their own blogs and aggregated at You can see who the bloggers are here:

    In terms of comments it is entirely down to the bloggers but they all, IIRC, positively encourage comments. We'll also be accepting comments on the main G20Voice site.

    There are numerous channels. We'll be live-streaming from the bloggers area starting on April 1 at the briefing day and continuing throughout the summit. The bloggers use a variety of channels from Twitter to Podcasts to photoblogs. Whatever they wish.

  • Comment number 10.

    G20 Summit in London;Prayers & Good Wishes, 2 April 2009; God Bless

    Prayers are amazing. This precious gift is always with us

    Let us all pray for the G20 Summit in London where the Leaders of the World accompanied along with Strategic Decision Makers meet

    That they form a coalition; a mutual understanding based upon a Vision for the Global Economy

    A Vision that is based upon Values Based Principles and grows from strength to strength to overcome the challenges being faced globally with Wisdom

    Seek the grace of God to fill the Universe with a Vision of Happiness & Wisdom always
    When the World prays together; the wishes seek to manifest

    When the World is Happy, we are all Happy. In one another’s Happiness is our true Happiness; Development; Prosperity & Progress

    Let us gratefully acknowledge; appreciate and express our sincere thanks to God for everything always;

    Protocol; Etiquette, Be Appreciative; Be Grateful; Be Meaningful; Be Purposeful; Be Respectful and Be Responsible always Please

    Express thanks to God time and again always, For the Health and Wellness,
    For the Wonderful Families; Friends, For the Inspiration & Wisdom, For Fulfilling our Needs, For Showing us the way,

    For the Courage, For the Natural Resources,
    For always being near us, For the lamp of peace; love; faith and hope that glows in all our hearts, For God’s graceful and loving presence, For God’s Blessings,
    For Guidance through the challenges, For the Trust in us, For knowing what is best for us always, For permitting the Love and Light of God to shine through our lives

    Prayer; May One and All be Appreciative; Grateful and Thankful


    May Happiness be showered on One and All; May One and All be Healthy;

    May One and All be Loved & Respected; May One and All have Well-being

    May One and All realize that their Happiness is linked to others Happiness;

    May One and All recognize that when the World is Happy, they are Happier;

    May One and All discover the true meaning of Life is that Life is Precious

    May One and All be Resourceful & Talented; May One and All Achieve and Excel;

    May One and All be Considerate; Creative; Meaningful; Purposeful and Responsible;

    May One and All Love Nature; The Environment & Humanity;

    May One and All Respect One Another; May One and All Inspire One Another;

    May One and All realize that they each have a very meaningful and special purpose in Life;

    May One and All believe that they are the precious Gems of this Universe;

    May One and All realize that Life is Beautiful; Precious, Meaningful and Purposeful;

    May One and All be a Symbol of God’s Loving Love and Light; Radiating Joy for others;

    May One and All be Blessed with Happiness, Prosperity; Progress& Wisdom always

    Thank you for your prayers for the World; they are immensely appreciated and reciprocated with utmost appreciation and gratitude

    Trust in God and Faith in Ourselves, May God Bless You and Your Families with a Vision of Happiness and Wisdom always

    When the World is Happy, We are all Happy; In one another’s Happiness is our true Prosperity, Development and Greatest Happiness

    May Universal Appreciation; Happiness; Consideration; Compassion; Respect; Peace; Love; Cooperation; Inspiration; Gratitude; Economic Development, Stability; Prosperity, Progress & Wisdom prevail always

    Love & Light;

    God Bless,


    ©2009 Vashi Ram Chandi

  • Comment number 11.

    @Lifexcels, what on earth? How on earth did that monolithic, utterly unwarranted essay of praise get passed by the moderators? I'm all for religious tolerance and acceptance, but -that-, on a technology blog?

    BBC Moderators, wake up. I know the middle of the afternoon can be tough, but you've got to try!

  • Comment number 12.

    Interesting that you should leave out

    It's not brand-new, you say? Precisely. It emerged out of a media project during the "J18" protests in the City of London on June 18, 1999: itself was launched for the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle on November 30, 1999.

    It had - and still has - activists and citizens publicising their concerns and events, uploading their photos and video, phoning in their audio reports, texting in 160-character news updates...

    So it prefigured mySpace, YouTube, Twitter and, er, the BBC's "brand-new" experiments with coverage this week...

  • Comment number 13.

    G20 is a joke! And we are the punchline.

    The politicians go there and spend time walking in gardens, eating fine cuisine and then we are told they do business.

    I do not pay them to go there and spend time walking in gardens, I do not pay them to get Jamie Oliver to cook their food and I expect them to start working as soon as the get in the building!

    And what do they talk about in these parties? Well I can assure you that it will not be about the wellbeing of us and others but instead how each of the countries can get one over eachother and keep the poor 50% screwed!


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