Rory Cellan-Jones

Do anarchists tweet?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 2 Apr 09, 15:08 GMT

It's clear that there has been a huge amount of social media activity around the G20 summit, and the demonstrations in the City and at the Excel centre. But some are suggesting that these new tools - in particular Twitter - have been vital to the organisation of the demos. I'm not so sure.

It does seem as though just about everyone involved in G20 - from the politicians to the journalists, from bloggers to demonstrators - has been snapping, filming recording everything in site and uploading it to the web to share with the world.

I spent Wednesday trying to monitor events via Twitter, Facebook, AudioBoo, and various websites. One good place to go was this site, created by a group of journalism students who set out with mobile phones to record the day's events. Alex Wood, who masterminded the project, even ended up providing this video from his mobile phone to the BBC.

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My own Twitter searches came up with some useful insights - though it was as ever hard to pick out the genuine eyewitnesses from all those simply reprocessing what they'd just seen on the television. I particularly liked this message from one frustrated Twitterer trying to get the word out from the Bank of England:

"Mobile coverage v bad prob due to number of anarchists also using iPhones".

Just a minute - anarchists using iPhones? Or Twitter? Does that really compute? One is a mobile phone that you might think was more of a yuppie toy than a revolutionary tool - the other is a social network used principally by an older, more establishment crowd than, say, Facebook. Or maybe those are just my preconceptions?

I asked Alex Wood what his impression had been yesterday. He said there were a surprising number of people around him using both Twitter and iPhones, but he wasn't convinced that they were the main ways that the demonstrators had been organised.

The G20 meltdown website had been the place to go to find out what was happening next, and he said there was also a more old-fashioned method: "They still used the good old megaphone - people were announcing on megaphones that they were putting on an alternative summit in East London."

And he says there was just a small core of people bent on trouble: "The core of the anarchists, who were smashing up RBS, did what they did and got out quickly."

Did they organise that via Twitter? I'd be surprised - it's a very public place to talk about something you don't want the police to hear.

There certainly have been plenty of fresh insights into the G20 events from sources other than the mainstream media. There are AudioBoos - sound clips uploaded to the internet from outside the Bank of England. There are hundreds of photos on Flickr, like this gallery. And there are bloggers from around the world inside the summit trying to get their voices heard.


But as far as rallying anarchists is concerned, maybe a megaphone is still proving more useful than an iPhone.


  • Comment number 1.

    Aren't you conflating anarchists and luddites? Why wouldn't an anarchist use a cell phone? I thought anarchists were against centralised government rather than anti-technology.

    I found this on Wikipedia on a search about anarchists - "The self-administration of society is now made possible by technological advancement" and the "liberatory potential of technology" is mentioned.

    Although, apparently there are some "green anarchists who advocate the simple life. I also found an article on anarcho-primitivists who are not apparently keen on technology.

  • Comment number 2.

    Just to agree and reiterate the last comment. Anarchism is a political system, not necessarily the absence of any social decorum and certainly does not predispose to violent direct action or itself exclude the use of technology. Shame to see such a reactionary and sensationalist misappropriation of a word usually associated with the gutter press, used by the BBC and you Rory, otherwise much respected.

  • Comment number 3.

    "just a minute - anarchists using iPhones? Or Twitter? Does that really compute?"

    Yes, it does, actually. I imagine that you think anarchism is just a movement that wants to bring about chaos? Actually, it isn't: if you read some Kropotkin or some William Godwin you would find this out pretty fast. This blog entry is just silly. But hey, I guess an especially pompous kind of goading is worth more than actual journalism these days.

    Please stop posting tripe about us. Thanks.

  • Comment number 4.

    Although you should be congratulated for posting a post that shows a place where Twitter is not the be all and end all - it had seemed this blog was Twitter's PR machine...

    Just to offer you some help:

    Twitter has no revenue stream - it can't make any money. Any attempt to charge users will simply cause them to leave in huge numbers and it only works with huge numbers. Their API, though allowing many wonderfully simplistic devices makes it impossible to display adverts to end users to generate cash. When VC funding runs out, Twitter will have tweeted for the final time. If you don't believe me, do a Q&A with Twitter and you will notice how evasive they are.

    Twitter has a poor uptime reliability record compared to most services - even social media sites. This is related to a) their revenue problems and b) the herculean task they have to overcome.

    How about some honest reporting about the release date of the next Windows system, innovations in the hardware system (such as Intel's latest i7 architecture) or a honest appraisal of the Onlive service which had a nice full page in the technology section of BBC News.

    Expand on New news articles, not just do a Twitter search and see what comes up!

  • Comment number 5.

    Our anarchist friends shouldn't be too hard on Rory - after all, can we really expect a hack working for a state-funded broadcaster to be able to comprehend a civil society existing without the state?

  • Comment number 6.

    Did you perhaps conflate anarchists with anti-capitalists? Anarchists have no qualms with making use of mass-produced technology; anti-capitalists would be somewhat hypocritical to do so.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm with Rory, actually. Mobile phones are ultimately controlled by multinational corporations. They are agents of social organisation. I haven't studied it, but surely anarchism is opposed to social self-organisation, since politics and government are merely developments of this? On either point - signing a contract (real or, in the case of pay-as-you-go, tacit) with a phone company, or organising into groups (whether by mobiles or otherwise) - they aren't remaining true to their cause?

    Twitter seems more individualistic, and therefore more anarchic. I suppose you could say 'I'll be here at such-and-such-a-time', without subscribing to a hierarchy. Still, social netowrking is largely a matter of following trends - can that be truly anarchic?

  • Comment number 8.

    ''I spent Wednesday trying to monitor events via Twitter, Facebook, AudioBoo, and various websites.''

    That sounds constructive, Rory. I'm sure BBC licence-fee payers will be glad to know that.

    Despite the presumed anarchic appeal of Twitter, Twitter extols slavish admiration of popular posters, encourages ruthless competition and posting appeal, whilst collating messages together in a fruitless, homogeneous lump of roving drivel.

    Is this anarchism? Is the beauty of anarchism the voice of all reflected simultaneously upon itself? Rather like a sort of Ancient Greek democracy - the loudest voice gaining authority.

    No. Anarchism is simply about relinquishing historically typical methods of hierarchical control. Which, with global corporate entities and various governments fleeting aimlessly and irresponsibly onto Twitter and other social media websites, seems inherently opposed to such methods of communication.

    Twitter is simply another method of control, another method of distorting our perspective of the world and of the natural order and beauty of life. However subconscious and ulterior this motive might be.

  • Comment number 9.

    Rory Cellan-Jones writes "Did they organise that via Twitter? I'd be surprised - it's a very public place to talk about something you don't want the police to hear."

    any and all electronic communications are monitored routinely, if you don't want the police to know you'll have to whisper straight into an ear ;-(

  • Comment number 10.

    Anarchists frequently use technology. They don't often use centralized technology the actual mechanics of which are out of their hand. Something where you just have the front-end like any cloud computing, and like twitter, is heavily centralized and quite against the Anarchist ethos (generally speaking).

    As to Twitter being private or not private... it's a matter of whether or not they can hide in the crowd. The way to keep something secret while on twitter is to rely on it not being noticed because there's so much to look through.

  • Comment number 11.

    iPhones linked to anarchists. Ha!

    I couldn't imagine anything funnier than an anarchist with an iPhone lording it over a Nokia user...

    Sorry had to do it.

  • Comment number 12.

    The protestors are nothing but hypocrites, wanting to destroy "the system" but quite happy to use the products and services it supplies, quite happy to have their education and benefits funded by the taxes "the system" reaps.

  • Comment number 13.

    The anarchists using iPhones tweet was one of mine from Wednesday:

    It seemed perfectly natural, how some of them were using iPhones. The GPS and map capabilities means they could quickly work out where to go to next. The web-based news kept them up to date with what was being reported. Email, Twitter, phone were quick methods of disseminating information.

    Quick: Yes, even if they were being monitored, the immediacy of information collection and dissemination would make it very difficult for the police to track what was going on. It was admirable to see how skilled one group of them were at using technology to organise and re-organise.


  • Comment number 14.

    So then if we want to prevent further damage to property etc we should ban/destroy iPhones?

    Sounds like a plan to me... (Joke)

  • Comment number 15.

    My stereotype of anarchists is Victorian looking gentlemen with fulsome beards and of top-hatted besuited gentlemen throwing explosives at aristocrats and authority figures.

    American anarchists were blamed for setting off a huge bomb on Wall Street in 1920, killing 30 and injuring hundreds. My image of late nineteenth and early twentieth century gentlemen blowing up stuff always made me associate anarchists with technological savvy.

    If only the Sex Pistols hadn't written "I give a wrong time, stop a traffic light, I want to destroy passers by" and instead written "I want to enter into a mutually beneficial exchange of the fruits of my labour with you without the imposition of tax from a central government supported by a professional police force" then it might be clearer what anarchists are after.

  • Comment number 16.

    The suggestion that anarchism and technology are inconsistent is obviously ridiculous.

    However, 'Just a minute - anarchists using iPhones? Or Twitter? Does that really compute?'. No, it doesn't. Name a device more conformist than an iPhone, or a more homogenised group of people ready to accept heirachical control than it's users.

    The iPhone, and a few other 'essential' items, are the contemporary equivalent of the blue overalls of the party.

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't have an i-phone and I'm not an anarchist yet I don't see the i-phone as anything more than a neutral tool. Isn't it how you use it that matters? If you're using it to organise the collapse of society then that's pretty anarchic, innit?

    The feeling of some contributors seems to be that a tool like the i-phone is inherently invested with the quality of conformity and acceptance of hierarchy, but if you set it on fire and threw it at a policeman for example or even kept the device intact and sent a message that resulted in the Houses of Parliament being burnt down then I don't see how that is conformist or accepting of hierarchy. I'd go so far as to say it is no more conformist than a brick (throw it at a policeman or build a house) or a sword (use it for robbery or to protect) or a nuclear bomb (blow up other countries or turn it towards space and blow up the next asteroid that is heading our way and save all life on earth). It's not the tool itself it's how people use them.

    This all reminds me of a certain relative of mine who gets upset when he sees nuns wearing glasses and carrying cameras, he feels that if they are going to adopt old-fashioned dress they should be consistent.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'd not be surprised is Anarchists do use twitter.

    What I'd like to know is where they get the money for the iPhone and similar devices to enable them to?

    A lot of them look like they're unemployed and when interviewed come across that way, I work for a living and I can neither afford to take days off to run amok and cause anarchy, nor can I afford an iPhone.

    Or are we talking about elite well paid middle-England anarchists here?

  • Comment number 19.

    Rory, I'm sorry, but your article shows an astounding lack of knowledge and understanding of the development of the internet and social media.

    Rewind to the last five years of the 80s in the US. The WWW hadn't yet been invented and the internet was primarily about BBS and Usenet - and the space was full of anarchists and activists. Hackers, Crackers and Phreeks were, at the very least, inspired by anarchist punk ideas, but many were defined themselves specifically as being anarchists.

    December 1994 gave techno-anarchists their defining influence. The Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, was distinguished by their innovative use of new technology - particularly cell phones and the internet. Political campaigning on the web was born as anarchist groups around the world started to link up with the Zapatists online and offline and publicise their action. They also started to link up with each other online.

    Jump forward another five years and, in the midst of the Battle of Seattle, the first global user-generated news website was created. Mosbunall of the people who built and grew Indymedia over the years are anarchists and anarchist DIY ideas are at the core of the project.

    Anarchists have been central to the way the internet developed in its early years as an accessible system. The internet has been a defining influence on modern anarchism, particularly as the Left in general need to redefine itself following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    So, to conclude, not only is it not surprising that anarchists use the iPhone and Twitter, if you look close enough, you might find some anarchists were involved in building them.

  • Comment number 20.

    How do anarchists view it possible to live in a society without a government?



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