Using iPhone and twitter for almost live anarchist news coverage

Dublin Council of Trade Unions protest for Budget day at the DailA good while back I blogged that I'd set up a personal twitter account but wasn't really sure how useful it would be.  In the last months though I've been developing a system for using twitter to provide 'almost live' news from protests through iPhone apps like Tweetreel, pixelpipe and tweetmic.  This allows us to post photos, audio and video as well as simple text updates when we have someone with an iPhone (or similar smart phone) at a protest.

I remember sometime around 2001 being involved in a semi serious discussion of providing live frontline footage from summit protests.  A group had done a fair bit of research into this and had a plan to attach backpack camara's to someone, transmit from these to a nearby van with a satellite dish and use the satellite dish and some rented satellite broadband to upload footage onto the web.  They'd worked out this would cost around 60,000 so it is pretty remarkable that 8 or so years later you can do all this for a few hundred euro on a mobile phone.

It was the realisation that this would be possible that got me to buy an iPhone  in the aftermath of the arrival of the Solitaire in Rossport in June and the protests around that.  Heading back across the county with a load of digital photos to my computer in Dublin meant a delay of several hours in getting them online so I realised that with the iPhone I could probably do that from the spot.  At that point we had set up a WSM twitter account and used this to send text updates from Rossport but, particularly when your limited to 140 characters a picture can say a whole lot more.

It took a while to work out how to get it all working (hence the arrival of some rather random holiday videos in the WSM youtube account which I've now deleted and a brief bit of video from the equal rights demonstration alongside a load of very random gig ones in my own youtube.  I call this 'almost live' as without jailbreaking an iPhone there is no way to currently send live footage, rather you record the video and then upload it so that material is online some 30 seconds (for a photo) to 10 minutes (for video) after it was recorded.

The first big test was on the 24th November when there was a national public sector strike in Ireland.  Myself and another WSM member who also has an iPhone were organising pickets so we intended to post footage from out picket lines and we also arranged for another couple of student members to tour the picket lines, recording audio and posting text updates.  Plus some other members also involved in the strike but without smartphones texted updates to another member on a computer who posted these and links to web stories into the feed. This meant we had half a dozen or more people involved in posting updates. 

This turned out to have another benefit as it meant that as well as posting news from my picket line I was able to see the news posted from other members from picket lines and demonstrations around Dublin and relay this to the people picketing with me.  Which meant we knew pretty instantly when ICTU announced the second strike day that they subsequently cancelled, see Why did the union leadership cancel the Dec 3rd national strike in Ireland?  After the 24th I used all the material from twitter plus a load of individual reports posted to the WSM site to produce a pretty detailed account of the day featured on the WSM site at WSM reports from the pickets lines of the Nov 24th national strike.  A slightly edited version of the twitter feed from the day is below, the links go to photos.  

We'll be sending live updates and images from the picketlines to this feed tomorrow
Final pre strike planning meeting underway in UCD
Solidarity poster in Maynooth 
SIPTU posters for tomorrow 
SIPTU explains reasons for strike,11275,en.html
1st pickets on in UCD so far just students in their way home after a night out (5.30am)
1st delivery turned back at UCD
1st student joined us on UCD picket line (6am)
About 1 third of cleaners refuse to pass UCD picket (6.10am)
Reported that there are now 100 picketing at TCD (8am)
At UCD public transport buses refusing to cross picket 
Part of picket at UCD
Over a quarter of a million people on strike today
Over 100 INTO members picketing DES building on Marlbourough St. along with members of CPSU, IMPACT, SIPTU, & PSEU 
Strong Picket of Local Authority Workers on Boombridge Road - Cabra D7 
Pickets at the Aras, and at other places in the Phoneix park.
Lively IMPACT picket at Parkgate hall 
Good crowd at local government computer services centre
Huge picket at St Johns hospital 
30 or so CPSU on the Picket at the DSFA building in Kilmainham, not too many have crossed the line; Mood is good! 
Main gate to Trinity College Dublin closed and 30 strong SIPTU picket outside
Picket shift change happening at UCD carparks quite empty although some students and many managers going in
Car park very empty in Maynooth university. College quiet. IFUT, UNITE and SIPTU pickets on the gate.
CPSU Branch Sec. Anne Quinlan at Dept. of Tansport says there's 'no option' to go on strike 'the public sector is under attack'.
Supporter delivers sweets to picketers at Maynooth university 
Students from Free Education for Everyone march down and join the picket in solidarity with the strikers. 
Students from FEE 
Couple of students went into UCD to check it put report a lot of stuff closed down
Trinity College solid, only one gate open and large picket of UNITE, SIPTU & IFUT. Campus deserted.
Raining now in kildare 
RTE and Irish Times reporting unions may be about to announce strike next week
Local Business supplying workers at Bishops Sq. SW office with Free food and coffee! 20 pickets outside DSFA in Store Street
About 3000 people attended INTO rally at DES a few hours ago. Still 500 on rolling picket.
NCAD in Thomas Street closed down and SIPTU picket of seven people in place on the front gate.
Thomas Street Social Welfare office closed with twenty strong picket outside
INTO Picket at the Department of Education has swollen to about 1000 people 
All Dublin City Public Libraries closed due to strike. Some cranks giving gip though most of the public appear supportive
A man in 09 Jag speeds past the picket in Kilmainham shouting 'get a job' to the assembled pickets - Brave man! :)
INTO picket on DES has just finished. Over 5000 including SNA members of Impact - took part during the day

After the success of that experiments I took a half day in order to provide Live coverage from WSM of Budget day protests.  By now I'd worked out how to upload audio (using tweetmic) so as well as the text updated I provided some audio commentary. Afterwards I discovered that tweetreel provide an embedding code which meant I could embedd some of the live video shot during the protests to the feature on the website. The text of the feature is below with the tweets and the embedded video as well as some audio recorded on the spot.

featured image

Wednesday 9th December saw the greatest budget attack on workers in Ireland in a couple of decades with services and pay being slashed. 

Many unions and other organisations called protests outside the Dail from the early morning to the late evening. WSM members took part in these protests throughout the day and provided live updates, photos and video from them via our twitter account.

A selection of the tweets sent live from the Dail protest, the first is at about 5pm and the run backwards through time till the last which was sent around 1pm. Where they include a URL that URL is a photo, video or audio file. We have embedded some of the video and linked to some of the audio after the tweets


Footage of lunchtime Dublin Council of Trade Unions demonstration

Audio: Andrew Flood lists the groups and banners


The INTO demonstration around 4.30pm

Audio: Gregor Kerr explains the reasons for the INTO protest

Audio: Gregor Kerr speaking at the INTO protest about the ICTU negotiations and the need to build a strong trade union movement

Dublin Council of Trade Unions protestecbcuts.jpgictuselloutbanner.jpgPart of the INTO protest

Part of the INTO protestkidsatgate.jpgnationalisegas.jpgtoprich1.jpg

Followers of the WSM twitter feed have been growing slowly, twitter is still pretty new to people but as well as following someone you can also simply look at their feed to see updates without having an account.  I think as people get used to getting live news from us in this way they will get into the habit of checking out the site on 'news days'.  In between such times I used twitterfeed to automatically post the title and a link to every new article published on the WSM site to the twitter account.

Obviously the ability to provide analysis in this 'live news' situation is pretty limited, you can't say much in 140 characters of 30 seconds of video (video is slow to upload, even with a 3g signal 30 seconds typically takes 8 minutes to complete).  You can say a bit more with audio but the real purpose is to get a fairly unspun version of what is happening before the media spin can be applied.  You can also published links to pre-written material on the day.  As the technology improves I hope we'll be able to build this live coverage into something quite significant.  In the meantime if you have  atwitter account be sure to follow the WSM twitter feed.


Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles