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9 Ways to Use Your Phone as an Effective Tool When Protesting

Article Comments  9  

Feb 3, 2017, 10:49 AM   by Rich Brome

An increasing number of people are engaging in politics and social issues worldwide by attending protests and rallies. If you're inclined to join a crowd to make your voice heard, your phone is sure to be a crucial tool throughout what might be a long day. For many, it may mean using your phone in new and novel ways, pushing it like never before. If you're all charged up and ready to effect some change with hundreds or thousands of others, here is a list of ways to use your phone in the most effective way possible, whether that be amplifying your message or keeping yourself safe.

1. Bring a battery pack

You're likely to be taking a lot of photos, some video, and using a lot of social media. All of those things are battery-intensive. Bring a fully-charged extra battery so you're not stuck with a dead battery when you're trying to navigate home and connect with family or friends at the end of the day. A battery case helps, but a fully separate battery pack will let you share power with others who might need it. You're going to be with a lot of like-minded people; why not be ready to help out?

You can purchase affordable (~$10) battery packs almost anywhere, including your local convenience store. Look for a compact battery that's easy to stuff into your pocket, that has at least 3,000 mAh capacity, and that has a built-in gauge (typically three or four little lights) to tell you how much juice is left. Don't forget compatible cables.

2. Use a selfie stick

The point of any protest is to demonstrate how many people feel strongly about the issue of the day. The whole reason you're attending is to add your voice and be counted. One of the best ways to convey that online is to help validate the size of the crowd. That's not easy to do without some help.

Personally, I hate selfie sticks. But when trying to capture the scale of a large protest, angle is everything. That's where a selfie stick makes a huge difference. If you hold your phone over your head at arm's length, half the people around you will be hidden behind signs and other people. A selfie stick helps you snap pictures from a higher vantage point, which will show more of the crowd.

You can get a decent selfie stick (again, at your local convenience store) for just $10. Don't bring a large or pricey selfie stick, because, depending on the context, police may decide it could be used as a weapon and confiscate it.

3. Take and post photos

Most people are instinctively visual. The old saying, A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words, always rings true. Any social media post (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is more likely to be noticed when it includes at least one photo.

4. Take videos, but post them sparingly

Videos are a great way to convey the emotion of a protest in a way that photos cannot. Videos of chants and songs can be especially powerful. (Videos of people simply gathered or marching are not usually as interesting.)

Be careful to preview your video before posting. Your ears and eyes are good at tuning into what you're paying attention to, but your phone's camera is unforgiving. Protests and rallies can be especially challenging in this regard. A chant or song may feel positive and peaceful in person, but seem angry and chaotic on video. Be sure your video conveys the mood and message you truly want to share before tapping "post."

5. Check your Facebook privacy settings each time you post

Posting to social media is a great way to amplify your message, but the reach of that message is limited if only your close friends can see it. If you want your friends to be able to share your message with their friends, your Facebook post needs to be set to "Public."

Facebook's privacy setting defaults to whatever you used the last time you posted, so if you usually post only to "Friends," check that setting each time; it's right at the top of the box when you're writing a post. (And don't forget to change that setting back the next time you want to post something that only Friends can see.)

6. Check in to the specific event or location

Using the "check in" or "tag location" feature in social media apps is a good way to show that you actually showed up (instead of just posting from home), and it can alert your friends nearby who may be able to join you. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have this feature. It's also one of the sources that some statisticians and journalists look at when trying to estimate crowd sizes. Be counted!

app location settings  

7. Use the event hashtag

Many events these days have their own hashtag created specifically with social media in mind. Find out what the correct hashtag is before you go, and try to add it to all of your public social media posts. This is a big help to journalists covering the event, looking for photos, videos, and anecdotes live from the event. If you happen to capture a great photo or video that could be on the evening news, the right hashtag helps that journalist find your post. Attaching location info (described above) also helps.

8. Use social media to recruit friends to protest with you

If you're like most people, you have some local friends who feel the same way about the issue at stake. There are number of steps you can take to directly and indirectly nudge them into mobilizing with you.

First, RSVP to the event on Facebook. Nearly every event is listed there, and marking yourself as "going" is often made visible to your friends. That may encourage your friends to join you. You can also be more direct and invite them directly via Facebook.

If your friends are near enough to join you on a whim, it can help to start posting about the event early in the day. Post a photo of your preparation or trip, or get there early and "check in" right away. When your friends see that you're really attending, they may decide to join you.

9. Consider that your phone could be confiscated by police

You are, of course, attending a peaceful event and will make your voice heard peacefully. That doesn't mean things can't suddenly go sideways due to people or circumstances beyond your control. In a large and passionate crowd, it might only take one small misunderstanding for things to suddenly get hairy.

If the police need to intervene, remember that they're people just trying to do their jobs (which is to keep the public safe), and you should cooperate. With that said, you have many rights, and the privacy of your data on your phone is one of those rights. Don't throw away your rights needlessly.

At a recent protest in Washington, D.C., a slew of people were arrested and their phones were confiscated by law enforcement. This is, unfortunately, a real issue that could affect you through no fault of your own.

Step one is securing your phone with a fingerprint and/or strong password. A 4-digit code or pattern can be easy to guess; it's best to choose a more complex password composed of letters and numbers. An alphanumeric password usually prevents the police from accessing your phone without your express participation. You can change your phone's security settings back to something easier the next day, if you want.

Step two is knowing your rights. The 4th Amendment protects U.S. citizens against unreasonable searches. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in a 2014 ruling that this includes the contents of your phone. Searching through your phone without your permission requires a warrant. The 4th Amendment applies to all Americans, but individual states have their own interpretation thereof and state-level court rulings have varied on the details. When in doubt, consult a lawyer before giving police access to your phone.

Finally, don't keep anything incriminating, even if it has no direct bearing on the event at hand, on your phone. Have pics of your 20-year-old brother drinking a beer in your camera roll, or your pot dealer's phone number stored in your contacts? Erase them. If all else fails and police gain access to your phone, at that point, they've probably invested some effort into your detention. Don't hand them a reason to arrest you or charge you further.


Make your voice heard. Use your phone to expand your voice. Be a part of the process. Engage with democracy. It's a good feeling. And be safe.

About the author, Rich Brome:

Editor in Chief Rich became fascinated with cell phones in 1999, creating mobile web sites for phones with tiny black-and-white displays and obsessing over new phone models. Realizing a need for better info about phones, he started Phone Scoop in 2001, and has been helming the site ever since. Rich has spent two decades researching and covering every detail of the phone industry, traveling the world to tour factories, interview CEOs, and get every last spec and photo Phone Scoop readers have come to expect. As an industry veteran, Rich is a respected voice on phone technology of the past, present, and future.


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Feb 6, 2017, 1:59 PM

I suppose

That this wouldn't come off so much as political activism if phonescoop regularly posted articles about "How to do X" with your phone. But Phonescoop doesn't.
I appreciate that it looks that way.

We have, in fact, been planning a series of articles exactly like this (but not remotely political) for some time. We'll be giving tips on improving your phone's performance, recommending games, and a few other...

Feb 5, 2017, 3:42 PM


Hey Brome, why don't you keep your political activism garbage off of a technical news site. Let it sit and stagnate on social media with all the other junk.
We're merely trying to be helpful on issues that relate specifically to phones.

....and non-partisan. All of our advice is equally useful for a protest, counter-protest, or rally for any "side".

Feb 6, 2017, 2:01 PM

Don't forget...

Police and Homeland can already use your phone to track you nineteen different ways, just by buying access to Twitter or Facebook's direct API's, or by using some other app or tool like Geofeedia. That's a tool specifically created for tracking protestors.

The Seattle police for example are already using this Geofeedia system live today, in addition to secret FBI/SPD cams installed on light poles... questionable legality aside.

http://www.thestranger.com/news/2016/09/28/24585899/ ... »

And as stated above, passcodes are more secure than fingerprints, although they can just take your phone and use your handcuffed fingerprint to access it. You...

Feb 3, 2017, 2:15 PM


Be careful with fingerprints. You don't have the right to refuse to provide them as you do for a password.
Good point.

Feb 3, 2017, 2:33 PM

Last but not Least....

...If you don't like the way things are, vote the people out who are causing the problems. Don't become part of it.
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