The revolution may not be televised, but it will be Google-mapped with crowdsourced data from social media networks.
Modern-day digital cartography is transforming the ancient art of protest—with live tactical maps built by cyberactivists using Google Maps, Umaps, or the open source world map open street map, and updated in real-time with tips from the ground sent via social media. The maps help activists avoid police, find shelter, medical help, food and other protest groups, and stay mobile to avoid arrest or violence.
This kind of maptivism was instrumental during the Arab Spring two years ago. Now, as Turks in Instanbul protest the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Tayyip, live maps and social media are again playing a crucial role—enough to compel Tayyip to call Twitter "the worst menace to society."
Savvy Turks created a Google map on June 1 to track police movement near Taksim Square. The Istanbul Polis Hareketleri map (Istanbul Police Movement) shows the location of the insurgent barricades used to guard protestors from police and vehicles, names of protesting groups, and information on whether roads are open or blocked. The green tent is the center of Taksim Square. The map was viewed more than 24,000 times in the two days after it was created.
Logically, protestors are encouraged not to include certain details on public maps, like the location of infirmaries or secret meeting spaces. For this kind of information, web-savvy activists create private maps only visible to other protestors.
Open Technology Institute field analyst Jonathan Baldwin helped Turkish activists build a version of the collaborative mobile mapping platform Tidepools in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. The partipatory map shows the location of tear-gassed areas, shelter, fire, medical help, food, internet, and wounded people. Users send SMS texts with their needs and information.
Similar maps were used during the Arab Spring in pro-democracy movements accross the Middle East.
In February 2011 in Libya, this Google map was created by Iranian activist @Arasmus to map government violence against demonstrators protesting Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. Completely manually, he collected reports from Twitter, checked them for legitamacy, and updated the map.
The purpose of the map, he wrote in a post-mortem blog post months later, was to draw international media attention to Libya by showing the scope of the violence, but it evolved into a tool to help and protect the people protesting on the ground. The map showed medical needs, infrastructure disruptions, military resources, political arrests, gunfire, killings, mercenary sightings, helicopter slayings and electricity disconnections. It had 314,000 views in 12 days.
Not long after Libya, people starting rising up in Syria. Syrian demonstrators used an iPhone app called Souria Wa Bas to communicate, which included a map of opposition hot spots. (The app was so effective Syrian authorities eventually banned the iPhone.)
Activist group The Local Coordination of Committees in Syria documented the regime's violence against protestors with this live map. The blue dots showed where demonstrations were taking place. The red dots showed where people had been killed.
Though it's been used in some of the most radical revolutions in recent history, the idea of live tactical mapping actually originated with a group of students in 2010 who were angry about a decision to raise college tuition fees. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets of London in the anti-fees protests, and the group created this Google map to show the location of riot police in the city.
That map inspired another group of students from Univesity College London to create Sukey, an web and mobile app for building live protest maps to avoid "kettling"—a police tactic to corral and contain large crowds during protests. (The name "Sukey" references the English nursery rhyme "Polly Put the Kettle On".)
The app that crowdsourced reports of police locations and updated in real-time. Protestors using the map could skirt around police so there were never enough demonstrators in one place to kettle.
Of course none of these tools would be effective if there was no internet access, which is exactly what authorities in in the Middle East have tried to do to stop the protests.
Authorities in Turkey blocked Facebook and Twitter, and rumor has it TurkCell, the country's largest cell service provider, may be next. And while they haven't entirely blocked internet access, activists claim connectivity has been much slower since the demonstrations started.
Protestors in Turkey are using Virtual Private Networks to connect to the internet undeteted. Hotshot Shield, a VPN app that disguises users' identities, had 120,000 new sign ups after protests broke out in Istanbul—10 times more than usual, Reuters reported. The software was used in other Arab Spring movements to circumvent government censorship of social media services, the founder said. Another shining example of hacktivists outsmarting the man.