Handheld devices put livestreaming to work on campaigns

Can apps like Periscope and Rhinobird help activists and organisers share bigger, better stories?

Over the past month, hundreds of kayaktivists surrounded Shell’s massive Polar Pioneer drilling rig in a Seattle harbor. Scenes from Seattle were broadcast live by smartphone using the Periscope app. People watched on their phone, on Twitter and some news media embedded the Periscope feed.

Kayaktivists

Kayaktivists in Seattle surrounded Shell’s Polar Pioneer for a month. Several actions were broadcast on Periscope. Read more about events in Seattle.

Like many, we’ve been keeping an eye on the buzz around apps that broadcast live video feeds from your smartphone. Most of the chatter is (or was) about Meerkat and Periscope but there are also similar apps like Rhinobird and Stre.am.

Of course, livestreaming isn’t new and broadcasting live video of your cat for all the world to see doesn’t seem especially relevant to climate or social justice organising. But Periscope’s use to cover events like recent riots in Baltimore has created a lively discussion about how livestreaming can support activism and enrich digital storytelling.

What’s Different

Handheld streaming apps shift the landscape in a few intriguing ways:

  • Livestreaming is now free and accessible to all. You need a smartphone, a Periscope account and some solid bandwidth — still hurdles for many people in many parts of the world but the skill and technical barriers are very low compared to just six months ago. And you just open an app on your phone to find and watch a livestream. This makes livestreaming a big public direct action easy and you’ll see more and more of this happening. Reporters are using Periscope to live broadcast events like those in Baltimore after the killing of Freddie Gray.
  • You get immediate multi-direction engagement with an unlimited audience (or a private audience). This has network building and engagement written all over it. The audience can also be targeted by letting people know about the broadcast in advance.
  • Content control and ownership gets blown up. People are livestreaming concerts and even TV broadcasts of the Game of Thrones. For now, this is like stealing cable but also having the ability to send that stream to everyone connected to Internet from any place you want. This also means there will be people livestreaming your organisation’s actions and events when you don’t want that happening.

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