Tech Tools for Activism

Organising and Networking Online

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, used his Facebook account in the early hours of 9 August 2011 to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots. The court was told it caused a wave of panic in the town. When he woke up the following morning with a hangover, he removed the page and apologised, saying it had been a joke. His message was distributed to 400 Facebook contacts, but no rioting broke out as a result.

This chapter will look at

  • Social Networking Sites, issues and alternatives
  • Anonymous Instant Messaging

Tools like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and many other Social Networking and email services have well documented security implications. It is so common for the state to spy on people using these services that they have easy-to-use guidebooks to make this more efficient. For and example of a document detailing how this works see

There are several advantages to using Facebook to organise campaigns;

  • There is no cost to using it
  • There are high levels of engagement with the service
  • Users are used to using the system to show support for campaigns

There are also disadvantages;

  • Your account or campaign group / page may be suspended at any time
  • Your details and those of any supporters are available to a wide number of authorities
  • You are supporting a centralised networking system which almost certainly doesn't share your values 

There is a great guide which gives tips about how you can change the default settings to user Facebook more securely for organising. The length and detail of this guide ironically shows us how difficult Facebook make it for you to operate with a reasonable level of security. The guide is here

More Secure Tools for Organising  and Networking Online

If you are concerned about these implications of organising online and do not want to exclude people who are careful about their privacy, then there are alternatives you can use. Using these tools is also a great way to to support a more decentralised and non-corporate future of communication.


Crabgrass is a Free Software web application run by an activist tech collective called RiseUp who will protect your security and anonymity as, like you, they are all activists working for radical grassroots change. The site that they provide at uses a piece of software called “Crabgrass”, which is an activist equivalent of a social networking site. It allows you to create groups, work collaboratively on documents, be as private or as public as you want to be (and even have a different private and public profile), control who can and can’t be in the group based on whether you actually know them or not, and communicate securely by sending each other private or group messages.

You can also do live chat in a more secure way by using Crabgrass chat. When you are logged in to Crabgrass you can go to the Chat page (located on the main menu at the top). You can only chat with people that are members of groups that you have joined. 

For more information on Crabgrass see 

Instant Messaging - Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

The details of your Live chat provided by Yahoo, Windows, Skype and Gmail are regularly made available to law enforcement agencies. 

IRC is a tried and test way of live / instant message chatting. Users install an IRC client or connect via a webpage and it is possible to chat in an encrypted way. A lot of techies, free culture and software enthusiasts, media activists, hacker and crackers use this technology. 

XChat is a great IRC programme which comes with Ubuntu and is easy to install on Mac. MIRC is an equivalent for windows. 

Try it out by contacting us. You can log into the  server and join the channels #ttfa and #aktivix and say hi! Have a look at the settings in this Xchat network to be able to do this in an encrypted way. Note the /6697 port used for Secure (encrypted) communication. There is more information about IRC and getting it set up here -

Instant Messaging - Using Off the Record Encryption & XMPP

There is an open standard for Internet chat called XMPP (formerly known as Jabber) this is a great decentralised alternative to tools like Skype and MSN messenger. It can also be extended to do all sorts of things like video chat, android phone chat, and most importantly for us, encrypted chat.

The first thing you will need an application that can use Xmpp

Hands On Guide: Have a look at this guide to using Pidgin and OTR encryption. It has a focus on entry level users and is targeted at Windows.

Diaspora, Friendika and Distributed Social Networks

Diaspora got the attention of many when it raised over 0,000 in contributions when the team offered to build an open and de-centralised facebook. In short the time for the 'distributed social network'  had come and people were prepared to chip in to fund it.

The key to the success may lie not in any particular bit of software but in the ability for lots of different software to be able to talk to each other using open standards. If you think about it why shouldn't you be able to talk to friends and reshare their content across different networks. You can with email, why not with social networking. 

There are many alternatives to Diaspora, these include friendica, jappix and movin. They may opperate in different ways but the aim is roughly the same. The following is a quote from the friendica home page. 

"The internet is our social network. What if social networks were more like email? What if they were all inter-connected, and you could choose which software (and even which provider) to use based purely on what they offered you? Now they are! Friendica is bringing them all together" 

The concept here is that that you can have news of the activities of different friends from different networks and websites all coming into one stream on friendica and interact with them from one place.

This is a great step forward in recreating the positive experience of using a site like facebook and you can be an early adopter. You can try a couple of the projects out and see how they work for you. There are several sites that are running friendica where you can sign up. There is a list of them here.

Other Networking Tools are available which embrace distributed ways of social networking and organising. Lorea is a software distribution consisting of the Elgg open source social network engine and a handful of plugins. Find it at

There is also a very impressive project called Kune which is similar in scope to Crabgrass but with more advanced features for networking and a public face for your projects. Find out more at

While there is no simple replacement for Facebook at the moment there are lots of promising projects happening all over. 

Don't forget Email & Mail lists & Microblogging

These areas are covered in other chapters but included here as they are so useful . Email is a great way of organising. You can be sure of who is sending email. It can be encrypted. You can set up your own email server or use one of a trusted group to be sure of its security. Using Email can bypass a lot of the security issues of organising online.

Twitter sells information about its users to third parties, is caving into government censorship and has started to suspend accounts. You use open source alternatives like See the chapters on securing your email and and microblogging for more information. 

What Next?

  • Get a secure Email address!
  • Install and try out IRC.
  • If you use Facebook check your settings and make it more secure.
  • Set up a account on by trying to get an invite from someone already on there or sign up at
  • Sign up for Diaspora, Friendica or a similar task and try it out.
  • Use for emails lists.
  • Set up a an account on Crabgrass (