Civil resistance is a way for groups to advance rights, freedoms, governance and peace using nonviolent strategies. As you’ll see from the list below, technology has become an increasingly important part of the way nonviolent protestors spread campaign awareness, organize, connect with fellow activists, and remain secure in volatile or non-permissive environments.

Video recording by mobile phones  Police troops surrounded Cairo University, as hundreds of students demonstrated against the rising education fees.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Hossam el-Hamalawy

A collaboration between the Academy and the PeaceTech Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace, this is a list of practical technology tools that activists are currently using to further their civic mobilization goals, as well as specific examples of how these tools are having an impact all over the world – from Turkey to Ukraine to Venezuela.

The examples range from simple mobile-phone based tools to more complex software applications. Some of the tools were created explicitly for activists. Others take mainstream communication applications and cleverly repurpose them for the needs of activists on the ground. This document is intended to be a primer for nonviolent civic activists who intend to incorporate technologies into their work more effectively.

As with other civil resistance techniques, some technology tools are more relevant to certain situations than to others, and these tools do not come without their risks. Many repressive regimes are willing and able to employ a range of means to counter, intercept, and monitor the use of these tools by activists. Activists are advised to employ appropriate security measures, both technical and non-technical, before using these tools in the field. 

1. Organizing Activists

  • Twitter: A microblogging service that enables people in conflict zones with similar interests and motivations to connect with each other
    • Use Cases:
      • November 2013 Ukrainian protests against President Yanukovych: see here
      • June 2013 Turkish protests to contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park: see here
      • June 2009 Iranian Election Protests: see here  
  • Zello: A face-to-face video messaging app (available for iOS and Android smartphones) that connects people in conflict zones
  • Facebook: An online social networking site that helps to connect and mobilize protesters
    • Use Cases:
      • 2011 Arab Spring Egyptian Revolution: see here
      • 2011 Arab Spring Tunisian uprising: see here
  • Skype: A voice-over internet protocol service and instant messaging platform that allows groups to create invite-only ongoing conversations to coordinate protest efforts
    • Use Case:
    • 2010-present Syrian anti-Assad rebellion: see here
  • People Power: A free iPhone and iPod touch application that offers access to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s (ICNC) educational modules, research materials, and news on nonviolent struggles throughout the world

2. Raising Public Awareness

  • Ustream: A video streaming service that allows protesters to share information with the wider public in real-time
    • Use Cases:
      • November 2013 Ukrainian protests against President Yanukovych: see here
      • May 2012 anti-Putin protests in Russia: see here
  • YouTube: A free video platform used by protesters to widely share information relevant to their cause
    • Use Cases:
  • SMS Reporting: There are a number of open-source messaging software platforms that empower journalists and activist leaders to communicate with large groups of people over a mobile network
    • Use Cases:
      • CGSwara used to bring news to rural Indian communities 2014: see here
      • Governance Pour Le Mobile: A 2009-2012 UNDP funded mobile based initiative to collect youth input and encourage civic engagement in Madagascar: see here
      • FrontlineSMS used during the 2011 Nigerian elections: see her

3. Gaining Situational Awareness

  • Find My Friends: A location-based mobile app that helps reconnect people with their friends during protests  and in other unstable environments
    • Use Case:
      • Currently being used in Ukraine and Venezuela: see here
  • Check-In Tools: Location-based social networking services that allow people to engage with other likely supporters based on their similar locations
  • Ushahidi: A crowdsourcing software used to monitor elections and map crisis information
  • Network Mapper: A Google project that visually maps out the connections between activist individuals and groups to improve understanding of the affiliations and key nodes of influence between them
    • Use Case:
      • 2011 Government leadership defection mapping in Syria: see here

4. Accessing the Internet Privately and Securely

  • Secure and anonymous browsing:
    • Examples:
      • Tor: Free software for enabling online anonymity used by activists subject to government spying
        • Used across the region during the 2011 Arab Spring to circumvent internet censorship: see here
      • Orbot: A free proxy app created by the Guardian Project that empowers other apps to use the internet more securely; it uses Tor to encrypt Internet traffic and then hides it by bouncing through a series of computers around the world
      • Orweb: a private web browser (by the Guardian Project) that evades tracking and censorship by bouncing one’s encrypted traffic several times through computers around the world
  • Secure online messaging
    • Example:
      • ChatSecure: A free, private, and secure platform to message activists over Facebook Chat, Google Talk, and Google hangouts compatible with Android, iPhone, Mac, Linux or PC
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): Offer activists internet anonymity by enabling them to send and receive data across shared public networks as though they were directly connected to a private  network
    • Use Cases and Examples:
      • Lantern software currently being used in China to avoid internet censorship: see here
      • uProxy: A browser extension that lets users share alternative more secure routes to the Internet; it helps users protect each other from third parties who may try to watch, block, or redirect users’ Internet connections
      • HotSpot Shield
        • 2014 Venezuelan protests in opposition to the government: see here
        • November 2013 Ukrainian protests against President Yanukovych: see here
        • June 2013 Turkish protests to contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park: see here
        • Interview with the founder: see here
      • Other: June 2013 Turkish protests to contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park: see here