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 page 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 companies issue easy-to-use forms to make it easier to hand over your personal data.

However, having said that, you can't deny that are arel advantages to using Facebook to organise campaigns;

  • It is a free tool, there is no cost to using it
  • There are high levels of engagement with the service
  • Many people are used to using the system to show support for campaigns

There are also clearly 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 corporate network system which almost certainly doesn't share your values 

The purpose of this website is not to tell you what to do but we do want to inform you and offer alternatives. While we don't reccomend Facebook, if you do use it, there is a good 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

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 go here.

Instant Messaging

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

Have a look at our page dedicated to Instant Messaging

Diaspora, Friendika and Distributed Social Networks

Diaspora got the attention of many when it raised over $200,000 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.

Don't forget Email, Mail lists & Microblogging

These areas are covered in other chapters but included here as they are so vital to organising and networking . Email is a great way of secure organising. You can be sure of who is sending email. It can be encrypted. You can even 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 but it is a great way to network your cuase. You can also use open source alternatives like See the pages on securing your email and and twitter alternatives for more information.

What Next?