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london students fight back
January 29, 2011 7:58 AM   Subscribe

With kettling becoming a commonly deployed tactic by the London Met, students from the University College London are fighting back with Sukey, launched this morning.

Sukey is a security-concious mashup of google maps (in order to effectively display real-time police and protest behaviour) and swiftriver (in order to efficiently collate data points from twitter, facebook, SMS, and RSS feeds, and automatically determine the veracity of information, amongst other features), and a smartphone application to allow anyone to volunteer information. Check it out now.

Swiftriver is particularly interesting; here's a curated list of references that went into its development.
posted by asymptotic (56 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
On the Sukey twitter feed, I found this: "Stuck in a kettle? Single? Follow @SukeyDating to find hot single protesters in your area!"

Really, I did NOT make that up... but I have no idea as to what it says about this concept, the usefulness of this site/feed.. I do know that I'm not surprised that someone tried to capitalize on it so quickly!
posted by HuronBob at 8:15 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a great idea and a cool app, but would it actually work in a crowd of smartphone users all trying to tweet, upload video, and download gmaps? Mobile connectivity usually disappears when you have a big, data-intensive crowd, especially in a place not pre-equipped to handle big, data-intensive crowds. It's kinda like the canned food on the canopenerless desert isle, exactly what's needed, but no way to actually access it when needed. Or am I missing something? Is crowd connectivity better in the UK?
posted by ulotrichous at 8:18 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


@ulotrichous: i can't speak for the whole of the UK but data connectivity in london is pretty solid, regardless of how many people are around. of course, it goes without saying that the next strike in this arms race between the london police and student protestors (violent or not) will probably play out as what HuronBob pointed out, i.e. with disinformation, or with denial-of-service via jamming or requesting operators to selectively disable wireless coverage during protests.
posted by asymptotic at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2011


Kettling, for those of us who had no idea what the BBC article was talking about.
posted by i less than three nsima at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2011 [22 favorites]


So ... what's kettling, exactly?
posted by kafziel at 8:25 AM on January 29, 2011


Derp. That's why we preview.
posted by kafziel at 8:26 AM on January 29, 2011


Why on earth would you take a $400 smartphone to a place where there's going to be riot cops?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:27 AM on January 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


I expected this post to be about experimental Opera. Seriously.

This post doesn't make it clear at all what Kettling, Sukey, or the London Met (police force? Do Londoners report crime to art institutions when they visit NYC?) are.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:28 AM on January 29, 2011


@b1trot: i'm sorry that i haven't made it clear what kettling is; i assumed that since there have been many previous posts about kettling that people were aware of it.

and i explained what Sukey was in the FPP? and again, sorry for not using the full name of the London Metropolitan Police, but again, with student protests such a big news item in the UK i thought it was a given piece of common knowledge.
posted by asymptotic at 8:30 AM on January 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wah this post isn't America-centric wah.
posted by zeoslap at 8:31 AM on January 29, 2011 [42 favorites]


Kettling is a riot-creating strategy employed by riot cops in which protestors (as well as anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time) are herded into a small area and denied exit, food, water, or shelter. It tends to result in a large mass of increasingly hungry, dehydrated, angry people in a relatively small space, and the kettling tends to end either when the protestors and bystanders reach the breaking point and start breaking shit and assaulting the police holding them in place or when the riot cops get sick of waiting for a riot to start and start it up themselves.

Anybody who has the slightest sympathy or empathy for riot cops should watch The Miami Model; modern protest response policing is fundamentally designed to cause violence by both protestors and police and to violate human rights as a way of suppressing dissent.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:34 AM on January 29, 2011 [40 favorites]


@Pope Guilty: kids these days, what're you going to do?
posted by asymptotic at 8:34 AM on January 29, 2011


Pope Guilty : Kettling is a riot-creating strategy employed by riot cops

I wonder if a saavy, sufficiently-large group of protesters could use this to "kettle" the police themselves?

Nothing like a bit of turnabout to get the party started - Give them what they want, just not quite how they wanted it. ;)
posted by pla at 8:41 AM on January 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


My experience of conventions is that smartphone connectivity dies horribly as soon as you get within range of a large group of people also trying to hit the Internet.
posted by Artw at 8:42 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


My experience of conventions is that smartphone connectivity dies horribly as soon as you get within range of a large group of people also trying to hit the Internet.

Central London is already full of smartphones; I doubt a few thousand protesters are going to bring the network to its knees. Once they're all on one street, maybe, but that's what they're trying to avoid.

I suspect the next step after the police shutting down local cells is for the protesters to bring their own cells. That would be interesting.
posted by Leon at 8:51 AM on January 29, 2011


the protesters to bring their own cells.

Well, they'd need to, if they weren't just attending in spirit.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:06 AM on January 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's a bit more context on today's protests from the BBC and The Guardian.

They are against the rise in tuition fees, and the scrapping of the "Education Maintenance Allowance" which is (or rather, was) a grant given to students from low-income families so they could afford to stay in education.

Previously on Metafilter.
posted by jonesor at 9:07 AM on January 29, 2011


protesters to bring their own cells

With a great long ethernet cord? The cells would need to be in nearby buildings. In that case, probably better to just use wifi.
posted by ryanrs at 9:12 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if a saavy, sufficiently-large group of protesters could use this to "kettle" the police themselves?

Nothing like a bit of turnabout to get the party started - Give them what they want, just not quite how they wanted it. ;)


Well, the point of it is to create a situation which produces violence, which gives the excuse to swing the billy clubs around and sling tear gas at people, along with the mass arrests.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2011


Erm, what's to stop the police using this?
posted by scruss at 9:22 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh wow! I was at the protest today- I didn't make it all the way to Parliament because it's absolutely freezing in London today, and also I'm from the US and only at UCL for the term so I'm maybe not as passionate as I could be. It was quite peaceful when I got there about noon, but there were a *lot* of people.
posted by MadamM at 9:31 AM on January 29, 2011


pla: I wonder if a saavy, sufficiently-large group of protesters could use this to "kettle" the police themselves?

London, this afternoon. It's become a very common gag tactic amongst protesters. You know, right up until the moment the police decide there's been quite enough free expression for one afternoon, thankyouverymuch.

This afternoon's London/Manchester/etc. protests have the hastag #demo2011.
posted by bright cold day at 9:45 AM on January 29, 2011


Erm, what's to stop the police using this?

What good would it do them?
posted by odinsdream at 9:48 AM on January 29, 2011


How to Win at Kettling:
But how, exactly, do you play kettling? Well, first you'll need to split into two teams – attackers and defenders. Team A, the defenders, will be formed of disparate groups of individuals with broadly similar but occasionally conflicting aims. So as to best identify themselves, they should wear hoodies, masks and an expression of determined optimism. For Team A the aim of the game is to remain free and at liberty for as long as possible while expressing their opposition to the status quo.

The offensive team, Team B, will be smaller in number, better armed, and dressed like angry glowsticks. The aim of the game for Team B is to trap Team A in as small a space as possible and stop them from leaving...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:59 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


This post doesn't make it clear at all what Kettling, Sukey, or the London Met (police force? Do Londoners report crime to art institutions when they visit NYC?) are.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:28 PM on January 29


Now you know how we non-Yanks feel when you guys just assume everyone knows everything about American culture and events.

Just joshing ya. Don't... err.. have a cow, is it? Or was that a couple of decades ago?

Google time, matey. It's not hard.
posted by Decani at 10:01 AM on January 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


How to Win at Kettling [Fixed link]
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:04 AM on January 29, 2011


and dressed like angry glowsticks.

I lol'd, but brightly colored cops are better then those dressed in all black.
posted by delmoi at 10:39 AM on January 29, 2011


They did this sort of thing in Pittsburgh at the G20 in 2009, which led to this guy getting arrested for operating the network. There's some talk of security over on the Sukey site, but my feeling is that their reliance on manual "Back End Data Processing" means that this is just as centralized. Which means you can be shut down in the middle of a demonstration.
posted by anarcation at 11:04 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


> > protesters to bring their own cells

> With a great long ethernet cord? The cells would need to be in nearby buildings. In that case, probably better to just use wifi.

Not so, not so! If you have a mesh network all you need is a reasonable density of smart phones on your mesh without any huge gaps until you get into an area where either your regular cell connection works, you have some free Wifi, or you have some sort of "hub" (a cell or WiFi in a known building).

While I'm not aware of any actual open source mesh network that would do the job, creating a mesh network is only moderately difficult, particularly if you don't mind being a little less than perfectly efficient in your use of bandwidth, and exactly the kind and size of task that a few dedicated hackers could pull off in a couple of months rather than a couple of years.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:19 AM on January 29, 2011


Remember folks tall banners attached to long poles. When kettled, remove the banners, form a phalanx and push your way through.
posted by humanfont at 11:22 AM on January 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is a great idea and a cool app, but would it actually work in a crowd of smartphone users all trying to tweet, upload video, and download gmaps?

Central London has thousands of WiFi hotspots, for instance every McDonalds and several coffee shop chains have them, so not everything is dependent on the mobile network.

Why on earth would you take a $400 smartphone to a place where there's going to be riot cops?

Possibly to show all those nice Daily Mail reading Tory voters what the poor students will have to do without if their grant money is cut.

Google time, matey. It's not hard.

Except, of course, the top result in Google for 'London Met' is the London Metropolitan University...

They did this sort of thing in Pittsburgh at the G20 in 2009, which led to this guy getting arrested for operating the network.

He got arrested, but I can't seem to find any report of whether he was ever actually convicted - can anyone else find anything?
posted by robertc at 11:29 AM on January 29, 2011


Not so, not so! If you have a mesh network all you need is a reasonable density of smart phones on your mesh without any huge gaps until you get into an area where either your regular cell connection works, you have some free Wifi, or you have some sort of "hub" (a cell or WiFi in a known building).
True, but how many people have mesh networking setup? With what's happening in Egypt, it ought to be manditory. If the Egyptians had mesh networking on cellphones they'd be able to communicate electronically with each other, each least. But, for now everyone wants things centralized.
posted by delmoi at 11:41 AM on January 29, 2011


~They did this sort of thing in Pittsburgh at the G20 in 2009, which led to this guy getting arrested for operating the network.

~He got arrested, but I can't seem to find any report of whether he was ever actually convicted


The point of such an arrest is rarely to win any conviction. The police know it would be a tough one to win. The whole point is to throw a monkey wrench into the protest, and run the guy through the wringer hard enough to make him think twice about ever doing it again.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:43 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


by the way, all this talk of mesh networking and Wi-fi spots is besides the point. as i stated in the FPP Sukey is able to collate data from SMS messages; here are all the channels Sukey listens on, and here's how to receive SMS notification from Sukey.
posted by asymptotic at 11:46 AM on January 29, 2011


Well that's good - SMS is super resiliant.
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on January 29, 2011


@Artw: resilient. If you have concerns about the capacity of the wireless data network, SMS is an answer. If you have concerns about the availability of the wireless network in general, perhaps you don't appreciate the number of people who live in London. Either way, any form of wireless communication is moot if the police deploy electronic jammers...I doubt they would, but who knows.
posted by asymptotic at 11:53 AM on January 29, 2011


Mass arrests at protests are part of the standard strategy. Much was made of the way the protests at the 2008 RNC were policed- basically, there were mass arrests which took everyone from protestors to bystanders, with the arrested being "housed" in makeshift temporary "jails" built inside rented warehouses. The prisoners were held a couple of days without contact and provided with (according to all reports I've seen) only meager food which was often stale or rotten before being released without charges.

Understand this: the money paid out for wrongful arrest suits is considered to simply be part of the cost of the policing. This is not what happens when the system breaks down. Mass wrongful arrests, along with paying out in lawsuits after, are part of the plan. The riot cops conspire to break the law.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:05 PM on January 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


Asymptopic. Dude, I've lived in London. London has no magic defences against the problems of data traffic failing when large groups of people with smartphones are pressed against each other. Wi-fi doesn't do too well either.

Now, if you're talking about wandering down an averagely crowded street that's a different situation, but that's not really where it counts.
posted by Artw at 12:12 PM on January 29, 2011


If you google "kettling" these days you get four pages of SEO spam for kitchen appliances.
posted by Grangousier at 12:32 PM on January 29, 2011


I was kettled at Bank (in London) on April 1, 2009 during a peaceful march with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. My data connection was slow(er), but I was able to post photos and tweet sans problem, at least until my battery died.

I remember thinking how amusing it was that of the thousands of people in the kettle, most had smart phones (and dSLRs). And we were all looking at them constantly, trying to figure out what the hell was going on around us. I know I wasted most of my battery reading twitter and googling to figure out what was happening, so something like Sukey's "Roar" might have been handy.

Pope Guilty's description of a kettle is spot on. I joined the march as a spectator, but after a couple hours of being kettled, I pretty much wanted to throw a brick at something.
posted by shoepal at 12:33 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, NOW it sounds like it could be useful, but Attention Sukey: your web site is worthless. I clicked before reading the 'more inside' here at MeFi. Your video wasted my time without telling me what Sukey does for me except in the vaguest generalities. Clicking 'what is Sukey' did not help with that. I wasn't sure if it was a real product, or a mission statement for something you hadn't figured out how to do yet. I lost interest then and returned to MeFi.

Would it be too much trouble to cut and paste asymptotic's first 'more inside' paragraph to a prominent place on your site?
posted by ctmf at 12:50 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the video could be a, oh, I don't know, DEMO OF THE APP, and not a "hi, look at me, please look around the site"? Guess what? I'm on the site already. The information: show me it. GRAR! Maybe I need another cup of coffee.
posted by ctmf at 1:05 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


@ctmf: i agree, it took me a while to figure out what sukey was. hell, i didn't have any idea what the name meant until i read an economist blog posting about it. as usual the economist give a good lay of the land.
posted by asymptotic at 1:11 PM on January 29, 2011


I think we need to seriously rethink protest marches.

In the USA they appear to have been pretty much nullified as an effective mechanism of change. The media doesn't report on them, except to misrepresent the numbers and amplify any violence or vandalism. The police increasingly have evolved mechanisms which appear to be incredibly effective at both isolating the protesters from an audience and at provoking violence which can then be used as an excuse to break heads.

Problem is that I can't think of anything that can be used to effect change if protests are nullified. We keep protesting, we keep marching, and all that happens is that the media reports on vandalism and paints the protesters as evil rioting scumbags who deserve to get beaten by the noble police.

So I'm at a loss. I'm also sure that if tools like this become even slightly effective the next step will be for the police to deploy cell/data jammers as they roll up the protest.
posted by sotonohito at 1:47 PM on January 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


So, do you wacky yanks know why the project is called Sukey, right? Or is the rhyme as Anglo-Centric as the rest of this post...?

Oh, and the reason "London Met" came back with the wrong stuff is that everyone here would call them "The Met". Well... that's the politest thing most people would call them.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 1:53 PM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


sotonohito, I'm generally pretty down on protesting for a slightly different reason, which is that protests rely on the powerful caring what the powerless think. Protest marches are basically a very high-effort, time- and money-intensive form of asking for what you want. In the form that they're usually employed in, they are useless.

Now, let's take a couple of models of marching that actually have some kick to them: the London school fee protests and the Egyptian protests. The London protests do appear to be doing some good, and a big part of that is that they don't stop. The protestors didn't show up for a day, march, give a speech, and go home. They took to the streets and have stayed in the streets and appear to intend to do so until the government gives in. They're not asking for what they want, they're demanding it, attempting to coerce their government into giving it to them. Look also at the Egyptian protests; while the action has only in the last week heated up, they're burning government buildings and police cars and keeping at it; they are applying coercive force to the government.

As long as you are happy simply "speaking truth to power" or just getting your dissent on the record, you are powerless. When you are willing to find a way to apply force- to coerce your desire out of your target- you are useful and potent.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:13 PM on January 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


ctmf : Ok, NOW it sounds like it could be useful, but Attention Sukey: your web site is worthless. I clicked before reading the 'more inside' here at MeFi. Your video wasted my time without telling me what Sukey does for me except in the vaguest generalities.

If you go to the Roar page, it all makes a whole lot more sense. That page still seems broken (the actual content referred to doesn't seem to load for me), but just keep clicking the dragon and it explains the whole idea pretty bluntly - It shows you a Google maps overlay indicating safe, unsafe, and "Danger Will Robinson!" areas around you, as well as some sort of live twitter(?) feed of relevant events going on around you.
posted by pla at 3:33 PM on January 29, 2011


C'mon, you guys. Everybody knows what kettling is.

(It's like dogging and cottaging, but with more teabagging.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:07 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sukey is of particular interest to me as someone who used to help with dispatch at Indymedia during the anti-globalization protests in the late '90s/early '00s. At the first few protests I went to (in 2000, I think) even cell phones were not as ubiquitous as they are now, so you had to depend on individuals who had phones and would check in with your dispatch station. We also used radios quite a bit. We maintained a central station where people could call in and ask us what was going on, and where we could call those with cell phones to make sure their groups weren't headed straight into police cordons. There were few protesters in the field with laptops, so generally putting information up online was not so helpful. I remember we had a big map on the wall where we kept track of where the action was happening.

Writing that down, I kinda can't believe how it feels like ancient history. I wonder if maybe my memory's even a little off about how many phones people had. I ought to go look in the stuff I wrote at the time. Anyway, it's kind of cool to see how technology has caught up with what organizers wanted to be doing.
posted by gusandrews at 6:33 PM on January 29, 2011


For a little more historical background on activist technology projects, also see protest.net, a calendar for organizing which I think Evan was building back in 1998, possibly earlier. He got a lot of media coverage for it back then.
posted by gusandrews at 6:39 PM on January 29, 2011


And @sotonohito, I was taught that most power working people in the US had to undertake effective collective action was gutted by the Taft-Hartley Act, specifically its provisions about strikes, which I think stipulated that multiple unions could not undertake sympathy strikes.
posted by gusandrews at 6:43 PM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wah this post isn't America-centric wah.

I'm Australian and I had no idea what it was either, so I don't see what America has to do with it. And who's wah-ing, exactly?

American: In case you were wondering what that unfamiliar term meant, as I was, here's a Wikipe...

Englishmen: oh you americans you're so clueless everybody smart knows what i'm talking about and is talking about the same thing and has been forever and here's a link and here's another one bet you feel right stupid now dontcha and you think you're the centre of the bloody universe well you're not so there now you know how we feel but when we feel it it's right and it's your fault and when you feel that way you're wrong and it's your fault not mine innit

American: ...dia link. You're welcome.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:57 AM on January 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


robertc: "They did this sort of thing in Pittsburgh at the G20 in 2009, which led to this guy getting arrested for operating the network.

He got arrested, but I can't seem to find any report of whether he was ever actually convicted - can anyone else find anything?
"

All charges were dropped by the DA.
posted by octothorpe at 6:09 AM on January 30, 2011


Can someone UK based (or with specific knowledge) explain why kettling tactics have not resulted in the Met being sued for false imprisonment?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:39 PM on January 30, 2011


Can someone UK based (or with specific knowledge) explain why kettling tactics have not resulted in the Met being sued for false imprisonment?

I have long wondered the same thing, dismissing it on 2 fronts.

1) appealing to 'power' to curtail 'power' seems to be a dead tactic unless, as Pope Guilty has pointed out you are willing to do more than just register your displeasure. And i don't think people are really willing to do much more than this anymore. Too much comfort in our world I guess

2) As a subset of above, no-one seems to care enough.

I am always amazed at the lack of outrage anymore.

Anyway that said, I would be delighted if someone could provide the legal reality here, as opposed to my lazy liberal wibbling.
posted by Boslowski at 6:16 AM on January 31, 2011


Can someone UK based (or with specific knowledge) explain why kettling tactics have not resulted in the Met being sued for false imprisonment?

Well, as I mentioned above, in the modern model of protest policing, the payouts for false imprisonment/arrest lawsuits are seen not as a disincentive but merely as a cost. Add to that a legal system whose position on the police can be accurately and concisely summarized as "mmm, yes, more of that in my mouth, please" and you have a system in which laws against false arrest/imprisonment do not have any deterrent force.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2011


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