Protests and violence on a large scale aren’t likely to erupt when you happen to be visiting any given destination. Yet for those of you unfortunate enough to be in the middle of such chaos, your digital eyes may be an important voice to the world. If you do choose to be an impartial observer, these preparations and personal policies can make you better source of information than local media censored into uselessness.
Find Out What’s Going On
Some people find social media a menace to society and full of lies, but don’t let their Twitter accounts fool you. Used by approximately 1.608 billion users, (67% of Internet users) sites like Twitter and Facebook are good sources for real-time news. It’s unwise to operate in an environment where you have no clue what’s going on so peek at Trendsmap to view the hashtags currently trending in a given city or country.
- Narrow Your Search – Twitter users can also change hashtag preferences by country.
Hotel staff or your local host are also people to be consulted before heading out into the streets. Find out the centers of any demonstrations or clashes to carefully the worst areas. The police may also be brutalizing civilians, targeting journalists, or arresting en masse anyone filming the chaos – it’s important you keep a smart distance from any instigators.
Know The Basic Rules Of Journalism
You’re not a journalist simply for holding a camera but you can learn from the best by using some guiding journalistic principles. First and foremost do not insert yourself into the news you’re reporting. Let the images and video speak for themselves while making your updates about what you’re seeing – without adding your personal feelings about the events. Some select points to take from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: don’t report things out of context, identify your sources when possible, and try to verify what you hear. If something is just a rumor, make sure you say that.
Tear gas is a deterrent used by many police forces around the world to dispel crowds. Without protection you’re unlikely to last very long without severe lung pain and irritation of your mucus membranes. Swimming goggles, which you may be traveling with, are effective protection for the eyes, while a bandana soaked in lemon juice will give you a few minutes of breathable air. (You can re-soak for continued protection.)
- Remove Contact Lenses – Exposure to tear gas destroys them and will only make your eyes burn more.
- Protect Your Skin – Tear gas is also a skin irritant, whose effects can last up to 24 hours. A light raincoat or any other water-tight clothing is advisable as is water or alcohol-based sunscreen for any skin you can’t cover up.
- First Aid App – Free from the American Red Cross (Android and iOS) with excellent emergency care guides if needed.
Despite all of these precautions however if you are caught in a mass detention, free apps I’m Getting Arrested (Android) and Busted (iOS) can send off an emergency SMS you set up ahead of time to a friend, letting them about your situation.
Hack Around Jammers, 3G Blocks, And Internet Censorship
Authoritarian governments don’t like media they can’t control and often try to cut communications at demonstration sites. Mobile phone jammers do just that – polluting the right frequencies with enough junk data so you can’t make calls or transmit data. There isn’t much you can do against a jammer, except move physically, smaller ones attached to police vans generally have a range of about 9 meters. Your wireless connection should still work and you can look for signals or hotspots that might be open nearby.
- Have Passwords In Advance – Using previously mentioned WeFi’s hotspot maps, you can jot down the password for a landmark (e.g. Starbucks on the corner) and go there in case of a mobile block.
Even if you get online at this point, there may still be Internet censorship to get around. Both free TunnelBear (iOS, Android) and previously mentioned Hotspot Shield (Android, iOS) will proxy you around most site blocks.
- Publish Directly Multiple Online Accounts – Don’t waste time opening the Twitter and Facebook apps separately, in the heat of the moment you’ll want every spare second you can get. Several free apps let you selectively post to either account with Hootsuite (iOS, Android) and Buffer (iOS, Android) being two good choices.
Alternatively, the tumblr app (Windows Phone, iOS, Android) recently added the ability to cross-post to Twitter and Facebook.
Sync Your Photos Before They’re Confiscated
Your photos are vulnerable until they’re on the Internet as your memory card may be taken or forcibly erased if you get a bit too close to authorities.
- Backup Your Memory Card Wirelessly – The Eye-Fi Mobile X2 (original post) transmits the pictures on your camera’s SD card to the mobile phone in your pocket for real time (and sneaky) backups.
Don’t Forget Common Sense
Prior to walking out the door, let someone locally (e.g. hotel staff, etc.) know where you’re planning on going and send an email to a trusted friend with the same information. (It also doesn’t hurt to bring a buddy or two along if they’re around.) Be aware and look up from your camera or phone screen occasionally to stay aware of looters, provocateurs, and tear gas canisters that may be aimed at your head.
Finally, keep in mind it’s best not to get involved in the fight when you’re in a foreign country. You’re subject to local laws and your embassy may be limited in its ability provide diplomatic assistance for you. Passively report what’s going on but don’t take sides and avoid the authorities. Happy resisting.