Tech The World Now + Beyond

8 times livestreaming was indispensable to activists

Let’s take a second to remember the 2015 Black Lives Matter protests, and the gross misreporting conducted by the mainstream media. For those who tuned into CNN, the coverage consisted of money shots of looting, violence, and Wolf Blitzer’s condescending denouncement of protestors.

The TV news cycle has the ability to shape the opinions of the entire nation. How can activists combat the spread of misrepresentation in the mainstream media, with so few resources in comparison?

With the new outlets social media exposes us to, many have turned to livestreaming to document truths that the mainstream cannot, or will not see. Here are a few of the most remarkable examples.

 1. The Arab Spring

“The Arab Spring Project” blog

During the Arab Spring protests of 2010 and 2011, we witnessed one of the first times social media became a revolutionary tool for activists. When several Middle Eastern and north African governments responded with violent repression coupled with internet blackouts, livestreaming played a central role in documenting injustice outside of traditional media formats.

A representative from Witness, a group focused on training activists in livestreaming, claimed that live video during the Arab Spring prevented the world from ignoring the important struggles that were taking place.

2. Occupy Wall Street

AP/Seth Wenig via Current

Soon after social media activism exploded internationally during the Arab Spring, we saw a strategic use of livestreaming here in the US.

For many activists, mainstream media coverage was a source of extreme frustration. Livestreamer James Woods claimed to have seen CNN deliberately avoid covering the arrests of protestors. As a response, Occupy protestors had to take truth-telling into their own hands.

We can thank Occupy Wall Street livestreamers for really making this form of media what it is today. One of Occupy’s channels,, apparently became so threatening to the established powers that they were arrested in their Brooklyn studio.

3. Ferguson Protests

Getty Images via The Wrap

Protests against police brutality, for obvious reasons, are especially dangerous hotbeds for police versus activist conflict. Nonetheless, livestreaming “citizen journalists” entered the fray and filmed alternative views of the Eric Garner demonstrations in New York, as well as protests in Ferguson.

During a Ferguson protest, livestreamer John Ziegler recorded a cop pointing a rifle at a protester and shouted “I will fucking kill you!” The ensuing footage got the officer fired.

During these protests, faster LTE networks facilitated livestreaming, compared to the slow 3G networks of the Occupy days.

4. Police Brutality


We all remember the chilling death of Philando Castile. That alone is a testament to the power of the more modern tools of livestreaming, which go beyond sites like Ustream to permeate everyday social media such as Facebook and Instagram.

Zuckerberg may not have predicted that his latest feature would be used to document incidents of racial violence, yet with both the deaths of Castile and Alfred Olango, Facebook live has been cemented as an activist tool.

5. Standing Rock

Avery Leigh White via Rolling Stone

Livestreamers at Standing Rock had two battles to fight. While the #noDAPL activism was underreported by mainstream media, it became the responsibility of individual protestors to document the events.

At the same time, livestreamers had an obligation to film incidents of extreme police violence against protestors.

6. Anti-Trump protests

AP/Ted S. Warren via Komo News

The aftermath of the election and the inauguration led to mass protests, as well as the usual citizen journalism and livestreaming seen in previous protests.

What was unique was the use of livestream by celebrities such as Michael Moore to promote protests on an even larger platform, as well as Shia Labeouf’s use of livestreaming as an artistic medium in his anti-Trump stream titled “He Will Not Divide Us.”

7. Women’s March

The Huffington Post

The Women’s March was likely the largest protest in US history. Instead of being primarily used to document alternative media, livestreaming technology adapted to this massive scale. Video streaming professionals amplified the march even further by recording the entire event for all those who could not make it.

This new approach allowed everyone with access to the internet to be part of the movement.

8. And onwards

Stephanie Keith/Getty via Rolling Stone

As the Times reported, airport protests erupted “out of nowhere” after Trump’s executive order banned refugees from certain countries. While it is unclear the exact role of streamers in mobilizing protestors, small gatherings quickly turned into massive crowds in airports across the nation as word spread quickly through social media livestreams.

Livestreams are still indispensable for activism today. But what exactly is their future?

They are increasingly being co-opted by more powerful outlets, such as celebrities and the media. Yet the technology is at the same time becoming more and more accessible at the grassroots level, through networks such as Facebook.

Livestream technology is still a powerful presence in politics, and most likely will continue to grow.

By Natalia Marques

Editorial Fellow Natalia Marques is a sophomore at Wellesley College, studying Political Science and Chinese. She is passionate about resistance movements, feminism, and Beyonce.