Twitter helps Republican Convention protestors organize, elude police

Microblogs written by protestors targetting the US Republican National Convention help elude police violence.

"City is on lockdown. Go to 14th and Jackson if you need help from tear gas pepper spray," read a Twitter post Thursday night. "Explosions all around. Gas or flashbangs? In car in Sears parking lot. One woman chased, tackled and arrested on bike in front of us," another post noted.

The microblogs were written last night by protestors targeting the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. The group was using the Twitter tool to organize their movements and to help them elude and fend off police who were using tear gas and percussion grenades to force them to disperse.

Approximately 400 people associated with the protest were arrested last night as one Twitterer - an organizer of the protests who calls himself "Notq" and describes himself as an activist, husband and father - collected and posted the Tweets as they were coming in. "I've been reporting for two weeks," he added. "I'm just some random dude that loves democracy. After this, I go back to tweeting about what I ate for breakfast?"

Here are some Tweets that provide a compelling view into the protest:

-- "Arrest teams are approaching seated protesters on Marion bridge. Resisters are told they'll be met with force."

-- "Protestors are now fighting back. First reports of violence now

-- "Western Ave. bridge, west of capitol can be safely crossed."

-- "I didn't see safe messages from everyone, so I assume some Twitters are face down on the bridge right now being sent to jail."

After the protests died down Thursday night, "Notq" reflected that his colleagues need to be more prepared next time, perhaps by using a wiki for updates.

Nancy Scola, a blogger at TechPresident, noted that protestors near the convention sites made good use of mobile and social tools that were "empowering them to organize and stay one step ahead of the police" during the convention.

"News passed along the Twitter channel is helping protesters to stay informed on-the-fly, at a time when hard information is difficult to come by," she said. "Twitter is also being used in the to keep tabs on fellow protestors: We've been witnessing police use age old crowd control techniques all week in St. Paul. For their part, the protesters are using brand new ones."

Twitter is increasingly being used to broadcast short messages, or Tweets, for high profile users, such as astronauts on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander and members of Congress. Last month, for example, Republicans in Congress used Twitter to help them stage a protest over a piece of legislation.

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Heather Havenstein

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