Vibe: Private Twitter Alternative Helps ‘Occupy’ Protesters Organize Anonymously

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If you notice an uptick in #OWS hashtags on Tuesday, you’ll know that the Occupy movement has risen from its relatively dormant winter and early spring for May Day protests. Once again, social media will play a huge part in how protesters organize, although this time Occupiers might be a little more wary of tweeting out personal details.

That’s because last week a criminal court judge denied Malcolm Harris’ motion to quash a subpoena that will allow Twitter to hand over his information to Manhattan prosecutors. Harris, a contributing editor to The New Inquiry, was one of the more than 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during an Occupy protest on October 1. The prosecutors hope to disprove Harris’ and other protesters’ assertion that police led people in the crowd onto the roadway to arrest them for disrupting traffic.

The lines are blurry when it comes to who exactly owns what you post on social media networks like Twitter. That’s why developers have created an alternative set of social media tools with privacy in mind, including the newly released version of Vibe, out now for iOS and soon for Android.

Why would a protester want to use Vibe instead of Twitter? It lets you register anonymously and attach messages to specific locations, meaning only people within a certain radius can see them. Each message can also be set with an expiration date.

(MORE: Move Over, Twitter: ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Activists Feel the ‘Vibe’)

According to Betabeat, developer Hazem Sayed also created a new feature for Vibe 2.0 which lets you use double hashtags that keep messages out of the public stream and only visible to those who search explicitly for those hashtags. The idea is that people can use double hashtags to coordinate certain events instead of exchanging emails or telephone numbers.

Sayed told Betabeat that Vibe isn’t just for protesters — for example, a company could use it to let employees communicate within an office building. But its appeal to protesters is its most obvious selling point.

Paired with independent wireless networks — provided by organizations like the Free Network Foundation, which I wrote about earlier — you have a much more private way of organizing, especially when paired with other privacy-conscious tools like Facebook-alternative Diaspora and search engine DuckDuckGo.

In the end, I think you’ll start to see two tiers of social networking when it comes to protests. You’ll have your public campaigns via traditional social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and you’ll have the on-the-ground social media meant to organize active protesters without fear of surveillance. The idea that the Internet has to be decentralized might not have struck a chord with the general public, but it’s finding a quite a testing ground within the camps of the Occupy movement.

MORE: DuckDuckGo Founder Gabriel Weinberg Talks About Creating a More Private Search Engine