Of course, none of this new. But even for Dan Feidt, who has been helping to livestream protests for over a decade, there’s something different about how the current unrest is unfolding online. Mr. Feidt was one of the first videographers to produce livestreams of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 and is a co-founder of Unicorn Riot, a decentralized media collective.
“This is unique in how quickly it telescoped into a national movement — it’s just all happening so fast,” he told me.
Unicorn Riot has reporters based in Minneapolis and was one of the first outlets on the ground covering the protest. It has been widely praised for its coverage, which elevates marginalized voices in communities out of the traditional media spotlight.
Mr. Feidt said Unicorn Riot has seen a substantial uptick in viewership across its streaming platforms — on Twitter alone it has gained more than 130,000 followers this past week; some of its hourslong livestreams have attracted more than 70,000 viewers.
“And so it is amazing how raw, live video can shift your sense of perception of what’s really happening out there,” Mr. Feidt said. “The authenticity doesn’t just attract interest but it gives people something to connect to on an emotional level. For so long all people had in terms of live video was coming from places like CNN and they were packaging and implicitly and explicitly deciding how to present that information.”
Indeed, millions are still following along via cable news — but even those broadcasts feel influenced by the citizen journalists, activists and independent media who helped reinvent the format across the Arab Spring protests, Occupy, Ferguson, the Dakota Access pipeline protests, Charlottesville and in countless other demonstrations. Now cable news anchors and reporters frequently act as roving correspondents, conducting interviews from the field, rather than from a static position near a satellite truck on the outskirts of the action. Though their executives would be loath to say it, the change is in part because they’re in competition with the Unicorn Riots of the world as well as anyone with a smartphone.
The power of watching these protests on social media comes from the repetition, from the overwhelming quality of the information. This pain, this anger, this suffering, this violence — it’s not happening somewhere, it’s happening everywhere, all at once. So often these awful instances of violence are framed and treated as one-off events. A tragedy in isolation, an unfortunate escalation. But experiencing these protests in dozens of cities and neighborhoods, night after night and witnessing the endless stream of videos, the pattern is undeniable. The system has long been broken, but it is now impossible to hide from the reality.