Lessons in citizen media from Greenpeace: #IceClimb

There’s a very interesting protest happening right now: Six women are climbing the Shard in protest at Shell’s arctic drilling plans.

Of course, Greenpeace and others have done this sort of thing before. What makes this different is the scale of the activist media operation around the event. It’s a great example of citizen journalism in action, at the most sophisticated end of the scale. Instead of relying on the stunt to attract press attention, (which it has, amply) they’re livecasting the whole thing themselves through a fairly complex media operation.

There’s a custom-designed microsite, with

  • An interaction overlay inviting users to sign a petition immediately on accessing the page
  • A hashtag-based Twitter stream
  • A progress counter for the altitude of the ascent (in meters)
  • A progress counter for the number of sign-ups to the petition
  • Profiles of all the climbers
  • A Livestream of the ascent

The Livestream is particularly interesting. It has been holding steady at around 10,000 concurrent viewers all day. This is quite a high number for a livestream of this kind – it’s a scale similar to the best livestream feeds at the height of the Occupy protests back in the summer of 2011. That summer was a real incubator for networked citizen/activist journalism. I wonder how influential the Occupy feeds were for activist events like this one.

The video stream is also quite sophisticated for a campaign of this type. The main camera view is currently a tripod shot with a long lens. This morning the climbers themselves were broadcasting via portable cameras. (They’re also tweeting as they climb). The whole set-up is being run by a crew of four in the Greenpeace HQ, with continuous commentary that makes it appear very much like a live newscast.

The activity is attracting a huge number of tweets, including some much-retweeted celebrity activity.

It’s clear this required a lot of planning, including content creation ahead of time, scripting and technical set-up (including coding for the microsite). This must have required as much, or more planning and preparation as the actual building-climbing stunt itself. It’s surely not a trivial investment. I expect we’ll see more of this sort of thing in the future as the technology continues to mature.

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