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Safety While Protesting: How to Evaluate Information in a Protest

Most information about evaluating sources of information assumes that you have the time and space for careful consideration and that you are using that information for things like writing college papers or carefully considering how to vote in an upcoming election. That advice doesn't work as well when you are monitoring social media moment to moment to decide whether to join a protest or how to avoid bodily injury at the hands of the police in real-time.
A lot of advice about evaluating information also suggests that if you have an emotional reaction to the information, then it might be compromised. In the context of the state murder of countless Black citizens, it is heartless to think that we would not have an emotional reaction to news and social media reports related to these events. Therefore, we cannot use emotional reaction as an indicator for the likelihood of a news source being "fake." 
At the same time, posts from within a demonstration are coming out quickly and being just as quickly contradicted. On top of that, white nationalist groups are actively flooding the information environment with fake news. When you are trying to make a decision about how to participate in an action, these present different and very real information problems. 
When reading these resources, please keep this in mind that they were not designed for events such as these. Here are the highlights that your Seattle Central Librarians think apply to evaluating social movement information in real-time:
  • Rely on trusted sources for social media information: people you've followed for a long time and who document the sources of their information, local journalists with a good track record of rigorous reporting, public figures like Nikkita Oliver whose record shows critical engagement with the issues being protested.
  • It is useful to use established news sources with paid journalists, but evaluate these sources with a critical eye, as they often underestimate the size and importance of protesting
  • If you are following information that could have an effect on your health, (where to go for an action, how to deal with tear gas) try to verify before acting.
  • You may be your best source of information! Sometimes it is more important to be paying attention to your environment, than looking at your phone to keep up with what's happening at an action.  Your senses and your gut reactions are important sources for safety!
    • You can ask members of your safety network who are supporting from home to monitor media about the action you are attending and message you with any urgent news.

Sources of Information During a Seattle Protest


  • Crosscut: Local news coverage of protests

  • The Stranger: Free weekly Seattle newspaper. Often has timely stories and updates, though a very informal tone. Read their blog, for after-hours updates.

  • Seattle Times and KUOW can be good sources during an event, though their reporting after demonstrations can be hostile to demonstrators.

  • Check out some Seattle Protest Livestreams, composed by Seattle Met, so you may see protests events as they happen in real-time and make your own conclusions. It also allows those who cannot physically participate to tune in and support from afar. 

Breaking News: Protest Edition

This infographic, included in the Breaking News Consumer's Handbook by On the Media, lists important considerations to take when consuming news surrounding protests. You may right-click on the image to save for reference. 

List of considerations when consuming news about protests

What if you're one of the sources?

Sometimes you or the people you're with will be the ones creating and disseminating information during a protest.  It is important to be skilled, intentional, and thoughtful about how you record, share, and store that information. 

The Blacktivists offer 5 tips for anyone documenting movements:

  1. Social Media is not an archive
  2. Protect your phone
  3. Respect and Protect individual privacy
  4. Be cautious when uploading content to public apps
  5. Use discretion and practice care

Read more from the Blacktivists to understand why these 5 tips are so important for yourself and those you record.

Witness Media Labs has more detailed information specifically about filming the police in the united states.  Their tip sheet advises that you:

  1. Know your rights
  2. Prepare your phone so that they can't be forcefully unlocked
  3. Film with intention
  4. Think before sharing
  5. Record high quality images and sound. Here are the suggestions for how:

Each state has different laws about recording others legally.  Here's a guide to call and video recording laws by state


Links for Fact Checking