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Please bring supplies: How US protests are coordinated online

Protestors in Washington hold up their phones at a march on June 3
Protestors in Washington hold up their phones at a march on June 3 Eric BARADAT AFP
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Washington (AFP)

Dinanda Pramesti, a 26-year-old communications worker, dropped off bags of food and supplies for protestors at a demonstration in Washington this week, heeding an urgent call made through a social media group.

It was one small example of how street protests raging across the United States are often being organized and coordinated online by young people.

Pramesti met a collective of young activists based around the US capital through Twitter as they vented their fury over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck.

Floyd's death has sparked a wave of nationwide protests against police brutality, with crowds gathering in more than 140 cities, including outside the White House in Washington.

"They said they needed supplies to help protesters on the ground," she told AFP, explaining how food and water are delivered where needed in the fast-moving protests.

Using the name "FreedomFightersDC", the activists exchange encrypted messages with other "Black Lives Matter" groups each day to coordinate plans before passing them on instantly to supporters.

"Social media has made a huge difference, it is like the channel of revolutionary action," a spokesperson for the group told AFP, adding their motto was "No justice, no peace."

In just one week, FreedomFightersDC says it has grown to 20,000 subscribers and raised tens of thousands of dollars to assist protesters who have been arrested.

It receives hundreds of messages to its multiple accounts every day, from supporters offering help of all kinds and requests ranging from groceries and snacks to knee pads and gas masks.

- Online, on the streets -

The wider support network is clearly in action at dusk near the White House, where several thousand demonstrators brave a curfew to protest against police violence, racism and President Donald Trump.

Volunteers move through the crowd offering cereal bars, bottles of water and milk to wash off tear gas sprayed by police.

Online activity is key to the protests -- sometimes accompanied by looting and vandalism -- which have evoked memories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Social networks played a central role from the start, as phone video footage of Floyd's death in late May spread rapidly, fueling long-standing anger over police misconduct against black people.

In New York, the Instagram account @justiceforgeorgenyc emerged quickly and drew 85,000 people. It announces all protest events during the day, along with times, venues and even weather forecasts.

And it invites those who cannot demonstrate to chant from their windows.

Similarly, the @whatswrongwithmollymargaret account is a personal account that has become a feed for information in the city of Minneapolis, where Floyd died and where the demonstrations began.

In Los Angeles, several accounts offer legal assistance to anyone arrested or injured by police during a protest.

Politicians, sports stars and celebrities from Beyonce to LeBron James and Snoop Dogg have also used their huge online followings to express their support, boost fundraising and pass on protest information.

Young Democratic lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Instagram advice on how to dress and protect yourself during demonstrations -- tie your hair back, leave your contact lenses and jewelry at home, bring a snack -- has been "liked" more than 550,000 times.

And many users have also been using social media platforms to share clips of the tough police response to the protests -- fanning even further outrage.

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