Reflections on Twitter as a Historical Source

Last week, I detailed my clunky and ad-hoc method for collecting and analysing old tweets. I have now finished my data collection (I read almost 26,000 tweets in total), so it seemed like a good time to reflect a little more on the experience of the process and what I found, rather than just how I did it. The tweets I read were all written during 4 days in November and December 2010. During this period a nationwide campaign was trying to persuade the British government not to make dramatic changes to the way that higher education was funded, which included raising university tuition fees to up to £9000 a year.

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The Student Tuition Fee Protests in 2010 are the most recent case study in my PhD, which has presented methodological challenges as well as opportunities (Photo: Urban75).

The Student Tuition Fee Protests in 2010 is the only one of my case studies (the others are the Gordon Riots (1780), the Hyde Park Railings Affair (1866), and the Battle of Cable Street (1936)) that I lived through and participated in. I have my opinions about the issues contested in each of the other case studies, but researching events that you yourself experienced is very different. I was a second year undergraduate in late 2010, my younger sister would be affected by the proposed increased fees, and I cared very much about what happened. Reading through tweets from the four days of protest in London brought back a lot of emotions; the desire to do something; hope that we could make a difference, disbelief that anyone thought the proposals were a good idea; betrayal at the Liberal Democrats’ U-turn; anger at those who dismissed students as ignorant, lazy and apathetic; all soured by the knowledge that we didn’t change anything. Compounding this is the tendency people have to be more arrogant and abrasive on the internet than they ever would be in person. Because of this some Tweets were quite offensive, and it was hard not to take it personally. I found myself fighting the urge to reply to some of the most irritating Tweets, repeatedly reminding myself how strange it would be to get a reply to something written 6 years ago. Reading the tweets caused me to re-live many of the feelings I experienced back in 2010, which meant that this research was often quite draining emotionally.

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Some tweets expressed extreme opinions, which I often found difficult to read.

One of the biggest problems I have faced so far in my PhD research is that the further back in time you go, the less archival material there is which records the perspectives and experiences of ordinary people. This is a challenge for many historical researchers, but it has been particularly difficult for me because the wealthy elites don’t tend to be the people participating in protest and dissent. The internet is relatively accessible, with only 11% of British adults having never used the internet (Office of National Statistics, 2015). This does not mean that 89% of British people use Twitter, but it does give me the opportunity to see what ‘ordinary’ people were saying about the protests, which is a rare treat for me. Twitter revealed some wonderfully fine-grained details about the protests and what it was like to be there. For example, a woman called Rosie McKenna broke her glasses and hurt her leg whilst being kettled by police on the 9th of December. It was great to be able to develop such a clear picture of what it was like to be part of the protests, rather than having to rely heavily on imagination.

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Twitter preserves the experience of protesting in finer detail than traditional archival sources.

Another aspect of the research that I really enjoyed was seeing how various processes present in my other case studies played out through this modern technology. A common feature of protests and social movements is conspiracy theories; people speculate about who the ‘real’ organisers of a protest event are, or who might be manipulating the course of events to suit their own aims. The Gordon Riots, for example, were blamed on the American, Spanish or French governments. Scholars have argued that these theories developed because at that point it was not generally believed that the lower classes were capable of organising themselves in such a manner; they need someone to tell them what to do (Leon, 2011; Tackett; 2000). Conspiracy theories persist, however, despite modern society holding a less patronising view of the working and middle classes.One of the best known events of the 2010 Student Protests was the occupation of 30 Millbank, the building in which the Conservative Party campaign headquaters were housed. The response of the Metropolitan Police on this occasion was rather slow and inadequate. The most likely explanation is that they were surprised by the strength of feeling amongst the protesters, and had not prepared for trouble on that scale. However, it was suggested by some Twitter users that the police had deliberately responded slowly, because policing was facing its own budget cuts under the austerity regime, and wanted to demonstrate their usefulness to the government. The saying ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ springs to mind…

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Twitter gives modern conspiracy theories related to protest a new platform on which to be transmitted and debated.

After a long period of writing, I really enjoyed getting to doing some research again, and exploring a new source of data. Working with Twitter was tiring, physically as well as emotionally (I had to take regular breaks because of the strain on my eyes), but also very rewarding. It has provided me with evidence to back up my arguments, as well as leading me to develop some new ones, and I feel like my PhD will be stronger because I tried this new (to me) research method.

Sources and Further Reading

León, Pablo Sánchez. “Conceiving the Multitude: Eighteenth-Century Popular Riots and the Modern Language of Social Disorder.’ International Review of Social History 56, no. 3 (2011): 511–533.

Tackett, Timothy. “Conspiracy Obsession in a Time of Revolution: French Elites and the Origins of the Terror 1789–1792.” The American Historical Review, 105, no. 3 (2000): 691–713.

#demo2010: Harvesting Old Tweets as a Research Method

The long time scale of my PhD means I have to deal with vastly different sources in my research. For the Gordon Riots (1780), I use mainly eyewitness accounts and court records. For the Battle of Cable Street (1936), I have access to images and videos of what happened. For the 2010 Student Tuition Fee Protests, the choices are almost endless. One of the sources I decided to utilise was Twitter, the social media website that allows its users to post updates of up to 140 characters. Every type of source presents different challenges for the researcher, and I found the unique challenges of Twitter rather difficult to cope with at first. This post is about the method I developed for my research, and I hope it will act as a catalyst for discussion amongst other scholars dealing with similar issues. My research was conducted on a computer with a Windows 10 operating system, and I do not know how well my method would translate to a different operating system.

Whilst there are programmes which collect tweets in real time as they are tweeted, many of which are open access, there are fewer designed to harvest pre-existing tweets. Those there are are aimed at a commercial rather than academic market, and their cost is beyond the scope of my research budget. So I had to develop my own ad-hoc, ‘low tech’ method of harvesting old tweets, using Twitter’s Advanced Search function.

In 2014 Twitter began allowing users to search for tweets more than 7 days old in its Advanced Search function (accessed from the options menu of a bog standard Twitter search result page, or by googling ‘Twitter Advanced Search’. You have to have a Twitter account to use this function). Advanced Search lets you combine a whole variety of search parameters, including date, location, hash tags, Twitter accounts, key words, sentiment (whether a Tweet is positive or negative). You can even input words you don’t want to be included.

Twitter Advanced Search

Twitter’s Advanced Search function looks a little like this.

Once I decided I was using Advanced Search, I had to decide on search parameters. The Student Tuition Fee Protests were a series of demonstrations, occupations and marches on both a national and local scale that took place between the 10th of November and the 9th of December 2010. I wanted to see Tweets from the four days of action that took place in London, on the 10th, 24th, and 30th of November, and the 9th of December. I started by searching for tweets that had been geotagged with London on the revelant days. Only a small percentage of tweets are geotagged, but it provided me with an idea of the hashtags and keywords that were were being used in regards to the demonstrations. I used this to decide on my search parameters. For example, for the demonstration on the 9th of December I searched for ‘Any of these words: protester, protesters, students, tuition, fees, protests’ and ‘These hashtags: #demo2010 #dayx3 #fees #solidarity #studentprotest #ukuncut’. For each demonstration, I used a slightly different combination of hashtags and keywords, in an attempt to find as many relevant tweets as possible. I acknowledge, however, that I probably did not find every tweet about the demonstrations. I also altered the dates as appropriate, then started the search.

Twitter Search Results

This is the top of the search results page I got for the protests on the 9th of December 2010.

Now for the long-winded part. I have not found a way to download multiple tweets at once. You can use your browser’s print function to save the search results as a pdf, but there are several disadvantages to this. You cannot expand the tweets to see what time they were tweeted, and it will only save the tweets that have loaded- you have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the search results to save them all, and this can take a long time when searches yield more than a few thousand tweets. I did save the search results as a pdf, so I can go back to them at a later date if I want to, but only once I had read them all.

And that is how I analysed the search results, by reading every single tweet. Any tweets that I thought might be relevant to my research, I saved as a jpeg using the Snip tool, with it’s own individual number (001, 002, 003, 004 etc.). I also pasted each tweet into a word document, so I could go back to them later without having to open each individual jpeg. I coded the saved tweets as I went along, making a note of the tweet’s number and the key theme it related to. I also kept a count of how many tweets I had read as I went along. I wouldn’t say it was very reliable, but I can at least say roughly how many tweets I analysed for each demonstration. For example, I read almost 8000 tweets related to the demonstration on the 10th of November 2010.

Snip Tool.png

The Snip tool allows you to make an image from your computer screen. It works a little like print screen, but you are able to select a particular area that you want to capture, like this tweet from the 9th of December 2010.

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Sometimes, the simplest way of doing things is the best. I counted every tweet I read, and coded the most relevant ones using a good old fashioned notebook and pen.

So there you have it; my ad hoc, low tech (for Twitter!) method for collecting and analysing old Tweets for academic research. It is a rather clunky method, and I suspect that someone with more technological know-how than me could improve it dramatically, but it has allowed me to see how social media was being used during the 2010 Student Protests in London. If you have experience with this sort of research, or just have an opinion on it, then I would love to hear from you!

London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Police

The Metropolitan Police are a common sight across London today, but for a long time their survival was far from garunteed.

The Metropolitan Police are a common sight across London today, but for a long time their survival was far from guaranteed (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

London has the distinction of being home to the oldest professional police force in the world. The Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829 in an attempt to impose order on the chaotic and undisciplined city. Their primary purpose was to deter crime, but they became involved in the policing of protest in 1830. Ironically, the first protest in which the police were involved was an anti-police demonstration on the 28th of October 1830. Demonstrators chanting ‘No New Police’ clashed with the boys in blue at Hyde Park Corner. The British people had long been hostile to the idea of a professional police force, so the Metropolitan Police faced an uphill battle convincing Londoners that they were necessary. Ever since then, the Met has had an uneasy relationship with some Londoners. Radicals have always been particularly critical, especially in regard to the policing and control of protest. Disapproval and mistrust of the Metropolitan Police is reflected in London’s protest stickers.

You can see the locations of the stickers on the Turbulent London Map.

One of the most common ways of expressing anti-police sentiment is with the acronym ACAB

One of the most common ways of expressing anti-police sentiment is with the acronym ACAB, which stands for ‘All Cops/Coppers Are Bastards’. In most cases, the acronym’s meaning is not spelled out, but this sticker is particularly obliging, so it seemed like a good place to start the post (Regent’s Canal Tow Path, 20/05/15).

ACAB crops up frequently, in various fonts and colour schemes. In most circumstances though, you would need to know what the acronym means to understand the sticker's message (King's Cross Station, 27/05/15).

ACAB crops up frequently, in various fonts and colour schemes. In most circumstances though, you would need to know what the acronym means to understand the sticker’s message (King’s Cross Station, 27/05/15).

The text on this sticker is difficult to make out, but it reads 'Kill the cop inside you... and then the fun begins' (Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

The text on this sticker is difficult to make out, but it reads ‘Kill the cop inside you… and then the fun begins’ (Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

The previous two stickers refer to police in general. This sticker refers to the Metropolitan Police specifically, calling it the biggest gang in London (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 12/03/15).

The previous three stickers refer to police in general. This sticker refers to the Metropolitan Police specifically, calling it the biggest gang in London (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 12/03/15).

This sticker is even more specific. (King's Cross, 06/06/15).

This sticker is even more specific. Henry Hicks died after being chased by two unmarked police cars in December 2014. This sticker is calling for support in the campaign to get justice for Henry (King’s Cross, 06/06/15).

This sticker also relates to the Henry Hicks campaign, but contains much less information (Tolpuddle Street, Islington, 20/05/15).

This sticker also relates to the Henry Hicks campaign, but contains much less information (Tolpuddle Street, Islington, 20/05/15).

This sticker also relates to a specific case. Ian Tomlinson famously collapsed and died after being struck by a police officer at the 2009 G-20 protests. AN inquest found that he had been unlawfully killed (Kennington Park Road, 04/06/15).

This sticker also relates to a specific case. Ian Tomlinson famously collapsed and died after being struck by a police officer at the 2009 G-20 protests. An inquest found that he had been unlawfully killed (Kennington Park Road, 04/06/15).

There has been a lot of controversy over the pat few years over the policing of student protest. This sticker refers to a campaign to ban police from university campuses (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

There has been a lot of controversy over the pat few years over the policing of student protest. This sticker refers to a campaign to ban police from university campuses (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

(Senate House, 17/03/15).

I found this sticker close to Senate House, part of the University of London, which suggests it may also be connected to the controversy over student protest. The writing is not easy to make out; it reads ‘Total Policing- Total Nobs.’ (Senate House, 17/03/15).

(Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

Some stickers feature the logos of the groups who produced them. This sticker was made by the 161 Crew, a Polish anti-fascist group (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

(Westminster Bridge, 20/06/15).

This sticker reworks the logo of the Metropolitan Police, filling it with criticisms of the police force, including terrifying, intimidating, abusive and petty (Westminster Bridge, 20/06/15).

Sources and Further Reading

Ascoli, David. The Queen’s Peace: The Origins and Development of the Metropolitan Police 1829-1979. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979.

Protest: What’s the Point?

When I posted a link to Reddit about the End Austerity Now demonstration in June I said it was a ‘big success’. Several comments reacted to this rather sarcastically with one asking if austerity is now over. Whilst I didn’t appreciate the tone of the comments, I realised that ‘what makes a successful protest?’ is a perfectly valid question. It is true that protests rarely bring about large scale change, but they serve other purposes too, such as raising awareness, recruitment, demonstrating solidarity and boosting morale.

Some of the comments I received when I said on the website Reddit that the End Austerity Now demonstration in June 2015 was a 'big success'.

Some of the comments I received when I said on the website Reddit that the End Austerity Now demonstration in June 2015 was a ‘big success’.

It can be difficult to find examples where protest has directly led to wide-scale change, although the 1990 Poll Tax Riots is one case where protest significantly contributed to change. It is much easier to find examples of protests that have led directly to small-scale, local change. For example, housing protest groups like FocusE15 and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have managed to prevent an increasing number of evictions and long-distance relocations by London councils over the past few years. Looking further back, the female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, East London won themselves better working conditions and helped to kick start New Unionism when they went on strike back in 1888. These examples demonstrate that protest is not always as ‘unsuccessful’ as it is perceived to be.

Even protests that do not lead to direct change can be ‘successful’. For example, a protest can raise awareness of an issue amongst those who witness it and the wider public via media coverage. Fathers4Justice are a group that know how to garner publicity, as their tactic of scaling landmarks dressed as various superheroes demonstrates. As well as dramatic or comic stunts, violence can also increase press coverage, as happened in the student tuition fee demonstrations in London in late 2010. It’s a risk though, as violence can often alienate would-be supporters. On the 13th December 1867 the Irish Republican Brotherhood attempted a prison breakout in Clerkenwell by blowing up the prison wall. They used too much gunpowder however, and the explosion killed 12 people. The event became known as the Clerkenwell Outrage, and support for the Fenians in London, which had been quite strong up to this point, evaporated. Nevertheless, regardless of exactly how you go about it, protest can be an effective way of raising the profile of an issue you care about.

Fathers4Justice certainly knew how to get publicity for their cause.

Fathers4Justice certainly knew how to get publicity for their cause.

Linked to raising awareness, protests can also help with recruitment. Put simply, you can’t attract new recruits if nobody knows who you are. Protests get people talking, and provide the opportunity to win people over. After the publicity resulting from the fourth anniversary demonstration of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1936, which has since become know as the Battle of Cable Street, BUF membership spiked. Membership in London almost doubled, jumping from under 3000 to around 5000 (Tilles, 2011). Whilst this is not a positive example, it does show just how effective protest can be at attracting new activists to a cause.

Solidarity is a crucial concept amongst protest groups and social movements. Holding a protest, or attending someone else’s, is a good way of providing both practical and emotional support. The work of Lesbians and Gay Support the Miners (LGSM) during the 1984-5 miner’s strike, popularised by the 2014 film Pride, is a good example of this. The actions of LGSM not only raised money for the miners, but let them know that they were not alone. In return a delegation of miners led the 1985 London Pride parade, and voted for gay rights motions at Labour and TUC conferences (Kelliher, 2015). Protest can help build and maintain ties between diverse groups.

Miner Dai Donovan (played by Paddy Considine) explains his definition of solidarity to Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), founder of LGSM, in the film Pride (Source: Pride, 2014).

Miner Dai Donovan (played by Paddy Considine) explains solidarity to Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), founder of LGSM, in the film Pride (Source: Pride, 2014).

The final purpose that protest serves isn’t easy to pin down, but I think is best described as morale boosting. Being active in a social movement can be difficult and draining. It often feels as though you are putting in a lot of time and effort for very little return. Protests can provide a sense of accomplishment, of getting something done. They can also be fun; protests often have a carnivalesque atmosphere which provides the chance to relax and let go. Chanting a slogan at the top of your voice surrounded by tens, hundreds, or thousands of others who share your frustration and anger can be a wonderful feeling. It can be hugely helpful to be reminded that you are not the only one who feels the way you do, and this is rarely more obvious than at a protest.

There are several ways in which protest can be successful. It may well be that protests frequently fail to cause change, but this does not mean that they fail as a tactic for dissent. Protests also serve to raise awareness, recruit new activists, show solidarity and boost morale, and at these tasks they are very successful. Austerity may still be in place after the End Austerity Now demo, but I stand by my statement that it was a big success.

Sources and Further Reading

Kellier, Diarmaid. ‘The 1984-5 Miners’ Strike and the Spirit of Solidarity.’ Soundings 60 (2015): 118-129.

Tilles, Daniel. “The Myth of Cable Street.” History Today 61, no. 10 (2001): 41-47.

“Those Meddling Kids!”: Student Protest in London in the Twentieth Century

The Scooby Doo gang held villains to account, and London's students have often done the same to the authorities (Source: http://www.psy24.pl/grafika/bajki/1/gang001a.jpg).

The Scooby Doo gang held villains to account, and London’s students have often done the same to the authorities (Source: http://www.psy24.pl/grafika/bajki/1/gang001a.jpg).

When the Scooby Doo gang unmasked the dastardly villain at the end of each episode, they always lamented “I would have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids, and their dumb dog!” Apart from the dog, I think the gang have a lot in common with the students and young people of London, who have been holding those in authority to account for decades, despite their tender years.

The student demonstrations over tuition fees and the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in 2010 are still fresh in the minds of many. Students from secondary schools, sixth form colleges and universities made their opinions on the government’s plans to raise tuition fees and scrap EMA known in no uncertain terms. As well as the national marches in central London in November and December, there were countless occupations and smaller demonstrations throughout the capital and across the UK.

Feelings ran high amongst students in 2010 over proposed government cuts (Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/).

Feelings ran high amongst students in 2010 over proposed government cuts (Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/).

But student protest in the capital did not begin with the debate over tuition fees and EMA. The very first student occupation took place at the London School of Economics in 1967, in protest at the appointment of a director who had previously been director of the University College in racist Rhodesia. LSE was occupied again the following year to provide accommodation for a huge Vietnam march. Also in 1968, the Revolutionary Socialist Students’ Federation was formed after a conference at LSE, which had obviously become a focus of radical left-wing politics amongst university students.

Some students did not wait until they got to university to make their voices heard. in 1889 and 1911 there were waves of national school strikes, as children struggled with the authorities over compulsory schooling. Usually sparked by a student being punished too severely, the strikes focussed on issues such as the school day, corporal punishment, holidays, the school leaving age, and unpleasant teachers. Schoolchildren would use pickets, marches and demonstrations to get their point across. Such strikes continued in London until 1939. They were mostly met with amusement by the authorities, but some considered them a serious threat, attributing the strikes to class divisions as well as generational ones.

School children caused both amusement and fear when they went on strike around the turn of the twentieth century (Source: http://cdn.historyextra.com/sites/default/files/10219381%20v2_0.jpg).

School children caused both amusement and fear when they went on strike around the turn of the twentieth century (Source: http://cdn.historyextra.com/sites/default/files/10219381%20v2_0.jpg).

Whether because of the confidence or idealism of youth, or for the more practical reasons of having more free time and fewer responsibilities or dependents than adults, London’s youth does seem to be particularly riotous. For a section of society that are frequently accused of being apathetic and disengaged, they  have proved themselves to be quite the opposite, time and again. Many of them were too young to vote when they took part in their protests, but that did not stop them engaging with the political process in any way that they could.

Sources and further reading

Bloom, Clive. Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

German, Lindsey, and John Rees. A People’s History of London. London: Verso, 2012.

Playful Protest: Popular Culture and Humour in Hong Kong and London

As I’m sure many of you have, I’ve been following the events of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong very closely. The protests, known to some as the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ because of protesters using umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas, have been going on for some weeks now. The protesters accuse the Chinese government of reneging on multiple promises to allow Hong Kong a free and fair democracy by placing restrictions on who is allowed to run for the position of Chief Executive, effectively Hong Kong’s leader, in 2017 (for more information about the Hong Kong demonstrations, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-29413349). An end appeared to be in sight as talks between the government and the protesters were scheduled for this Friday (the 9th of October), but they were called off the day before they were due to take place. One of the things that struck me as I have watched events unfold is the many similarities between the protests in Hong Kong, and many recent demonstrations in London. One example is the playful, light-hearted approach some protesters take, evidenced in placards and banners made and carried by the demonstrators.

This design was mass produced on placards and posters during the student tuition fee demonstrations in London in 2010.

This design was mass produced on placards and posters during the student tuition fee demonstrations in London in 2010 (Source: Author’s own).

Placards, banners, and signs are an integral part of a demonstration or protest. Along with the shouting of chants and slogans, they convey the message of the demonstrators to observers. Many, such as the poster in the image above, are mass produced by large groups and organisations involved in the demonstration. But many others are home made, painted or drawn onto pieces of cardboard and old bedsheets. These allow individual protesters to express themselves, publicly declaring their own opinions and perspectives. For many the placard is a temporary object, the streets after a demonstration are often scattered with them, and they are sometimes used as fuel for impromptu fires. However in 2011 the Save our Placards project (see http://saveourplacards.blogspot.co.uk/), run by Goldsmiths and the Museum of London sought to change that, collecting placards after the Anti-Austerity March for the Alternative on the 26th of March. They collected over 300 objects, 10 of which are now in the Museum’s collections. The project demonstrated the vast amounts of creativity and variety that can be involved in placards and has shown that they are worthy of attention by those studying protest.

One thing that placards make clear is the playful attitude of many protesters to issues they are trying to draw attention to. In both the recent Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong and student demonstrations against austerity and raised tuition fees in London in 2010 and 2011, protesters have taken an irreverent approach through the use of humour and references to popular culture.

In the top right of this image a banner references  Les Miserables (Source: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03056/sing_3056506k.jpg)

In the top left of this image a banner references Les Miserables (Source: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03056/sing_3056506k.jpg)

A placard at an anti-austerity student protest in London in 2011 (Source: author's own).

A placard at an anti-austerity student protest in London in 2011 (Source: author’s own).

The above two images, one from Hong Kong and one from London, contain references to popular culture. The first, a photo from Hong Kong, is a banner which says ‘Do u hear the people sing’, a line from one of the most famous songs from the musical Les Miserables, which culminates in the 1832 June Revolution in Paris. The second, taken in London, asks ‘What would Dumbledore do?’, probably a reference to the phrase ‘What would Jesus do?’ sometimes used as a way of making decisions. Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the fictitious school of magic in the Harry Potter book and film franchise. The people who made both of these signs are using their knowledge of popular culture to articulate their own opinions and demands, one a demand to be heard, the other a call to the British Authorities to consider their actions.

A humorous placard in the recent Hong Kong demonstrations (Source: http://scontent-b.cdninstagram.com/hphotos-xpa1/t51.2885-15/927173_309133819274872_1878847170_a.jpg).

A humorous placard in the recent Hong Kong demonstrations (Source: http://scontent-b.cdninstagram.com/hphotos-xpa1/t51.2885-15/927173_309133819274872_1878847170_a.jpg).

A humourous topical placard at a demonstration opposing a threefold increase in tuition fees in London in 2010 (Source: Author's own).

A humorous and topical placard at a demonstration opposing a threefold increase in tuition fees in London in 2010 (Source: Author’s own).

The above two photos show placards which take a more humorous approach to protest. The second, taken in London, is particularly topical as it was part of a demonstration against the UK coalition government’s plans to raise the cap on tuition fees from just over £3000 to £9000 a year in 2010. Humour is a common way of dealing with upsetting or traumatic situations, and I think humour in protests is no exception, making the difficult and strenuous task that is activism easier to cope with.

I am often struck by the similarities between different protests around the world. You don’t have to look very hard to find multiple connections and links. A playful approach to protest is one of these similarities, and I’m sure it can be found around the world, not just in Hong Kong and London.