Digital screens and revolutions

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov, PhD
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikulichev, PhD

The authors of the magazine Screens.ru were always interested in technological innovations in the area of digital communications, tendencies in the development of intellectual trusted digital control systems, new trends in digital outdoor advertising and similar subjects. But never in politics.

Julian Assange: World’s First Internet War Julian Assange: World’s First Internet War

However it so happened that political events interfered with our publication plans by uncovering new potential uses of the conventional digital advertising media. We are talking of the Catalonian Independence Referendum and the mass protests of supporters of both sides in this political conflict. Staying away from the political battles we decided to discuss the role of digital OOH media in the events preceding and during the Referendum.

According to Spanish mass media, after the Spain's highest court ruling on the illegality of the Referendum more than 140 web-sites supporting the regional independence were blocked by the central authorities. Among them was the web-site of the Catalonia National Assembly. One of the first to be closed was the resource that offered people to register for the voting and print out the voting ballot. Effectively the authorities decided to move Referendum supporters offline.

The founder of the Wikileaks, Julian Assange, announced that the world's first internet war “has begun, in Catalonia, as the people and government use it to organize an independence referendum on Sunday and Spanish intelligence attacks, freezing telecommunications links, occupying telecoms buildings, censors 100s of sites, protocols etc.”

In other words, Spanish authorities employed all available resources to prevent undesirable consequences. It turned out that the digital advertising media is outside the control of the Spanish Government. The supporters of Catalonian independence used digital resources to display information and slogans banned by the central Government.

LED screens during protests in Barcelona LED screens during protests in Barcelona
LED screens during protests in Barcelona

The authorities could not thwart their actions since the LED screen networks are controlled only locally. As a result, LED screens in the streets and squares of Barcelona turned into ideological and informational weapon. All events in Barcelona were occurring mostly outdoor. Both supporters and opponents of the independence took to the streets in huge numbers. Consequently, the effectiveness of the LED advertising networks that turned into political tools was extremely high.

Similar events happened before. For example, in 2014 dozens of outdoor LED screens in Kiev (Ukraine) were demonstrating horrifying slides and videos of murdered people in Donbas and political spoilers. Hackers acquired access to all outdoor LED screens and used them to display provocative information prior to the national parliament elections.

According to head of the Kiev advertising department, each outdoor LED screen was attacked separately, hackers changed access passwords and blocked access to others. It took the authorities a lot of time to switch off the screens by manually cutting off electrical cables. But in the meantime thousands of pedestrians watched the screens with antigovernment information.