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QR Codes in Protests and Rights Movements

April 3, 2023
3 min read
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A redirect is a tool used by websites for “rerouting” or sending a visitor to an alternative webpage. An example of a redirect would be when you type “example.com” in your web-browser, but are taken to a different website, like “new-example.com.”

URL redirects are an extremely common practice employed by webmasters and content managers to ensure visitors to their website are reaching their desired content.

When would I use a redirect?

  1. A page has been relocated within your site
    Let’s say your website has a page by the path “/t-shirts” – The “t-shirts” page has been a part of your website sitemap for years, and is one of your most frequently visited pages. Suddenly, you need to build out a more general page on your site that has t-shirts, and dress shirts. Your goal is to have the new page be accessible by a shorter, more general path, like “/shirts”. In this situation, you would want to use a URL redirect to ensure that traffic for the page “/t-shirts” is successfully rerouted to the new “/shirts” page of your website. Without a redirect in place, you could run the risk of visitors still accessing the old /t-shirts page, even though you want to drive all traffic to the new /shirts page. Due to the nature of SEO, it’s possible that there are many links throughout the Internet that still point visitors to the old URL, and it is the job of the URL redirect to ensure visitors still make it to the appropriate page.
  2. Your domain name is changing!
    Changing a website’s domain name is a drastic decision which must be handled with the utmost care. Let’s say your website has always been www.abc-brand.com. Due to a rebranding effort, you are changing your brand from “ABC” to “XYZ”, and thus your website’s URL will need to be adjusted to reflect the change. In this scenario, it would be critical that you 301 redirect all traffic requesting “abc-brand.com” to the new and improved “xyz-brand.com”. Furthermore, you would want to ensure that all pages within the abc-brand website are also redirected, like abc-brand.com/my-page being redirected to xyx-brand.com/my-page
  3. You have alternative domains that you wish to serve as “shortcuts” into your website
    It is a common practice for businesses to buy dozens of domain names that:
  • Are spelled similarly to their business name – consider “gogle.com” that redirects to google.com
  • Are variations of their name that visitors may otherwise know them as – consider “joes-tees.com” that redirects to the main business website, “joes-shirts.com”
  • Are shortened, easily typed versions of the primary domain name – consider “shirtsale2019.com” redirecting to “joes-shirts.com”. It is common to find this shorter, more memorable URL variation on physical advertisements because people are more likely to remember them. As such, a URL redirect would be used to reroute the alternative domain name to your primary domain name of your website.

How does a redirect actually work?

When you request a web-page from your browser, there is a server somewhere on the Internet that is receiving your request and responding with the appropriate content. Fundamentally, a redirect occurs when a web-server's response contains a special piece of data (an HTTP response header) instructing the browser to reroute the visitor to an alternative location.

The technical details aside, a browser works by requesting a URL and rendering the page that is returned by the website. If the website wishes the user to be redirected, the server will respond differently than if it was serving a page; it will send an extra piece of data indicating that the visitor should be redirected to a specified location.

Without going into too much of the technical details – a redirect is a behavior performed by a web-browser whenever it receives a response containing a flag (an HTTP header) to do so.

What are the types of redirects available?

301 Redirect

Commonly referred to as a “permanent” redirect.

Indicates to search-engines and web-browsers that the requested page has permanently relocated to a new location.

Note: permanent redirects are often cached by web-browsers like Chrome and Firefox. Therefore, it may be tricky to retroactively update a 301 redirects target location once it has been established. Any visitors who have already received the 301 redirect response for a URL will likely be served a cached response from their web-browser when visiting the same URL again.

Suggestion Only use a 301 redirect when you know that the target location will not change.

Common Uses

  • A 301 redirect is appropriate when a website is changing it’s domain name. In this scenario, the site should be 301 redirecting all traffic for it’s old domain name to the new website URL.
  • Another common use-case for a 301 redirect is for pages within your website that have been permanently moved to a new URL

302 Redirect

Commonly referred to as a “temporary” redirect.

Useful for general-purpose redirects within your website, where you do not want visitor’s to cache the redirect response permanently.

Suggestion Use 302 redirects for pages that have changed URL, but are subject to be updated in the future

Common Uses

  • A page is temporarily being moved to a new URL
  • Conditions where the destination location of the redirect is subject to change
  • Navigating the user away from a page during an error

307 Redirect

Uncommon due to legacy browser support

Used for technical scenarios when a visitor’s HTTP request method should be persisted when they are redirected. For example, if a user submits a form, the browser normally issues a POST request to the form’s action URL. If the server responds with a 302 redirect response, the client’s web-browser would typically issue a GET request when handling the redirect. However, if the server responds with a 307 redirect response, the client’s web-browser will POST request to the redirect destination. Please note, form-data is typically lost when redirecting via POST request.

When do I need a redirect?

The most common use-cases that would require a redirect are:

  1. Changing your domain name
  2. Restructuring website pathing, resulting in URL changes for content within your website
  3. URL shortening – having a shorter, more memorable alternative to your primary domain name.
  4. Sending traffic from additional/alternative domain names (Example: gogle.com redirects to google.com)
  5. Sending traffic from your DNS zone apex / naked domain name to your “www” sub-domain (Example: domain.com 301 redirects to www.domain.com)

Important considerations when redirecting a URL

  1. Ensure your URL supports HTTPS connections! Otherwise you may have visitors who are receiving broken links.
  2. When redirecting a specific path within your website, you may want to match paths based on a pattern or Regular Expression, as opposed to a single path.
  3. Seriously consider whether you should use a 301 or a 302, based on the information above.

Introduction

In recent years, technology has increasingly served as an instrumental tool in organizing protests and rights movements. While social media and encrypted messaging apps often steal the spotlight, a quieter, often under appreciated technology is also making a significant impact - QR codes. As a digital catalyst, a simple square image can prove to be a crucial asset in modern-day activism.

QR Codes in The Hong Kong Protests

In 2019, one of the most pronounced uses of QR codes in protests emerged in Hong Kong. The protestors took advantage of the innocuous appearance of QR codes to silently spread information and rally support.

For instance, Bridgefy, a mesh networking app, gained significant traction during this time. Protestors would scan a QR code shared in person or printed on fliers, which would then redirect them to download the app. Once installed, Bridgefy allowed users to communicate without internet connectivity, leveraging Bluetooth to send messages directly between devices.

This approach was highly effective as it bypassed potential surveillance measures and internet blackouts. Moreover, the messages exchanged remained within the confines of the app, making it an ideal platform for discussing sensitive topics and coordinating actions.

The Belarus Protests and QR Codes

In a similar vein, during the 2020 protests in Belarus against President Alexander Lukashenko, QR codes played a vital role. Protestors disseminated QR codes which, when scanned, directed users to resources about civil disobedience, protest safety tips, and legal advice for those arrested during protests.

Most notably, the QR codes were embedded in digital artworks and graffiti, physically plastered in public spaces, and shared on social media platforms. The encoded information was not only practical but also provided an emotional support system for protestors, reinforcing a sense of solidarity and resilience amidst the tumultuous situation.

Spreading Awareness in Rights Movements

In the context of rights movements, QR codes have been employed as a means to distribute information quickly and efficiently. For example, during the Black Lives Matter movement, QR codes were used on protest signs, in social media posts, and on websites to share links to educational resources, donation pages, and petitions.

These QR codes served as gateways to comprehensive information about systemic racism, providing an opportunity for self-education for those interested in supporting the movement. By reducing the number of steps needed to access such resources, QR codes enabled instant engagement, broadening the reach of the movement.

The Potential Risks and Criticisms

While the usage of QR codes in protests and rights movements has been remarkably beneficial, it's not without potential drawbacks. Privacy concerns stand foremost, as tracking a scanned QR code is technically possible, potentially leading to breaches in anonymity.

Additionally, misinformation can be spread through these codes, leading to confusion and disruption. Hence, it's imperative for protestors and supporters to verify the sources of QR codes and the information they provide.

Conclusion

The effective role of QR codes in protests and rights movements is an important illustration of how technology can be repurposed for social activism. By serving as silent providers for communication and resource sharing, QR codes have emerged as a critical tool in the organization and propagation of these movements. However, like all tools, they must be used responsibly and with an awareness of the potential risks involved.

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