Social Media and Social Justice
Facilitators: Names unknown, April 12, 2013
I was trying to get to another workshop, but it was full. This was right down the hall, not full, and the title sounded interesting. Unfortunately, because I was looking to go in a completely different workshop, I was a little late and didn’t catch the facilitators names. I looked in the program, but could not locate this workshop title.
Note: The descriptions of the speaker are based on the race/ gender each speaker identified themselves as. In instances where they did not explicitly identify their race/ gender, I went with how others in the room spoke to and about them. I thought identifying the race/gender of the speaker would provide background into the perceptions/ experiences/ privileges (or lack thereof) that inform their statements.
Hispter Wxy: Expresses concern about the irony/ authenticity of using social media given the ethics of big corporations.
Bxx Presenter: Says social media is a reality of the modern age and we need to use the tools available to us.
Hipster Wxy: Doesn’t want to teach his students to converse about social justice through social media and have them think that’s enough.
Other Attendees: Several other attendees point out that social media allows newbs to tiptoe in at their own comfort level and start conversations that need to be held. At the same time, several express concern about flash-in-the-pan activism and that social media participants may not completely understand or be aware of the issues under discussion. Mentions of the recent and popular FB trend of changing one’s profile to an equals sign were mentioned, along with concerns that people were just changing their profile because it was the newest trend.
Bxx Presenter: Says some people may just jump into a discussion or change their profile because it’s the newest trend, but it’s still good to see the conversation and start it and participate in it.
Hipster Wxy: Has concerns that it’s too shallow and supports a corporate enterprise saturated in privilege and that students are learning to mediate their conversations through platforms that are not in their service.
Bxx Presenter: Points out that as a queer woman of color, everything she does is in a culture saturated by white privilege and a dominant culture that is not in her service, and that doesn’t mean she stops trying. That you have to use the tools available to you.
Wxx Attendee: Brings up Anonymous and the Arab Spring usage of Twitter. How social media gave voice and conversation to people who couldn’t speak openly in their communities, or at all, and these social media channels can facilitate not just the conversation but the action. She acknowledges that slacktivism is a concern, but says we should address the issue head-on and marry social media to activism.
Wxx Attendee 2: She says English is the language of “the man,” and that language matters and it’s important that we’re calling social media a tool because that’s changing the meaning of words.
Bxx Attendee: Says as times change, we use the mediums available to us.
Bxx Presenter: Brought up how the internet can work as a buffer zone, and how even though it can be distancing and prevent a lack of engagement, it can also provide space and room to consider and engage with the conversation in a less emotionally reactive way.
Wxy Attendee: Says he shares Hipster’s concerns, but points out that Bxy Presenter has a good point in using the tools available to us. He brought up the fact that MLK organizers used landlines they knew were likely tapped, but that didn’t stop them. He also pointed out that those phones were owned by the corporate power Ma Bell, who certainly didn’t have their interests at heart, but you use the tools you have.
Wxy Attendee 2: Adds that there may be a concern of the “whisper phone” effect — conversations lost in translation through the countries and languages . . . but you use the tools available to you.
Wxx Attendee 3: Summarizes the discussion by noting that there seems to be a consensus that you use the tools available to you.
Wxx Attendee 4: Her concern is that these movements seem so quick to start, but just as quick to die. They are flash in the plan. Whatever issue was the hot topic last year is now forgotten. She says it easy to start movements, but how do you continue the momentum once they’re started?
Bxx Presenter: We just need to keep the conversation going and keep bringing up the conversation. We can’t let it be forgotten in the information overload.
[Personal Note: I think this was an incomplete answer, personally. A better answer would have been to not let the conversation drop, and to use the platform to move the conversation that has been started into the physical space and engage them on a personal and activist level.]
Two Wxx Attendees: Something about poetry slams and the value of social media. One of them says FB is an equalizer for people of all races and classes, and the other talks about how social media will open up the conversation and open up opportunities to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access.
Wxy Presenter: He brings up the technology gap and how underprivileged and working class people don’t always have access to these conversations. Then he talked about how the internet started out as an information space, became a social space, and is now becoming a capitalist space, which limits access further since they’re putting up paywalls and hiding information behind financial barriers.
[Personal Note: I am all for freedom of information on the internet, but this rant is seriously just completely unconcerned with the reality that well-trained and intelligent journalists need to be paid and that newspapers are dying.]
Lxx Attendee: She talks about how some of the social media sites are a place to put a face to a story. Brought up a blog about a guy who likes to take selfies, and how his friends are very negative and mocking about it. She said he takes the selfies to infiltrate the dominant LGBT narrative, which he feels does not represent his queer experience, and by putting his face and voice out there is making a space that represents him in the queer movement. This brings up questions regarding vulnerability and the ability to sculpt our identity on social media sites.
I brought up doxxing and sexism/ gendered threats.
Bxx Presenter: Addresses the reality of doxxing, and also brings up the “just Facebook” concern. (I think that’s another version of what I call the “just internet” fallacy — when people dismiss poor manners and or cruelty/ cyberbulling/ trolling because it’s “just the internet.”
[Personal Note: I want to add in response to the whole “English is the language of the man” claim that recent linguistic studies have noted that the English language has changed more in the past 10 years (since rise of internet) than ever before, and it is now incorporating slang from various languages worldwide. You could see language as being co-opted from “the man” though the medium of social media conversations.
I also want to add that the best way of addressing the fear of slacktivism is to use social media to start the conversation, then organize locally and create a space for personal activism.
I also want to address the “just FB/ internet” excuse by stating that we need to treat people online with the same respect they deserve in real life. We need to teach this to our youth. We need to stress that the internet IS real life; it is not fake.]
Wxx Attendee: She talks about teaching kids to interpret and critique the information they are getting. She says kids learn to interact through nonverbal cues, and since they’re not getting these nonverbal cues on the internet, we are seeing the result of that disassociation in more pronounced cruelty and bullying.
Wxx Attendee: She talks about dealing with bullying in her large school district and how it’s changed in the past 10 years. She says before, students who were bullied could at least escape it for a few hours while they were home, but now it’s a 24/7 problem. She also said her school district is trying out a new program where kids can bring in their personal media devices, but she’s concerned about the disparate impact this program may have on kids who can’t afford this sort of technology.
Bxx Presenter: Says maybe her school district could look into getting tech grants so those kids could have devices.
Wxx Attendee: Asks if the kids would have to replace any devices they received through the tech grant that are damanged.
Bxx Presenter: Says she doesn’t know, but she’s heard there are tech grants and if she looks into tech grants the district might find some answers.
Wxy Presenter: He talks about social justice and the growth of individual and personal excess of electronic devices. He suggests we can share or donate our excess technology; maybe get together and give away our excess devices — an iPhone drive!
[Personal Note: I feel like they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. At all. I feel like they organized a few events successfully on Twitter, and they now feel like they’re experts, but they aren’t. They don’t have any answers — they don’t even seem to have anticipated the questions!]
Bxx Presenter: Shifts the conversation to ask if anyone has questions about the mechanics of the different social medias — how to use them, what to say or post, what to do.
Wxx Attendee(s): One asked about Twitter and how to use it. Another suggested the website http://www.breakdrink.com as a resource for learning Twitter.
Bxx Presenter: Said Twitter is microblogging, and you only get 140 characters to say what you need to say. It’s short and concise. It’s used as both a means of facilitating semi-private concersations and keeping in contact with friends through private conversations. In a social justice framework specifically, Twitter lets users share articles/ media/ content with a comment about their thoughts and a hashtag to connect to other users. Hashtags allows users to use shared interests to connect and converse, to find each other at real-world events, and to keep a running conversation/ commentary on events as they happen.
[Personal Note: Their information mostly just focuses on Twitter and FB. They’re not even addressing other sites; no mention of Tumblr or Reddit or anything. What’s up with that?]
Wxx Attendee: Wonders if hashtags expire?
Both Presenters: Not sure, actually.
Bxx Presenter: Sometimes she looks through her hashtag history for past posts and can’t find them. It seems like sometimes her hashtag history just up and disappears, and it can be kind of concerning/ sketchy. She also says everyone should brand themselves when online, and we’re all brands. Apparently her brand is #(her initials).
Attendees: More questions and answers about hashtags. The general consensus is basically that the point of the hashtag is to be as concise and searchable as possible; it’s like keywords. A college professor raises her concerns about how social media is effecting writing. Another attendee says the No Child Left Behind act has effected writing skills even more, and then there’s just a bunch of generic muttering that schools don’t teach writing anymore and kids these days rwar rwar rwar. Then there’s another question about the point and purpose of hashtags, which the presenters again have trouble asnwering.
[Personal Note: Regarding this damn hashtag discussion — when they talked earlier about emotion and the lack of connection on the internet, hashtags are one of the answers. Hashtags have multiple levels of meaning — yes, they’re a “tag” for the post, and they’re a search term, but they’re also a commentary, a quip, or a statement of reaction/ opinion. Hashtags are an emotional connection.]
Wxx Attendee: Are there any sites you think are inappropriate to use for social justice activism?
Bxx Presenter: Can’t think of any, and says she needs to talk to the younger generation about what sites they’re using and the new tech available.
[Personal Note: Dude. Certain parts of reddit, like the subreddits that celebrate racism, sexism, domestic violence, and child pornography? Maybe avoid the b/chan boards? Consider that LinkedIn is technically a social network, but if you’re trying to start a conversation or organize an activist event, you’ll probably want to go elsewhere? I can’t believe this presentation.]
Wxx Attendee: When you’re looking at doing social justice online, what should you do to counteract the closed garden/ echo chamber effect? Is there a point to the conversation if there’s not discussion, just agreement?
Both Presenters: The conversation is always valuable to have, and we need to keep having these conversations.
Attendees: A bunch of different people brought up websites like Tumblr and Pinterest and some other social media hubs. The presenters acknowledged they exist and said they probably add to the conversation as well. Then someone else brought up a concern about social media overtaking real-life face to face interactions and how to counteract that when we’re in real-world activist spaces.
Bxx Presenter: Says that can be a concern, and she heard about a game that might help. When you’re at a restaurant or something, have everyone stack their phones in the middle of the table and whoever grabs their phone first pays the tab.
[Personal Note: Seriously? I can’t believe this shit. Actual solutions:
- Set up a sign at the entrance stating that this is a tech-free space and ask that they respect this.
- Don’t provide wi-fi and choose a building with poor cell reception.
- Have a “cell-phone check” — like a coat check, but (clearly) with cellphones.
- When opening the meeting, try asking the attendees to turn off their cellular devices and actively engage.
- Alternatively, go through a little exercise at the beginning of the meeting that involves having everyone take out their cellphones, turning them onto airplane mode, and having their neighbor check it. Make up a funny/ jokey punishment for anyone caught with their cellphone on and in use.