fb is for activists / fb is not for activists

Meditations on privilege and meatspace.

Some people thrive in meatspace.

Some people are also extroverts. And they are happy talking. And talking. Over. Everyone.

Additionally, some folks may struggle in certain common modes of face-to-face community organizing. Maybe they have anxiety, phobia, are d/Deaf or blind. Maybe they have other invisible health or disability issues that prevent them from joining spaces.

But there has been a lot of spaces opening up for folks who otherwise may not be able to participate in activism. And there is also a lot of unintentional erasure of this phenomenon.

Activist meatspaces are too often created by normies.

This is probably also true of cyberspaces. And yet, importantly, different contexts come with different barriers.

We’re not trying to turn away from the felt impact of online misogyny and racism. Or online violence. It’s real and important. 1

There are just so many platforms and venues without the geographical, or other, limits of meatspace organizing. The potential is remarkable.

And for those who struggle with what normies take for granted, it can be transformative.

There was a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, talk on social movements at University of Victoria some time ago. During questions, the speaker, Chris Dixon, acknowledged the value of connecting online. But he also spoke to the impact of distance, screens, trolling and surveillance.

Meghan left that talk feeling provoked.2 Much of her experience in frontline activism has been unsavourably flavoured by a privileging of face-to-face, on-the-spot, communication of radical ideas. Writing things down is widely understood as a way of inviting unwanted tracking by the state, particularly online. This is an understandable hesitation.

Additionally, many frame online activism as ineffectual clicktivism. Malcolm Gladwell captured this, famously, in his 2010 post for the New Yorker.3

Buuuut, the thing is, we’re believers in the power of connecting and organizing online.4

There are many examples that we take seriously. Top of mind right now is Ferguson, Missouri – and police brutality protests in New York. Twitter and Tumblr have played, and continue to play, an enormous role in enabling the dissemination of information including powerful photos and videos of evidence to large numbers of people on the ground and across the world.

We believe in the power of public discourse. We believe in the power of activism and building culture. These things can happen in person. And they can also happen online.5 Online contexts are cafes and squares. And basements. And kitchen tables.

We sometimes find ourselves questioning the importance of journalism to democracy. But we have no such doubt about the value of the truth finding, culture building, and justice seeking that happens at Penny Red, Black Girl Dangerous, and Andrea366. [end]

Images from the demonstration in Victoria for the injustices to Michael Brown and others

  1. Stephen Colbert and Anita Sarkeesian and Gamergate explained.
  2. Meghan was the only one of us in attendance.
  3. Gladwell argues roughly that the weak social ties formed in online communities are not sufficiently strong for the kind of risk taking social activism required to make lasting change in society.
  4. Think Ethan Zuckerman: Zuckerman talking cute cat theory and here writing about it.
  5. We don’t really want to get caught up in the polemics of which is better. There are many strained arguments out there about the “failures” and “successes” of online organizing. Why Gladwell is Wrong