The Internet and Activism (#1)

I’m already labeling this as the first of more posts about this topic because my next class starts soon and I know I won’t be able to say all that I want on this topic at this time.

I want to talk about online activism because it is so relevant right now. The Internet is charged with political and social discussion and critiques of the two.

When thinking of activism, it is important to understand the history of activism. It meant bodies on the streets. This form of protest and rebellion was important because the body is the most vulnerable thing we have. To put in a public space with the possibility of harm to it, or death…this was a powerful thing. People cared so much about causes to put their bodies in the line of fire to advance their cause. Gladwell would call this high-risk activism. We should also remember that although this was how activism was started and how activism has been successful, there were a number of people who could not engage in this. People with physical or mental disabilities, as well as those who could not afford time from work to participate were excluded from activism.

Now, we have the addition of the Internet. This was an especially powerful force in the Arab Revolution and the Black Lives Matter movement. If we look at the Internet as a space for activism isolated from bodies on the streets, we can evaluate it in a number of ways. First, it is [conceivably] accessible to everyone (except for the 60% of people who do n0t have access to the Internet). Anyone who manages any type of physical or mental aspect of themselves that limits their ability to move or participate outside of the home can participate online. The Internet offers the ability to convene and share experiences. Once a group realizes that their experiences are not isolated, they can present solutions and steps to combat the issue. People can communicate over long distances (removing physical borders but not mental ones). People can share videos and pictures of oppressive regimes, of violence and bigotry. It allows for the sharing and creating of knowledges of all communities. Alone, the Internet doesn’t allow for the same effect as physical protest. It is as easy as one “unfollow” or one “block” for your idea to be ignored or made invisible. Companies have the power to deactivate your account. Authorities can track you. People are more incendiary than they would be in person. It encourages the new idea of “slacktivism”.

But when we look at Internet activism as a supplement of add-on to physical protest, we get a more well-rounded activist platform. Lets take the DAPL as an example. Authorities were using check-in near the pipeline as a way to target protestors (Internet stifles physical protest). People nowhere near the pipeline began checking in to confuse authorities (Internet actively working with physical protestors to combat violence and oppression). The ways in which the Internet works with activism is nuanced. If you click “Going” on the page for the Women’s March, but then don’t go- you may have been guilty of slacktivism (barring the obvious reasons why someone may not have been able to attend), HOWEVER, you spread that page to others who may have actually gone and participated. Your participation in the #hemightnothityou campaign wasn’t a “body on the streets” participation but by sharing your experiences, you have helped create a community that might not feel so alone. Sharing experiences is activism, nude blogging (Aliaa Magda Elmady) is activism, sharing your video of police brutality or street harassment is activism. These things are activism alone, and also serve to spur physical activism: The sharing of police brutality videos created a community that understood police brutality as systemic and the hashtag #blacklivesmatter movement was born.

There is no one way to be an activist and it is important to see the nuances of all forms. We must be wary of the streets, of the way we can be tracked and surveilled online, but we must also be aware of the power our bodies have on the streets and our words have on the Internet.

Go forth and be an activist! However that may look for you.


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