Accessibility to New Media – a Privilege?

In one of her blog posts, Linda addresses the issue of whose voice is being heard when engaging with social media. She exemplifies this by highlighting the use of English as a language for a hashtag to combat the practice of male guardianship over women in Saudi Arabia. In this post I will also address issues of accessibility, but from a different perspective. Because after all, who is actually able to use and communicate via new media? The use of phones might have spread throughout the world, yet buying units, especially to connect to the internet, may be an obstacle to many.

Morrow et. Al. (2014) discuss the interconnectness of life online and offline moving beyond a binary. So if we are to discuss whose voices is being heard, the material realities of the subaltern, of the marginalized, need to be taken into consideration. Not everyone may be able to share their thoughts and opinions online as often as they would like to simply due to budget and language constraints.

Take Malawi as an example. According to a report by the BBC it is one of the countries where people pay the most for mobile data and units despite a large part of its population living under the poverty line. A monthly 20GB data bundle provided by Airtel Malawi costs me MK34,000, the equivalent of $47. The cheapest daily bundle, 10MB, costs MK65, the equivalent $0.1. Special social media bundles for WhatsApp and Facebook are available as well through Airtel, the main and most popular provider of mobile services in the country. While these amounts may not seem to be too expensive for Westerns, average wages for Malawians have to be taken into consideration. Many people in the country only earn as little as 20,000 a month, the equivalent of $28.

What may help to get people with little income onto social media is Facebook free mode, a watered-down version that excludes photos and previews of news articles. Just how much this can contribute to a true self-expression of its users is up to debate.

How may this potentially affect activism? According to Mandiberg (2012), the boundaries between what constitutes a media consumer and a media producer are no longer clear-cut as new media help to erase these. As a result, many low-income Malawians may be prevented from producing news themselves online.

Consequently, the use and non-use of new media, specifically social media may sadly be reliant on one’s economic status helping to further divide between the privileged and the marginalised.

 

References:

Mandiberg, M. 2012: The Social Media Reader, New York, NY: NYU Press.

Morrow, O., Hawkins, R. & Kern, L. (2014). Feminist research in online spaces, Gender, Place & Culture. A Journal of Feminist Geography. 22.

Coding as Activism

Lievrouw (2011) writes that social media sites used for activism are static in that they offer consumers various modules that can be used without people being able to alter them (by coding) according to their preferences. This has advantages and disadvantages. These sites clearly offer a platform for connecting with other people on a big scale. However, only if one abides by their rules.

In the past years, it was Facebook that had come under scrutiny for deleting photos of female nipples, especially those of breastfeeding mums as these apparently violate their community standards. Others have complained about their accounts being shut down for a period of time after other users reported some of their content. The question then is in how far activism of any kind can be carried out effectively on platforms that are guided by their rules and community standards which may not be in line with standards of the activists themselves. It is probably naïve to think that coding  new social media sites will immediately have an effect since the likes of Facebook and twitter do have a monopoly in the field. However, creating own sites instead of just using existing ones may be empowering and may help to further the various causes.

Blogging then may offer more options with less censoring that may come with community standards of social media. Still it may be helpful to have basic HTML knowledge in order to create custom sites oneself that look different and stick out from the rest of the crowd.

Emphasis has particularly been put on teaching girl children and women how to code. The Guardian reports that an initiave in rural Kenya trained women how to code and helped them to earn more income by equipping them with these new skills. The article concludes that gender inequality may be furthered by doing so. Hence, equipping women and girls with coding skills may have tangible outcomes in the offline world as well.

 

References:

Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media Oxford: Polity Press.

 

My i`s won’t be capitalised or diffractions on ethical feminist online activism

Writing differently. Transcending boundaries between writing styles. Being accountable for one’s locatedness in the world. And as a result for one’s writing and research.

These were just a few things I thoroughly enjoyed while doing my masters in gender studies, and it is against this backdrop that I’d like to frame my blog posts.

Blogging may provide a space for expressing difference. Difference of opinion. Difference of style. Difference from privileged groups. And as much as ‘we’ would like to think that it is an individual exercise, I would like to highlight in this post that it is not. That there are ethical issues we need to be aware of and embrace. This post shall then serve as an introduction to the posts that are still to follow as well as to feminist ethics.

And why diffractions, you may ask? It’s a concept employed by Karen Barad and is modelled after Niels Bohr ‘s theories of quantum physics. Instead of using reflections, Barad (2007) advocates for the use of diffractions as the former is dependent on a binary world view and puts emphasis on mi-

Diffraction patterns as a concept modelled after science

rroring. Diffractions on the other hand involves difference, interference and intra-action, the coming together of different forces as something altered (Barad, 2007). What this implies is that the ‘I’, the researcher, the writer etc. not independent of and from forces s/he engages with and will be altered in the process. This is part of the reason why my i’s will not be capitalised as the I conveys and independent and more important subject compared to whatever other forces it engages with. As a concept, this calls for a different writing style, a style that allows for reading through different texts and reading them against each other.

In Feminist Research in Online Spaces, Moorow, Hawkins and Kern (2014) attempt to conceptualise ways of ethically doing research online and encounter several challenges in the process. What they particularly put emphasis on is the need to bring oneself into the research and regard “online spaces as relational places” (Morrow, Hawkinds & Kern, 2014: 538) where neither researcher nor researched are independent of each other.

Both Barad’s and Morrow’s, Hawkins’s and Kern’s views overlap. Throughout the next blog posts, I will try to bring myself in rather than just being a ‘neutral’ researcher, something that hardly exists. My choice of topics for this blog  they may vary from discussions had in previous years on this overall topic. I will address the following issues in next posts:
-coding as feminist online activism,
– on privilege when using social media
– queering gender issues online.

Stay tuned!

 

References:

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press Books.

Morrow, O., Hawkins, R. & Kern, L. (2014). Feminist research in online spaces, Gender, Place & Culture. A Journal of Feminist Geography. 22.