All posts by Hanna Rhodin

Mobilizing For A Larger Development

In the days and weeks following the United States’ inauguration of President Trump, my social media feed was busy with events, marches, and protests organized by different groups. Friends on Facebook, also living in Washington DC and metropolitan area, showed they were interested, and clicked that they were ‘going’ to a variety of events; Women’s March, No Muslim Ban, Rally for Refugees at DCA, Stand With Planned Parenthood, A Day Without Immigrants, Onward Together, and People’s Climate March, to name but a few. A pool of different organizations, missions, and causes. So what does that mean?

Recently, I spoke with an Caucasian American woman I know, let us call her Mary. Mary, like many other people I know in DC metropolitan area was very upset due to the results of the election. She told me that soon after the election she donated money to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Many others she knew donated to them, and other organizations as well. But then what? Over the last few months Mary has connected, spoken with, and listened to activists, lecturers, and others with a similar sense of need to mobilize and take action. She like many others, feel like donating alone is not enough. Mary said she wanted to do more, had to do more.

On February 18, 2017, I visited the Onward Together: A DC Volunteer and Advocacy Fair, which I, ’of course’, found through social media. For four hours, people were circling in and out of the venue; educating, connecting, exchanging email addresses, engaging, and signing up to join different organizations. Just a few of the different organizations I saw worked with anything from Muslim Pakistani networking and Latino health care advocacy groups, to Planned Parenthood and proponents of raising the minimum wage. The spread was wide and the options were many. Of the people I have talked with, this seems to be a common observation – there are just so many options out there, so where do you start?

Mary said she had wondered what she could do to get more involved and told me about a ACLU’s project People Power. David Weigel (2017) for the New York Times writes “Peoplepower.org will be a one-stop hub for activist resources and listings of ACLU nationwide mobilizations, activities sponsored by like-minded groups, and information about local gatherings posted by volunteers across the country”. What I find interesting here, and this may solely be based upon my own friend circle, is that many of the protesters I know are doing relatively ‘well’ in life, and are not necessarily affected themselves by the policies and stances by the new president (aside from women’s rights to their own body). This makes me reflect upon not only who is involved but also why. The authors Barbera, Wang, and Bonneau et.al. writes:

Although committed minorities may constitute the heart of protest movements, our results suggest that their success in maximizing the number of online citizens exposed to protest messages depends, at least in part, on activating the critical periphery. Peripheral users are less active on a per capita basis, but their power lies in their numbers: their aggregate contribution to the spread of protest messages is comparable in magnitude to that of core participants. (Barbera, Wang, and Bonneau et.al. 2015:1)

All these different individuals and groups are wanting and working toward a development of current systems, rights, equalities and justices. So how do you go about doing that, or if you are in the United States – what can you do? The Washington Post shared a statement made by ACLU, that they were for recruiting even more than the 2,000 volunteers they already have for “a plan to fight the Trump administration lawfully and systematically, not just by defending each individual as they are detained, harassed, or deported.” It can be overwhelming, and having a common resource to navigate this massive playing field may just be one of the answers. Because to think that just one organization can be and ‘do’ it all, may be wishful thinking, but then again, maybe that is exactly what this movement needs in order to be successful?

References – imbedded in the text and:

Barberá, P., Wang N., Bonneau R., Jost J-T., Nagler J., Tucker J., et.al. 2015: The Critical Periphery in the Growth of Social Protests. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0143611.

Data show an increase in hate crimes

When, now President, Donald J. Trump was elected in the United States’ elections in November 8, 2016, it ‘whipped’ up a storm of emotions, reactions, and actions. Some were positive, some were negative, and some outright worrisome. In my previous posts I have written about social media engagement through #resist and how social media was used to organize activists and supporters for the Women’s March. Something that I have yet to cover is that many hate crimes and hate speeches have emerged as well.

After the US elections in 2016, Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing tool, converted their USA Election Monitoring platform to start monitoring post election hate speech, harassment, violence, threats, and protests. By November 18, 2016, the crowdsourcing data collection had received over 800 reports (though some were duplicates). Ushahidi “was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2008.” The tech organization, headquartered in Nairobi, has since then been used by thousands to raise their voice.

Another, US based organization, Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) project Hatewatch in collaboration with ProPublica had by February 7, 2017, registered 1,372 post-election bias incidents. The data was collected through their #ReportHate intake page and from news reports. SPLC has partnered with ProPublica in order to better document, verify, and investigate these incidents. The New York police reported that between 2015 to 2016 hate crimes had increased by 31.5%, up from 250 to 328. Hate crimes targeting Muslims are up from 12  to 25, and hate crimes targeting Jews are up from 102 to 111. Overall, according to SPLC’s data, anti-immigrant incidents remain the most reported. Below is a chart of the highest motivational factors for the hate incidents:

Snapshot of data of Southern Poverty Law Center and ProPublica data collection of Hate Incident Motivation post-election in the United States, 2016: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/02/10/post-election-bias-incidents-1372-new-collaboration-propublica   

The authors Read, Taithe, and Mac Ginty examines technological innovation, primarily digital technology, and the promise it shows for improving humanitarian responses (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 7f). The data technologies used by the three forementioned organizations create awareness, and it could be argued that they are empowering. There have been multiple cases of where crowdsourcing of data on violence which have had somewhat different outcomes. For example, the Libya Crisis Map, has involved the coordination and vertical transmission of knowledge of urgent situations to national and international actors and audiences. In another example, in Kenya, the knowledge took a horizontal form, used by locals to alert each other of unfolding situations (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 11).

So how does it work? Ushahidi collects data by using custom surveys as well as crowdsourcing tools. The organization’s tools are not only used for monitoring elections, but also for crisis response, as well as advocacy and human rights. The sources stem from surveys, and third party emails,Twitter, Twillio, Nexmo, and SMS connected with an SMS gateway or SMSsync, amongst others. If subscribed, organizations and users can receive important alerts and notifications while deployed. What is interesting with Ushahidi is that it is not an organization from the global North and thus challenging not only the norm of what a humanitarian tech organization looks like and where it comes from, but that they also become a stakeholder in the power of knowledge (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 12f). Below, is an example from Ushahidi’s site: a Muslim NYC Transit worker who was pushed down flights of stairs and called terrorist.

Snapshot of Ushahidi’s platform to monitor USA post election hate crimes. https://usaelectionmonitor.ushahidi.io/views/map

However, Read, Taithe, and Mac suggests that while collecting data by and for domestic and international development may have several advantages, it also comes with responsibilities and risks. The authors write that the evidence thus far suggests that the information gathering capabilities of some humanitarian actors outstrip their capacity to deal with the information.

Ultimately we conclude that the new aspiration towards hubristic big data processing is just another step in the same modernist process of the production of statistical truth. Where it holds a particularly seductive power is in the promise that it may, somehow, become autonomous of human intervention, magnified in legitimacy and relevance by the new processing technologies (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 13).

The unfolding situation in the United States hits home as my father is Muslim, and my father’s side of the family are too, yet the minority Muslim community is just one of many targeted minority groups in the country; the communities of African-Americans, LGBTQs, refugees, immigrants, and women all over the United States are targeted too. This hits home because I have Muslim friends, immigrant friends, African-American friends, LGBTQ friends, and jewish friends, many of whom are women, myself included. This hits home because the misconceptions, stereotypes, and convictions, of these minority groups are so strong that it will lead to violence, threats, and harassment.

References – imbedded in the text and:

Read, R., Taithe, B., and Mac Ginty, R. 2016: Data hubris? Humanitarian information systems and the mirage of technology, Third World Quarterly, forthcoming.

#RESIST – How a hashtag united people over social media and beyond

 

When President Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States, it was met with a bundle of mixed feelings. Some thought they finally had a representative in the white house that would look out for them, whilst others wept, rallied, and organized themselves. Out of the latter a new hashtag was born on social media: Resist.

#Resist has been used by several different individuals, groups, and organizations. Its spread and representation goes from social media into real life. Whilst empirical studies are surprisingly few, we do know that with Facebook’s over 1.5 billion users it has altered the social fabric as we know it, and on a societal level social media has created unprecedented opportunities for information flow, affective expression, social influence, and even democratic revolution (Lewis, Gray, and Meierhenrich 2014:1).

The meaning behind the hashtag ‘Resist’ may vary from person to person, and the way people use it come in variations. Founders and executive directors of groups around the United States explain what #Resist really mean to them, listing some of the same core values, yet with personal take as well. According to them ‘Resist’ means to stand up, to fight, to not give in, to not become complacent or accept, to be be informed, to welcome diversity and differences, to join the masses, to protect their country’s gains and advances, and to move forward not backward. The resistance has taken centre stage as well. Recently, celebrities have made political anti-Trump statements through speeches, songs, and performances during both the Grammys as well as the Oscars. Katy Perry was seen wearing an armband with the word Resist on it during her performance at the Grammys.

The website meetup.com have created a space as well as encouraged individuals to join or start meetup groups for those who care about what’s happening to democracy, human rights, social justice, equality, sustainability, and other issues in their area. These groups can primarily be found all around the United States, but also in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

On January 25, 2017, seven activists for Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy organization, climbed a crane near the White House in Washington DC and unfolded a banner with the word “Resist” on it. In Donald J. Trump’s first week in office he had taken steps to freeze grants through the Environmental Protection Agency and has resurrected the Keystone and Dakota Pipeline projects, something former President Barack Obama had put a stop to after months of protests by environmental activists. Travis Nichols, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said the protesters were there “to resist the environmental, economic and racial injustice that Trump and his administration have already laid out and put into practice.”

In my searches online it has been difficult to find any tallies of how often #resist has been used and any researches as to see the impact it has had on the wider community. Guo and Saxton writes that out of 53 advocacy groups in the United States most used social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action. The authors continue writing that scholars have yet to delve deeper into the ‘statuses’ and ‘updates’ on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter which brings us to the fact that in reality we know little about advocacy organizations’ social media presence (Guo and Saxton 2014:60f).

On an everyday basis, Mr. Boyan shares a recent experience: “I was on the phone arranging a [carpool] to violin practice and I said: ‘All right, I’ll be there in 20 minutes. Bye.’ And the mom said, ‘Resist,’” he continues, “When people say goodbye to each other, they are saying, ‘Resist.’” It appears that the hashtag resist is much more than just a ‘thing’ on the internet, it has become a representation of something much bigger that resonates with many.

References – imbedded in the text and:

Guo, C., Saxton, G.D. 2014- Tweeting Social Change- How Social Media Are Changing Nonprofit Advocacy, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.

Lewis, K., Gray, K., & Meierhenrich, J. 2014- The Structure of Online Activism, Sociological Science.

The Women’s March – Local Going Global

Women’s March in Washington DC, January 21, 2017. © Hanna Rhodin

The body of people forced itself forward, towards the White House. The air was crisp and the atmosphere was vibrant, optimistic, to the point where it almost felt like you could touch it. Pink hats were worn proudly and signs were raised up high. Saying “I’m with her” surrounded by arrows, a picture of a cat saying “Grabs back”, the creativity and the messages were many, touching upon gender issues, corruption, disbelief in the new president, immigration, refugees, and of hope for a brighter future. A woman was holding a big blue flag with yellow stars on it. When asked what the flag represented she said “Alaska”. All around people struck conversations with strangers from all over the United States, all gathered in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, on January 21, 2017 to have their voice heard.

I first heard about the Women’s March on Facebook. I clicked that I was “Interested” in the event. Weeks later my immigrant friends and I walked along the streets in Washington DC toward the march. Social Media was how we all found out about the event, and soon thereafter the march got traction in the mainstream media. It seems that no longer is social media something we can discredit from affecting people’s actions and opinions, not to mention politically. Aday, Farrel and Lynch et al. writes “New media, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, have played a major role in episodes of contentious political action. They are often described as important tools for activists seeking to replace authoritarian regimes and to promote freedom and democracy, and they have been lauded for their democratizing potential.” (Aday, Farrel, & Lynch et al. 2010:3). Over 200 000 people clicked “Going” to The Women’s March in DC, over 200 000 clicked that they were interested in the event, and in reality, estimates show 470,000 to 680,000 participants.

Jeremy Pressman, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, and Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver and an expert on nonviolent protest, collaborated and created a spreadsheet open to the public. They gathered data from coverage and news of marches around the world. Whilst their best guess is a total of 4,157,898, their low estimate versus high estimate ranges from 3,267,134 to 5,246,670. To eventually settle the question, artificial intelligence may come to the rescue providing advanced technology to crowd counting, as organizers often have a reason to exaggerate in order to convey an even more impressive turnout.

Can social media take all the credit for creating the turnout for the Women’s March? Not necessarily. In 1995, before internet had made it is breakthrough in daily life the Million Man March in Washington DC, attracted an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 participants. It is possible that the Women’s March on its own would still gather a large support with our without new media, but that it is new media alone, we cannot take for granted as more factors likely would play a part. However, social media can be a very powerful and important tool, it can also lower the communicational transaction cost (Aday, Farrell & Lynch, 2010:10f).

Regardless of the actual turnout, the Women’s March in Washington DC, in many other cities and towns around the United States, and all over the world, was a powerful statement in unity and in number, and a testament to new media being used to mobilize, organize, and democratize.

References

Aday, S., Farrell, H., Lynch, M. et al. 2010: Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.

Captain, Sean. January 20, 2017. ‘The Science and Politics of Counting The Inauguration and Women’s March’. Fast Company. Retrieved February 25, 2017. https://www.fastcompany.com/3067376/fast-cities/the-science-and-politics-of-counting-the-crowds-at-the-inauguration-and-womens-m

Janofsky, Michael. October 21, 1995. ‘Federal Parks Chief Calls ‘Million Man’ Count Low’. The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/21/us/federal-parks-chief-calls-million-man-count-low.html

Pressman, Jeremy, and Chenoweth, Erica. 2017. Crowd Estimates, 1.21.2017. Retrieved February 25, 2017. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1xa0iLqYKz8x9Yc_rfhtmSOJQ2EGgeUVjvV4A8LsIaxY/htmlview?sle=true#gid=0  

The Women’s March. Facebook Page. Retrieved February 25, 2017. https://www.facebook.com/events/2169332969958991/?active_tab=discussion