Category Archives: Social Movements

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.

Social media HateFree revolution?

All of my previous posts were critical of social media and big multinational software companies. In some comments I got, I was criticized for being too negative and pessimistic and for not looking for a way out from this situation. That is why I have decided to devote my last post to the Czech campaign HateFree Culture. From my perspective, it is a good example of how social media could be used for a positive thing.  

The project was launched in 2014 as a reaction to increasing of hatred towards population groups with different ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or handicap. It is granted by The Agency for Social Integration of Czech Republic. The motto of the campaign is following:

“We are an initiative of people who strive for a life free of violence and hatred. Although we are aware of the complexity of coexistence, tolerance, and respect, we are convinced of the existence of a rational, creative and innovative ways to improve them. Living in fear and hatred does not bring anything positive. HateFree Culture offers the opportunity to look at things from different angles, to find solutions with others and above all create and share what matters.”

The project’s main communication tools are their Facebook page with over 55 thousands of fans. But it also has its website, where it is successfully fighting with hoax, hatred, and stereotypes. The campaign has also created HateFree Zones – places where hatred is not tolerated. Over 260 pubs, caffés and even offices became part of the project.

Although I think the group is doing very good job, HateFree became a target of wide criticism, especially because of its financing from governmental funds and support of immigration. Some of the HateFree Zones were also vandalized by neo-Nazis.

I think it is a prove, that even a simple campaign with a limited budget of about 750 000 euros for 3 years can do a good job. And especially their hoax fighting program was crucial for the Czech social media environment.

#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.

Do you “like” your future?

Tell me, what you eat and I will tell you who you are – this famous quote by the French chef and artist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin came to my mind when I first heard about the company Cambridge Analytica. The company who claims they are able to evaluate one’s personality better than their friends – just based on the access to the person’s facebook page. This London-based company advised the Trump’s presidential campaign – and now states they were able to help him win the run, using their state of the art analysis. Welcome to the world of Big Data!

“Everything we do, both on and offline, leaves digital traces. Every purchase we make with our cards, every search we type into Google, every movement we make when our mobile phone is in our pocket, every “like” is stored,” describes Hannes Grassegger in an article for web Motherboard.[1]

The story of Cambridge Analytica goes back to 2012 when psychologist Michal Kosinski developed something called  MyPersonality app. This platform enabled users to create their personality profile by means of filling out different psychometric questionnaires. Then Kosinski’s team compared the data with the “likes” people shared on their Facebook profile.

After many refinements of the modeling they came up with extraordinary results: “They were able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves,[2]” describes Grassegger.
We usually do not think about what we “like” on Facebook. But showing the musicians we prefer, books we read or media we follow, we are providing companies such as Cambridge Analytica with very useful material for evaluation. Then it is just a matter for them of using/having powerful algorithms to focus their campaign on a specific audience. Theoretically, in the presidential campaign, this would mean that the advertising agency could only focus on a small group of undecided voters with a potential to support their candidate, not spending any money outside of potential electorate.
But as Leonid Bershidsky shows – it is not that easy: “Huge data sets are often less helpful in understanding an electorate than one or two key data points — for instance, what issue is most important to a particular undecided voter.”[3] His small research shows that the level of analysis and targeting is not at all at the level as would suggest that the Cambridge Analytica strong statement claims.
At the moment, it does not look like that there is any company that powerful to win the presidential run. But the amount of data we are providing freely to the world is alarming. And no one can guarantee that at the time of the next US presidential run, there will not be a company able to win the elections just by means of precise targeting. That is something I am worried about. Big data might be powerful. By the way, have you heard that one of the biggest US e-commerce companies plan for the future is to have a drone with your order on the way to your house even before you placed the order? Guess how they know what you want…
[1] https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

[2]  https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

[3]  https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-12-08/no-big-data-didn-t-win-the-u-s-election

 

 

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