Moving Beyond the Meme – Social Media, Subversion, and the Digital Divide
Bloodshot eyes flit across glowing screens while pointer fingers twitch; clicking…reblogging… refreshing. Undulating middle-fingers scroll through a horde of “news”. More drone killings; shared. A meme against a rich person; liked. Suddenly, a special notification comes in. It’s not like the normal little red numbers at the top; this one is different. Eyes perk up and backs straighten, unexpectedly released from the weighty task of waking up the “sheeple”. The news? Banks have decided to cave under the pressure of facebook users’ solidarity avatars and have decided to give everyone a house. What’s more, the military contractors started to feel accountable due to the anti-war memes being spread around the internet. Sobered with guilt, they have decided to stop making war, despite the billions in profit. The puppet politicians are vacating their powerful positions in droves because, finally, enough infographics on their hypocrisy had been circulated. The bleeding heart masses of the Internet Class have successfully swayed the consciences of the powerful with the one-billionth social justice-related “like”. We did it.
I would hope this scenario seems ridiculous to you. I would hope that no one is under any illusions that this could one day actually happen. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the current trend in digital dissent suggests otherwise. Time and energy is being misdirected into a liberalized notion of “raising awareness” on the Internet with no strategic thought as to what social media as a medium should be used for.
Let’s first be clear about this basic principle: there is a war going on for our minds. This is nothing new, nor should this fact surprise us. Every day brings a new bombardment of messaging meant to placate, confuse, misinform, terrorize, and control the powerless billions at the bottom. The dominant narratives of capitalism, consumerism, imperialism, and pacification are all shaped through mediums such as radio, television, print, and now the Internet.
Standing in opposition to this onslaught of fascist propaganda are the self-described radicals, revolutionaries, anti-capitalists, and free thinkers. In the war of information, they have historically sold literature, handed out newspapers, delivered speeches, and broadcast pirate radio transmissions to both give a Peoples’ account of news and to also educate and mobilize supporters towards alternatives to the status quos.
In twenty-first century resistance, the Internet, and its social media component, has become a vital tool for dissent. But as Richard Downing notes in Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements, the very medium itself, like anything, can be appropriated by capitalism. “Electricity, mail, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and fax; these have all been turned into industries dominated by business, with further developments in their technologies manipulated for profit. As business has followed a path of increasing monopoly in each of these industries, social actors have been forced to seek new avenues of communication.”
So we’re at the latest and greatest with this technology… until we’re forced to look for something new. For now, the Internet is as close to a horizontal and direct platform of communication that we’ve ever had. It makes Marx’s vision of global class revolt now seem plausible. There is less filtering from profit-driven media and there are more avenues of direct interaction and communication between social justice fighters. For example, the physical separation between striking students in Mexico City, Montreal, Chicago, and Madrid is made almost moot with live streaming footage, twitter updates, and interactive social media platforms. This doesn’t mean simply sharing a call for action; activists across the world can and should be learning praxis from one other with these tools.
When the cascade of direct actions to occupy public space began in the United States, social media platforms took center stage in both spreading awareness and mobilizing people to come outside. Like the uprisings in the Middle East and Africa, these domestic occupations were organized and populated via tweets, facebook invites, and viral youtube clips. Thousands of camps popped up as folks used social media to coordinate one of the largest direct actions in United States’ history. I count myself among the many thousands that came outside because of technology, similar to when this Oakland resident became primed for action via a computer screen. I saw threads on reddit, followed livestream feeds from Manhattan, joined a chat room about Los Angeles, and finally, most importantly, became involved in real life through a facebook event invitation.
A quick note before we continue: In the era of livestreams and instant updates, the phrase, “The whole world is watching” is often heard. While it is a bit of an embellishment, the whole world does find out about the big story faster than ever thanks to online platforms. The triumphs of social media have been well documented, and they’ve all had a common thread: social media is powerful when organizing and broadcasting direct actions. Activists with access have been instrumentally supportive when the police raise their weapons and when actions could use greater transparency or higher numbers.
I am writing here on persevering effectively in the valleys between the spontaneous uprisings and on guarding against perpetuating counterrevolutionary practices.
It has been nearly two years since Zuccotti sparked this latest wave of anti-establishment sentiment. While there is certainly a growing culture of resistance, that same sentiment is not true in the shallow machinations of social media. All is not well in the land of digitally raised fists and revolutionary hash-tags. As newly engaged activists ride the fading high of the “occupy movement”, many are sinking into ineffective and downright counterrevolutionary social media tactics. All that is left in many cities is a crumbling social media soapbox churning out infantile memes, solidarity avatars, and insular rhetoric with no strategic purpose beyond the consumer-driven click/share success story.
In the absence of spontaneous ruptures, this poisonous mentality can dominate, and this needs to be addressed if we hope to see effective resistance against the oppressive institutions keeping us in subjugation. The power in social media is not found in countering bankers’ power with a LOLCAT meme calling for prison time. It is not found in inundating supporters with another story on faraway violence or repression to “raise awareness” for a privileged Internet class that feels accomplished by being “in the know” and clicking “like”. That isn’t enough. Not only is it not enough, it can facilitate a slide towards impotence and stupefaction.
From The Internet and an Informed Citizenry, Carpini and Keeter highlight the potential pitfalls of falling into placating behaviors online:
“A second and perhaps equally plausible scenario would predict a general decline in levels of political knowledge, however. In this view the Internet serves to divert the public from things political-a giant box of chocolates that lures citizens away from the nourishing food they need…And Internet-driven declines in the opportunities and need to directly interact with other citizens in public spaces (especially with citizens different from oneself) could further erode the kind of community bonds that lead to political interest and thus to political learning.”
In true Orwellian fashion, social media is just another tool for the state to co-opt and for the ruling class to control to narrow the conversation, frame the debate, and manage the outcome of popular unrest. The advent of the 140 character-culture, 24/7 news and infotainment cycle, “instant gratification complex” is being catered to rather than fought against. The quest for higher numbers and more views has activists aiming for successes within a capitalist framework while ignoring the far more important duty of facilitating dialogue in this digital public commons. Two prominent examples come to mind when I think of the problem of celebrating the popularity contest instead of aiding deconstructive exploration.
First, there is the story of Christopher Dorner, the former LAPD officer that penned a damning expose on the systemic racism of police, allegedly murdered several people, and caused one of the largest manhunts in American history before being killed in a burning cabin. The social media team at Occupy Los Angeles posted a ‘meme’ with a picture of Dorner and the words “Rest in Power: assassinated by the police for trying to expose LAPD corruption”, which quickly went viral. Following the sensational vapidity of “if it bleeds, it leads”, Los Angeles activists used their digital megaphone to glorify an individual cop instead of using the moment to have a discussion about the violence of police as an institution against the poor and communities of color. Dorner is not the first situation of a “chicken coming home to roost”, and the duty of dissent must be to connect those dots. Unfortunately, strategy did not go beyond a desire for clicks, so activists felt successful when the post brought “Occupy Los Angeles” into the spotlight of the mainstream media and right-wing groups like Breitbart, without realizing the lost opportunity for a deeper conversation.
The failure here is in not recognizing that less “popular” conversations that examine the root of the issue are far more important to a culture of resistance than the number of shares. The same concept is highlighted in a second example of the recent 2012 election and proposition cycle. Because of the mainstream pressure to have a position on the props and the candidates, occupiers in Los Angeles became frothy at the mouth, using insular social media spaces to spout positions and stances for the items up for a vote. The problem was that all of these conversations were in private, in secret occupy groups and pages, with zero facilitation of the conversation around representational politics for the online supporters. Due to the infighting, there was a noticeable absence of activity around the election, a clear missed opportunity. Bowing to the capitalist concept of popularity should never be a priority for a radical dissident. It’s an external threat in terms of platforms’ audience and inherent focus. More importantly, it’s also an internal colonization of the mind, something that destructively inflates the ego and creates a façade of superficial mass support.
In actuality, digital dependence is altering how we interact with the people and issues around us. We have become consumers of information, communication, relationships, thoughts, and desires. Participation in life is increasingly through the Internet. This is disarming resistance and misdirecting energy away from systemic challenges. And this is being welcomed by the elites, as the biggest deterrent to tyranny is an educated and informed populace. There has been a detrimental increase in macro-knowledge with a simultaneous uptick in micro-isolation, as the mainstream press will even acknowledge. We are more connected than ever, but those ties are “weak ties” as opposed to the stronger connections people develop with “IRL” (in real life) moments.
Malcolm Gladwell discusses how efforts are increasingly inadequate in Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted:
“The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write.
But that’s not true.
Social networks are effective at increasing participation – be lessening the level of motivation that participation requires… In other words, facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.”
Gladwell recognizes how systemic challenges triumph when you put your body on the line in addition to your typing fingers. A great example of this narrowing of breadth and effect via social media by the elites is found in the recent barrage of Human Rights Campaign (HRC) red equal-sign avatars. As with the green screen VFX avatar or “Solidarity with (insert tragedy-of-the-hour)” multitudes, the reddened logo hit the internet to support gay marriage as the Supreme Court convened to decide if they’d grant Americans equal rights. The logical fallacy of anyone “granting rights” aside, this maelstrom of red profile pictures certainly raised awareness about the decision and let friends and family know where one stood. But that’s about all the positivity it brought.
With that glorious raised awareness, those that switched their profile pictures were also doing their part in silencing dissent against the institution of marriage and heternormative structures. So by “taking a stand” in a Supreme Court case (which is supposed to be devoid of public sentiment anyway), the fairness champions were in fact ensuring things would continue to remain unfair. Just like Gladwell’s Greensboro example, changing your social media picture to a corporation’s logo for “equality” is not the same as the Stonewall Riot. This is not to say sharing the photo did not have an effect. It certainly did: the effect of perpetuating lowest common denominator activism with a money- and mainstream-driven agenda is a reap-what-you-sow lesson.
The apathetic patted each other on the back and the conversation continued to silence those most oppressed under the dominant narrative. The upper-middle class white gay and lesbian community is controlling the conversation while the “BTQIA” folks are put on the back burner, as we’ve seen over and over again. This is what participating in their prescribed process perpetuates. The red equality picture comes out and droves of people consume the idea and sell it to their circles, thinking they’ve now done something when in reality they are participating in an oppressive and silencing narrative, both with what they’re supporting and how they’re supporting it. The current gay rights movement has siphoned energy and resources away from liberation and towards assimilation, something that a mass avatar campaign enables.
A second chilling example of social media manipulation was when Kony2012 was fed to us through Invisible Children, a non-profit with cloudy financial ties. They employed aspects of Internet culture with youtube videos, viral campaigns, and stickering/graffiti tactics. In openly calling for military intervention in Africa, the “viral” campaign used social media as a tool of the military-industrial complex’s objectives. What was the result? Heralded as a “success” by the former Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications and Global Outreach (read: state propagandist for the imperialist war machine) in Changing the Face(book) of Activism, Mark Pfeifle says: “In the Kony case, 850,000 Facebook users clicked the “like” button. What resulted was the deployment of 100 U.S. advisers and 5,000 African Union troops whose mission was to hunt down Kony, achieving a goal that countless diplomats, non-government organizations, and journalists had failed to do in the previous 25 years.”
A year later has the United States marching forward with the manufactured consent, raising the bounty on Kony and other leaders to five million dollars, the United States is sending in troops to thirty-five countries in Africa, and the drone wars continue to expand to numerous countries across the continent. In Borderless News and Views, Thom Konefka discusses the ramifications of this type of activism: “And Invisible Children, above all, is ‘nonprofit’ cultural capitalism at its finest: the product being sold is a feel-good sense of ‘social justice-achieved,’ the currency traded for it is donations which indirectly fund the very forces we are trying to weaken, but even more so it is exposure and popularity: raising awareness writ large, which serves as nothing more than the means by which the process is continued.”
How, then, to combat this push to narrowly define and silence dissent? The power of social media can be harnessed as a tool for systemic change when we deconstruct not only what we’re sharing but how we’re sharing it, why, and to whom. If anti-establishment folks are going to share a meme encouraging followers to “Question Everything”, it seems appropriate to follow their advice and question the tactics and efficacy of social media within social movement.
So activists have this digital megaphone to broadcast dissent. Great! First though, we must discern the goal of radical social media before we use this tool, as da Vinci suggests.
What, then, does effective social media look like for those pushing systemic upheaval? Ideally, social media should serve as an entry point for the simultaneous destruction of the old and construction of the new. Meaning both providing tools of resistance and alternatives for thriving autonomously. Examples of this could include copwatch zine distribution, an urban food project documentary and DIY gardening workshop, invitations to collective education projects, talks on foreclosure defense tactics, implementable praxis suggestions, or original content that works to bring an intersectional perspective to myriad issues on the radical left.
However, a dynamic and intersectional post does not make an effective social media effort complete. The follow-ups, interactions, and conversations with supporters are just as vital. The online face of resistance must be an accessible one, a concept often lost on online activists. The facilitation-team component to the camps was the most pivotal in providing horizontal space to listen and build consensus, and that concept must be applied to the digital space as well. As the Technology Operations Group shows in “Three Complaints About OWS”, this important component to engagement is often neglected:
“Systems did emerge to engage newcomers. But those systems (the info tables and Info Working Group, for example) were not nearly as effective as the moment demanded. I’ve learned that some of the email addresses floated around as a primary point of contact were left unchecked, accumulating more than 11,000 unanswered emails. There is still no general OWS email list. Meetings would be announced at a particular location and then held somewhere else. Newcomers would show up for working group meetings, add their name to a list passed around for future contact, and never hear from anyone again. It’s nearly four months since the occupation and there still isn’t a clearly labeled sign up page. Hell, there isn’t even an official public facing website that represents OWS.”
In my experience with Occupy Los Angeles’ social media (OLASM), I can certainly echo the concerns of this group. Beyond emails going unanswered, the idea of constructively networking with supporters appears to have been de-prioritized into oblivion. Ahead of everything is the next hourly facebook post, driven by this liberal goal of “raising awareness”. Interaction and follow-through is minimal, if at all. Egotistically, the concerns and disagreements raised online are often deleted, informally classified as trolls and delegitimized. If something is addressed by OLA, it is usually to combat a negative comment, asserting a devastatingly adversarial dynamic with the Internet audience. To be adversarial is to maintain the status quo of Internet interaction. We all know arguments are not won online. What’s more, though, is that the “backfire effect” of challenging cognitive biases in an attacking stance can actually do more harm than good. If engagement of an online audience is in an “us vs. them” binary, then the “us” will stay insular and the “them” will never decrease. This means that this continues a divisive paradigm that both preaches to the choir without broadening the scope of struggle while also ensuring anyone that anyone who disagrees will continue to think that way.
When talking efficacy, Sun Tzu speaks on knowing both yourself and your enemy. From a strategic point of view, it helps to take a brief look at what our counterparts are saying regarding social media tactics. In a June 2012 issue of The Police Chief, Joseph Kunkle examines how dissidents are using social media in an adorably fascistic piece titled, “Social Media and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat” (emphasis added):
“… the role that social media is playing in today’s means of communications is much more dynamic. For example, one activist in Egypt succinctly tweeted about why digital media was so important to the organization of political unrest: “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.” This statement symbolizes the difference between the Internet and social media; social media will come to the radical rather than the radical going to the Internet and searching for the information.”
There are some important points in this excerpt that help frame how online resistance is effective. First, it’s significant to note which social media tactics the state views as “dangerous”: developing action, coordinating real-time, and producing original content. The state recognizes that the power of social media is to mobilize people off their computers and into action. This police officer writing on “terrorists” recognizes social media as a tool for organizing resistance, and if there is no energy transfer from digital to concrete, it is not on his radar as a threat to the status quo.
Next, the end of The Police Chief quote bears repeating: “social media will come to the radical rather than the radical going to the Internet and searching for the information.” This recognizes what I wrote earlier about social media handling the broadcast of spontaneous uprising quite well. The police state recognizes that social media as an entity will flutter around like a butterfly, landing on whichever flower is most sensational at the moment. We saw this with the domino destruction of the occupy camps as viewers digitally migrated from city to city. Here in Los Angeles, a great example emerges from the Central City Association campaign that began in May of 2012. Activists staged a nightly “siege” on a lobbying firm in downtown Los Angeles, hyper-localizing the idea of “wall street” while bringing in local issues of gentrification, money in politics, homelessness, and public policy.
Participants in this action received a lot of support, but it was not until the Chalk Walk uprising at the ArtWalk event in July that social media came to LA. With this unplanned and spontaneous rupture, social media was ready and waiting. Suddenly the whole world was watching, solidarity chalking actions sprang up overnight, and supporters were shown images and video of the violence. When incidents like this occur, digital platforms bring megaphones, spotlights, soapboxes, witnesses, reinforcements, historical record, and solidarity. When that happens, it behooves dissidents to be ready with a revolutionary praxis. It is up to both the social media rebel as well as those in real life to then be incessantly vigilant. In Los Angeles, the online narrative fizzled to pedantic First Amendment pleas and shouts of brutality, lacking any intersectional commentary about the ongoing direct action against the most powerful lobby in the city and. Likewise, the angry, the “politicized”, and the injured sought out both digital and analog occupy spaces; that too waned with the failure of accessible entry points, two-way dialogues, and any information that could broaden struggle beyond that pastel night.
Looking further, there is even a lesson in what this government analysis doesn’t discuss. It says nothing of fearing a viral meme, a circulating online petition, or the number of likes on an activist page. The author is not worried about facebook groups or debates that stretch into the hundreds of comments because these types of online activities are welcomed by our enemies. While this is not the primary subject of this piece, a worthy note is that state and corporate actors certainly play a proactive role in destroying anti-establishment groups from the inside. Getting into the meta-level of analysis, the very existence of a social network is something the State doesn’t really fear. In pressing for laws like the Patriot Act, CISPA, SOPA, CISPA 2.0, ACTA, etc, the state is using our social networks to eavesdrop, infiltrate, disrupt, and surveil. Getting off facebook purely for the security risk to organizing is a legitimate enough argument to derail this entire piece. The reality is I had written four thousand words before this poignant piece came out and didn’t want to abandon my rant. So, I will continue on because if it isn’t facebook, it’s another platform that will be vulnerable for the powerful to manipulate.
It is not only external factors that play a role in spinning wheels online. As articulated in Alice Mattoni’s “Beyond Celebration: Toward A More Nuanced Assessment of Facebook’s Role in Occupy Wall Street”, this frenzied but hollow engagement can be counterproductive with actual resistance.
“Facebook, in short, was much more than a platform for diffusing information about the occupation. Clashes among activists created a conflictual space of discussion through which individuals engaged in the discursive construction of contested meanings around Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Pittsburgh, and the Occupy Pittsburgh Facebook group itself. This discursive construction, however, developed along with strong emotions on the part of activists participating in the online discussions.
Moreover, it was clear that the Facebook clashes facilitated activist burn-out and disengagement.
Even activists who did not use the social networking site were forced to deal with Facebook-generated tensions because the campsite often reverberated with the fall out of online clashes.”
Again, Los Angeles is no different from Pittsburg, New York, and everywhere else where people are overusing privileged and isolating technologies to interact. My experience within “Occupy Los Angeles” reinforces this assessment. As the physical spaces for occupiers were destroyed and people were driven away by police intimidation and harassment, the online component became increasingly (and falsely) important to the privileged Internet Class. Sinking into the warmth of an armchair after sitting on cold concrete for months was a bit too comfortable for some, and the narcissistic platform of facebook stoked the fires of bombastic, insular grandstanding and fighting. Online hostility, snitch-jacketing, and ego-based activism around which issues should be prominent, who had access to power and passwords, and ideological disputes affected the organizing efforts on the ground. Even worse, conflict on the Internet drove down participation in general assemblies, direct actions, and sustained campaigns like the siege on the CCA offices or the several home defenses. This is particularly egregious because it is conflict stemming from a bourgeois mentality that is affecting lower-class comrades who most likely don’t even have Internet access.
This brings us to the technology class divide and what solidarity looks like to those with access. To further examine the value of an effective social media strategy, let’s explore just exactly who is on the Internet. Or more importantly, who is not. Historically marginalized voices like people of color, the poor, women, trans folk, and the elderly have always struggled to be heard, and the digital town square is no different. There have been calls of a participatory power within the Internet and E-democracy, but is access to the web really that universal? Beyond simple access, are the platforms anti-establishment organizers using inherently problematic?
Simon Collister critiques the overly-optimistic liberal approach to the Internet in Anarchism and Social Technology: Contextualizing the (non)-field? – (emphasis added)
“The the agency located within individuals by liberal perspectives onto the technology, we can recognize a parallel narrative emerging in the media in which dominant (yet commercial and proprietary) platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, become mythologized as emancipatory tools engendering freedom and empowering individuals.
This narrative is popular on the one hand because it renders accounts of complex, techno-social negotiations into easily reductionist and determinist analyses that offer a comprehensible story for mass consumer audiences. More worryingly… such media narratives reinforce the perceived leaderlessness of Twitter and Facebook because of how clearly this myth masks the mechanisms of privilege and capital power which allow leadership to emerge”
What I have seen in the case of Occupy Los Angeles is a reinforcing of the classist, racist, and heternormative ideas in greater society. The migration to predominantly facebook-only interaction has actively excluded those not signed in for security/state surveillance concerns or accessibility problems. Numerous people of color and women have been driven to stop participating; their voices marginalized through deflection, content sliding, racist selective process enforcements, trolling, topic dilution, and straw man clashes.
The term digital divide is defined on Wikipedia as “an economic inequality between groups, broadly construed, in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies”. To illustrate this, the table below shows us that only one-third of the population uses the Internet. That is to say, a majority of the people on this planet are not signed in.
Also worth noting is the massive increase in Internet use since the new millennium in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America / Caribbean. Social upheaval has a correlation with access to information (i.e. the Internet and Wikileaks). While those multi-thousand percentage increases show marked progress in closing the digital access gap, it doesn’t tell the whole story. There is a distinct gap between mobile and broadband access. From a New York Times article titled Internet Access and the New Divide:
“While we still talk about “the” Internet, we increasingly have two separate access marketplaces: high-speed wired and second-class wireless. High-speed access is a superhighway for those who can afford it, while racial minorities and poorer and rural Americans must make do with a bike path… [because of this] they can thus expect even lower-quality health services, career opportunities, education and entertainment options than they already receive.
…According to numbers released last month by the Department of Commerce, a mere 4 out of every 10 households with annual household incomes below $25,000 in 2010 reported having wired Internet access at home, compared with the vast majority — 93 percent — of households with incomes exceeding $100,000. Only slightly more than half of all African-American and Hispanic households (55 percent and 57 percent, respectively) have wired Internet access at home, compared with 72 percent of whites.”
When examining California and Los Angeles, the racist and classist differences become even more important considering that Los Angeles is mostly Latino, the least likely group to be signed on. While some efforts have been made to translate posts and event information, most of OccupyLA’s communication has been in English. To have any kind of honest discussion with those being affected by neoliberal imperialist and colonialist policies, a social media propaganda effort must consider translation into other languages a priority.
In looking at the facebook page of the Los Angeles-based occupy group, there are some interesting points. Even though women are more likely to be online than men, over 56% of “Occupy Los Angeles’” likes are men, which should serve as a red herring that OLA’s online presence is perhaps not as revolutionary as they hope. The 2011 estimated population in Los Angeles is over 3.8 million people. Of those millions, only around fourteen thousand people have “liked” Occupy Los Angeles’ facebook page, by far the most utilized platform for that activist group. So this soapbox is targeted at a generally privileged, predominantly white, young male audience. Knowing this framework should make our content that much more purposeful in championing the issues of the typically marginalized people of color, dis-abled, women, queer, and poor communities.
In a book review for Future Perfect: The Case For Progress in a Networked Age, the critic sees several problems with holding up the Internet as a holy grail for activists. Called Social Media Doesn’t Always Help Social Movements, Evgeny Morozov sums things up nicely: “Ideas on their own do not change the world; ideas that are coupled with smart institutions might. “Not by memes alone” would be an apt slogan for any contemporary social movement. Alas, this basic insight—that political reform cannot be reduced to the wars of memes and aesthetics alone, even if the Internet offers an effective platform for waging them—has mostly been lost on the Occupy Wall Street crowd.”… “Now that Internet-centrism is not just a style of thought but also an excuse for a naïve and damaging political ideology, the costs of letting its corrosive influence go unnoticed have become too high.”
Remember that article that from that police rag that called us terrorists? Let’s look at another one. In Telling a Story Through Social Media, we find a whole piece on how the state is using social media as propaganda for their violence. Blatantly acknowledging “many times, people see only the uniform, the badge, and the gun”, this officer recommends social media campaigns such as motorcycle-themed photo sets. “… This informed the community about a variety of officers who work for the police department, humanized the officers, and showcased the motorcycles themselves. Although it is not newsworthy to the media, this information is interesting to the community.” In working to legitimize the badge, they are discussing creating original content around the people wearing it.
Likewise, if social media were to combat the “othering” of the dissident, this information would be interesting to the community as well. There have been a number of attempts at this, but producing original content is harder and more time-consuming than clicking share, so the concept is often lost to the instant-gratification crowds. Occupy Albany has a wonderful “I am an Occupier” series, and the downtown Los Angeles CCA “Tent Tribe” was working on a similar concept. The two types of actions that appeared to have internalized this humanizing, original-content perspective are food and housing. Examples in food justice are Oakland’s Take Back the Tract farming project and Long Beach’s Foodscape urban farm. With home defenses, personal narratives are instinctually more of a component to media strategy, so stories built around the homeowner and their struggle abound. I have seen several effective social media efforts regarding foreclosure actions here in Los Angeles, including Fuerza Hernandez and Pueblo Lucero.
As I’ve said before, each of these examples of effective social media use centers around a direct action. Meaning they are mobilizing supporters to participate while challenging fundamental ideas like private property and land use. When you consider these actions under the conceptual “umbrella” of “greater OccupyLA” (or OWS, or Occupy Miami, etc), then these online shells of dead direct actions can be used to bolster the ongoing ones. In the case of OccupyLA, some have argued to burn the trivial meme contraption to the ground: “Get off the Internet, read a book, talk to a local activist who has done something more than start an event page, or go do something and write about it. This whole zombified, brain-eating, post-occupy fuckcluster needs to be burned to the ground before it consumes even one more minute of even the most useless person here’s day.”
This actually makes sense strategically, given no one is currently employing said tactic. In lieu of this, making correct use of a soapbox with over fifty thousand likes (fourteen thousand of which actually reside in LA) could keep social media dissidents vigilant enough until another rupture. The focus of social media as a digital propaganda arm for dissent must be kept on sharing intersectional perspectives, creating personal and original content, and always making mobilization and access points to resistance the number one priority.