How Digital Media Aids—And Complicates—The Struggle for Justice
Black organizers are still mobilizing against police brutality, divestment from communities and other facets of institutionalized racism. And while digital media is hailed as their key tool in fostering connectivity and documenting information in real time, the use of media sites like Twitter and Facebook has presented its own challenges regarding issues of surveillance and action turnout.
In our 2015 project “Digital Media and Struggles for Justice”, BYP100 national co-chair Jasson Perez describes how, when compared to the limited media mechanisms in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, digital media has enabled organizers all over the nation to better communicate plans and information amongst each other. Before the famous water hosing images surfaced, Birmingham organizers in the 1960s had already spent about six months carrying out demonstrations and swallowing attacks from police and angry mobs before others had any idea what was going on.
“But in a day like today if you kept on doing those actions you would have more of an apparatus and a social media platform to put your story out”, claims Perez.
For Cherno Biko, co-founder of #BlackTransLivesMatter, social media has been integral to maintaining a strong sense of community for individuals who may not be able to access others due to distance and/or disability. This, she claims, has “greatly increased the scope of where the movement could go.”
Digital media has also strengthened the movement’s ability to sustain itself financially. Crowdsourcing platforms like GoFundMe and YouCaring allow individuals all over the world to support to contribute funds to particular causes, like the #SayHerName campaign.
And while its utility is not limited to the functions outlined in these articles, the prevalent use of social media does not come without cause for concern. Former Green Party Presidential Candidate Rosa Clemente contends the relationship between the telecommunications industry and the federal government is practically suspect.
Rutgers professor Donna Murch takes it one step further in stating, “surveillance is the business model of the internet.” And with increasing advertisement deals, tracking measures, as well as individual tendencies to ‘share everything’, organizers often find themselves having to scale back on social media to maintain the privacy they need.
Contrary to what seems like popular opinion, digital media hasn’t replaced the more traditional methods of organizing—and it’s not clear if anything ever will. The importance of being able to tweet policymakers who support harmful pieces of legislation and share important online petitions cannot be overstated, but it simply cannot replace face-to-face interactions and bodies engaging in direct action. Organizers like BYP100’s Jessica Pierce illustrate a common misconception about the use of digital media in organizing: just “make a Facebook invite” and people will come. Rather to her, the combination of digital media with traditional media is the most effective in spurring people to action.
To Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, digital media should be viewed as the starting point in constructing a nationwide movement towards racial justice.
“This is not just a hashtag. The hashtag is a way for us to build consciousness…and one thing I think is important for our generation to understand is that there is nothing at all that replaces community organizing.”
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