At the beginning of this month, the ACLU in California released a free mobile app that monitors police violence. The app, called Mobile Justice CA, preserves users’ footage of police encounters. Available on both Apple and Android devices, the user pushes a large “Record” button to document their own and others’ interactions with police. The content automatically transmits to the ACLU servers. The point is to preserve recorded content even if police destroy the recording device and/or delete the video. For instance, the ACLU would have maintained documentation of police detaining residents in an LA neighborhood, even after an officer smashed the cellphone of a witness recording the events.
The ACLU treats transmissions through the app as legal communications and protects the anonymity of the sender. Legal action is only taken upon the sender’s request, but the ACLU maintains the rights to the footage, meaning they can distribute it to media outlets as evidence of injustice. Branches of the ACLU in in New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Missouri have released similar apps.
These apps are significant in their reflection of an increasingly central mode of activism: Sousveillance. They are also reflective of the structural embeddedness of the sousveilling citizen. (more…)
screenshot from my phone
Like many people, I spent my morning entranced by the protests following Freddie Gray’s death. The latest in a string of highly publicized incidents of unarmed black men killed by police, Gray’s death has brought protestors to a boiling point. The streets of Baltimore are on fire. Schools are closed. The National Guard has been called. As I told my students, this is what social change looks like.
For a long while I stared intently at my Twitter feed. The content was unique to this protest, but the form of the Twitter feed looked entirely familiar: the calls for peace, calls for racial justice, racist slurs, police condemnation, images from the ground, and links to (ohmigosh so many) “think” pieces scrolled by. Then, I wondered, how does ‘rioting’ look through an anonymous platform driven by upvotes? So I went to Yik Yak and peeked at Baltimore, MD. Here is what I found: (more…)
Apple rolled out a new line of racialized emojis last week through their iOS 8.3. Originating in Japan, emojis are popular symbols by which people emote via text. Previously, the people-shaped emojis appeared with either a bright yellow hue or peach (i.e., white) skin. The new emojis offer a more diverse color palate, and users can select the skin tones that best represent them. It’s all very United Colors of Benetton.
While many applaud the new emojis— such Dean Obeidallah writing for CNN who announced “Finally, Apple’s Emojis Reflect America”—this has been far from a win for racial equality. (more…)
A couple of years ago, I was enjoying dinner at a family gathering, loudly chiming in between bites of salad and veggie burger. In a quiet moment, my Nana’s significant other leaned in and looked at me closely. ‘I can’t pinpoint your accent,’ he said. Surprised, I wondered out loud if I had developed some strange hybrid of Virginia and Texas—my home state and the state where I was attending graduate school, respectively. ‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s more like California.’ He then faux flipped his hair, batted his eyelashes, and repeated something I’d said earlier using exaggerated uptalk. The table broke into laughter, jokes about nail chipping and mall shopping, and ironic air-quoted references to “Dr. Davis.” It was funny because this particular speech pattern—deeply classed and gendered—connotes “ditziness,” which sits in (apparently comedic) contrast to my position as an adult in general, and an academic in particular. And indeed, my speech patterns growing up, like those of many girls I knew, followed the stereotypical “valley girl” inflection and cadence. I have learned to temper this over the years, but in relaxed moments, the excessive “likes” and statements-that-sound-like-questions slip back in.
I was not offended by this dinner table exchange. On the contrary, I put my gender activist hat away for a bit and joined in, asking people to pass various food items in my best Alicia Silverstone (from clueless, obvi) voice. It was totally funny!! It would be less funny, however, if I found myself unable to get a job because of these speech patterns. (more…)
Statistics are never objective. Rather, they use numeric language to tell a story, and entail all of the subjectivity of storytelling. Indeed, the skilled statistician, like the skilled orator, can bring an audience into the world of their creation, and get the audience to buy fully into the logic of this world. Numbers, like words, are tools of communication, persuasion, connection, and dissent. Statistics are not objective. But my goodness, statistics can be powerful.
Check out this particularly compelling statistical story about Ferguson Missouri: (more…)
Official Promotional Poster for the Talk
Jasmine Rand, lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s family, came and spoke at my university last week. I held my breath as she walked out on stage. She began with the emotional announcement that we were on the eve of what would have been Trayvon’s 20th birthday. Along with a crowd full of students, professors, staff, and members of the community, I settled on the edge of my seat and listened eagerly for what this woman, in this moment of racial upheaval, had to say. As I tweeted just before the talk: this was a big deal.
Facebook announced this week that it will add a new search feature to the platform. This search feature will, for the first time, allow users to type in keywords and bring up specific network content. Previously, keyword searches lead to pages and advertisements. Now, it will bring up images and text from users’ News Feeds. Although search results currently include only content shared with users by their Friends, I imagine including public posts in the results will be a forthcoming next step.
Facebook, as a documentation-heavy platform, has always affected both how we remember, and how we perform. It is the keeper of our photo albums, events attended, locations visited, and connections established, maintained, and broken. It recasts our history into linear stories, solidifying that which we share into the truest version of ourselves. And of course, the new search feature amplifies this, stripping users of the privacy-by-obscurity that tempered (though certainly did not eliminate) the effects of recorded and documented lives.
The search feature also does something interesting and new. It aggregates. For the first time, users can take the temperature of their networks on any variety of topics. Music, movies, news events and recipes can be called up, unburied from the content rubble and grouped in a systematic way.
Perhaps because I’ve been able to think of little else lately, I immediately considered what this new feature means for how we will remember the events of Ferguson, Staten Island, and the parade of police violence against young men of color. And relatedly, I considered how we will remember ourselves and each other in regard to these events. (more…)
The mobile phone camera has become an embedded tool of protest. It has given rise to the citizen journalist and is a key mechanism by which surveillance is countered with sousveillance. In a New Media & Society article earlier this year, Kari Andén-Papadopoulos names this phenomena citizen-camera witnessing. This is a ritual through which bodies in space authenticate their presence while proliferating images and truths that contest with the stories told by The State. The citizen camera-witness is not merely witnessing, but bearing witness, insisting upon articulating, through image, atrocities that seem unspeakable. Indeed, as W.J.T. Mitchell compellingly claims: Today’s wars and political conflicts are to an unparalleled extent being fought on behalf of, against and by means of radically different images of possible futures.
The failure to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that continue to follow, set the stage for drastically different futures. The way we tell this story will guide which future is most plausible, most logical, and most likely. (more…)
“It’s okay, see? There’s a black guy in the picture with me!!”
After my annual in-class Race and Halloween conversation, one of my students sent me this BuzzFeed link. Check it out, and then see below for commentary.
Pic via: The Accessible Icon Project
Let me start by saying, accessibility is a human rights issue, not an afterthought. Frankly, it’s an insult to people with disabilities that access is even a subject of debate. And yet…
The Technology, Equality, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (i.e., the TEACH Act) is currently under debate in congress. The legislation requires that technologies used in college classrooms be accessible to all students, including students with disabilities. It is entirely possible that you have not heard of the TEACH Act, but for those who it most affects—students with bodies that deviate from the norm—the stakes are quite high. The bill has some strong support, but also strong opposition, from surprising sources. (more…)