Last week the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard arguments on landmark civil liberties cases with regards to same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, the courts took on California’s Proposition 8—a ban on same-sex marriage, and on Wednesday they heard arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA, a law that excludes same-sex couples from federal recognition. In light of these cases, I saw two interrelated trends in my Facebook newsfeed: profile pictures in the form of the red Human Rights Campaign (HRC) equality sign (headline photo), and snarky status updates making fun of these HRC profile pictures, accompanied by a note of support for marriage equality[i]. That is, although both groups shared and expressed the same opinion about same-sex marriage, they disagreed about the appropriate methods for showing this support. This disagreement highlights debates about political activism in the face of new technologies and brings us back to the question: Does slacktivism matter? I will argue here, as I have argued before that yes, it does. (more…)
Don’t tell the Israel Defense Force (IDF) that sharing videos from your Twitter account is ineffectual. They will point to their two-hundred thousand twitter followers that have generated 35 million views on their official Youtube account. They will extoll the virtues of a ruthlessly efficient and effective ad campaign that invites participation without the young Israeli even knowing they are engaged in two wars: a war of flesh as well as a war of mind. Granted, the IDF is no Justin Beiber, but it is hard to deny the impact of the IDF’s 30-person social networking team. The IDF’s social media savvy has not gone unnoticed. Technology and business publications have been more than happy to publish uncritical, lengthy interviews of top officials. This meta-propaganda usually begins by noting that Pillar of Defense was first announced through Twitter. The conversation will then turn to their complete arsenal: (Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook, Pintrest, and even Google+) before commenting on their brief tweet confrontations with Hamas. All of this happens almost apolitically. Every news pieces calls it propaganda, and yet it still has a powerful aesthetic and rhetorical effect. Social media is the Abrams tank of propaganda. Messages must navigate the harsh terrains of corporate and government-owned mass media and arrive safely in the minds of citizens. Unedited, unfiltered, pure. Social media can trample news cycles, navigate the minefields of editorial desks, and maintain total media superiority in the vacuum of Western under-reporting. (more…)
"For Trayvon Martin" mural by "Israel" in Third Ward Houston. Photo taken by Jenni Mueller.
On February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin, a Black, 17 a year old, unarmed, high school student, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a White Hispanic man acting in the self-appointed position of neighborhood watch captain (click here for more details).
The case has become a symbolic battle ground for two important issues: gun laws and racism. Although both of these issues are inextricably entwined, for purposes of simplicity, I will focus here only on the issue of race.
As Jessie Daniels importantly points out on Racism Review, battles over racism have shifted into the realm of social media, where digital and physical race relations persist in an augmented relationship. We see this in both the progressive anti-racist discourses, and the racial smear campaigns surrounding the Martin/Zimmerman case.
Although it is important to expose the overtly racist tactics utilized by some of Zimmerman’s defenders—of which there are plenty—I want to talk here about a more subtle, and so perhaps more problematic form of racial discourse. Specifically, I will talk about how a prominent strategy of protest—coming out of the liberal left—may inadvertently perpetuate, rather than challenge, racial hierarchies in their most dehumanizing form. (more…)
Viral media saw an interesting development last week with Invisible Children’s release of its “Kony 2012″ film, which at the time of this writing has garnered well over 75 million views as well as storms of heated criticism. One could practically write entire books on the issues that Invisible Children raises – both intentionally and unintentionally – in this campaign, but for the purposes of this post I want to keep the focus fairly narrow and trained on the actual components of the video that make it successfully viral – and what that potentially indicates about how information regarding especially complex issues is diffused, as well as what difference that form of diffusion makes.
Bruno Latour. French Theorist and Main Architect of Actor Network Theory Photo Credit: Denis Rouvre on TheHindu.com
There are many theories that seek to clarify the relationship between our offline existence and whatever it is we are doing online. I say “whatever” not to be flippant, but because there is a great deal of debate about the ontological, conceptual,and hermeneutic ramifications of online activity. How much of ourselves is represented in our Skyrim characters? Is retweeting an #ows rally location a political act? How is access to the Internet related to free speech? These are questions that some of the greatest minds of our day are contemplating. I know some equally smart people that would throw up their hands in frustration at even considering these topics as worthy of research and critical analysis. Regardless of whether or not you think it is worth pondering these questions, people all over the world are engaging in something when they post a Facebook status or check in to a coffee shop on Foursquare. In his Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality, Nathan described how our relationship to these sorts of digital Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) fits in with our historial relationship to technology: “technology has always augmented reality, be it in pre-electronic times (e.g., architecture or language as technologies) or how those offline are still impacted by the online (e.g., third-world victims of our e-waste or the fact that your Facebook presence influences your behavior even when logged off).” I have argued elsewhere that, even if ICTs mark a fundamental shift in our relationship to technology, it is only another wave in a constantly evolving relationship to our own understanding of technological progress. I am going through this (hyperlinked) summary of many of this blog’s larger arguments because 1) we have been growing in readership, and 2) we are embarking on a new, ongoing, project to situate Augmented Reality (AR) amongst other theories of society’s relationship to technology. Today I want to introduce Actor Network Theory (ANT). (more…)
Over the summer of 2011, several interns at BBH Labs (a marketing research firm in New York) came up with The Social Tattoo Project as a way to direct empathy towards natural disasters and social crises that continue to plague populations around the world. They used Twitter to track “trending topics” and then asked the Twitterverse to vote on which issues they wanted to see memorialized in a tattoo, essentially “crowdsourcing” the content of each piece. Volunteers were then selected to receive these tattoo designs without ever having seen them ahead of time. The final five topics included “a cresting wave for Japan, handcuffed hands for human trafficking, a broken heart for Haiti, a pie chart for poverty and a flower flag for Norway” (Corr 2011). The video above is a short clip highlighting the “broken heart for Haiti” design and the woman who had it tattooed onto her body.
However, this project is not the first of it’s kind. For example, Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal took it upon himself (quite literally) to commemorate the deaths of Iraqi’s and American’s since the invasion started in 2003. On March 9th, 2010, he had over 100,000 recorded fatalities of the “War on Terror” tattooed on his back during a live, streaming performance at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts gallery in New York City titled “…And Counting”: 5,000 dots were tattooed in red ink to represent fallen American soldiers and 100,000 dots were tattooed in invisible ink to represent (largely overlooked) fallen Iraqis. His art project was featured on NPR and DemocracyNow, and became the focal point for discussions about the costs of the “War on Terror.” (more…)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about theOWS movement. Jeffrey Goldfarb, from the blog Deliberately Considered, provided insightful comments on this post which led to a productive e-mail exchange, and a plan to continue the conversation. Last week, I posted on Deliberately Considered, and Goldfarb responded. Below is my DC post and Goldfarb’s response.
Posted on Deliberately Considered by Jenny Davis, October 6th, 2011
Two recent posts on Deliberately Considered, one by Scott Beck and the other by Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, examine the role of social media in social movements. They demonstrate the way in which social media allow us to harness the power of the people, contest the interpretations of mainstream media, organize, and mobilize. They show how, through communications on digital networks, physical bodies have come together in physical spaces, protesting both ideological and material conditions.
The points made by Beck and Goldfarb are important ones, yet I believe they should be extended. In particular, we need to address not only the ways in which these new media technologies work to bring together and document the physical bodies who occupy physical spaces. We also must examin the role of those whose activism never goes beyond the digital realm. We must look at how this latter group, colloquially referred to as slacktivists, matter.
Slacktivism matters in two interrelated ways: 1) increasing visibility and 2) generating a particular zeitgeist surrounding social movements. (more…)
Twitter users, likely from outside of China itself, are callingfor peopleto “stroll”in Chinese public areas. The strolling protestors are not to carry signs or yell slogans, but instead to blend in with regular foot traffic. Chinese officials will not be able to identify protestors who themselves can safely blend in anonymity. [Edit for clarity: the idea is that foot traffic will increase in the announced area, but officials won't know which are the protesters.]
This tactic is reminiscent of those French Situationist strategies of May ’68 to create chaos and disorder (note that strolling is akin to, but not exactly the same as, DeBord’s practice of “the derive“). The calls to “stroll” have had impact in China with the government shutting down public spaces and popular hangouts. Even a busy McDonald’s was closed. These gatherings announced over Twitter have been highly attended by many officials, police and media, but, importantly, not by many protestors themselves.
Christina Campbell wrote an interesting piece for change.org promoting a slacktivism campaign that encourages Facebook to broaden the way it defines relationships and to give users the option of a write-in box to describe their own relationships. She provides several examples of how the rationalization of our lives for marketing purposes via the online profile ultimately serves to privilege some lifestyles while marginalizing others.
We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts. This blog chronicles our new, augmented reality.