WHY SOCIAL MEDIA ALONE WON’T SAVE US
I found an article the other day, Insurgent Anarchism: the power of networked resistance, that (sadly) epitomises a major issue I’ve got.
I mean, a few ideas in it got my goat - that corporatism is ruining capitalism (as if it’d be fine without it), that representative democracy is efficient, that ideology isn’t a good thing, rape denial in the case of Julian Assange - but the specific one I’m talking about is how activists often talk about digital spaces.
The article takes one of the two common positions: that online organising beats offline organising (without qualifiers). Some big issues with that:
Problem 1: a lack of power analysis
There’s often no analysis of the corporate ownership of social media and its use in surveillance, or of state control of the internet for that matter. Our networks formed through such channels are entirely dependent on the whims of the channel owners.
Problem 2: assuming the internet is an egalitarian utopia
When talking about “viral” content, what’s often ignored is how who we listen to is grounded in the interlocking oppressions of our society, and how it’s often white dudes who dominate the “popular” online content space.
People often praise anonymity as a great equaliser, and how it removes people’s direct prejudices. What’s often unrecognised is how anonymity doesn’t necessarily have an effect on (a) how internal baggage can be carried over from living in an oppressive society (b) how those prejudices are often displayed overtly anyway and can be amplified by the perpetrators’ anonymity e.g. unchallenged sexism in many online communities. Just look at the deluge of hate against Anita Sarkeesian.
Problem 3: overemphasising social media in global struggles
Social media didn’t kick-start the Arab Spring. Protests in the Western Sahara in late 2010 saw little social coverage. There had been years of tireless organising in Egypt - of workers, non-workers and students - and a number of strikes that helped create the momentum before Tahrir Square was occupied (more on that).
Part of this stems from Western activists thinking that we can achieve the goal without doing the long and dirty leg-work. Sorry, but probably not.
Problem 4: fetishising organic networks over organisation
A lack of organisation and a lack of ideology isn’t necessarily a good thing. Spontaneous and loose networks forming around issues works sometimes, but so does old-school face-to-face organising. They’re both valid tactics, they both have their uses in different situations, and they both have flaws e.g. ”do what thou wilt” individualist anarchism can be uber-problematic.
Online work can often inflate individualist tendencies - after all, it’s often you sitting alone behind a computer, regardless of how many people you’re talking to. Loyalty and long-term connections are still valuable, even to digital-savvy anarchists (well, not if that article’s got anything to do with it).
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I love open source/FOSS movements (tackled more in the article before this one), I love the internet and see big potential for it as an educational/mobilising tool.
What I don’t love are knee-jerk “internet good, non-internet increasingly irrelevant” analyses.
I think I need to do a companion piece on the “fuck internet action” people too…
For other articles on the internet and its woes/joys, see the Tips for Radicals internet and technology tags.