#SMSociety14: Greek independent media and the antifascist movement

July 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’ll be presenting the first analysis from the next case study of the Mapping Movements project that Tim Highfield and I have been working on at the Social Media & Society conference in September: the abstract is included here and we welcome comments, particularly from those involved in the Greek antifascist and independent media movements.

I must particularly acknowledge the assistance provided to this project by Maria Sidiropoulou, who has provided invaluable research support.

Title: Greek independent media and the antifascist movement

Background:

As social and political movements around the world attempt to deal with complex challenges, social media plays a key role in movement-building, organising events and campaigns, and communicating movement messages. This research focuses on the role of social media in facilitating the restructuring and growth of the antifascist movement in Athens following the 2010 protests in Syntagma Square. As Makrygianni and Tsavdaroglou (2011) note, Greek urban space has played a significant role in shaping protest during and after the junta, with the Exarcheia neighbourhood being a central base for activist organising. After Syntagma, activists moved from Exarcheia into neighbourhoods throughout Athens, establishing communities which form the basis of antifascist organising and which remain connected through both commercial and independent social media platforms.

Objective: This paper aims to demonstrate the complexity of links between social media and offline communities, including the ways in which each are mutually constitutive, and to provide a deep and nuanced analysis of how a particular community uses social media. Using the Greek case study, it addresses broader questions about the limitations and affordances of different social media platforms in building social movements (see also Gerbaudo, 2012; Juris, 2012).

Methods: This work uses a grounded mixed-methods approach to investigate the ways in which the particular histories and geographies of Athens affect activists’ use of social media, and the ways in which activists are reshaping networking technologies in order to build systems which are more supportive of activist interests (as opposed to the interests of corporations or governments). The research combines quantitative analysis of Twitter accounts associated with the Athens antifascist movement; analysis of issue-oriented hyperlink networks of independent media platforms such as the Indymedia forums and neighbourhood anti-fascist blogs (see also Bennett & Segerberg, 2013; Marres & Rogers, 2005); and 34 in-depth semi-structured interviews with activists, carried out in April and May 2013. The combination of quantitative and qualitative methods allows us to avoid some of the biases present in social movement research which focuses purely on online data (see Tufekci, 2014).

Results: This research highlights the interrelationship between social media and the physical configuration of protest, demonstrating how supposedly ‘placeless’ media is built on, and supports, physical communities of resistance. For example, activists’ decisions to use particular social media platforms are strongly influenced by the offline communities which they are a part of, while these platforms also serve a vital role in sustaining and mobilising those communities. This research also shows some of the tensions involved in activists’ choices to eschew the use of commercial social media platforms, including the risk of growing insularity within movements. More generally, this work provides important lessons about the ways in which activists are responding to the crises caused by neoliberalism and building new possibilities for community solidarity.

Conclusions: The combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis allows us to build a nuanced picture of social media use in a particular activist community, demonstrating the value of this research method. It also highlights important trends frequently overlooked in related research, such as strategic non-use or covert use of social media.

References:

Bennett, W. L., & Segerberg, A. (2013). The Logic of Connective Action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Gerbaudo, P. (2012). Tweets and the streets: Social media and contemporary activism. London: Pluto Press.

Juris, J. S. (2012). Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation. American Ethnologist, 39(2), 259–279. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1425.2012.01362.x

Makrygianni, V., & Tsavdaroglou, H. (2011). Urban planning and revolt: a spatial analysis of the December 2008 uprising in Athens. In A. Vradis & D. Dalakoglou (Eds.), Revolt and crisis in Greece: between a present yet to pass and a future still to come (pp. 29 – 57). Oakland, Baltimore, Edinburgh, London & Athens: AK Press and Occupied London.

Marres, N., & Rogers, R. (2005). Recipe for tracing the fate of issues and their publics on the web. In B. Latour & P. Weibel (Eds.), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (pp. 922–935). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Tufekci, Z. (2014). Big Questions for Social Media Big Data: Representativeness, Validity and Other Methodological Pitfalls. In ICWSM ’14: Proceedings of the 8th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. Ann Arbor, MI. http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1403/1403.7400.pdf

Preempting Dissent

July 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Cover of 'Preempting Dissent' book

The Preempting Dissent documentary builds on the book of the same name: you might also want to read ‘Infrastructure Critical’ for more on the Toronto G20.

Today I went to an advance screening and Q&A on Preempting Dissent, about the application of the ‘Miami model’ of policing to the G20 protests in Toronto.

The documentary started with an overview of changes to policing tactics in North America, looking at how Giuliani’s ‘broken window’ theory got applied to protest policing: no loss of control should be allowed, lest it get out of hand. In particular, following the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle police have begun to treat events which might attract protest as national security events. The US PATRIOT act exacerbated this tendency, with a further shutting-down of the space for protest.

The ‘Miami model’ includes cooperation between police and federal agencies; extensive surveillance in the lead-up to protests, including raids on meeting spaces, preemptive arrests and searches; the (mis)use of ‘less than lethal‘ weapons during protests; and the development of ‘free speech zones’ which separate protesters from events and contain them.

Preempting Dissent points out that a Canadian government investigation has acknowledged that protesters had no way to know in advance that the police were enacting previous wartime legislation to, in effect, bring in martial law during the G20. Even protesters who took care to educate themselves about the law surrounding protests ‘had no way of knowing they were walking into a trap’.

A line of riot police with helmets and shields

Image by Joshua Scott

The documentary ends by talking about the need to challenge the ‘security logic’ that underpins the Miami model of policing. In the Q&A session afterwards Greg Elmer talked about the need to move away from planned events which lead to protesters walking into a trap, suggesting that more mobile and fluid protest tactics are one way of responding to changes in policing. He also emphasised the need to respond to intimidation tactics which try to scare protesters off the streets.

One of the questions about the shift from surveillance to preemption brought up an important point: that ‘surveillance’ often isn’t about information-gathering. It’s simply another form of intimidation, a way of letting activists know that they’re being watched, and of undermining organisation. The discussion session brought up quite a few other interesting issues: the need to consider race (and particularly racism) when thinking about the dynamics of protest policing; the ethics of showing images of protesters in the current surveillance environment; and the ethics of making sensitive footage available under a creative commons license which might allow for problematic uses.

There was also some useful sharing of resources: I liked the suggestion that protesters carry a self-addressed envelope with them so that if necessary they can mail their SD cards back to themselves to prevent police wiping phones used to document violence, and someone from the What World Productions team mentioned their documentary on police violence against homeless, poor, and other marginalised groups in Toronto.

I highly recommend watching Preempting Dissent and reading the companion book for more detail, as well as Infrastructure Critical.


 

Trigger warnings: there’s some quite intense footage here, including of protesters being kettled, tazed, pepper-sprayed, and violently arrested.

How private funding influences GM research

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

The private sector has driven GM research – but in whose interests? International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

I have a new article up on The Conversation arguing that it’s important to think about the economic context in which GM crops are developed. While GM crops are often promoted as being the solution to world hunger, most of the research on GM crops is driven by private industry, or ‘public-private partnerships’ between industry and research institutions. This has important impacts on the kinds of research being done, and should invite scepticism about claims that GM crops will help support a more sustainable and equitable food system.

Of course, the article length is quite limited. For a longer discussion of these issues, order my forthcoming book: Global Justice and the Politics of Information: the Struggle Over Knowledge.

Anarchist perspectives on feminism: further reading

June 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

Several people requested more reading to accompany my talk on anarchist perspectives on feminism.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list: the goal is just to provide a few starting points for reading, most of which can be found online.

For explanations of anarchism and anarchafeminism:

  • Emma Goldman’s Anarchism: what it really stands for in her collection of essays provides a good overview. Goldman’s writing style is not for everyone, being quite passionate (which I think was a political choice for her), but I enjoy it.
  • The opening chapters of Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey’s African Anarchism give a concise and readable overview of anarchism and its relationship to socialism.
  • History and actuality of anarcha-feminism: lessons from Spain, by Marta Iniguez de Heredia, provides a readable overview of anarchafeminism.
  • bell hooks’ work is not explicitly anarchist or about anarchism as a theory, but her work is an excellent perspective on anarchafeminist ideas. I’d recommend Feminism is for everybody and Feminist theory: from margins to centre as useful starting-points. The first of these, and much of her other work, can be found online.

Lateral perspectives:

As I explained in the workshop, much of my learning and thinking about anarchism hasn’t come through political theory, but rather through fiction. Marge Piercy’s Woman at the Edge of Time was quite influential for me (which makes me all the more disappointed to read that she signed on to a 2013 transphobic open letter), and I read a lot of Kim Stanley Robinson’s work as explorations of how we might end up with an anarchist society, especially the Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy (although he can be quite technocratic at times). Reading the lives of anarchist women is interesting. Emma Goldman’s Living my Life is a fascinating read, and hopefully provides an antidote to putting Goldman on a pedestal.

Other places to look:

  • Project Gutenberg has quite a few works on anarchism which might be interesting, particularly for those who want to get a more historical perspective.
  • The Anarchist Library has a section on feminism, as well as a broad selection of other writings.
  • Libcom has a lot of posts and articles on feminism, including quite a few from non-Western perspectives. Be warned that your mileage may vary here, as some of the discussion posts are anti-feminist.

These are, of course, just a starting-point, and limited by my own experiences. I’m trying to do more to explore perspectives that are more marginalised and hopefully will have continue to develop this list over time.

Why I’m ending my short experiment with Gittip, or: why we can’t have nice things, part 2,039

June 20, 2014 § 11 Comments

I love doing teaching and research, but I also want to be doing more to engage and build communities outside of academia. Recently, I decided to start experimenting with Gittip as a way to support that. Gittip “is a way to give small weekly cash gifts to people you love and are inspired by. Gifts are weekly. The intention is for people to depend on money received through Gittip in order to pay their bills, and bills are recurring.” I like the idea, and I liked that the ‘top receivers’ shown on the front page included several activists working on diversity issues, which suggested that it wasn’t just a tool for programmers to use, and that it’s possible to make a decent (if far from extravagant) income doing public outreach and community-building work.

Then, someone on Hacker News criticised the site for supporting people who ‘yell on Twitter and demonize men’, saying the site had become ‘a joke dominated by professional victims’. Sadly, this is not unexpected. The level of daily vitriol directed at women who actively address sexism in tech culture (and in other spaces) is astounding. What was unfortunately is that Chad Whitacre, founder of Gittip, responded this comment by thanking the poster for his feedback.

When people called Whitacre out on this, he responded by saying that he was talking about the part of the comment that referred to the how ‘leaderboards’ were displayed: he was agreeing that perhaps the front page on Gittip shouldn’t focus so heavily on those who give and receive the most funds. I was hopeful that he’d follow this up with a simple and unequivocal statement along the lines of, “Of course we want diversity activists using Gittip! This is an excellent use for the tool and it’s important that we support them.”

Instead, Whitacre’s responses have both tacitly and explicitly supported the ongoing harassment that many of Gittip’s (previous) top users, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, and Nóirín Plunkett face. Tacitly, by thanking misogynists for their feedback and not speaking up against misogyny, Whitacre supports a culture of harassment that pushes women out of geek communities:

gittippattingHNontheback

Explicitly, Whitacre has contributed to the ongoing harassment that women working on diversity issues in geek communities face by writing a blog post explicitly attacking Shanley, particularly for the tone of her criticisms of him. I am not going to link to the blog post. And just in case anyone wants to say that Whitacre would have responded better if only someone had explained it to him more politely, it’s clear that other people have been approaching these discussions in a gentler way, and haven’t managed to shift Whitacre’s approach. [Edit: also see Julie Pagano's email to Whitacre.]

In response to this, many of Gittip’s users have been leaving or are going to leave, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, Steve Klabnik, and probably many others that I’ve missed [Edit: including Skud]. For many, this comes at a huge cost: people like Ashe Dryden have spent a long time building up their support base on Gittip, and get a significant proportion of their income from the tool. This isn’t a decision taken lightly.

This is what builds homogenous communities. When privileged people fail to stand up for marginalised groups within their communities, those groups eventually understand that they’re not welcome and won’t be supported and leave. Initial shifts towards diversity are rapidly undone.

I’ve shut down my account, too. I don’t want to work to build support through a platform where key communities members are not only unwilling to support their top users, but are also willing to actively attack them.

[Edit: there's now a page up about this on the Geek Feminism Wiki: Gittip crisis. I'm hoping that in coming days there'll also be resources compiled around alternatives to Gittip, and about how people can support people who've stopped using Gittip.]

Advance, somewhat informal, praise for ‘Global Justice and the Politics of Information’

June 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

The cover for 'Global Justice and the Politics of Information'Hugh Goldring, who’s been kind enough to take on the task of indexing Global Justice and the Politics of Information, sent through his preliminary thoughts on the book, and they’re lovely enough that I can’t help but share:

This is a thoughtful and intelligent book that does a rare thing – it lays out obstacles to solidarity in an effort to encourage understanding of the importance of building solidarity. It could be a blueprint for people looking to build linkages aimed at strengthening both the digital liberties movement and the global justice movement writ large.

If you’d like to read more of Hugh’s thoughts on books (mostly of the graphic novel variety), check out Ad Astra Comix!

 

Upcoming talk in the Bay Area: Anarchist perspectives on feminism

June 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

A black and purple flag, bisected diagonally.Where: The Sudo Room, 2141 Broadway, upstairs (entrance on 22nd. St.), Oakland.

When: 3pm to 4:30pm, Sunday 22nd June.

Cost: entry by donation.

RSVP: in the comments here, on the Facebook event page, or by email (scroeser at gmail).

What: This talk is a brief introduction to anarchist strands of feminism. It aims to provide an overview of the history and concepts that underpin anarchafeminism, and to open up discussion about how anarchafeminist approaches might be useful today. Reclaiming our radical histories provides us with vital resources. Too often we don’t have access to stories about the people and movements who have faced issues similar to those we are addressing today. We have to reinvent tactics and ideas. For those frustrated with the limitations of mainstream, predominantly liberal or neo-liberal feminism, anarchafeminism offers helpful frameworks for thinking about class, race, gender relations, organising methods, and feminists’ relationship to the state. We’ll close the session with a discussion about how to apply these ideas to areas people are working on today.

About me:
I’m a teacher, researcher, and activist currently based in Toronto. My work focuses on how activists use and shape technology, and about how to build possibilities for radical social change. If you’d like to see me give more talks and workshops more often, please consider supporting me on gittip.

 

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