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:
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.]
June 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
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!
June 14, 2014 § 1 Comment
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.
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.
May 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
My latest book chapter, ‘Changing Facebook’s architecture’ has come out in An education in facebook?, edited by Mike Kent and Tama Leaver. I just got my review copy in the mail and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to explore it. Mike and Tama have put together an excellent collection that’s well-grounded in empirical research from a teaching and learning perspective while also drawing on more critical perspectives, including work on surveillance, privacy, accessibility, and cultural issues.
My own chapter looks particularly at tensions with using a commercial platform which systematically collects users’ data and shares it with both business and state organisations, suggesting that at the very least educators should be considering privacy-enhancing and ad-blocking browser extensions as an essential part of any use of Facebook in education.
Changing Facebook’s architecture: abstract
This chapter looks at the use of browser extensions by students to shape their experience of Facebook, and suggests ways in which educators at the tertiary level might encourage the use of extensions as a strategy for ameliorating some of the concerns associated with Facebook use. The focus is primarily on privacy concerns (cf. Hew, 2011), particularly those related to institutional privacy (cf. Raynes-Goldie, 2010), and on the ethical issues associated with encouraging or requiring students to use a platform for education which displays targeted advertising, which have thus far received woefully little attention.
While there is some recognition that educational ‘consumers’ of services such as Facebook need not take them at face value, accepting the norms, etiquette, and affordances encouraged by the site’s architecture, most work on Facebook and education focuses on individual responses used by teachers or students. While this work is valuable, it predominantly fits within the scope of what de Certeau called ‘tactics': hidden, “clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things” (1984, p. xix). Tactical responses do not change Facebook’s architecture, rather they respond to it in a temporary way, contingent on Facebook’s tacit approval or inability to enforce its terms of service. For example, Munoz and Towner recommend that teachers create profile pages “for professional use only” (2009, p. 8), which directly contravenes Facebook’s ban on multiple accounts (Facebook Help Centre, 2012) if teaching staff already have a profile. In contrast to this, browser extensions arguably work at the level of strategy. While de Certeau sees strategies as primarily deployed by those in power, he defines them with reference to the structure of systems and totalizing discourses, the way in which (physical) spaces are organised and controlled (1984, p. 38). Browser extensions which combat Facebook’s ability to track users across external sites (Felix, 2012) as well as blocking advertising on the site make fundamental shifts to the users’ experience of Facebook and the structure of the site architecture, changing the way in which the space is organised and controlled.
Despite the potential benefits of browser extensions as a strategy for (re)gaining user control of the Web, only a small percentage of Internet users employ browser extensions. Adblock, the “most popular extension for Chrome” (Gundlach, 2012), is only installed by approximately ten per cent of Chrome users. Around nine per cent of users across browsers have some sort of ad-blocking extension, although this is higher for visitors to technology-related content (ClarityRay, 2012). There is therefore a need for increased education around the use of these strategies, as well as further discussion of the contradictions involved in using a commercial platform while simultaneously attempting to subvert it. This chapter concludes by suggesting a framework for the use of browser extensions for teachers who wish to use Facebook in their teaching.
Certeau, M. D. (1984). The practice of everyday life: Michel de Certeau ; translated by Steven Rendall. (S. F. Rendall, Trans.). University of California Press.
ClarityRay. (2012, May). Ad-blocking, measured. Retrieved from http://www.clarityray.com/
Facebook Help Centre. (2012). Disabled – Multiple Accounts. Facebook. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from https://www.facebook.com/help/149623348508517/
Felix, S. (2012, September 9). This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. Business Insider. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from http://www.businessinsider.com/this-is-how-facebook-is-tracking-your-internet-activity-2012-9
Gundlach, M. (2012). AdBlock. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/adblock/gighmmpiobklfepjocnamgkkbiglidom?hl=en
Hew, K. F. (2011). Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 662–676. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.11.020
Munoz, C., & Towner, T. (2009). Opening Facebook: How to Use Facebook in the College Classroom. Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2009, 2009(1), 2623–2627.
Raynes-Goldie, K. (2010). Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook. First Monday, 15(1). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2775/2432
March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
Social media have become crucial tools for political activists and protest movements, providing another channel for promoting messages and garnering support. Twitter, in particular, has been identified as a noteworthy medium for protests in countries including Iran and Egypt to receive global attention. The Occupy movement, originating with protests in, and the physical occupation of, Wall Street, and inspiring similar demonstrations in other U.S. cities and around the world, has been intrinsically linked with social media through location–specific hashtags: #ows for Occupy Wall Street, #occupysf for San Francisco, and so on. While the individual protests have a specific geographical focus–highlighted by the physical occupation of parks, buildings, and other urban areas — Twitter provides a means for these different movements to be linked and promoted through tweets containing multiple hashtags. It also serves as a channel for tactical communications during actions and as a space in which movement debates take place.
This paper examines Twitter’s use within the Occupy Oakland movement. We use a mixture of ethnographic research through interviews with activists and participant observation of the movements’ activities, and a dataset of public tweets containing the #oo hashtag from early 2012. This research methodology allows us to develop a more accurate and nuanced understanding of how movement activists use Twitter by cross–checking trends in the online data with observations and activists’ own reported use of Twitter. We also study the connections between a geographically focused movement such as Occupy Oakland and related, but physically distant, protests taking place concurrently in other cities. This study forms part of a wider research project, Mapping Movements, exploring the politics of place, investigating how social movements are composed and sustained, and the uses of online communication within these movements.
February 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
This Thursday I’ll be running a workshop around more inclusive strategies for activism at Dasein Coffee Art & Spirits (Σολωμού 12, Εξάρχεια/Solonou 12, Exarcheia). Feel free to come along! (The Facebook event page is here.)
Στο εργαστήρι αυτό θα ερευνήσουμε διαφορετικούς τρόπους με τους οποίους μπορούμε να διοργανώνουμε ακτιβιστικά δρώμενα, ανοιχτά, προσβάσιμα, χωρίς αποκλεισμούς.
Υπάρχει μία τάση στον ακτιβισμό να καταλήγουμε να μιλάμε αποκλειστικά με ανθρώπους με τους οποίους συμφωνούμε, και να χτίζουμε κοινότητες στις οποίες, άνθρωποι που δεν θεωρούν τους εαυτούς τους ακτιβιστές, αισθάνονται άβολα να συμμετέχουν. Αν θέλουμε όμως να φέρουμε πραγματική αλλαγή, χρειάζεται να μάθουμε να είμαστε πιο ανοιχτοί προς τους ανθρώπους που σκέφτονται διαφορετικά από εμάς, που έχουν διαφορετικές ιδέες.
Αυτό το εργαστήρι θα εξερευνήσει μερικές βασικές θεματικές, όπως:
- Tiered activism- Κλιμακωτός ακτιβισμός (επιτρέπει στα άτομα να πραγματοποιούν μικρά βήματα κάθε φορά προς την αλλαγή)
- Η σημασία εναλλακτικών ιστοριών: Προτείνουμε πολλές εκδοχές για το πώς ο κόσμος μας μπορεί να αλλάξει, όχι μόνο μία.
- Ενσυναισθητική επικοινωνία
- Οι ταυτότητες του ακτιβιστή: Κριτική
- Συζητώντας για κάθε μία από τις παραπάνω θεματικές, προτρέπουμε τους συμμετέχοντες να μοιραστούν δικές τους εμπειρίες σχετικά με το τι λειτούργησε καλά και τί όχι, και να ανακαλύψουν μεθόδους αποτελεσματικότερου ακτιβισμού.
Η συντονίστρια του εργαστηρίου, Sky Croeser, είναι ερευνήτρια και ακτιβίστρια από την Αυστραλία, που πρόσφατα μετακόμισε στο Τορόντο. Η έρευνά της επικεντρώνεται στο πώς ακτιβιστές σε όλο τον κόσμο προσπαθούν να επιδράσουν εναλλακτικά στο παρόν σύστημα, και ενδιαφέρεται να μοιραστεί τακτικές και στρατηγικές ώστε να βοηθήσει διαφορετικές κοινότητες και κολλεκτίβες να μάθουν η μία από την άλλη. Πρόσφατα, συνεπιμελήθηκε το βιβλίο “Lessons for Social Change in the Global Economy: Voices from the Field”. Μπορείτε να μάθετε περισσότερα για την έρευνά της στην ιστοσελίδα skycroeser.net
This workshop explores different ways to build activist events that are open and inclusive. There is a tendency in activism to end up talking only to people we agree with, and to build communities where people who don’t think of themselves as activists are uncomfortable taking part. However, if we want to create meaningful change we need to think about how to be open to people who are different from us, and have different ideas. This workshop will explore a few basic principles, including:
- Tiered activism (allowing people to take small steps),
- The importance of other stories,
- Empathic communication, and
- Challenging activist identities.
As we talk about each principle, we will encourage people to share their own experiences about what has worked well and what has not, and imagine ways to build more effective activism
Bio: Sky is a researcher and activist from Australia who is currently based in Toronto. Her research focuses on how activists around the world are trying to build alternatives to the current system, and she is interested in sharing tactics and strategies to help different communities learn from each other. She recently co-edited Lessons for Social Change in the Global Economy: Voices from the Field.
January 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
My talk on building activism around the TPP at LinuxConf 2013 is now online – thanks to the AV team for all of their hard work, and for catching me to re-record the talk when they discovered the first recording had gone awry. You can listen to the full talk here [mp4 on the linux site] [or watch on YouTube], and a truncated version of the first version of the talk I gave, mostly notable for catching some good discussion in the questions (which begin a few minutes in – look for the slide that just has my name and contacts on it), here [mp4].
Abstract: This presentation suggests a variety of strategies and tactics that the Linux community might adopt when acting on political issues, with the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) being of particular concern at the moment. The TPPA is a multinational free trade agreement (FTA), and will probably build on and extend the damaging provisions imposed by the 2004 Australia-US FTA. The extent of damage likely to be done by the TPPA is not yet known, as only draft copies have been leaked and the negotiations remain secret.
Currently, free and open source communities often find ways deal with problematic laws, such as the copyright extensions and restrictions on circumventing technological restrictions brought in by the 2004 Australia-US FTA, with clever hacks of the legal system (such as copyleft and creative commons licenses); workarounds which meet the letter of the law (such as providing Linux installations without potentially-illegal codecs); or ignoring laws which seem unlikely to be enforced. However, all of these strategies have problems. Hacks can only go so far; relying on a lack of enforcement is risky; and workarounds make free and open source software less accessible for novice users and others who would prefer software that works out of the box. Part of the work of promoting free and open source software must therefore involve activism that is directly aimed at the TPPA and other FTAs.
Important activism did take place around the 2004 Australia-US FTA, including work within Linux Australia led by Rusty Russell, Kimberlee Weatherall and others. Much of this took a similar form to activism currently happening around the TPPA: the focus has been on lobbying, letter-writing, and media relations. Coalition-building and other activism around the TPPA, as with the 2004 FTA, has predominantly taken place within tech communities. However, while this work has been valuable, it may be useful to explore ways to build alliances with other communities and to draw on a broader range of activist tactics. This discussion will draw on some of the lessons learned from relatively successful attempts to oppose FTAs in the past, including protests in the late 1990s around the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and World Trade Organization negotiations, as well more recent FTAs such as those between the US and Malaysia and the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed by the US. Drawing on this work, I will suggest tactics for effective action, including use of a spectrum of allies model, organizational models which facilitate tiered levels of participation, and creative use of the Overton window. I will also outline some of the key groups opposing the TPPA outside of the tech community in both Australia and the US.
Many thanks go to Rusty Russell, Brendan Molloy, and Nathalie Latter for their help preparing the talk.