Networked Social Movements: Student Paper Roundup, Fall 2018

The semester has come to a close, and I’m excited to share the excellent papers produced by students in the Fall 2018 iteration of CMS.361/861 – Networked Social Movements: Media and Mobilization. You can find the paper titles, abstracts, presentations, and most of the full papers at the following links:


Open-Ended Reflection 2: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Coming into the class, I expected to learn about social movements and tuck the information away for future reference (like with most of my humanities classes). I didn’t expect to fall into research that would end up being so important and applicable to my life.

The class that stuck with me most is the class we had on data colonialism with Nick Couldry. I found the framework of colonialism to be very useful in thinking about how companies collect and use our data. Social platforms offer connectivity and convenience but don’t offer a clear explanation as to what exactly we (their users) are giving up for those benefits. I think an important distinction that Couldry made was that there is a clear difference between the violence and force used by historical colonialists and the passive tactics used by modern data colonialists. Force is not a fundamental part of the new digital order.

Couldry’s talk resonated with me in a way that I did not expect (so much so that I was moved to change my final research topic from the Umbrella Revolution to the TechWontBuildIt movement). I am a frequent user of multiple social media sites and have a relatively deep online footprint. Every day I willingly give away (and constantly leak) data about who I am and what I do. Companies are collecting that data and forming a profile to sell to advertisers and use for god knows what. Now more than ever there needs to be transparency about how and what data is collected. And this transparency will only come from a data revolution where people are willing to push back against a culture of convenience.

Another guest lecturer I found to be compelling was Joana Varon, who spoke about her work with Coding Rights. She is a prime example of someone who is working hard to push back against the culture of convenience that technology creates. She is giving the power and control back to the users, bit by bit, by teaching others about technology and usable security. For example, Coding Rights investigated Facebook’s advertising model and discovered that gender identities are reduced to the binary regardless of what is listed on public profiles. Coding Rights also did an investigation into menstruation apps and revealed what kind of additional information is being ingested into the trackers. I liked how Coding Rights blended artistic creativity with privacy and security learning/training, which can sometimes be viewed as boring or inaccessible.

The information I have gained from this class has taught me the frameworks necessary to think critically about technology and will be useful in the future as I take more steps into the field of cybersecurity/cyber policy!

Open-Ended Reflection 1: Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin Rally 30.jpg

image credit

A few weeks ago, my class on Asian American representation in science fiction had a seminar dedicated to the film Who Killed Vincent Chin. 

On June 19, 1982 in Detroit, Michigan, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American engineer, was beaten to death by two white auto factory workers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who blamed the success of the Japanese auto industry for the failure of the American auto industry. Ebens and Nitz were convicted in county court for manslaughter but ultimately served no jail time. Instead, they were fined $3,000 and given three years probation. At the time, a number of prominent law organizations and government officials failed to recognize Vincent Chin’s beating as a civil rights issue.

The lack of justice catalyzed the Asian American community to become politically involved in ways that had never been seen before (or since). “Justice for Vincent Chin” protests emerged in Chinatowns across the country and Detroit’s Asian American community formed American Citizens for Justice to advance Chin’s cause. Ultimately, the pressure persuaded the US Department of Justice to open an independent investigation, which resulted in charges being brought again Ebens (which were later cleared in 1987).

Vincent Chin’s death was the turning point for the politicization of the Asian American community. I’ve always viewed the paradigm for race relations in the US as black and white, and I’ve watched the Asian American community struggle to find a voice in the conversation. Vincent’s beating was so clearly a hate crime, yet his murderers walked free. It’s a stark reminder that we can’t remain passive bystanders in the conversation on race.

After learning so much about how activists invigorate community members to participate in political activity, I wonder how those tactics translate to the Asian American community. Even now, Asian Americans tend to be one of the least politically active groups in the country. I think a lot of that has to do with the conservative disposition many Asian Americans are raised with, and the fact that the Asian American community is typically further fractured into factions based on country of origin. I can’t speak for other Asian cultures, but Chinese culture very much suppresses speaking out. If I was faced with a problem, I was taught to put my head down and figure it out. Another challenge is the language barrier. When reaching out to the Asian American community, you can’t just speak one language like you can with the Latinx community, you have to speak Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, etc. Additionally, many of the Asian American immigrants in the community grew up in countries with corrupt governments that have historically motivated citizens not to vote.

For the younger generation that has been raised within American culture and with English as a primary language, politicization has been much more frequent. However, a particular challenge for activists in the Asian American community will be to reach through the language barrier to the older generation and help them to understand why their vote is important.

I suppose that moving forward, one question I’d like to see answered is: How can social movement organizing tactics be adapted for the Asian American community?

Final Project Post: #TechWontBuildIt


Abstract: #TechWontBuildIt is a burgeoning social movement comprised of skilled workers in the tech industry who are pushing back against ethically questionable decisions made by their employers. As technological innovation has advanced, companies are building increasingly complex and powerful software with unprecedented capabilities, and the pool of interested parties seeking access to such software has greatly increased. Most recently, we have seen lucrative contracts being offered by various branches of the United States government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, to tech companies for the creation of customized technology. The computational power and increased storage capacity of these new systems would give United States law enforcement agencies invasive access to centralized data on groups and individuals, and the ability to perform unparalleled analysis on that data. All too often, we have seen the willingness of leadership at tech companies to sacrifice ethical responsibility for the promise of a lucrative contract.

Invigorated by the threat that these invasive technologies pose towards minority groups, tech workers have spoken up and are organizing to keep company leadership in check. Given their unique positioning as valuable keystone components of the software engineering ecosystem, tech workers are using their bargaining power to assert their unwillingness to build systems that will harm and exploit vulnerable populations. Though this mobilization has been successful at a few tech companies, most company leadership has only further confirmed their desire to continue collaboration with United States law enforcement agencies and their willingness to arm the government with powerful tools from the private tech sector. This paper will examine the role that technology plays in US government law enforcement and the growing movement expressing ethical qualms about the level of involvement. The paper will focus on two subsets of the #TechWontBuildIt movement, #NoTechForICE which is centered on stopping companies from building systems for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and actions against militarization of technology which is focused on stopping companies from building weaponized technology for the Department of Defense. I will provide an overview of key movement activity before diving deeper into an investigation of the movement’s organizing tactics.

link to slides:

link to paper:

Book Report: Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets!


link to slides

On the surface level, the #TechWontBuildIt movement looks to be a movement focused on organizing engineers to stand up against unethical decisions made by company leadership. And the public is paying attention because the companies involved are big, household names in the tech industry (read: Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.). However, at its core, the #TechWontBuildIt movement isn’t just made up of concerned software engineers; The movement sits at the intersection of a variety of older social movements, and the application of powerful software to control vulnerable populations is just the latest area of contention.

A prime example of this cross-movement collaboration is the Immigrant Rights movement. One of the sub-movements I investigate in my research is the #NoTechForICE movement that is specifically focused on pressuring tech companies to cancel their contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to the Trump administration’s invasive immigration policies. The Immigrant Rights Movement has long been calling attention to immigration issues, well before Trump took office. I chose Sasha’s book, Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets, because I wanted to read more about the Immigrant Rights movement and better understand the organizing tactics the activists used to build a successful movement.

“A key issue in this often blurred debate is the role of communication technologies in the formation, organization, and development of [social] movements.”  — Manuel Castells, Foreward

The book opens with an investigation of the media ecology of the Immigrant Rights movement in the first chapter. English language news channels failed to anticipate the power and scale of the movement and consequently provided spotty coverage. Instead, we saw Spanish language commercial broadcasters providing constant coverage of the movement and playing a crucial role in calling people to action. In addition to mass media, community-driven radio and media, streaming radio, social media also allowed activists to organize and gain public visibility.

In the second chapter, Costanza-Chock defines transmedia organizing as “the creation of a narrative of social transformation across multiple media platforms, involving the movement’s base in participatory media making, and linking attention directly to concrete opportunities for action.” She looks at the 2006 school walkouts as a case study and points to the student-driven organizing effort as an example of how transmedia organizing can engage participants in creating a shared narrative. Students made flyers, communicated and debated over MySpace, chatted over AIM and other chat clients, and taught one another how to transfer videos and photos from mobile devices to computers and upload them to the web.

Next, Costanza-Chock moves to talk about the power of framing and the importance of participatory media in amplifying the voices of protestors on the ground. During a peaceful rally in MacArthur Park (LA), riot police stormed the park and attacked the crowd, which included reporters from mass media outlets. The LAPD reframed the attack as a melee caused by a communication breakdown in the chain of command, and TV news showed the protestors in a negative and/or dehumanizing light by relying on a simplified conflict narrative of violent clashes between police and protestors. In response, activists produced their own media from footage shot by protestors on the ground, creating a true narrative of the events and allowing grassroots voices to be heard in their own words.

In chapter four, the book discusses media practices that were used during the APPO-LA protests in Oaxaca, Mexico to strengthen connections with communities abroad (particularly communities in LA). Activists were spreading media texts across platforms, and most importantly, into offline spaces (video sharing with VCRs and tapes). They took advantage of the fact that a movement can best use digital media when the base group is already familiar with the tools and practices of network culture. This type of media sharing was particularly important for a community that has one of the lowest levels of Internet access among all demographic groups in the US.

Low-wage immigrant workers have less access to media-making tools and skills than most people, so developing digital media literacy is an important goal for many community-based organizations (CBOs). In chapter five, Costanza-Chock calls out a number of CBOs that make a specific effort to increase digital media literacy. The Institute of Popular Education of Southern California and Garment Worker Center have both created popular education workshops around digital media. VozMob takes advantage of the widespread access to mobile phones and publishes a newspaper that can be posted to from mobile phones. These CBOs face challenges such as lack of funding, low training capacity, lack of familiarity with new tools, language barriers, lack of trust, and lack of time and energy to participate.

The sixth chapter investigates the various pathways into participation in social movements for young people, particularly undocumented youth (DREAMers). Some are introduced through participation in other politicized activity (fighting for access to education, fair trade, workers’ rights; mass mobilizations). Others are mentored by seasoned activists or pulled into media production, circulation, and reception. Costanza-Chock points out that participation in media making is a key entry point to further politicization and deeper involvement. Through media making, DREAMers have been able to tell their own stories and develop a strong public narrative.

Transmedia organizing can be incredibly impactful when executed properly. However, with the mainstreaming of transmedia organizing, we have seen well-funded groups create media with little accountability to the movement base. Chapter seven points to such projects, including Define American, a participatory video campaign started by Jose Antonio Vargas, the Dream is Now, a short film created by David Guggenheim and screened at the White House, and, a media campaign launched by a group of Silicon Valley executives that uses cutting-edge online organizing tools. Misguided transmedia organizing can often choose poor framing or issue calls to action that miss the mark. In the best case, it means strategic failure. In the worse case, it means negatively impacting the movement’s goals.



Hi all! My name is Lauren and I’m a junior at Wellesley College double majoring in Computer Science and American Studies.

I was originally interested in taking this seminar because I thought it was a unique way that various aspects of my two majors could intersect. I also have recently been drawn into activity and conversation surrounding a number of social movements, like March for Science and the Women’s March, particularly due to Wellesley being a relatively politically active campus.

Coming into the class I was planning to focus my research on the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. My family has lived in Hong Kong for the past 10+ years, yet I have never spent the time to learn about Hong Kong’s political ecosystem. Especially with China’s growing influence in Hong Kong and tightening grip on censorship, I wanted to learn more about the events of the revolution and how various players in the media landscape covered the event (Western, Mainland Chinese, International, local, social media).

However, after hearing from one of our guest lecturers (and Sasha) about the Tech Won’t Build It movement, I decided to pivot to this new movement. I felt much more drawn to the events of the movement, specifically because I am an active participant in the industry in question and the outcomes of the movement will have a direct impact on how I make decisions about my future career. The software that engineers (including myself) build is bleeding into every aspect of human life and is being used in ways that have begun to deviate from its original intention in unfathomable ways. Engineers are speaking out about the ways in which “high ups” are choosing to apply the technologies that lower level software engineers are building.  I’m intrigued by how the movement will continue to unfold, and how it will impact the future of technologic innovation.

Final Project: Mapping Online Networks in Wisconsin’s Anti- Corruption Campaign


The corrupting influence of money in politics is an issue that has plagued the state of Wisconsin since the late 19th century, but corporation-friendly legislation over the last decade has again brought the issue to the forefront of state politics. Wisconsin United to Amend (WIUTA) is a social movement organization (SMO) based in Madison, WI that is working to curb the influence of money in politics by demanding a 28th amendment to the Constitution. Like many small SMOs, WIUTA has struggled to leverage digital tools to mobilize its volunteers in the real world. This paper explores the role networks play in WIUTA’s organizing efforts by mapping the online networks that connect WIUTA and allied organizations to each other, to related movements, and to anti-corruption policy goals throughout the state of Wisconsin. I find that organizing at the municipal and county level is an influential strategy that can be more effectively facilitated through crowdsourcing local information, cross-movement strategy, and participatory calls to action via social media and related ICTs.

Slides available here.



Book Report: How Change Happens by Leslie Crutchfield

How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t

Slides available here.

Leslie Crutchfield, the author of How Change Happens, is the Executive Director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She has over 25 years of experience in organizational and nonprofit management. In the book’s introduction, Crutchfield incorrectly asserts that there has been limited progress in social movement literature in recent decades when there has in fact been a large amount of scholarly work in this space. Nonetheless, her book offers an intriguing “outsider’s view” into the world of organizing from the nonprofit perspective.

How Change Happens is organized into six chapters, each with a key takeaway for organizers. These are:

  1. Turn Grassroots Gold
  2. Sharpen your 10/10/10/20=50 Vision
  3. Change Hearts and Policy
  4. Reckon with Adversarial Allies
  5. Break from Business as Usual
  6. Be Leaderful

The organizations and campaigns Crutchfield focuses on in her case studies include Freedom to Marry, Truth Initiative, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Campaign for Tabacco-Free Kids, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

In the first chapter, Crutchfield outlines the importance of promoting and supporting grassroots activity by describing the NRA’s innovative strategy. Initially organized as an Election Volunteer Coordinate Program in 1994, the NRA’s grassroots strategy was so successful they stopped focusing on elections and launched a year-round grassroots program in 1998. Crutchfield explains that the NRA is successful “because they don’t just give the grassroots attention when there’s a bill up for consideration or a tight race for elected office; they maintain a visible and constant presence throughout the broader gun-enthusiast community.“ In other words, they turn grassroots gold.

The second chapter tells the story of the Freedom to Marry campaign, which was essentially able to “divide and conquer” in the national debate by allowing groups with different goals to pursue those goals in different states. This strategy illustrates a 10+10+10+20=50 approach to organizing by which movements are able to “ plow through all fifty states with their change campaigns, rather than focusing only on sweeping federal reforms.”

The third chapter, Change Hearts and Policy, focusing on MADD and the Truth Initiative to describe the way centering personal stories and lived experience can shift mainstream attitudes and behavior. Although Crutchfield doesn’t use the terminology of framing, she describes how MADD’s founder Candy Lightner was able to shift the then-dominant framing of drunk drivers as “innocent perpetrators of unintended murder or injury” to a frame in which drunk drivers are criminals.

The fourth chapter discussed the volatile relationships between the organizations behind the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. These disagreements came to a head during a crucial period of litigation in 1994, when leaders couldn’t agree on an appropriate settlement with big tobacco. Crutchfield summarizes the chapter by saying that “Social change is contentious and emotional; successful movements arise when leaders are able to put aside their differences and mobilize around common goals.”

The fifth chapter, Break from Business as Usual, suggests that business can be a powerful ally for social movement organizers. She tells this story by describing EDF’s development of the market-based cap and trade program to limit SO2 emissions.

The final chapter, Be Leaderful, suggests that successful movement must have both strong central leaders as well as local leaders. She returns to the story of MADD in this chapter, describing how the organization’s early success was largely dependent on the growth of a large network of locally organized and controlled chapters. This enabled supporters to pinpoint key local targets for action, such as local motor vehicle codes.

Crutchfield’s assessment of “how change happens” includes many parallels to traditional social movement scholarship, particularly in its focus on framing processes in chapter three and grassroots practices in chapter one. That said, expertise in organizational management also offers a fresh perspective on organizing. I particularly appreciate the strategic approach she suggests in the form of the 10+10+10+20=50 organizing strategy. I’d like to see this type of analysis applied to other movements, particularly those pertaining to government corruption and climate change.

Extra credit post: Standing Rock

I read the article

I wasn’t sure I entirely appreciated the framing of the article; opening with a lengthy summary of the suicide epidemic at Cheyenne River seemed somewhat sensational–meant to grab the reader’s attention. It felt like the writer was not treating the subject matter with enough delicacy, with quotes like “In Eagle Butte, reasons [to commit suicide] weren’t hard to find. Their elders liked to talk about them as the future, but no one seemed to pay much attention to how their lives were hard, bordering on hopeless. Cheyenne River kids had families struggling with poverty and parents and relatives with serious drug-abuse problems.”

The article then moves into a discussion about the Standing Rock Movement, which was engaging and powerful. I did appreciate that the writer featured the youth behind Standing Rock Movement, and fleshed out their stories and motivations: “The struggle against the pipeline was part of the same struggle against alcoholism, suicide and abuse.”

Later on in the article, the author delves into Native American history and inherited trauma; in my opinion, this was the most powerful part of the article. Before reading this article, most of what I knew about the movement was 1) that Facebook trend where everyone was checking in to Standing Rock to prevent the police from tracking down protesters, and 2) when Shailene Woodley got arrested for protesting there. I thought for the most part, this article was a much more nuanced, detailed portrayal of the movement that filled in the broad strokes of what I knew.

At first glance, the connections between Standing Rock and my movement, the maker movement, are not obvious. But like Standing Rock, the maker movement is often characterized in the media by flashy things–celebrities, viral videos. But the maker movement can become the most powerful and meaningful when young people get involved. One of the sources I read surveyed 51 makerspaces around the country; many of those makerspaces were non-profits, or were directed towards low-income students. Standing Rock Movement taught youth they could build something of their own. The maker movement can too.

Moving Forward

I’m jumping on the bandwagon here, but I like the idea of a “moving forward” post as a way to synthesize everything from the course. The struggle with a lot of classes for me is that I come out of them feeling like I know a lot about that particular subject but not how to place that knowledge in the wider context. I don’t think I have that struggle with this class.

I reread my introduction post as preparation for this one. There, I said I took this class because I was interested in the relationship between social movements and governments, particularly in misinformation and voter turnout.

I was able to address voter turnout in my research paper, but the information I learned in class and through the readings about misinformation also had an effect on me, particularly about COINTELPRO. I’ve held internships in the public sector before, and as part of the training for those internships I was informed about whistleblower laws. This training was always coupled with a vague mention of times the government has messed up in the past. But reading the Wikipedia article on COINTELPRO, it really surprised me that they never mentioned any specific incidents, even as a description-less bullet point. During the class discussion, I remembered this training and looked up when the Whistleblower Protection Act was put into place. It was made effective in 1989, almost twenty years after the end of COINTELPRO. Hopefully there were other measures put into place so that people could call attention to unethical or illegal practices taken by government agencies, but if there wasn’t a formal process, that’s about thirteen years between the COINTELPRO investigation and the creation of the act during which civil servants had no or reduced protections.

I also appreciated the number of guest speakers we had in class. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what direction I want to take with my future and how to balance my desire to make a positive impact with my other interests. I’m especially glad we had a chance to speak with Joana Varon. I’d attended programs before such as “women in cybersecurity,” but those programs were usually part of a particular college’s pipeline and not designed to be political and as such didn’t address any of the political issues surrounding their topic. Learning about Coding Rights gave me a reminder that pursuing my interests doesn’t have to mean being complacent that was corroborated by the visit to the ICA. It’s possible to inspire political and social change in ways that aren’t immediately apparent as political.