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:

 

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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

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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

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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: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1aDJTGFq70UFDqoaQl211fCkODo0i93pG4KF0TXRwNcM/edit?usp=sharing

link to paper: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1arRMzksUJCv2PmiWHoSHO6vRClV0fDX41OejHU7K3js/edit?usp=sharing

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

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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 FWD.us, 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.

 

Hello!

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

Abstract

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.