Race and the Digital: Racial Formation and 21st Century Technologies

"Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States" By Arturo Sotelo


Media Summary:

Hashtag Activism Isn't a Cop-Out: By Noah Burlastky. This article covered the importance of activism through social media. Although primarily concerned with twitter and the use of hashtag activism, this article highlights the social changes that have occurred and made it so social media can be an active component of social and political activism. This article looks at the particular case the Ferguson killing of teenager Michael Brown, and how this event led to numerous movements and social demonstrations for change.

Twitter was one of the primary forms of media that was used in passing on information of this event. The real problem with using twitter and other social media for activism is debate of how much actual change that it promotes. One of the biggest argument behind this so called Hashtag activism is that, "Thinkpieces present hashtag activism as vanity activism, in which narcissistic pronouncements substitute for actual engagement, and anger is leveraged at best for petty entertainment and at worst for coordinated harassment."

Reading Summary:


One of the largest issues that authors Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosas see with the hashtag as a tool for activism, is lack of actual impact that tends to occur. Although before you make any effective change anywhere you need to become aware of the problems, digital activism needs to take awareness and create it into action that. Looking specifically at the case of Michael Brown, these authors trace the role that social media played in creating awareness of Michael Browns death, but also other institutional problems like police brutality, racial profiling, and racist policing practices. Twitter was essential in the Movement looking to create justice for Brown and his family; this medium was the first that created decentralized awareness of the situation; "Within the hour, a post appeared on the Twitter social media platform stating, “I just saw someone die,” followed by a photograph taken from behind the beams of a small wooden balcony overlooking Canfield Drive, where Michael Brown’s lifeless body lay uncovered, hands alongside his head, face down on the asphalt." The immediate response by the public was so large that the the media coverage blew up almost over night, "during the initial week of protests, over 3.6 million posts appeared on Twitter documenting and reflecting on the emerging details surrounding Michael Brown’s death."

Because of twitter, a lot of coverage was brought towards Ferguson, but the authors make a huge point to underline how so much coverage, can also create problems for the activists. Hashtags do an important job within social media of creating a category of mainly interrelated things and offering a perspective on that hashtag. However, "hashtags can only ever offer a limited, partial, and filtered view of a social world," hashtags often lack the context needed to internalize the message they want to get across. In the digital age where information is processed at such a rapid pace, hashtags are used so much and so freely, that sometimes the intended meaning behind a hashtag looses meaning. In the case of Ferguson, I think that so much awareness during the first week served to slow the movement. Because #Ferguson was trending worldwide, the people who were physically present and taking part in demonstrations had a hard time relaying information to each other; the activist had to begin another hashtag in order to centralize the way that information was passed on. While this was going on, business and other companies looking for monetary compensation began using the hashtag to promote items and sell products.  Digital activism loses credibility when the seriousness of the topics are reduced to Hashtags devoid of meaning.


Digital Activism/ Hashtag Activism in the most basic definition is as wikipedia tells us," is the use of electronic communication technologies such as social media, especially Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, e-mail, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster communication by citizen movements and the delivery of local information to a large audience. Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, community building, lobbying, and organizing. A digital activism campaign is 'an organized public effort, making collective claims on a target authority, in which civic initiators or supporters use digital media.' Research has started to address specifically how activist/advocacy groups in the U.S. and Canada are using social media to achieve digital activism objectives."

I think that twitter and hashtags do 2 important things for activism.


1. The hashtag provides a quick retrieval system for someone looking for updated news on the unfolding events.
- provides an easy and accessible way for people to communicate and become aware of events.

2. In addition to providing a filing system, hashtags simultaneously function semiotically by marking the intended significance.
- this is important because "hashtags have the intertextual potential to link a broad range of tweets on a given topic or disparate topics as part of an intertextual chain, regardless of whether, from a given perspective, these tweets have anything to do with one another"
- I think that this functions much like a like a scholastic search through an electronic journal, anything labeled with the hashtag will pop up even if there is not direct relevance

In general, I believe that hashtag activism can be very beneficial for any sort of movement. I think that the problem occurs within hashtag activism when it is reduced to a trend of popular culture. I think that the authors failed to mention the fact that humans all have a biological predisposition and look for acceptance. In a culture where ICT's have globalized the world, and made interconnectivity more immediate; unfortunately people's desire to be part of a movement is materialized in the form of hashtag activism that is often forgotten.

Although I love change.org, I think that this platform contributes to creating a false sense of accomplishment; people believe that by signing a petition they are creating change. Although petitions do play a role in changing laws, I think this role is minor in the large picture. People need to sign this petitions, but also dedicate their time to demonstrations and active particiaption of the social movements they care so much about.

Discussion Questions

1. One of the problems that occurs within Hashtag activism/Digital Activism is that even though the awareness and education of a topic may be stimulated, this subject/topic will most likely be forgotten as time. How can digital activism use the medium in a manner that the topics and causes can resonate with people? What have other organizations already done so that the public is internalizes the issues?

2. Are you part/ do you follow any Digital activist websites, blogs, or twitter pages? If so, how do you interact with these forms of media? Do you contribute to the discussions/creation of content? 
If not, why do you not follow these sorts of mediums?

3. One of the great things about ICT's is the increased connectivity and accessibility for certain people. Do you think that decentralizing movements and making them geographically inclusive through ICT's increases total movement support, or does this impair the movement. How so?


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