Is Technology an Ally for Social Movements?

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Slogging (Slack Blogging)

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In today’s day and age, we can see how technology and social media impact social movements such as LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, Feminism, and many others. Through our mobile devices, we get in touch with the struggles of other groups, no matter how far apart, and it brings us closer as a global community.

In this thread, the HackerNoon team discusses their views on how social movements have developed with technology.

This Slogging thread by Mónica Freitas, Limarc Asocialmovementsmbalina, Jack Boreham, Ellen Stevens and Amy Shah occurred in slogging’s official #technology channel, and has been edited for readability.

Hey, how do you think the use of technology is impacting social movements? Everything from bringing forth awareness on an issue to rallying people, as we saw last year with the BLM movement.

Greater internet connectivity brought about by the digital age means greater awareness, improved group organisation, and also improved messaging of ideals and beliefs. Movements can use new and interesting ways to put across messages through social media and the internet. I can only imagine as the internet continues to evolve, perhaps into Metaverses, these social movements will get stronger.

Do you think certain movements can be overlooked or regarded only as a trend because of social media? For instance, the LGBTQ+ movement gets a lot of attention during Pride Month. While in June, many companies take advantage of the movement to sell their brand, however, they forget those inclusive ideologies when the month has passed. So my question is, is social media facilitating proper awareness or washing out some movements’ core aspects?

As for technology in general, I agree that it has made it easier for people of different backgrounds but the same struggles to find each other and fight for a common goal. In addition, it has helped foster communities of outcasts, cultivate their culture, and provide shelter and support for many. Organizations flying under the radar now get their own platform online to spread awareness and reach out to people. More and more movements are starting because of how technology makes it easier for them to get launched. All of this promotes a stronger and more united global community in a way.

Do you think certain movements can be overlooked or regarded only as a trend because of social media? No I don’t think we can blame that on social media. It’s not a social media company’s fault when things get overlooked (unless posts about a certain movement are purposefully censored).

I think in general, social media has been very good for social movements. There was the famous cause of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 and how Facebook helped protestors evade police.

For awareness, technology has helped tremendously. One example is how everyone staying home during The Pandemic led to people being online more and learning more about issues or scandals that have happened but they just never realized before.

There seems to be a popular narrative in the modern day to present various social media platforms as creating a culture of hostility as well as being the cause for the spread of misinformation. In some cases, this has certainly been true and problematic. However, I think it’s important to consider the totality of social media impacts, which I think have had a net benefit, especially for various movements of progress. More connectivity allows people to unite and organize, which makes it possible to bring change and bring light on issues that are being neglected, perpetuated, hidden, or caused. Especially by those in power. Has social media also exposed some negative elements of the human psyche? Absolutely it has. But is that the fault of social media? Or is that the fault of a lack of cultural education for what is appropriate and what isn’t? For example, bullying that can happen online that can haunt teens into their personal spaces is deeply problematic. Things like that need to be addressed accordingly. That being said, it’s also given the opportunity for things like the #MeToo movement, which regardless of your perspective on it, really showcased how widespread certain problems really are. Which is shocking and eye-opening. I always find absolute statements which try and blame any one element or technology as direct causation for any one thing to be questionable. There needs to be a cultural responsibility to educate people on how to use things properly and how to be a decent person online.

Great points! Social platforms, as a tech element, are neutral nor good or bad. We’re the ones that create it through what we post and how we interact. And it has done a lot for awareness and collective movements. However, I worry that we get so desensitized that the messages we receive online lose their impact; that they become the latest news flash and forgotten in a day.

Nowadays, technology is just handed to us early on, and it’s expected that you use and abuse it. It’s true that even though we have these new platforms, we’re never taught how to deal with them – we simply translate social behaviors from in-person to online. As the online world can seem unreal and, thus, freeing, many of us tend to adopt new ways of interacting with others, some better, some worse (bullying, for instance). How could we teach “proper” use and presence online? Do we need more structured guidelines, or should we call each other out online? And how much would it make a difference?

I think many things come down to proper education, culture, and parenting techniques. If a society is aware that a particular technology will be used in a significant way, modeling the proper way to interact with this technology and each other, is something that needs to happen from a very early age. Educating young people on the value of ethics and kindness should be incorporated into the education frameworks of a global society. People need to be able to critically think and have accountability for what it means to jump on a trending tweet attacking someone, when they may not have a full story. Personal accountability should be taught from an early age. I have a feeling a lot of people who participate in toxic behavior are kids who don’t understand the impact this has on other people and themselves. Honestly, a model like this may solve a lot of different societal problems globally. If we could teach people about mental health, and proper conduct in relationships that would be good too. Unfortunately, an incredible amount of parents fail at modeling correct behavior for their kids. As many kids as possible should have access to good role models. I think actually the internet can make this a reality, it just has to be implemented carefully.

I see what you mean. It’s more a societal issue and educational issue than technologic. Every platform that involves social exchange and big masses will always mirror back issues that we see in our day-to-day life. I think it also takes parents to be mindful that when you let a young child get access to social platforms and technology, you not just giving them a harmless toy and getting a rest. If we don’t teach kids how to properly handle tech and social platforms and base human respect and empathy, we’ll be raising yet another generation that will learn solely from what they see done online. Hopefully, we are walking towards a more conscious and empathetic global community rather than a selfish one.

I don’t think you can blame social media for washing out their message. These movements are benefited by social media and have raised awareness about issues far after big campaign events. But social media can be dangerous if not managed correctly. Nasty discourse and extreme ideology can flourish on these platforms

The thing that stands out for me is the point you made about the discourse and extreme ideology. With Trump and Bolsonaro and many other leaders, we’ve seen how they use social platforms to share false ideology or sell fiction as facts. However, you can’t stop it from happening as it is within your free speech right. Even if you’re spreading incorrect information that can possibly lead to dangerous outcomes, you can’t prevent it. It also reminds me of the last Euro Cup final, where there was an inflammation of racist tweets and posts, and on the other hand, there was also a fantastic network of people reaching out to help those in need of shelter during the riots. There will always be these two sides on social platforms that you can’t prevent unless you start enforcing strict community guidelines, and even then, companies have to be mindful of not censoring content.

Agree with Ellen Stevens and partly agree with Jack Boreham. As soon as social media starts getting involved with politics it gets iffy, especially since we don’t know how Facebook’s algorithm works. If a republican and a democrat both spend $100 on Facebook ads, will they both get the same reach? Will they get the same clicks? Why or why not? Is that fair? If it’s not fair, does that mean Facebook is favoring one side?

It’s not so black and white as we may think…

That’s a great point. Algorithms are subjected to those who developed them. How can we be sure that the developers’ beliefs haven’t been instilled in those platforms?. On Tiktok, for instance, we’re getting more and more reports on specific videos and accounts being taken down because they have sexual health content focus or feminism, for example. Like these, I bet politics also gets handled differently depending on democrat or republic content.

Precisely. Another factor to potentially consider is the level of cognitive development of children. For example, we don’t let 4yr olds drive cars. Partially, because the brain develops certain spatial, motor, etc. reflexes over time. Just look at various psychological experiments with kids. They won’t recognize for example that an object may still exist even if you don’t see it. All of that takes time to develop. People aren’t just born with that. Letting a child drive a car would be dangerous for both the child and the people on the road. Perhaps we can adopt that way of thinking towards other technologies like social media.

Without thinking about it with adequate depth for the moment, I would say that having a type of international certification for web use might be a nice thing to administer before a child can use the internet. A simple quiz testing ethics capabilities, and an understanding of security. Like hey, if you are playing a game online with people, some of those people could be strangers lying about their age… Stuff like that. This is slightly unrelated but having a quiz people must pass before voting – that tests for what each party’s platform is and what their previous/current recent record is wouldn’t arguably be a bad idea. Maybe we’d have a culture that examines and targets a discussion on actual policies instead of emotion-based poop slinging where people can barely recite talking points, let alone an actual well-thought-out reflection of why they vote a particular way.

(Ellen is in a mood apparently.)

That’s a great point. We seem oblivious that technology and internet have risks, and handing children those gadgets without first teaching them how to use them and without any restrictions (age-appropriate content, screen time, and so on) can be harmful.

Is it wrong to assume that social movements reflect the society in which they originate as if they were mirrors? Is it possible to consider technology use the new etiquette which surrounds every encounter? This might include online ordering at a grocery store to putting your name in for an online waiting list to get your hair cut. Can we possibly compare the new technology etiquette with an ancient group of behaviors? I am meaning: The court of French aristocracy: The more complex our dance with technology, surely it will mean our social movements will reflect that.

No, it is not wrong. We, as a society, evolve with the world around us. Now, we’re a technology-based society, so of course, tech will be involved in everything we do: sports, food, clothes, hobbies, work, relationships, etc. So it is no surprise that social movements mirror all the issues of our technology-based society. Today’s problems, like online bullying, weren’t a reality a few years back, and look at us now.

I agree. You can never truly get rid of it. I do think though social movements are massively aided by tech. Without them, these movements wouldn’t have gained as much popularity nor traction. I also believe with the development of AI and other tech, these movements will only benefit. Especially environmental campaigning!

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by Slogging (Slack Blogging) @slogging. Your Slack? Insightful words by highly intelligent people. Your tech blog? Not so much. Write together. #SloggingBetaRead my stories


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