Monthly Archives: January 2016

Fibreculture special issue on Activism and Technology

Robert W. Gehl

Fibreculture has a special issue on activism and technology, titled “Entanglements.” Edited by Pip Shea, Tanya Notley, Jean Burgess and Su Ballard, the issue features articles by both academics (including myself) as well as activists.

As Shea et al note in their introduction,

During the 2009 post-election protests in Iran, YouTube proved useful for raising awareness and mobilising people; but later, the Iranian government used these videos to crowd-source the identification of protesters.

Activists used Skype to communicate during the Egyptian uprising thinking it was safer than the terrestrial telephone system; however, when they examined files from the intelligence agency in the chaos after Mubarak’s fall they learnt their Skype calls were being closely monitored by Egypt’s security service .

One of the most circulated images appealing for public sympathy and money following the 2015 catastrophic Nepal earthquake turned out to be a ruse—an old image from North Vietnam—its circulation initiated by unknown people with unknown motivations.

These examples serve to remind us that while digital technologies are now deeply entangled with activist practices that are focused on contributing to social change, the philosophies and capacities embedded within these technologies often contradict, counteract, or challenge social justice and human rights aspirations—sometimes in unexpected ways that could not have been predicted.

Theirs is an extremely important argument: the communication technologies we use are never neutral, and we have to consider their politics carefully. This is a major reason we’ve started the S-MAP, and I’m hoping that more academics and activists cast a critical eye at corporate social media and start to explore alternatives. Moreover, the work can’t stop there: we have to cast a critical eye at the alternatives, as well.

Two new collections in the S-MAP: and Ello

Two new collections are now available: Voat and Ello. Voat is an alternative to Reddit. As their About page puts it,

No legal subject in this universe should be out of bounds. Our aim is to build a site that serves the needs and wants of our users; one that strives for quality over quantity, and doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator in return for traffic.

Ello is pretty famous as a social media alternative that promises never to sell user attention to advertisers. According to their manifesto:

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.

You are not a product.

Both collections are now available, with more new collections in store for 2016!