Engaging with Activism Online

Presented by Lola Odelola at You Got This From Your Couch

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LOLA: Good morning. I'm Lola, and please don't upset your neighbours. It's already a trying time, as it is! My neighbour is currently enjoying his Saturday and playing a lot of music, so I hope it's not disturbing anyone! Today, I'm going to be talking to you about engaging with activism on social media. It's going to be a quick lightning talk. There won't be time for any questions at the end, but I am on Discord, so feel free to chat to me there if you have any questions. I'm Lola, and I'm the host of Lost in the Source, which is a podcast about my journey as a Black woman through the tech industry. I'm also an anti-cheesecake activist. Don't argue with me about it, cheesecake is trash, and I stand by that! I'm not willing to die on that hill, but I will put a flag on that hill!

I'm also a developer at indicate at Samsung Internet who is a - I'm a developer advocate at Samsung Internet who is a response your today. Samsung Internet is basically an Android web browser and it is a fork of chromium. The whole, I guess, ethos, idea behind it, it is for users who are privacy-aware, so we have features like ad-blocking, and tracking prevention, and a fully customisable interface, and things like this. If you have seen any of the Samsung Internet tweets, and the block posts we've written, a lot of the stuff we do is about putting users first, and so we work with other organisations, such as W3C, and, you know, other standards bodies as well and other documentation organisations, and the whole idea is about making the internet safe and hospitable for all users. That's kind of like the focus. So many of us are involved in W3C, or other bodies in some kind of way because of that.

So, let's go into this talk, engage with social media, engaging with activism on social media. If you remember 2020, if you can cast your mind that far back, it was a year and a half. It was - it was a lot. You know, we had the pandemic, then we had murder hornets, we had UFO sightings which frankly not enough people are talking about. There were things flying in the sky, we don't know what they are. We have this weird movie release of Cats which decided to do like Cats but life like cats, but humans, and it was just very odd. And we had like really sad and harrowing things as well, namely, Black Lives Matter. A lot of Black Lives Matter protests spurred up because of the death of George Floyd. And, the kind of, I guess, benefit to that was a lot of people became engaged with issues of racism, and race theory, and things like this through what they saw on social media, and I think that is something that we have to give credit to social media for: it has done a really, really good job of making global issues actually global, because Black Lives Matter is not just an American problem, it's a British problem, it's an African problem, and so, you know, it's, social media has contributed in making more people aware of the global issue, right?

And that is not a bad thing. That's a great thing. If you have never heard of this woman Angela Davis, and she is an activist, and has been for a very, very long time, and she made a point, she made a point in an essay called Trans National identities, when Palestinian activists noticed the canisters in Ferguson, they tweeted advice how to deal with the tear-gas, because they realised it was the same tear-gas canisters. We see how social media is used as a tool to bridge different organising bodies, different activists, different movements together, to help each other, and to, I guess, preserve their activism, right?

And, that has really opened the doors for a lot of people to do a lot of actions, and not all those actions translate well, so, if you remember last year, there was this whole black box situation where people were sharing black boxes online, to kind of like, I guess, show solidarity with Black Lives Matter, right? And that is not a bad thing, actually. The actual black box initiative was for a specific industry, also the music industry, and it was for a specific group of people, music artists, people who work in the music industry, to stop promotion on Black-out Tuesday. The idea was that you stop promoting your album, or songs, or whatever, stop trying to get money from people for these things, and instead have a conversation about Black Lives Matter. That didn't translate well. What ended up happening is a lot of people not really understanding the context just started flooding your social media feeds with black boxes.

I thought this would be a good way to kind of look at ways we can responsibly engage with activism on social media, so I've come up with a three-point system. It's not like solid, it's not written in stone, you know? It's just, like, helpful guidance, kind of thing. So, the first thing I would say is if you are engaging with social media, if you're engaging with activism on social media for the first time, you want to like properly engage. So what does that mean? That means, like, find out what exactly is happening. What is going on? Who are the affected people? How are they affected? Why is this happening? You need to find out as much context as you can. And that whole idea is that you need to educate yourself on these three things, right?

A big part of educating yourself is listening - listen to the voices that are speaking on these things. Who are the voices of authority? Figure out who they are, and just listen to them. What are they saying? What are they saying they need? And you also need to do the external work outside of social media. It's not enough to come on Twitter or Facebook, or Instagram, or even WhatsApp and just talk about these things, or watch other people talking about these things. You need to engage outside of that context, and I think that is why the black box thing didn't really translate well, because not enough people were doing the outside work. The whole point was that you shared the black box on the specific day, on just the one day, not to prom note your album, not to promote your single, not to prom note your thing, but then to use that space you would normally use to promote that thing to talk about the issues affecting Black people.

And so, in order to have those conversations about the issues affecting Black people, you need to do external reading, and external learning, you need to look at books, documentaries, podcasts, et cetera. You need really to engage with the issue. What does engagement not look like? Just retweeting. You can't just retweet anything old thing. You can't stop at the retweet. You need to do more. The next thing I would say that you need to do is amplify. You need to amplify the voices that are already speaking. You need to share credible voices. Not everybody who is talking about these things knows what they're talking about. And if this is your first time engaging with this kind of issue, whether it is Black Lives Matter, whether it is MeToo, something in the ability and disability community, whether it is an LGBTQIA+ matter, whatever it is, if this is your first time engaging with it, you probably do not have the words, unless you're from the community being affected at the time, but likely chances you're not and you probably don't have the words. Find people who do have the words and share their voices.

Make sure the resources you're sharing are accessible, if you're sharing images with text on them, make sure they have alt text with them. If you're sharing videos, make sure they're captioned. Typical accessibility things that I hope we are all aware of. If you're not aware, that is also okay. There are loads of blog posts about these things. Sharing accessibility content, and also sharing resource means. The NSARS movement is a really good example of how it was amplified in a helpful and productive way, where feminist - distributed organisation, you had members of feminist co in Nigeria, America, the UK, all over the world coming together to raise money for food, for lawyers, for medical emergencies, medical bills, and things like this, and that was only possible because other people shared and amplified those resource needs specifically, and I think another great example is in like the Minnesota Bell Fund, which when George Floyd was killed, had a surge of donations because of sharing those resource needs.

What does amplifying not look like? Spreading misinformation. I think we're all aware of spreading misinformation is dangerous, so I won't doc too much about that. Also, sharing inflammatory content, and so what I mean by that is not sharing content that is - sharing content that includes murder, that includes assault, and things that you just wouldn't want to see on your news feed. It's triggering, and it's traumatic for a lot of people to have to see -for example, George Floyd being killed over and over and over again. Don't participate in that behaviour. Also, sharing inaccessible content, and sharing actions you don't have the context for, so, as I said before, like the black box was for a specific context for a specific audience.If you're not part of that audience, then you should not probably share it. If you're not the intended person to take that action, don't take the action, that's okay. You don't have to, and the only way you would know if you're part of that audience is if you engaged in the first instance.

The last thing I would say to do is to act. And I guess this is the most, I don't know, the most obvious, and the one people draw to the most, because, it also can be the easiest. What does acting look like? It looks like donating if you can. If you can't, that's also okay. It looks like finding ways to contribute to your local community. What a lot of people don't seem to realise is that things that affect your local communities, such as food inequality, such as education inequality, childcare, and things like this, are also feminist issues. They're also ability issues, they're also race issues, because people from these groups are more likely to be affected by these issues in a negative way.

So, if there is a local food bank near you, it will help marginalised people if you either contribute your time to your local food bank, or contribute food, or whatever it is the food bank needs, and the same goes for other community efforts that, you know, work to make people's lives easier. Another way you need to act is you need to challenge yourself, especially if you're not a member of the community who is being oppressed. You need to look internally and see and look at the ways you may be complicit. It's really, really difficult work, and nobody wants to do it. We all need to do it. We all need to look at the ways we've been complicit in the oppression of other people. That is an action, and it is not necessarily an action that needs to be broadcast, you don't need to tweet about it, you don't need to write a blog post about it, you just need to do it, and a good way to do that as I said earlier, reading. Reading is essential. You need to read the works of people who have been talking about this for a really, really, long time, who have dedicated their live's work to this thing, educating yourself will inevitably help you challenge yourself in a positive and productive way.

So, what does acting not look like? It doesn't look like silencing voices in the community. It doesn't look like having debates on Twitter with people in the community who are trying to do the work. It doesn't look like getting them to explain things to you. It doesn't look like centring yourself as an ally, it doesn't look like talking over voices in the community, it doesn't look like hijacking actions and movements, and hashtags, and it don't look like being defensive, which is one I think we are all sympathetic to. We all get defensive when people come at us, and that's okay, but you need to recognise you're being defensive, and take a step back, or just listen. Just stop talking, and just hear what the other person is saying. It is difficult work, but it is important work, and I think from last year, I can see that it has worked, a lot - it is work that people do want to do and do want to engage in.

I think the last thing we should remember is that online action works in tandem with offline action. So these retweets that you're sharing, these resource packs that you're sharing, they have real offline effect. As I said, MSARS is a great example of that. A lot of the organising was online. It had to be online, especially with Covid, especially with the fact that a lot of the organisers were across the world. It had to take place online, and the online action had real offline benefits. You had people who couldn't afford medical bills getting medical treatment; you had people who were wrongfully arrested being freed, you know, because of the works of lawyers, and all of this kind of stuff, and people actually going to jails to make sure that people were released, and things like this.

You had protesters who had food and drink while they were protesting, umbrellas to protect them from the rain, all of this, and that is all because of the online action. So it is not useless, but it should just be done in a productive and healthy way, so that is pretty much it for my talk. I'm Lola Odelola. You can follow me on Twitter. You can follow Samsung Internet on Twitter. You should check out Samsung Internet's Medium blog, which is also medium.com/samsunginternet. Check out what we are doing. Thanks for listening to my talk. It's been good.

About the talk

This talk was originally titled "Lessons from the Black Box: Engaging with Activism on Social Media"

It’s summer and the year is 2020, the air is thick with rage, the people are protesting another public killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd. In the heat of our collective anger, black boxes begin to flood the social platforms; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, the boxes are everywhere, some with heartfelt captions, others with hashtags related to Black lives. Most of us are confused. “Lazy!“, the critics shout. “Misguided”, the more gentle observers comment, but what happened? How did we get here? And more importantly, how can we avoid returning here when the inevitable happens again?

About Lola Odelola

Lola Odelola is a Developer Advocate on the Samsung Internet team. She’s also a published poet, coder, wanderer, wonderer & anti-cheesecake activist.

Photo of Lola Odelola

Lola Odelola


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