The qwerty keyboard is mightier than the nuclear bomb Pt 2: Digital activism during the COVID19 pandemic.

Both my The qwerty keyboard is mightier than the nuclear bomb blog posts were largely inspired by a students’ option week I participated in. The theme picked was social media and the COVID19 pandemic. In order for it to cover all subject areas, a main theme was picked for each department; social media and the arts for the arts department; education for the social subjects; and social media as a tool for communicating science for the science department. This all led me to think about the main thing I use social media for though, activism. Thus I embarked on my own little research project. This second post is a recap and reflection on what I learnt.

The role of social media during the American presidential election.

Image credit: Ferdinand Stöhr, Unsplashed

Perhaps the most interesting political event which took place during the pandemic was the greatly contested American presidential election. As in-person garnering of supporters was near impossible, the presidential candidates were forced to rely on social media as never before. How the candidates used digital media to attract supporters also raises another issue around the use of social media, which I think fits in with my last two posts.

The main portals the candidates used during the election were social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, a downloadable app and paid advertising. However don’t be deluded into thinking either of the candidates were interested in having a two-way discussion of their politics with you. Rather than being forced to come up with lucid, well argued policies, the method the candidates relied on was data.

Political campaigns’ group voters into three main categories: supporters, opponents and ‘persuadables’. This last group is composed of people who have no strong political party loyalties or even much interest in politics. The people in this group are of particular interest to political campaigns’ as they’re the as yet unsigned on voters, who could potentially become supporters by Election Day.

Both in the run up and during the election campaign, the candidates created a lively stream of interactive posts on their social media streams, comprised of polls, hawking merchandise and requests to sign up for email updates or to give money. What supporters may not realise is that every time they interacted with these posts, not only are they proffering their own support, but they are also giving up personal data which can help candidates identify these persuadables. The supporters interests, likes, political behaviour and even phycological dispositions, as described on their social media profiles, are analysed. Profiles with similar interests, likes, etcetera are then discovered and become pinpoint targets for the political campaigns.

When supporters download the app they are asked to allow the app access to their phone’s full contact list, photos, social media accounts and location. Thus the campaigns accumulates even more data.

This data is also fed into paid advertising, in order to create adverts that will most resonate with its target audience. (Stromer-Galley, 2020)

It makes me feel very self conscious about what I post on social media. It’s slightly scary to contemplate our lack of privacy online and how social media and data analysis firms are influencing us, particularly regarding something as important as voting.

Inequality and the internet during the pandemic.

Image credit: Alexis Brown, Unsplashed

One subgroup of citizens who used social media to engage with the 2020 American election to a greater extent than in previous elections, were young people (18 – 29 years old). According to a survey carried out by the CIRCLE/ Tisch college, seven in ten young people reported seeing political content on social media in the week prior to the survey. On average, the number of youth engaging in political content on social media was 25 percentage points higher than in 2018, when a similar survey was undertaken by the same institution. Don’t think I’m saying that as a criticism though. It’s great to see the next generation of decision makers taking an active interest in politics and society and should be encouraged.

Image credit: Obi Onyeador, Unsplashed

Creating political posts on social media can assist youngsters in feeling more informed, empowered and represented. However many still appear to experience a large degree of hesitation regarding creating their own content, around two-thirds. One-third of respondents cited feeling ‘unqualified’ as their reason for being hesitant to create their own political content. This hesitancy isn’t spread evenly across races and genders though. Amongst young men only 26% of white men report feeling this sense of hesitation compared to 40% of coloured men. Strangely, for women these percentages are almost reversed. 45% of white women claim to feel unqualified whilst only 26% of black women do. These differences could be explained by the misogyny present in online spaces and the higher number of victims of cyber bullying being women. On the other hand movements like Black Lives Matter could be giving young black women the much needed confidence boost they need. Whatever the reason, it’s important for online spaces to create a safe and equitable atmosphere so that all young people’s voices can be heard. (Belle Booth et al, 2020)

Disabled people on Twitter.

Disabled people were particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, a fact that was recognised by the WHO (World health organisation). At the beginning of the outbreak, the WHO produced a thirteen-page document summarising disability related considerations and stating that additional protective measures could reduce the higher risk faced by many people with disabilities. A qualitative research project was also carried out, which analysed filtered tweets from twitter to try to discover what the main concerns of disabled people were. The main themes that emerged from this research were; support for people with disabilities; people with disabilities are more likely to be denied COVID19 treatment; don’t treat people with disabilities as disposable casualties; People with disabilities are used to dealing with communication disruption; Covid-19 is a greater risk to people with disabilities; People with Covid-19; and people with disabilities should not be overlooked when planning.

Image credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplashed

The fear that people with disabilities would be denied COVID19 treatment was a particularly prevalent issue. The nine original tweets analysed had, altogether, been retweeted 34,366. This led to at least one policy change, proving again the effectiveness of social media as a tool for activism. The tweets requesting help also had a positive impact. One Australian supermarket even went as far as opening up a hour earlier to give disabled people a chance to shop before opening its doors to the general public. (Thelwall and Levitt, 2020)

The tweets relating to communication disruption are an interesting point. Nothing can replace in the flesh interaction but it’s true that I, along with many other people with disabilities, are well accustomed to socialising via remote means. I still find zooming and busy online chat rooms mentally demanding. Towards the end of the pandemic, I also began experiencing headaches which I was fairly certain were related to spending too much time on my computer. However the fact that so much of the rest of the world was forced online did open up, both events and groups, that would otherwise have been denied to me.

The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill.

Image credit: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona, Unsplashed

I’d just like to outline here a few of my thoughts about the Police, crime, sentencing and courts bill which is currently making it’s way through the U.K. government. This bill, amongst other things, puts restrictions on public gatherings including mass protests, gives police increased powers when dealing with public gatherings, broadens the list of what can be considered potential harms when police are evicting people away from land, extends the period of time people can be evicted from land to one year compared with previously three months and turns the common law of public nuisance into a statutory law.

The right to protest is a cornerstone of democracy. I was saddened to read of the abuse XR protesters were treated with by the police at XR’s latest rebellion. My concern in giving police increased powers is that it could actually result in increased violence at protests. Any person, if they’re attacked, has a natural reaction to attack back in order to defend themselves. Both police and protesters at public gatherings need to have sufficient laws and effective regulations to keep them both safe and in check.

I’m also sympathetic towards the Traveler community. I consider Travellers to be people who have just as much right to live their chosen way of life and be treated with respect as any other people. This bill could potentially affect their way of life even if it’s true that traveler sites have increased by 41% since 2010.

I’m greatly in favour of NETPOL’s (The Network for police monitoring) new charter for freedom of assembly rights. Find out more about what the charter is and sign the petition if you’re in favour https://netpol.org/charter/

References.

Stromer-Galley, J (2020), Amid pandemic, campaigning turns to the Internet, Available at URL: https://theconversation.com/amid-pandemic-campaigning-turns-to-the-internet-137745 (Accessed: date 6 September 2021)

Belle Booth, R; Tombaugh, E; Kiesa, A; Lundberg, K; Cohen A (2020), Young people turn to online political engagement during COVID19, Available at URL: https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/young-people-turn-online-political-engagement-during-covid-19 (Accessed: date 6 September 2021)

Thelwall, M; Levitt, J M. (2020). “Retweeting Covid-19 disability issues: Risks, support and outra-
ge”
. El profesional de la información, v. 29, n. 2, e290216. Available at URL: https://revista.profesionaldelainformacion.com/index.php/EPI/article/view/epi.2020.mar.16 (Accessed: date 6 September 2021)

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