In the 1950’s, as civil rights groups of interest (i.e. dissident and radical groups) began to truly penetrate the mainstream thought of America, the FBI developed a program with a series of protocols for disruption and misinformation called COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INtelligence PROgram). By most reports, not only did they intend on gathering as much information about these dissident groups and individuals as possible, but they also sought to produce misinformation within the groups to create malcontent and chaos within even the most structurally sound organizations.
While J. Edgar Hoover’s dream child no longer exists under that name, I have a couple of quandaries I think about all too often. As someone who has run the gamut as far as social networks are concerned, I have to wonder how much of my information I’ve freely given to agencies whose primary function is to silence my voice. On the other end, I also wonder how much of the networking I’ve done online has helped me mobilize and proactively find like-minded individuals across the nation and the world.
On the one end, most social media users I know don’t give away information that we don’t already know through simple conversation with them or through their friends. They’ll post pictures of themselves, their friends, and the events they’ve been a part of. They’ll discuss their thoughts on a certain issue, and usually not too in-depth. They may even post their personal troubles, but again, nothing out of the ordinary in the grand scheme of things. Thus, this information becomes almost redundant for those looking to find information on anyone they’re interested in. On the other end, with the advent of these social networks, it becomes more enticing to reveal more about yourself to distinguish yourself from other profiles in the interest of “standing out” or becoming “most popular.” It’s a temptation a few of us fight, especially if we don’t have people who market for us. Promoting oneself has its positives, but how deep do we take that?
Even deeper is that social media can also be a mechanism for misinformation and eventual separation. For instance, today on Twitter, I laughed when someone wrote “Huffington Post has 18 white men as their featured bloggers,” and immediately called out the lack of diversity at Huffington Post. My questions cascaded as follows:
1) Why should Huffington Post care?
2) We have a few Black / Latino bloggers on Huffington Post and they get featured on the site every so often, so why does a day where they strictly feature whites surprise you? That’s stat quo.
3) If / when people of colors (and I do mean Asian and indigenous people as well in this conversation) have a viable alternative to Huffington Post, will we use it as a platform to converge or to outdo the next? The latter has become customary here on the Internet, if you ask me.
4) Do we somehow believe that the Digital Divide has seized to exist? That really doesn’t even come up on any social media platform I’ve seen. People are so concerned with having Barack Obama’s ears instead of giving “the people” in their communities a real voice.
In all of this, we should already see how social media in and of itself has very disparate consequences on the ideas of information. It can liberate and celebrate the ideas and voices of our generation and future generations to come and make these ideas more facile to build around. We can build whole curriculi and engage hundreds in a matter of minutes without leaving our seats. Some of the biggest campaigns of recent history came via the power of the interwebs. On the other end, if we don’t keep tabs on the sorts of information released out there, the consequences can become much more dire. Instead of a rumor about Lindsay Lohan’s plastic surgery or Chris Brown’s new chick, we’ll get a made-up report about a local activist or an nonfactual tweet about health care reform (is that happening already?).
So, does social media mean social justice? You tell me.
Jose, who just got 2 more projects to work on just now …