Why does the US media portray foreign Twitter activism as empowering but black Twitter activism as “toxic”? My latest for Al Jazeera English takes on — among other things — the Nation article on the alleged hazards of Twitter:
Social media is viewed by gatekeepers as simultaneously worthless and a serious threat. Balancing these opposing views requires a hypocrisy that can be facilitated only by the assurance of power.
Gatekeepers to mainstream feminist venues, like Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, proclaim that tweeting is not really activism. In contrast, the women behind hashtag activism argue that Twitter is one of the few outlets they have in a world that denies them opportunities.
“Twitter hashtags happen because the chances of getting real contact and effective representation from our ‘leaders’ is non-existent,” notes writer and activist Sydette, who tweets as “Black Amazon”. Her statement mirrors those of activists around the world who use Twitter to oppose repressive governments.
Twitter activism among black Americans causes discomfort because it highlights the structural nature of racist oppression in the US as well as the complicity of those who uphold and benefit from it. When US journalists cover Twitter activism in other countries, they portray it as empowering. When marginalised people of colour – people whose own history of oppression in the US is systematically played down – share their plight online, it is recast as aggression, exaggeration and lies. This, too, mirrors the rhetoric used by dictators around the world.
Rhetoric is not the same as action. But it is the disparate nature of repressive foreign dictatorships and the comparatively open media environment of the US that make the similarity in rhetoric so striking.
Read Blame it on the internet at Al Jazeera English.
Shortly after the article was published, I did an interview with the great Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein of Citizen Radio, which you can listen to here.