If there is one thing that Black Digital Humanities has trained me to do is to think digitally. What I mean is that this course has normalized for me the habit of reading a book and automatically considering the ways that the content and the subject being covered could be digitized.
Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas raised many interesting ideas about the strength as well as the pitfalls of networked protest. As I read, I thought about the ways that you could digitize a single political movement. You could map the locations of its actions and members. You could archive its publications. You could create an online platform specifically for the purpose of propelling that movement forward. I even wondered how you could digitally track the technological use of a networked protest.
And then an idea popped into my brain. Why wouldn’t Tufekci or someone else similarly placed make an online guide or platform of some kind solely for activists? It could function as a Facebook or Instagram for people looking to build their base, spread their message, amplify their voice, and perhaps most importantly do the intentional orchestration and organization needed for long-term impacts. It seems as I read that the benefits of online activism are that your base can become larger than it would be if your movement was offline, you can organize fast, and you can get resources and guidance almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, these movements also face struggles in the aftermath of an event because they initially lack one specific leader and they do not necessarily plan their actions before they unfold, but rather while they happen. It seems that an actual technological tool could be created to fix these issues—a tool that would certainly make activism easier than in the 1960s, but would begin to bring back the premeditated, intentional hard work and commitment to the cause that was needed in those days.
Ultimately though, Twitter and Tear Gas got me thinking about all of the projects already occurring online that could in their own right be considered movements. Take Kim Gallon’s ideas about the Black Digital Humanities—that she and others would organize and orchestrate the recovery of Black history and literature by creating countless projects online that amplify these topics. Isn’t that its own form of protest? Its own form of organization? Tufekci’s writing forced me to consider the revolutionary nature of the internet in general. Certainly, some movements take forms that are more overtly activism. But what of all the other things happening online? Teens posting images of themselves on Instagram as they jump into their friend’s car. Is this perhaps a symbol of rebellion against parental control? Amazon selling socks online. Is this perhaps a symbol of rebellion and innovation within the capitalist market economy? Russian bots posting incendiary content on Facebook. Are they political activists? Though Tufekci’s writing did not intend to impart a message concerning the political nature of each of our actions online, she certainly got me thinking about it. For the purposes of this class, it seems to me that digital humanities work, and certainly Black digital humanities work, is using digital platforms for its own political activism.