The Digital Culture SHIFT: Moving From Scale to Power to Achieve Racial Justice


There were various Speakers present at the Netroots Nation 2016 Keynote plenary “The Digital CultureSHIFT: Moving from Scale to Power to Achieve Racial Justice”. Several speakers had differentiating stances on the issue at bay which regarding who was in control of the digital technologies we have present, and do the current digital platforms that are available help people progress or do the perpetuate the status quo? Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the Senior Editorial Director of Cultures and Identities, begins by stating how much the use and popularity of digital platforms have increased since they were first released. She calls these progressive steps “the third phase of internet advocacy”. With the popularity of digital platforms, people are able to share more information about bias events which gives people an opportunity to realize the bias surrounding them and actually make a change about it. In return, Rashad Robinson, the Executive Director for ColorOfChange, states that although platforms have helped minorities spread awareness regarding bias, and has helped some people successfully advocate for justice we must not mistake this new presence as power. In other words, although popular social sites give awareness and advocates a platform, that presence is not to be mistaken for power because the only people who hold power are those running the platforms. Moreover, if most workers at popular social media platforms choose to adjust their policies and algorithms and limit our freedom of posts of speech on their sites, they are the ones who have power over its users. In return, Robinson stresses that we must hold these large companies accountable just like we would for any other industry that was limiting our capabilities. Furthermore, the increase of bias awareness and advocacy led to the idea of a digital media shift. However, most speakers were able to offer a valid range of opinions regarding whether or not the actual platforms available that led to this shift were helping or limiting the cause.


This discussion was incredibly eye-opening and I was able to agree with several points from different speakers throughout the panel. However, I must say that there were two speakers in particular which stood out in regards to the opinions they shared. The keynote plenary gave speakers a chance to voice their opinions on how digital media has influenced awareness and advocacy regarding hate crimes, hate speech, and bias events. Moreover, the speakers discussed whether or not they believed that digital media had made a shift resulting in the increase of awareness and advocacy, and if these platforms were aiding or limiting awareness and advocacy against bias. Autumn Marie, a Black Lives Matter Organizer, began by breaking down the question at bay, stating that digital media itself was not responsible for the rise of awareness and advocacy on internet platforms. In other words, now that platforms have an increased amount of users, viral posts bringing awareness to bias events are able to reach more users. Reading Autumn Marie’s statement really opened my eyes to questioning the praise of social media for civil rights movements. Her statements made me realize that it is not the platform itself that is responsible for this shift, it is the people brave enough to advocate for civil rights. To add to this, I must also share that I leaned more towards the weary side of the discussion regarding digital media in this day in age. In particular, I shared the same views as Rashad Robinson. People working at large social media platforms are truly in control of what they approve to keep or disregard on their sites. While it is useful for minorities and advocates to have a platforms to share their ideas, it is of no use if those controlling the platform do not share the same stance.

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