inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #0 of 49: Inkwell Host (jonl) Mon 27 Jan 20 07:38
    
Inkwell welcomes scholar and author Jen Schradie, a sociologist and
Assistant Professor at the Observatoire sociologique du changement
at Sciences Po in Paris. She's here to discuss her new book, _The
Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives_.
In this counterintuitive study, Schradie shows how the internet has
become another weapon in the arsenal of the powerful, particularly
conservatives.

Her work has been featured on CNN, the BBC and in the New Yorker,
the Washington Post, Time, the Daily Beast, and Buzzfeed, among
other media. She was awarded the Public Sociology Alumni Prize at
University of California, Berkeley, and has directed six documentary
films.

After a career as a documentary filmmaker, Schradie received a
master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School and her PhD from the
University of California, Berkeley in Sociology and New Media. Her
research challenges both digital democracy utopia or internet
villain dystopia. Instead, she finds societal structures of class
inequality, bureaucratic institutions, and political ideology can
all drive internet use.

Her research areas span the digital divide, digital activism, and
digital labor. Her current comparative project focuses on gender and
class differences in the start-up economy in France and the U.S.,
and another examines online hate speech. Using both qualitative and
quantitative methods with online and offline data, she
contextualizes disparities and variation of participation in digital
society.

Schradie is not only a recovering filmmaker but also an occasional
yoga teacher and a beginning banjo hack. 

Leading the conversation is longtime WELL member Ari Davidow. Ari
has a background in community planning and software/web development.
Ari has been working with online community for many years, including
a long history as community host here on the WELL. He has also been
a host at other online communities, mailing lists, blogs and
websites.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #1 of 49: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Mon 27 Jan 20 09:38
    


this sounds like a great conversation! looking forward to it.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #2 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 27 Jan 20 18:00
    
I am old enough to remember when the Internet was going to bring us
all together. Then, a few minutes later in Internet time, we could
see corporations starting to wall off bits of the Internet, but
social media, and those young and crazy
understanders-of-facebook-and-twitter were using the Internet to
elect Barack Obama and, supposedly, do lots more.

Except, that I wasn't seeing it. We got some answers indirectly a
couple of years ago when Turkish media maven Zeynep Tufekci noted
that, despite the supposed advantage of social media, the Arab
Spring had fizzled. It took, it seemed, more than just getting folks
together via Facebook and Twitter posts for demonstrations. You
needed actual organizing or community building?

So, I can't say that I was surprised when someone on the WELL called
Jen Schradie's new book to my attention. In it, she documents the
difference in how the left and right use social media by observing
activists in North Carolina for several years. What she found is
that the hierarchical, well-funded, often older folks on the right
were far, far more effective in setting the political agenda, and in
advancing their cause, than the young, unfunded, lefties who were
supposedly born with cellphones in their hands.

Happily, there is more to it than my sad summary would imply. This
is one of those books worth reading because of the insights it
offers about organizing, about social media, about the importance of
organization in organizing, and of course, the importance of
adequate funding.

I am please to welcome Dr. Schradie to the WELL and look forward to
having a chance to discuss her ideas, her research, and her work.

If you are a WELL member and want to read more about what I posted
as I read through her book the first time, please visit our
"Activism" conference ("g activism") and look through topic 20,
starting with post 66.

For background, everyone can view Dr. Schradie's interview on Vox:
<https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/6/3/18624687/conservatism-liberal
s-internet-activism-jen-schradie>

There is also a long list of links at Harvard, at
<https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674972339>

and the author's own website: <http://schradie.com/>

Everyone can participate in this conversation. If you are a member
of the WELL, of course, this discussion works just like other
discussion areas on the WELL. If you are not yet a member, or are
passing by, you can send emails with your comments for posting to
"inkwell-hosts at well.com".
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #3 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 27 Jan 20 18:03
    
Jen, to start things off, talk about your work and how you came to
focus on on these political activist communities in North Carolina?
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #4 of 49: Jen Schradie (schradie) Tue 28 Jan 20 13:34
    
Hello Everyone,
Thanks, Ari, I'm finally logged on and excited to have this
conversation about my book. I have been touring around with it, and
this is such a great relaxed atmosphere to engage with folks.

When I decided I wanted to research digital activism in 2011 - all
of the hype was focused on very visible protest movements, like
Occupy Wall Street, of course, as well as the takeover of the
Wisconsin statehouse earlier that year. Of course, internationally,
the so-called Arab Spring and the Spanish Indignados triggered
utopic cries of Twitter and Facebook revolutions. But most all of
the reporting and research on digital activism at that point was
focused on left-leaning movements. I wanted to get a broader picture
of what was happening in the digital activist space, so I wanted to
do more than cherry pick just the movements that clearly had a lot
of digital engagement. I wanted to find out what everyday social,
political and labor movement groups were doing online - on both
sides of the political spectrum, so I decided to focus on one
political issue that would attract a variety of social movement
formations.

But at the time I was doing my PhD at UC Berkeley, so finding an
issue that attracted not only left-leaning groups but also
right-leaning was tough in the San Francisco Bay Area. So I decided
to go back to North Carolina. I was familiar with the politics
there, as I had been a filmmaker and activist there, as well as an
undergrad. But more importantly, it is a purple state. Obama won the
state by a slim margin in 2008 and then lost by an equally slim
margin in 2012. And the state not only has far and central left
groups but also conservatives that range from professional groups to
far-right Prepper groups - all of whom coalesced around the
hot-button issue of collective bargaining rights for public
employees. Some supported the issue and others opposed it - and that
became my sample I researched for the book. All in all, I examined
the offline and online activity of 34 groups.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #5 of 49: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Tue 28 Jan 20 15:02
    



ari, could you please post the public-readable, web address, link, URL to
this Inkwell.vue interview?

maybe post it regularly so that those accessing this conversation via ssh
and PicoSpan have a link to give out to others?
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #6 of 49: Administrivia (jonl) Tue 28 Jan 20 15:26
    
Thanks for bringing that up, T! Short link to this discussion is
http://bit.ly/jenschradie-inkwell Please share with your networks.

If you're not a member of the WELL but would like to ask a question
or post a comment, just send via email to inkwell at well.com. Your
friendly community hosts will make sure those are posted.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #7 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 28 Jan 20 16:55
    
Thank you, John, and excellent point, T!

I also note that any can post questions--you can post them directly
if you are a WELL member (one of the least of many benefits), or, as
john noted, above, send your question or comment to "inkwell at
well.com".
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #8 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 28 Jan 20 16:59
    
Thirty four groups, all of whom are involved in pro- or anti-union
activity in a staunchly right-to-work state sounds intense. Yet, you
came in at a moment when it look as though pro-union organizers
might finally get some worker protections passed. Then along came
2010 and things worked out differently.

Can you describe some of the groups, or clusters of groups so that
we have an idea of what the landscape looked like, what happened,
and in particular, how use of social media affected what happened in
2010 (and perhaps, since)?
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #9 of 49: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Tue 28 Jan 20 17:04
    

i haven't read the book, but i write a fair amount about technology,
nature, and trying to get past the ridiculously partisan divide. i write
for a small-town newspaper in Oregon.

a few years ago my family left the liberal bubble
city of Portland, where we lived in an extremely progressive, liberal
neighborhood for 20+ years. we traveled around the West Coast in a tiny
travel trailer and eventually settled here. 

the whole process made me realize how badly bubbled we actually are! i'm
never *completely* unaware of what funamentalist Christian right-wingers
and paranoid libertarians are thinking, because some of my birth family and
childhood friends, folks i am still close with, fit those descriptions. yet
somehow i got pretty far out there with the smug, self-righteous, scoldy
liberal bubble mentality, online and off. i still do it! at least i'm aware
that it's a problem, and i take small steps to attempt a course correction
at least in my own life (and in my newspaper column).

so i'd like to ask: how much does the real, heartfelt attitude of people
matter? is it just about money and ability to organize, or does the
technology affect our true hearts and feelings, in your opinion?
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #10 of 49: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Tue 28 Jan 20 17:05
    

ari's question slipped. hope mine will get answered at some point, too.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #11 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 28 Jan 20 17:05
    
On another tack, I want to ask about those users of social media.
Several years ago I was the Online Strategy director at a small
non-profit. I was never able to convince the rest of the directors
that being young, hip, and IM-savvy was enough to make someone a
social media expert. My observation was otherwise, although it was
absolutely true that our young, hip, and IM-savvy social media
person did write in ways that spoke to other young, hip, IM-savvy
people in ways that I would never credibly have pulled off.

(and yes, don't miss Tiffany's question in the middle of all of
this!)

The thing that you noticed, however, was that it was the
old-timers--often retirees--who had the discipline and the smarts to
do effective organizing over time. This is a very, very different
expectation compared to "young google employee sparking the
overthrow of the Egyptian government".

Can you dig in to your findings and explain what seemed to be
happening? (Some of the issues had to do with funding, class, and
time--I want to explore those next--but for now, let's just talk
about age as a predictor of social media expertise/success.)
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #12 of 49: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Tue 28 Jan 20 20:26
    
Just want to say welcome, Jen Schradie, glad you're here to share
your insights and field these already interesting questions as best
you can.

Useful information about strategic and effective organizing--and how
that intersects, or doesn't, with questions of what values that
organizing serves--is something I'm eager to learn. 

I tend to have to remind myself that many things I love are
essentially neutral technologies. Rhetoric for instance. Art.
Science. My own field, poetry. I want good art to be ethical, I can
make an arguable case that it is; but I also know that good art
exists that has, at best, mixed ethical values and awareness. As
most of us humans do, to one degree or another.

So, to throw one more question into the too many already awaiting
you--do you think the internet a neutral technology, or one that
tilts more easily toward either pro-social or manipulative purposes,
or is it perhaps just too big a generalization to even speak of "the
internet" as if it were a single phenomenon a person could opine
about? 
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #13 of 49: Jen Schradie (schradie) Tue 28 Jan 20 22:02
    
Thanks for your patience as I get back with you. I'm not sure where
everyone is based, but I am now living in France, so I'll have a 9
hour time difference with the American West Coasters. And that gets
a bit to Tiffany's point about different areas of the country. As I
mentioned, I wanted to get out of the Bay Area bubble - both in
politics and technology focus to examine digital activism. 

And although I had been a digital scholar already, I decided to
pursue the question of online activism and political ideology in
particular for a number of reasons - one of them being that I had
relatives who were posting quite conservative posts on social media
that led me down a very different web of information that was on my
general feed. Mind you, this was 10 years ago, before people were
talking so much about digital filter bubbles (ok, some were of
course but not in the mainstream).

And this gets to Tiffany's question about whether or not people's
heartfelt attitudes drive conservative (or any media) or if it's
simply money and power. (There is also the question of technology's
role, as well, which I'll get to). The answer is Yes. It is both. 

In my book, I talk about ideology as one of three factors that shape
the digital activism gap. But ideology is more than ideas or a who
one votes for. I draw on the Italian activist and philosopher from a
century ago - Antonio Gramsci - to describe ideology as a connection
of ideas, institutions and practices. So yes, the ideas that people
have - and had - matter, but the digital conservative media
eco-system in this case was also a factor, as well as the strong
connection to what I call digital evangelizing - where
conservatives, often drawing from Christian traditions, use the
internet to tell what they call the "Truth" about what's happening.

And that's where the technology does come into play. Conservatives
were frustrated about what they perceived (though was not accurate)
of negative media coverage of their issues - what people now call
fake news, so they were much more motivated than those on the left
to informationalize online - and their eyes would light up when I
talked to them about the internet. One activist said, "Paul Revere
had a horse. We have the internet."
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #14 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 29 Jan 20 08:25
    
[fwiw, I'm in Boston, so a few fewer hours ahead, but most
participants are, indeed, on the West Coast]
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #15 of 49: Jen Schradie (schradie) Thu 30 Jan 20 05:00
    
Hello, I may not be responding to questions in the order they were
written, but here is a response to Jane's on if and how the internet
may or may not be neutral - and her great follow-up question if we
can even make such a sweeping claim since the internet is immense
and vast. 

So this is a long-standing debate among scholars - and we often
refer to a 40 year old article by Langdon Winner aptly entitled, "Do
Artifacts Have Politics?" Can a technology have innate political
leanings? Many people argued that the internet's architecture leans
left-esque. I use that word because many of the terms thrown at the
internet are egalitarian but at the same time "networked
individualism" (See Raine and Wellman 2012). So libertarian in that
people engage on their own but also leftist in that it is supposed
to be more egalitarian.

Many critique any societal attribution to technology as
"technological determinism" - that technology in and of itself
doesn't cause anything. This is a bigger debate than I'm going to
get into, but suffice it to say that when I started my research for
my book, there were three different arguments about digital activism
and ideology. Few people answered the question explicitly but the
implicit assumption was that digital activism in and of itself was
left-leaning because leftists tend to embrace fairness over freedom
(I'm being parsimonious here). And in theory participating online
enables more horizontal/networked participation .

But there were two other arguments around ideology and digital
activism - one was that ideology is irrelevant in the online
political space because people come to the table as individuals, not
through the dogma of a political party or other institution. The
third argument, by David Karpf, is that it depends - that the
political group that is out of office is more motivated to use
online tools (outparty effect).

In my research, I build on the third theory - Karpf's outparty
theory - but that's not enough. Since I mentioned above that
ideology is also about institutions and practices - that those who
have more hegemonic capacity tend to dominate. 

People with power have always dominated communication tools. And the
internet is no different.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #16 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 30 Jan 20 05:44
    
Thanks Jen. I think you have captured a critical summary of your
research: "People with power have always dominated communication
tools. And the internet is no different."

The rest seems to be wishful thinking, anomalies, and noise.

Having said that, obviously many of us are looking for any and all
levers to effect change, both nationally and locally. What did you
observe (in actions regardless of the political leaning of the
group) that was successful for small groups hoping to effect change?
Is there a way for a small, underfunded group to catalyze change
effectively--I don't mean getting a bunch of people out for a
one-time demonstration, but to help set the ground for face to face
long-term activity?

I realize that I am, in some ways, jumping to the end before we have
discussed the middle, but I think this is an important question.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #17 of 49: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 30 Jan 20 05:46
    
Getting back to an earlier post, can you talk more about Gramsci? I
know a bit about him, and his writing keeps coming up--this time in
your work, but periodically in work about effecting social change.
Given that Marxist theory, in general, seems less useful these days
(my illusion?), can you enlarge on what he wrote and why it is still
relevant?
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #18 of 49: Jen Schradie (schradie) Thu 30 Jan 20 06:02
    
Ah, yes, what are we to do with this power dynamic with digital
activism? What should small groups of activists without a lot of
resources supposed to do online with the dominance of a huge
conservative digital media eco-system - that by the way does include
the likes of the Koch brothers but *also* grassroots right-wing
folks, as well (which relates to the Gramsci question which I'll get
to in another response:).

Here is what I found. First off, it takes a division of digital
labor and specialization of digital labor. What does this mean? Tea
Party activists, mostly senior citizens, were very successful online
because they had people (often retired) who had gone to trainings by
conservative think tanks on how to take advantage of digital
platforms. So they were skilled in understanding what is more likely
to get likes and comments, especially what goes viral. Expecting
digital engagement to just happen doesn't work. You need someone who
carves out time - whether volunteer or paid staff - to keep a
platform/s lively and encourage online participation. It also takes
expertise. 

We often have this idea that when we see a viral post that it just
happens. That is an outlier. They are often manufactured. During the
2016 presidential campaign, I kept seeing blog posts written by
women who wrote something like, "I used to be a Sanders supporter
and then xyz happened." But then I saw them repeatedly over and over
again. The Clinton campaign knew that *personalization* works - but
it's really manufactured personalization that works online.

Also, often on posts of more marginalized/left-leaning groups I'd
see photos (if they had them) of people posing after a meeting in a
group photo - often with fists up or some other sign of solidarity.
How many people are going to like that post? Well, the people in it
and their friends and maybe a few other folks. Will anyone share
that post? Maybe someone in the photo or the mother of someone in
the photo but it won't go viral. Conservatives were adept at the use
of memes. They still are. That's what gets shared and goes viral.
Instagram is filled with these now - on both sides of the political
spectrum, but conservatives are more likely to have the funds to put
them out.

Also, getting back to the egalitarian point, leftists tend to want
everyone to get involved online, so they often found the internet to
be just one of many tools to do that (some understood the digital
divide - some people not having regular access), so they would use
whatever method worked best with getting people to participate. That
takes WORK. But the most adept groups recognized which platforms
people were using - and not using.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #19 of 49: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Thu 30 Jan 20 11:32
    
jen, thanks for your answers and participation here on The Well.

it might be useful for any newer Well members or non-Well folks reading
this to get a feel for how The Well fits in with these ideas and ideals
about online activism and the growth of the online world in general.

put bluntly and without much nuance: The Well arose out of the Whole Earth
Catalog scene, which had an important personality at its center: Stewart
Brand. founded in 1969, this sparked an incredible movement, part of the
larger countercultural movement of the time, that somehow tried to embrace
Earth-centered hippie values along with tools and technology. the scene
celebrated individualism, mostly reflecting the values of its time (white
man hero goes off and invents something cool or has a risky adventure,
comes back to tell the tale), but also collectivism and collaboration. 

the individualist vibe attracted and arose out of participation by
libertarian-leaning folks. John Perry Barlow, for example, was an active
WELL participant with whom i had some fun arguments online and off. yet the
entire scheme was blatantly collaborative and group-oriented, and attracted
many left-liberal-leaning members.

Jaron Lanier argues quite persuasively that this dichotomy lies at the
heart of Silicon Valley culture. unable to *actually* embody contradicting
values and manifest them at all times, Silicon Valley then pretty much went
gross & haywire, the thinking goes. (uhhhh, these are clearly my words, not
Jaron's.) 

so it's not just about conservatives and liberals. i think there may be
something to the technological determinism piece: the technology *and the
culture of people producing that technology*, making the platforms upon
which conservatives and liberals can enact their digital activism, evolved
in a certain way. this influenced which tech got made and deployed and
funded. 

could you address any of those issues, sometime during the discussion? no
rush, there's plenty to anwer already!

also, Jon Lebkowsky was a big advocate of digital activism going back to
when i met him via The Well and Fringe Ware Review and Boing Boing in 1992,
and possibly before then. it might be nice to invite him to this
conversation for perspective as well. paging <jonl>!
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #20 of 49: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Thu 30 Jan 20 11:46
    

just realized jonl is already in this conversation. oops! hi jon.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #21 of 49: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 30 Jan 20 13:17
    
Yep, I'm here, reading along. I wasn't going to say that much,
but...

I started doing net.activism and FringeWare around the same time.
Our realization was that fringe thinkers in communities everywhere,
isolated in those communities because their neighbors
couldn't/wouldn't see what they were seeing or think what they were
thinking, could find each other online. They could engage in virtual
communities like the WELL. They could publish their ideas, first in
zines and then online, and find a following. But we didn't think
about the potential for toxic ideas to take root, for whacky
extremists to build organizations and followings, for bad actors to
influence large enough numbers to build voting coalitions sufficient
to take real power. But even if we had those realizations early on,
once the genie was out of the bottle, it would've been hard to know
exactly what to do. When we did start to see the downsides of the
evolving information ecosystem, we advocated digital literacy
education, we said that people need to learn to think critically and
analyze emergent memes. Could that be sufficient? I don't know - but
I do know that, since the mainstreaming of the Internet, we've added
a substantial number of users who are lack digital literacy, and who
are not thinking critically about what's shared with them online.
And we've added a substantial numbers of trolls, grifters, scammers,
and power-mongers. So we have some work to do.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #22 of 49: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 30 Jan 20 19:09
    
Thanks, Jen, for that reply, and T and Jon for their contributions
also.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #23 of 49: Jen Schradie (schradie) Fri 31 Jan 20 11:17
    
Jon <jonl> and Tiffany <magdalen> (not sure if I'm tagging
correctly:) - both raise excellent points about the history of the
WELL and online activism in general. I remember being here many many
moons ago and getting the Whole Earth Catalogue in the late
80's/early 90's, but all of this didn't coalesce for me in terms of
the roots until I read Fred Turner's book over a decade ago. I'm
sure most of you know of his book,"From Cyberculture to
Counterculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network, and the Rise
of Digital Utopianism." I actually read his book when I went back to
graduate school at UC Berkeley as part of a course with the Berkeley
Center for New Media.

So a few points about that history and where we are today. First
off, I agree with Tiffany that to simply say left/right politically
is overly simplistic in many ways. For parsimony in my analysis, I
do divide groups into left and right political orientation - but the
way I define it is based on the stance that groups took over a key
labor union battle. But those distinctions were sometimes fuzzy -
one labor union actually supported a Republican governor in NC. And,
ironically, some of the far-right Prepper activists started going to
the Occupy Wall Street protests (but Occupy Raleigh) because they
didn't like the big bank bailouts (ie anti big government). 

And yes, the other caveat is that these early internet communities
were definitely anti-establishment and had libertarian leanings -
which could cross typical political boundaries. I talk about this
fuzziness in the book. At the same time, I talk about conservative
dominance in the digital era as a question of power. Conservatives
want to maintain their power. They have it and they want to keep it.
Part of that ideology is freedom, as I mentioned. And through my
interviews and content analysis, the three pillars were freedom from
the state, the free market, and freedom of information. At least
these were the ideas they were espousing. And these messages were
hyper-focused not only by grassroots activists online but also by
the resourced conservative media eco-system. They had clear, simple
messages of freedom which worked very well in today's social media
platforms, which privilege simplicity over substance.

On the other hand, left-leaning groups had (and have) so many issues
around fairness - whether civil rights, labor, lgbtq, students,
environment, gender, etc etc etc, and trying to encapsulate this
diversity is not so easy online. The messaging becomes diffuse.
Those on the left also tend to focus more on organizing and getting
people to participate, and the internet is not always the best tool
to do that. Today's internet works better as a tool for the powerful
than the powerless in that regard.

Of course, I am not saying that the left does not continue to use
digital technology at high levels. But we have to recognize that
there is a whole other world out there (trying to think of a whole
earth pun) - and the bubbles/silos are real (though I find there is
a qualitative difference between left and right online bubbles). And
that other half of the world, so to speak, is very powerful online.

When I first began to present my early findings in about 2015, I was
presenting to academics, who tend to lean left, especially my
sociology colleagues. People simply didn't believe me that
conservatives were using the internet more for activism. It's not
that they doubted my data - it was that belief that the internet is
"ours" - not "theirs"....but even with the military/university
funding of the internet, in some ways that's true - leftists were
early adopters of using the internet for activism. 

But after Trump's election in 2016, people finally understood in a
deeper level what I was finding. At the same time, there's this
sense that if we could just get "our" internet back - then
everything would be ok. If we could just get rid of the evil digital
villains like Zuckerberg, Trump or Putin - then we could restore the
internet to its democratic glory days.

However, despite some amazing efforts at people's computing and what
Jon mentioned in terms of digital literacy campaigns, the internet
was never egalitarian. There was always a digital activism gap.
Structural differences always dominated with digital technology. And
that's what we need to fix.
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #24 of 49: Jen Schradie (schradie) Fri 31 Jan 20 11:25
    
And fyi, everyone, for those of you in California, I'll be giving
book talks at UC Santa Barbara, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and SF State
in a few weeks. Details will be here:
http://therevolutionthatwasnt.com/book-tour/

And the DC area as well...

And the midwest in March/April...
  
inkwell.vue.508 : Jen Schradie: The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives
permalink #25 of 49: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 31 Jan 20 11:59
    
I remember when I realized that the right was using the Internet
effectively. I was part of an O'Reilly event, the "Digital Democracy
Teach-in," in 2004 -
http://conferences.oreillynet.com/et2004/edemo.csp. The speakers
tended to be more libertarian, and some were leaning left, but we
also had William Greene, Founder and Director of RightMarch.com.
Talking to Greene opened my eyes, for sure. I was also beginning to
understand how much of online activism on the right was invisible,
in that it was happening via email lists. We think of the sharing of
political memes as happening on Facebook around 2016, but the right
was actively doing that for many years, via email.  
  

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