Social Media, Activism & Surveillance

Information and communications technologies have had a profound effect on political activism in the 21st century. In the hybrid space of contemporary cities, movements for social change are co-ordinated through social media and, effectively, take place both on the street and in information space. At the same time, as the Snowden files have revealed, digital communications are routinely monitored by government agencies and military applications of the same technologies facilitate drone surveillance and targeting. In the lead up to our annual lecture, this seminar brings together specialists in the field of social media, activism and surveillance to assess the impact of digital activism and its future development. How is the use of social media changing in the face of increased surveillance? What are the connections between activist and military applications of information technologies? And how do people respond to monitoring and surveillance in daily life?

Chris Hables Gray: ‘Social Media in Conflict: Comparing Military and Social Movement Technocultures’

With colleagues in Spain and California Chris Hables Gray is investigating the role of new communications technologies in social change, with an emphasis on maktivism, sousveillance, crowd-sourcing and drones. Specific case studies include the Egyptian Revolution, Los Indignados, and climate change activism.

Paolo Gerbaudo: ‘Occupy The Digital Mainstream: Social Media Activism and the New Protest Culture’

The adopting of social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter in activist circles should not be understood simply as a technical move, based on considerations of convenience, and the desire to widen outreach. Rather, this shift involves a rethinking about the scope and aim of radical politics that breaks with some of the assumptions of the anti-globalisation movement. Paolo Gerbaudo will discuss how the new digital media activism differs from its predecessors, in its attempt to “occupy” the digital mainstream, rather than construct alternative spaces of resistance. He will assess the strengths and weaknesses of this strategy in the context of increasing surveillance on social networking sites revealed by the Prism scandal.

Darren Ellis: ‘Everyday Surveillance and apatheia

Darren will be discussing his work on the affective impacts of living in a surveillance society. He is particularly concerned with the notion that the more pervasive surveillance becomes, the more it seems to be being rendered unconscious. He suggests its ubiquity has given way to its normalisation, yet it is also increasingly complex and clandestine. Participants of a project he worked on expressed a sense that surveillance is now quite an impenetrable part of everyday life, there is very little that can be done to avoid it, so concern about it is a bit futile. Darren suggests that one of the responses this has given way to is a form of apatheia, a way of psycho-culturally managing associated anxiety.

Venue: Room EB.G.07, University of East London, Docklands Campus