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How to Use Tech for Activism

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Tech for Activism

image from the UCSD Guardian

GUEST POST BY DAVID RUIZ

If you go back a few years, 2014-back, before the Donald-Trump-bleakest-timeline back, you might remember fierce opposition in San Francisco to Big Tech—companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo (wow, remember Yahoo?) were only making things worse, some said. Their buses clogged streets. Their high salaries pushed out families. Their tax breaks only reinforced their Mid-Market headquarter castle walls.

At the time, anti-tech activism was criticized as hypocritical, because, to get their message across, the anti-tech activists were relying on…well, technology.

But this criticism misses a core tenet of effective activism: to get someone to do something different—to get them to care and then to act on that care—you have to meet people where they are, and today, where people are is online.

Since 2014, technology tools for activism have become not just a norm, but a necessity.

For the community organizer making a run for Congress, for the socially-minded programmer who wants to disconnect from Big Tech, for the labor worker trying to safely discuss unionization, here are some simple ways to use tech for activism.

Hinder Government Surveillance by Using a Secure Messaging App

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the Trump Administration asked Congress to permanently extend the NSA mass surveillance program that sweeps up Americans’ telephone records, revealing who calls who, what time they called, and for how long they spoke.

Tech for Activism Signal

Just some of what Signal does.

Fuck that.

Actually, you know what? Fuck all NSA surveillance that indiscriminately vacuums Americans’ communications, like our emails, browsing history, and chat logs.

Though the fine details of NSA surveillance are shrouded in mystery, one way to better protect your conversations from digital snooping is by using a secure messaging app. This is important when using tech for activism.

Signal, WhatsApp, iMessage, and a few other apps all provide users with a feature called “end-to-end encryption.” What that means is that the only folks who can read what you’re saying on the platform are you and the person on the other side. For this feature to work, though, both you and the person you’re talking to need to be using the same app.

The security behind these applications is so strong, in fact, that even the companies that make the apps can’t read what you’re saying.

In the face of government surveillance, speak free.

Use Peer-to-Peer Texting to Directly Activate People

In the past, political campaigns, advocacy groups, and mission-driven nonprofits relied on a dreadful method when asking people to vote, donate, and take action: robocalls. Often unanswered and always annoying, robocalls rarely energized the public off their couches.

Tech for Activism Hustle

An example of how Hustle works.

But an effective alternative has arrived, and it’s called “peer-to-peer texting.” Bernie Sanders’ campaign used it, labor group Rise Up Retail has used it, and so can you.

With apps like Hustle, Relay, and Spoke, any budding activist can text hundreds of people a day, all from the comfort of a laptop. Because people read text messages way more often than they take a random phone call, peer-to-peer texting offers you better opportunities to have direct, meaningful conversations with the public.

Get the Word Out on Social Media

Social media is terrible until you learn to use it for good. By getting onto the most common social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram, you can reach many more people than you ever could by shouting atop a literal soapbox set up at any Muni exit.

 

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The possibilities are endless. On Facebook, you can create an event for an in-person protest in your hometown. On Twitter, you can engage in real-time conversations with users who care about the same causes you do. On Instagram, you can post helpful images, like the many users who inform immigrants in their community about their civil rights before planned ICE raids.

You could also set up an email newsletter with a program like Mailchimp, which offers a free version for up to 2,000 subscribers, or launch an online petition at Change.org, an online petition provider that has racked up a couple of serious wins for targeted efforts in the past.

Whether you’re fighting climate change, protecting DREAMers, or advocating for abortion rights, your audience is online. Go find them.

Leave Big Tech Behind

We get it, some of the companies we mentioned above are the same names you’re fighting against—Big Tech, after all, has repeatedly failed to protect people’s privacy and, at times, their civil rights. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use tech for activism.

Tech for ActivismMastodon

Mastodon’s mascot is way cuter than Twitter’s

While completely removing yourself from the “Big Five” (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple) is nigh impossible, there are a few privacy-protective, mission-driven alternatives to the individual companies or their services.  

Opposed to Google’s attempt to create a censored search engine in China? You could drop your Gmail account for an email account from ProtonMail, a Swiss company that offers easy-to-use, encrypted email.

Upset with Twitter’s continued inaction to remove white supremacists from its platform? You could try the similar platform Mastodon. Though difficult to learn, at least the platform’s mascot (a fluffy mastodon, a mammoth-like creature) is way cuter.

Consider Reddit too toxic? A recent alternative, called Tildes, is set up as a non-for-profit corporation that promises to not take any investor or advertising money, and to store as little user data as possible, which means better privacy for you.

Livid with Facebook because of its months-long negligence in addressing genocide in Myanmar? Ello, MeWe, and Vero all get recommendations from CNET. But, if you decide to drop the social media giant entirely, according to one reporter, you’ll be a hell of a lot happier.

By finding alternatives to some of the Big Five’s services, you can still do what you do best—organize, support, and activate—while maybe with a clearer conscience.

Keep Fighting

With the right toolset, and the right strategy, technology and activism are good partners. We hope you’re now better equipped.

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