July 16 2020 GM

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Topic of Discussion: social media as recordkeepers of activism

Isabella (@isabella on Mattermost) is currently working as program manager for Latin America at Meedan, dedicating her skills to a project on Recordkeepers in Latin America. She is a journalist and tech person. See her project here.

  • In the last few years in Latin America, we have seen a surge in feminist movements and they are most present on social media, they use the platforms to organize to spread their message and work. So when we talk about activist history, we talk about that activism which is digital born.
  • In Latin America, there is a past of dictatorships and erasure of history and resistance movements. So as we are seeing this rise in military influence in the region, the idea of Isabella’s project is to spread awareness that this can happen again, and that now they have the illusion of freedom but social media platforms can be used to moderate this and informe.
  • When we talk about the tension that exists about corporate social media platforms being record keepers, we know that Facebook and Instagram content policy is a filed mine. We have seen content mostly related to freedom of expression and diversity being taken down. The research conducted by Salty with their readers on content policing by social media platforms related to algorithm bias when it's focused on race, queer and gender, show how marginalized communities are the most affected by Instagram content policies.
  • When Isabella started to research this in Latin America specifically, it was and is hard to find coverage on the issue. Most of the examples we see are from outside this part of the world. So the goal is to understand to what extent is this happening in LATAM, if the fact that activists are being targeted gets lost in the noise.
  • When we talk about archiving, there is always a cost to it, and organizations usually struggle with this, if we focus on grassroots then it might not even be on their radar. This is why open source is so important. It can help maintain independence and ownership, something that isn’t under our control when we use tools as Instagram or YouTube. Here is a piece Isabella wrote on erasure of data, COVID-19, open-source and Bolsonaro.
  • It is important to mention that these tools don't necessarily will make the collected memories available to the world. The goal of every archive should be sharing, memories, and history. But how do we make sure there is a history to tell? For example, right now, in LATAM, we see the rise of governments that historically erase memory. The idea here is to make sure it is saved, so it can be shared and studied in the future. So we don’t have to fighting dictators again, as it was something new.
  • There aren't a lot of open-source tools but it is hard to affirm that each organization needs to build their own tool. Alternative tools are necessary but also raising awareness on this issue and users pushing for change, and organizations and activists need to know which tool fits their needs.
  • There is a role or responsibility for (independent) archival institutions at least for bringing awareness to their communities, that their content is not forever safe as these platforms raised us to believe. As if they uphold democracy and freedom of expressions values, as we have seen they don't.
  • When we talk about the challenges that activists are facing on this area, we can name three main points:
    • First challenge is to understand if this is happening, so mapping it out.
    • Second would be to spread awareness about this issue, understanding that there is no one solution to it all.
    • Always have a backup of your content (you can ask FB and IG for it).
  • When we talk about the type of information that we want to archive when we are in a community, project or movement, there are a few important aspects to consider: to each organization, it will look like something, but if we aim for the future (to study these movements and let future activists to know that in fact, for example, people tried to stop all the madness) then we are talking pics, engagement, videos, articles and links. But ,like for security efforts, each organization needs to map what is important to save (since this might mean extra cost/even if it's a hard drive)
  • Frontline activists already have a lot on their hands and archiving may not be the first thought, so they need to balance their work and the need to be their own historians. The first step for this (like on security analysis) is backing up what is most relevant to their work (and if they have the capability and money: all the things). Then, on archiving, first we collect/save, then we curate...but that can be a future step, when the world is less crazy.
  • Finally, we agree with Isabella on the fact that it would be really important to store all the important data for free and independently as soon as possible and without harming our planet.