There is no such thing as a pure meritocracy.
Every few months, it seems like, when the Internet gets its big knickers on and does something righteous, invariably, someone somewhere gets up on a stage and declares that anyone, if the idea is good enough, can be successful on the Internet. Whether that’s a business plan, a political campaign or a cultural meme: you, too, can make it big. It’s our American rugged individualism, intertwined with what looks like an open digital frontier, all packaged up into an utopian bliss for the new century.
We’re here talking about power this morning. We’re talking about the power of the Internet, and specifically, the political power of the Internet. And, I have to say, when I was putting together what I wanted to talk about today, I could only think of a quote from “The Princess Bride:” I do not think that word means what you think it means.
The back story: Long ago, when Rick Santorum was campaigning and working on several extremely socially conservative agendas in Pennsylvania, advice columnist Dan Savage launched a (pretty fun) campaign to change the search results for Santorum’s name. Go over to Spreading Santorum for the full story, but for a long time, that was the #1 result when you searched for Santorum.
Now that Santorum is a candidate, the site has gotten more attention again, but it’s fallen in the ranking of search results. Already people are claiming that Santorum successfully pressured Google to change its results and drop the Spreading site. I doubt this is true for a variety of reasons.
1. Google may cave to political pressure in other countries (albeit with some transparency about why, how and how it can be tracked), but I do have a really hard time believing that they’d do something like this for a US candidate for president. It would be a PR nightmare, and they know it.
2. There’s a lot more linkage to Santorum’s own candidacy site, his Wikipedia page and other more official sites than ever before. This is going to affect everyone’s search results to some degree, in part because of the timing. I’m sure a lot of the links to Spreading Santorum are older, and the links to the official pages are newer. This changes search results to reflect the current state of the web as it grows/evolves.
3. Finally, there’s the issue that all of our search results are individualized, based on our prior search history, our social connections in places like Google+, and much more. If I google “Deanna,” I’m the 3rd most popular Deanna in the world. If someone else who doesn’t know me, who doesn’t have a connection to me, googles “Deanna,” they might not see me. (Before personalized search results, I was at least in the top ten, haha.) So in this case, when I google “Santorum,” it’s still result #4 for me. That might not be true for others.
Just another day clarifying before we totally run down the rabbit hole of technology conspiracies. :-)
There are a lot of ways to cover the Komen/PP firestorm–too many, in fact. For the purposes of my work here, I’m going to focus on what made this brouhaha different than any other concerning Planned Parenthood, the lessons learned if you’re on the defensive, and the lessons learned if you’re on the offensive.
My segment starts at 38min 37sec; I come on at 41min.
Note: This how-to became quite popular, and I wanted to be clear that it is available for reposting and reuse for other campaigns, so long as you respect the Creative Commons license (Attribution non-commercial share-alike).
If you’re not on Twitter, but you’d like a helping hand through the sign-up process, go here.
If you’re new to Twitter, and want an introduction to basic concepts– retweets, hashtags, and mentions, oh my!– go here.
One of the more attractive social media tactics when it comes to creating a stir is to use hashtags. Hashtags, in the case of campaigns and politics, can be useful to:
What’s a hashtag? It’s an agreed-upon keyword preceded by the pound sign that’s added to your tweet. In this case, we’re using #dearjohn. No special skill is required–just type it into your tweet, or copy and paste it.
Tweets with the #dearjohn hashtag should convey one or more of the following:
UPDATE: Check out Sady’s newer post for content ideas and guidelines.
Consider also monitoring the #dearjohn hashtag (how to do that is explained below) and retweeting posts that you agree with. Amplifying powerful messages and diverse voices goes a long way towards building critical mass.
It’s also helpful to include the Twitter handles of people that you want to hear your message. House representatives who are sponsoring the bill should be considered first–start with @SpeakerBoehner himself. A list of the rest of the co-sponsors–all 173 of them!– can be found here (click on “Co-sponsors” under Representative Christopher Smith). You can use GovLuv to find the Twitter handles of the representative you wish to mention. Consider also sending messages of thanks to representatives who are speaking out and standing up for women in this fight. UPDATE: Amaditalks on Tumblr compiled the whole list here.
You might also think about starting (or joining an existing) an act.ly petition to collect #dearjohn tweeters in yet another online location.
A word about decency/politeness: You don’t have to be nice in your tweets when confronting folks that support HR3. But calling names, making false or libelous accusations, etc., only hurts the rest of the movement. Be outraged, but keep your head on straight.
A word about trolls: If you’re new to this kind of thing, you might not have had much experience with trolling behavior. Basically, a troll is someone who actually isn’t interested in having a productive discussion, and only posts extremely inflammatory comments to derail the entire conversation. Ignore them. Block them. Do not, repeat, do not respond in any way, shape or form–do not even tell them that you’re blocking them. Trolls are vampires: they are emboldened and strengthened by any response to their antics, and you will inevitably be weakened. I know it’s hard to ignore them. But trust me, it is the only way.
To see the running log of all #dearjohn posts, you can do a few things:
It’s the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment today, where women voting in the US finally became legal. A tweet by the Women’s Media Center asked if anyone else got irritated by the phrase, “Women were given the right to vote.” And then a number of people responded yes, they were irritated, because it wasn’t given to them, women won the right to vote.
Both of these frames are problematic. It’s challenging to articulate exactly why, but I’m going to give it my best shot–because language has evolved within the same power structures we seek to tear down, we don’t always have the words to describe the problem.
Human rights within both frames are treated as a commodity that is traded. This is based on our market understanding of what we do with commodities: we accumulate, we spend, we give, we win, we lose. But if we really believe that certain rights are inalienable to humans, we can’t and shouldn’t commodify them. By doing so we support a power structure where rights are doled out and taken away at the whims of the dominant paradigm.
It also, in a deeper metaphorical sense, suggests that women aren’t necessarily fully human– they must be given the right to vote, or they must fight and win it for themselves. It’s not assumed that women would naturally vote in the grand scheme of things. We think so now (mostly), but if we continue to use this language, we support the antiquated structures that keep women from being recognized fully as humans.
If you’re into this kind of thing, by the way, and have the patience for heavy academic text, I highly recommend Women, Fire & Dangerous Things by George Lakoff. There’s a section called “Anger, Lust & Rape” that is truly disturbingly insightful as to how unraveling language can reveal our darkest cultural secrets. I’ll see if I can get in touch with George and post the piece here.
Today over at Gizmodo, blogger Joel Johnson posted what was intended to be encouragement and a challenge for his cohorts of the world to start following people who are different than them on Twitter: “Why I Stalk a Sexy Black Woman on Twitter (And Why You Should, Too).”
Conceptually, encouraging dominant cultures to divesify is fabulous –I subscribe to the DNA model of ecosystems and social spaces, so I support it wholeheartedly. As I’ve said in my book and recent talks: Read more →