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The internet has been hailed as a leveling force that is reshaping activism. From the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, digital activism seemed cheap, fast, and open to all. Now this celebratory narrative finds itself competing with an increasingly sinister story as platforms like Facebook and Twitter—once the darlings of digital democracy—are on the defensive for their role in promoting fake news. While hashtag activism captures headlines, conservative digital activism is proving more effective on the ground.
Schradie’s talk, based on her book, The Revolution That Wasn’t, identifies the reasons behind this previously undiagnosed digital-activism gap. Large hierarchical political organizations with professional staff can amplify their digital impact, while horizontally organized volunteer groups tend to be less effective at translating online goodwill into meaningful action. Not only does technology fail to level the playing field, it tilts it further, so that only the most sophisticated and well-funded players can compete. The findings from her southern case U.S. case – from both online quantitative data analysis and offline in-depth ethnographic observations and interviews – have national and even international implications for a growing right-wing populist movement.
About Jen Schradie
Jen Schradie is a sociologist and Assistant Professor at the Observatoire sociologique du changement at Sciences Po in Paris. Her work on digital democracy has been featured on CNN and the BBC and in the New Yorker, Washington Post, Newsweek, WIRED, Time, Vox, and Buzzfeed, among other media. She was awarded the Public Sociology Alumni Prize at the University of California, Berkeley, and has directed six documentary films.