Bronx native Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez first burst onto the political scene in the summer of 2018 with an incredible underdog win against 10-year incumbent Democrat Caucus Chair Joe Crowley.
Since then she's become an overnight celebrity, that infamous win being just the first of many historic moments to follow in her wake. During her short two years in office, she's done a lot, including authoring both the Green New Deal and the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Act and introducing them to Congress.
(Seriously, when I say she's done a lot, I mean it — here's just some of her incredible political accomplishments, straight from the icon herself.)
Representative Cortez has proven that she's pretty amazing at a lot of things, but her most impressive skill of them all may just be her flawless social media game.
AOC is a trailblazer when it comes to the intersection of politics and social media. She has mastered the art of using her digital platforms (particularly Instagram and Twitter) to connect with her constituents and educate them on current political issues, legislation, votes, and world events. She breaks complex topics down into bite-sized pieces, answers public questions, and includes links to helpful infographics and resources.
Her down-to-Earth-ness is making politics much more accessible for young people who may otherwise find these topics too confusing or intimidating to research on their own. Her stories, livestreams, Q&As, and easy-to-digest explanations have brought an entire generation of voters into the loop when, for so many years, the ultimate goal of politicians was to keep us as far out of it as possible.
AOC has done quite a few Instagram Lives where she utilizes some of her spare time (it's hard to believe she has any) to talk with and answer her followers' questions.
She's even gone live on Twitch where a record-breaking 435,000 people watched her play Among Us with her fellow Congresswoman Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, as well as some popular streamers like Hasan Piker (Twitch user HasanAbi), Imane Anys (Twitch user Pokimane), Benjamin Lupo (Twitch user Dr Lupo), and Jeremy Wang (Twitch user Disguised Toast), among others. As of this writing, the archived video now has more than 5.6 million views.
AOC Among Us FULL STREAM with Ilhan Omar and Twitch Streamers #IWillVote | 10/20/20 www.youtube.com
In a completely unprecedented move, she posted an hour-long livestream where she broke down each part of the upcoming COVID relief bill and addressed questions and concerns from her followers in regards to exactly what this would mean for them and how it would affect them.
What Happened at the Capitol Instagram Live | Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez www.youtube.com
Never in American history have we had a politician that has taken the time to so closely and accurately explain what is in a piece of legislation to constituents. And especially during the pandemic — a time for so many people that was confusing, overwhelming, and frankly, pretty terrifying — having a politician be completely transparent about details surrounding relief was an incredible show of how politicians should serve the people.
"We are now in the era of receipts. People now want to see the actual clips of legislation. They want to hear less about our stances." - AOC
Although she's done many, her two most-watched lives are unsurprisingly both about the January 6th insurrection. In her first live addressing the situation, she explained what happened at the Capitol and answered some questions before stating that she wasn't quite ready to go into detail about her personal experience yet. A few weeks later, she revisited the topic in a second live where she finally dug a little bit deeper and got more personal about her experience, revealing the trauma she had endured and had been enduring ever since the violent attack on the capital.
Behind the Scenes and Q&As
Recently, in another never-before-seen political display of transparency, she's been taking her followers behind the scenes on her Instagram stories to see what she does in a week as a government employee. When most politicians would probably rather die (or have you die) than let you see what they're up to in a week, AOC wants to make sure you know that your tax dollars aren't wasted on her salary by showing you exactly what's in her work agenda: helping the people every single day.
During the COVID-19 pandemic (and the discourse surrounding the safety and legitimacy of vaccines), her Q&As have been an indispensable resource for a lot of people. She was very vocal about her COVID vaccination process and took her Instagram followers with her through the entire process via her stories, keeping them updated on her symptoms and side effects. (You can see all of this in a highlight she has pinned on her Instagram profile.)
Recently for Pride Month, she posted this Instagram story putting some companies on blast for using pride logos when they're funding anti-LGBTQ+ politicians behind the scenes. (We love an ally with receipts!)
Just @AOC using political social media flawlessly once again https://t.co/45LSkVLvev— 🐉Samwise✨ (@🐉Samwise✨) 1623285306.0
The Relatability Factor
I know the term "relatable" has been completely overplayed by internet culture, but a certain air of relatability is such an important tool for politicians to have. People want to know real people, and the way Representative Cortez uses her social media to connect on a relatable level not just with young people, but constituents of all ages, is ingenious when it comes to breaking down the walls of secrecy surrounding political literacy.
Ocasio-Cortez comes from a lower-middle-class background, and before becoming a politician, she worked in the restaurant industry as a bartender. The fact that she comes from a "normal" background where she held a "normal" job gives her the distinct advantage of really knowing what it's like to live in the shoes of the people she represents. (As a former restaurant worker myself, it hits really close to home.) She knows what the most important issues are because she's lived them. She knows how to speak to people in vulnerable positions because she's been in them. And she knows how to connect with her audience because she understands the importance of accessibility.
AOC utilizing social media doesn't just make her relatable, it makes her accessible. There are so many people across America that don't have access to proper education or resources about things like politics, vaccines, laws, legislations, and voter rights — but many of them do have access to Instagram.
Representative Ocasio-Cortez has set a very high standard in terms of digital literacy for the next generation of politicians. She's setting a new precedent in terms of their responsibility to use their platforms as an opportunity to be open, honest, and engaging with their constituents. With the internet and social media increasingly becoming more ingrained in our everyday lives, it's more important than ever that politicians pivot to utilizing the platforms that will connect them the most efficiently with the people they represent. And to get started, it's easy: All they have to do is take the Masterclass from AOC herself.
Amidst ongoing violence, many Palestinians and their allies believe their social media posts are being censored and deleted.
Some have described what's happening as a "digital apartheid." Over the past few weeks, many activist groups and people posting pro-Palestinian content have accused social media of censoring their posts and of going so far as to delete them in some cases.
For some quick background on the situation at hand, an 11-day conflict between Israel and Palestine recently resulted in a ceasefire. It would take a full length book to summarize the history and nature of the conflict between these two groups, but here's a quick summary of what's happened this month.
After days of fighting between Palestinian protestors and Israeli police, Hamas fired long range rockets toward Jerusalem. The initial fighting happened because of an attempt by Israeli settlers to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes. In retaliation to the rocket firing, Israel conducted hundreds of airstrikes, killing at least 230 Palestinians and wounding over 1,000 more.
As many have done with their causes in the past, those supporting Palestine in and outside of the area, including in the United States, have taken to social media to get the word out.
Social media has been one of the only places for us to get first-hand accounts from Palestinians about the occupati… https://t.co/ILb9LnGjwp— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) 1621976550.0
This has been seen in the past in the Middle East during previous conflicts and movements, such as the Arab Spring in 2011. A study done by the University of Washington found that social media played a "central role" in shaping the political debates around the Arab Spring.
"Conversations about revolution often preceded major events, and social media has carried inspiring stories of protest across international borders," an article from the University of Washington about the study wrote. "Online activists created a virtual ecology of civil society, debating contentious issues that could not be discussed in public."
The article also noted that efforts to quell social media posts about the protests may have actually resulted in more public activism, because after people were isolated due to Internet shutdowns, they may have gone to the streets instead.
Efforts to quell social media protests can again be seen in the latest movement to promote the human rights of Palestinians. Many, like Salma Shawa, founder of Anat International, a Palestianian clothing brand, have said they had pro-Palestine content removed or censored.
Shawa runs her business out of Gaza, where she grew up before moving to the United States for college. Anat International specializes in unisex hand embroidered garments, which are imported to the United States before being shipped worldwide.
When this recent wave of conflict began, her business's account started gaining more followers. She noted that she wasn't censored right away, but soon noticed that her story views were going down, from around 1,500 to only 250-300. This was in spite of the fact that she was still getting direct messages and engagement on posts.
"It was very weird because I had gained like five or six thousand new followers in a week, so you would assume that my views on story would also go up," Shawa said.
Shawa spoke with other creators who were facing similar issues and saw infographics circulating that detailed how to get around the algorithm and what many considered to be a shadow ban. A shadow ban is when a platform blocks a user's content without them knowing, by doing something such as making comments no longer available for others to view.
"I started following those tips of just taking a small break on story where I post my face or some random thing that you can trick Instagram," she said. "I'm not so sure that it was working. I did it anyways; I still do it every now and then."
Her initial posts that she feels were being censored were using words like "Palestine," "Israel," "attacks" and "colonialism." Now she and others have taken to replacing certain letters in a word with exclamation marks or different symbols as another way to trick the algorithm.
"On top of having to deal with what was going on in Palestine and having to deal with educating the world and raising awareness and covering everything that was happening on the ground, we also had to grapple with another form of digital apartheid," Shawa said.
For one of her posts where she featured pictures from a protest that had signs and flags, multiple followers messaged her to say that the picture was showing up on their feed with a warning that it had sensitive or graphic content.
"It seems to be a pattern of how social media is created. On top of people running these platforms being just so powerful, it also feels like the algorithms are discriminatory," Shawa said. "Even though they're not human, they were programmed by humans that are complicit."
This happened to my sister right now and a few others who posted about Palestine on their stories. Is this somethin… https://t.co/2GhtLDsSc6— Fariha Iqbal (@Fariha Iqbal) 1622998717.0
When Instagram was called out on this issue, the company said it had to do with a glitch due to their automated systems launching an update to help detect whether reshared media in someone's story was actually still available or not.
"Unfortunately, the update resulted in our systems treating all reshared media posted before midnight as missing," the company shared on their Twitter. "Part of the reason that it took us such a long time to figure out what was taking place was because this had been an automated deployment, and we had to comb through every possibility."
Shawa said she experienced similar issues with her TikTok account. According to her, the previous few videos she posted before the conflict began were getting 10,000+ views, comments, and engagement, despite the fact that she didn't have that many followers.
Once the conflict began, her viewership went down to around 300 views, and TikTok stopped her from posting an explainer video more than once, telling her that the video, which had text that included the word "Palestine," violated their community guidelines.
Other activists tell a different story than what the social media companies are saying. On May 21, 7amleh, The Arab Center for the Development of Social Media, issued a report entitled "The Attacks on Palestinian Digital Rights." The organization documented more than 500 reports of Palestinian digital rights violations, of which 50% were connected to Instagram. 45% of these incidents were deleted stories.
Join 7amleh's webinar “Palestinian Narrative: Censorship and Creativity in Times of Crisis” which will focus on how… https://t.co/mVhxjiBH8o— 7amleh حملة (@7amleh حملة) 1623175889.0
"The reasons presented to users included hate speech, violation of community standards, requesting proof of identity among others," 7amleh wrote in their report. "After 7amleh's submission of the reports to social media companies, companies recovered and restored some of these accounts and censored content. However, several reports are still under review."
7amleh also noted that Instagram's explanation focused on technical issues but didn't explain the high rate of censorship documented by human rights advocates. The organization goes so far as to make a connection between Israel and some of these tech companies, noting that the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs promoted a video on YouTube entitled "Israel will Protect its Citizens Against Hamas' Terror."
We also saw this kind of censorship during the 2020 uprisings that happened nationwide following George Floyd's murder at the hands of a police officer. In late June, TikTok users reported their posts with the Black Lives Matter hashtag were being affected, making it appear that the videos had zero views. At the time, TikTok released a statement blaming it on a bug.
"We acknowledge and apologize to our Black creators and community who have felt unsafe, unsupported, or suppressed," the company wrote. "We don't ever want anyone to feel that way. We welcome the voices of the Black community wholeheartedly."
TikTok user Jailyn Feliz (@jailynisfeliz) spoke to Refinery29 last summer, expressing that they were receiving low amounts of views despite having over 30,000 followers.
"I posted three TikToks that day. I also spent the day liking, commenting on, and sharing the content of Black creators and following them," Feliz told the outlet. "I was proud of the movement and seeing more Black creators on my For You Page was my motivation for participating."
That being said, one needn't look far for evidence of the bias of algorithms. The book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble discusses this issue further, highlighting the relationship between search engines and discriminatory biases. "Algorithmic oppression is not just a glitch in the system but, rather, is fundamental to the operating system of the web," she writes.
Despite all of the bias and censorship, Palestinian supporters continue to post their content, hoping that it will reach audiences around the world who can lend an ear.
"In a racist society it is not enough to be non racist. We must be anti-racist." - Angela Davis
Yesterday, Tony McDade was shot in cold blood by a white cop.
Last week we lost Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to police violence.
These racist killings of innocent people—reminiscent of lynchings, indicative of the systems of oppression of people of color and particularly Black people that have only morphed and grown more insidious over the years—have many people feeling motivated to join the ongoing fight against police brutality and racism in America, while others are feeling the call to deepen their involvement and join in protests.
Wherever you are, the best place to start is always with education, and the Internet is full of resources carefully compiled by people trained in anti-oppression, people who are sharing free resources in the hopes that they might help mobilize movements in the fight for justice.
Here are just ten social media accounts to start with. These are only jumping-off points—places to start the journey. White people in particular need to be careful and thoughtful while beginning this work. Please don't steal these activists' work or message them asking for help—the Internet has more than enough resources that you can digest on your own without asking for more labor from people of color.
Don't let this be the end of your advocacy. Don't let injustice continue to fester while you remain silent. Donate, read, protest if you're able, and get ready to stand in solidarity for the long haul.
1. Rachel Cargle
Rachel Cargle is an incredible writer and activist whose platform offers a selection of invaluable resources. Her Patreon course, "The Great Unlearn," is dedicated to sharing information, helping people unlearn systemic racism, and sparking action. Her personal accounts are also full of valuable, carefully crafted guides and actionable steps.
Part memes and TikToks, part information and political education, @urdoinggreat has a reel full of highlights on Instagram that are worth scrolling through as well as a Patreon full of useful content. Whether you're looking to understand why riots work or wanting to learn more about the radical Black history of mutual aid, Gem's account is full of enlightening and easily digestible tools for anyone looking to join the revolution.
3. We Are Malikah
Malikah is a "global grassroots movement, a network of active and engaged women leaders."
4. The Equal Justice Initiative
The Equal Justice Initiative works to end racial inequality and mass incarceration. Their Twitter feed is full of informative articles about the history of race and racism and the way it manifests in modern acts of racist violence.
A presumption of guilt and dangerousness makes people of color vulnerable to unjustified violence, wrongful convict… https://t.co/C8M6C67FdA— Equal Justice Initiative (@Equal Justice Initiative) 1590516000.0
On this day in 1943, white workers rioted in Mobile, Alabama after twelve black workers were promoted. To overcome… https://t.co/eO5GMWI25p— Equal Justice Initiative (@Equal Justice Initiative) 1590411601.0
4. Black Visions Collective
Black Visions Collective "believes in a future where all Black people have autonomy, safety is community-led, and we are in right relationship within our ecosystems." Focusing on systemic transformation through collective power, it's a Minnesota-based campaign with a global vision for racial justice and for a world where Black lives matter.
5. The Conscious Kid
This account is meant to help parents raise anti-racist children, but let's face it: We could all use a brush up on the basic facts, because we were all raised in education systems that prioritized whiteness.
Founded by Myisha T. Hill, @ckyourprivilege offers many resources for anyone interested in dismantling white supremacy and unlearning their complicity in these systems.
7. Austin Channing
The author of "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness" has an incredibly comprehensive social media and online presence, full of resources and books and web series and based in collaborative learning and collective action.
8. Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ)
SURJ fights for collective liberation. With chapters across the country and an established theory of change, and with an emphasis on creating accountability for white folks, they are a great place to donate to or join.
9. Layla F. Saad
Layla F. Saad is a writer who frequently shares events and observations about allyship and racial justice. The author of White Supremacy and Me and the co-host of the Good Ancestor podcast, her account and work is a no-nonsense direct challenge to white supremacy.
10. Matt McGorry and We Inspire Justice
Actor Matt McGorry's account is a treasure trove of anti-racist resources (as well as ani fat-phobia, intersectional feminism and more). He's also the co-founder of We Inspire Justice alongside JLove Calderón, and all are worth following and paying close attention to.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. It's just a starting point, a place to gather bearings and to develop an understanding of basic rules before plunging into the work of fighting for justice and for human rights, which is really just doing the bare minimum to prevent cold-blooded racist violence. While posting and reading on social media is more important, it's much more valuable to protest, to donate, and to join movements with pre-established visions and commitments to deep work. It's up to each of us to fight this f*cked up racist policing system.
With Donald Trump preparing to crack down on social media, Mark Zuckerberg is echoing Trump's sentiments
Last week two of Donald Trump's tweets attacking mail-in voting were flagged by Twitter as inaccurate, with a link to clarifying information.
Predictably, President Trump did not take the note well and is now preparing to sign an executive order with the purpose of cracking down on social media companies. In a move that strikes at the very foundation of the Internet, the new order will seek to give the federal government authority over how these platforms moderate user content.
The idea is that Internet platforms receive broad immunity from government regulation with the assumption they are acting in good faith and not attempting to enforce a particular ideology. So if the Trump administration claims—as they have in a draft of the new order—that social media companies are "invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise punish Americans' speech," then they can justify stepping in to interfere.
Trump has even suggested that he may use his authority to shut down social media platforms like Twitter. It remains to be seen how far reaching this petty retaliation will actually be, or how much Twitter really needs to fear President Trump's latest tantrum, but that hasn't stopped Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from trying to set his company apart as the "free expression" platform that doesn't need government controls because it won't interfere with Trump and his ilk saying whatever they want. As he put it in an interview with CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin, "Compared to some of the other companies, we try to be more on the side of giving people a voice and free expression."
It's a nice sentiment if you ignore the fact that it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. It's only relevant in that it echoes some of the language and ideas that the Trump administration and other reactionary figures in American politics have been using to attack anyone who tries to curtail their dishonesty.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Social networks should not fact-check politicians www.youtube.com
Did Twitter's decision to add a link with clarifying information at the bottom of Trump's misleading tweets do anything to limit anyone's free expression? Did it interfere with Zuckerberg's stated principle that "people should be able to see what politicians say?" Of course not, and Zuckerberg's implied suggestion that Twitter is attempting to be an "arbiter of truth" prompted a response from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who defended the company's decision to to "point out incorrect or disputed information about elections." While it's worth critiquing what Twitter gets things wrong in its efforts to regulate the platform, what their action did in this case—and what it was plainly intended to do—was to mitigate the harm of misinformation being spread for the purposes of undermining the electoral process.
But the fact that the whole situation enraged Donald Trump and kick-started his move against social media companies means that it's time for Zuckerberg to prostrate himself and emphasize Facebook's minimal, hands-off approach to fact-checking, noting that his company has "a program where we work with independent fact checkers."
He didn't mention that those "independent" fact-checkers include Check Your Fact, a subsidiary of the reactionary "news" outlet The Daily Caller, which is infamous for platforming biased, misleading, and white-nationalist material. This is emblematic of Facebook's approach to the political scandals it has dealt with since the 2016 election. Zuckerberg has consistently tried to play both sides of the political aisle in a way that is self-serving and incompatible with a genuine fight against disinformation—particularly in an era when Donald Trump is the head of one of those parties.
This is in keeping with Zuckerberg's established disinterest in monitoring the deceitful content on his company's website. He prefers to allow lies to exist on Facebook and Instagram—and particularly in political ads on Facebook—and to let "the media" sort it out because, as he put it, "political speech is the most scrutinized speech already, by a lot of the media." This obviously ignores the reality that Facebook and other social media platforms control which aspects of "the media" people are exposed to, favoring what keeps people engaged—which is to say, the most sensational content coming from the perspective they already agree with.
Zuckerberg is resistant to the idea that this algorithmic curation of content makes his company accountable for the dangerous, manipulative, and hateful misinformation that it helps to spread. Instead, he says he wants to focus on only catching "the worst of the worst stuff." While we can blithely hope that this approach can at least prevent another Facebook-incited massacres like the recent genocide in Myanmar, it certainly makes it easy for figures like Donald Trump to skirt the truth.
From Facebook's perspective, however, this is part of the advantage. Along with being far easier and cheaper for them to enforce, it allows them to draw a contrast between themselves and other social media companies so that Donald Trump will direct the brunt of his wrath elsewhere. As long as Republicans remain in power in the federal government, it will be in Mark Zuckerberg's interest to play nice with their lies about Joe Biden and Ukraine and their fear-mongering about the terrifying threat of accessible voting.
So if Trump's new executive order calls out "freedom of expression" and claims that social media companies "hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey," then Zuckerberg will respond by selling Facebook as "one of the tech companies that is the most protective of giving people a voice and free expression" with "a special deference to political speech."
As long as it remains within a certain gray area of distortion, it's clearly good for Facebook's business to allow powerful figures like Trump to spread as much dishonesty as they like.
"We are merely exchanging long protein strings. If you can think of a simpler way, I'd like to hear it."Photoshop
Then again, maybe this is all too harsh. Maybe Zuckerberg has a purer motive for wanting to charm the president with this talk. Maybe he senses that—within Trump's inner circle—he has a kindred spirit: someone with dead eyes and waxen skin who could offer him the kind of connection he's been seeking ever since he reinvented digital friendship, someone with whom he could fuse into a single, soulless entity known simply as Jark Kushkerberg. Keep the dream alive, Mark.
The Trump-Twitter Industrial Complex continues to fester and mutate.
This week, President Donald J. Trump tweeted a false statement about mail-in ballots.
He wrote that secretaries of state were sending mail-in ballots to every person, when actually states are only sending out ballot applications. For the first time, Twitter jumped in to fact-check Trump's statement, adding a link to a webpage full of information about mail-in ballots.
When users clicked the warning message, they received a statement that read, "On Tuesday, President Trump made a series of claims about potential voter fraud after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an effort to expand mail-in voting in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. These claims are unsubstantiated, according to CNN, Washington Post and others. Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud."
[email protected] is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, wh… https://t.co/cdSr6B9kWi— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1590536410.0
The company legitimized its actions by citing its "civic integrity policy," which prevents any user from "manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes."
President Trump promptly threatened to "strongly regulate" or close down social media platforms. "Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices," he wrote this morning. "We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen."
Twitter has been acting more aggressively with regards to Trump, whose rise is arguably owed in part to his use of the platform. Earlier this week, after Trump questioned the death of a staffer named Lori Klausutis in then-Rep. Joe Scarborough's congressional office, Twitter company heads officials/headquarters/rulers of the universe? wrote that although the platform was unable to remove the Tweets, it was "deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family." Shortly after, Twitter applied visible warnings to two of Trump's additional tweets.
Twitter's actions have raised new discussions about the power, autonomy, and even political identity of major corporations. Despite claims of neutrality, no social media platform has ever been completely neutral. (As Elie Wiesel said, "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.")
Facebook's decision not to censor untruthful political ads generated a discussion about whether the company was allowing electoral interference by permitting microtargeting and blatantly false information from saturating its platforms.
Twitter's actions also received some criticism. "It's not clear how Twitter intends to move forward with its disclaimer policy," wrote Inae Oh for Mother Jones. "For now, it seems pretty untenable, considering Trump's entire social media presence is propped up by falsehoods."
In a world where brands pretend to be your friends and where corporations are viewed as people, the fact that Twitter has developed some political spine of its own may be unsurprising. But were its actions really politically biased against conservatives if they were defending electoral integrity and the democratic process? And why did Twitter decide to lash out at this tweet, out of all the false, misleading, unhinged, and deeply dangerous tweets Trump has written?
This is uncharted territory, certainly, but there is some sweet hypocrisy in Trump's efforts to censor Twitter for censoring him. Regardless, both Trump and Twitter will both maintain distended amounts of money and power while pretending to defend democracy. Meanwhile, the pandemic will continue to rage and the world will continue to burn while Trump tweets away.
The COVID-19 conspiracy theories are nonsense, but there are some real threats that the new technology poses.
The next generation of cellular networks are beginning to roll out around the world at a time of unprecedented crisis and unprecedented connectivity.
For people who view global events as orchestrated by dark forces, all this change occurring at once is great fodder for conspiracy theories and doomsday predictions. For anyone familiar with that lens, their reactions (as crazy as they are) have been as predictable as the sunrise, but that doesn't mean that there aren't real causes for concern.
For those of us who realize that the world is far more chaotic and messy than any conspiracy theorist would have you believe, 5G still creates some worrying issues. If we pay attention to what this new technology actually does, we should be able to cut through the myths and misinformation and prepare ourselves for the real consequences that are coming down the pipeline.
But What Is 5G?
So what is 5G? In the simplest terms, it's the fifth generation of wireless communication networks, and it's defined by the frequencies in which it operates and the speed of data transfer it offers. While 4G systems operate at frequencies between about 600 MHz and 6 GHz, 5G nodes will be licensed to transmit signals in the so-called "millimeter wave" range between 24 GHz and 300 GHz, which will allow for more users to share a network and transmit data at speed up to ten times as fast as 4G. Essentially, it will allow cellular networks to achieve speeds faster than even most fiber Internet plans.
Why Is That scary?
But if that's all 5G is, why are people getting so upset about it? Why are they shooting at cell phone towers? While much of the fear around the new technology is connected to the unfounded belief that it is in some way responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, critics have been vocal about their concerns regarding 5G for years now. The fear is that the higher frequency signals have not been properly vetted and may cause health and environmental problems that we are not yet aware of. Among the fears are concerns about honey bees, cancer, and disruption of immune systems.
Most of these concerns are based on myths. While there are aspects of the honey bee decline that are still mysterious, there are a number of likely culprits that are not as interesting as the unfounded idea that cell phones are responsible, and so the cell phone story caught on. As for cancer, while it's true that higher-frequency electromagnetic signals tend to be more dangerous—like UV, X-Rays, etc.—visible light is transmitted at a higher frequency than any 5G signal, and people tend not to worry about the cancer risk of light bulbs.
But it's the concern about immune systems that has really flourished in recent months. While originally connected to the medically-dubious diagnosis of "electromagnetic hypersensitivity," the claim that certain frequencies of signal can disrupt immune function rose to new prominence in late 2019, when China's rollout of 5G happened to coincide with the first cases of COVID-19 in Wuhan. The miseducated corners of the Internet are now full of half-baked theories that the virus is being spread in tandem with the supposed immune-suppressing power of 5G for population control, tyrannical restrictions of freedom, and Bill Gates' plans for forced vaccination (AKA sterilization/mind control).
Chuck McGill on "Better Call Saul" believed himself to be suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity
It's a misguided attempt to answer a valid question: Why is this disease so much deadlier than others? Is it because the virus is hearty, highly contagious, and has a long incubation period during which it is largely undetectable? Yes. Will we adapt and find treatments and vaccines as we have for similarly deadly contagions? Of course. But the fact that the first deadly pandemic of our interconnected era happens to align with the release of this new technology was bound to produce some paranoia about 5G. And Bill Gates—the rich nerd who says he wants to save the world—has been fitting neatly into this kind of conspiracy theory for decades.
What Are the Actual Risks?
With all this confusion and hysteria surrounding the new technology, it's important not to ignore the actual risks involved. The recent proliferation of telecommuting and the added strain on all manner of telecommunication networks are likely to speed the global adoption of 5G. As that process progresses, major changes throughout our society will result . Some of those changes will be good, but others may have disastrous unintended consequences.
One of the major areas of concern involves weather satellites. Predictions from the daily temperature in your area to the likely path of a hurricane are based on satellite mapping that tracks the natural resonant frequency of water vapor—around 23.8 GHz. The water in the air gives off a very weak radio signal at that frequency, allowing satellites to track humidity and pressure systems. But the close proximity of that frequency to some newer 5G nodes will result in significant noise in satellite readings that are likely to compromise the accuracy of weather predictions—particularly around urban centers where 5G will be most prominent. The extent of the problem and the ability of scientists to work around it remain to be seen.
Another factor to consider is the problem of automation. Fast wireless speeds are necessary for coordinating complex automation like driverless vehicles and robotic warehouses. As 5G proliferates, broad sectors of the workforce are likely to become obsolete—replaced by new technologies. It's a process that has been ongoing for a while now, but 5G networks will accelerate the rate of change. Unless we have political programs in place to combat the effects of joblessness, the current economic turmoil may presage a long-term plight for our society that 5G will usher in.
What Else Are We missing?
Lastly, there are the consequences that we can't yet know. Every major country on the planet is rushing to implement this technology in their cities so as not to fall behind. We are rushing headlong toward this future that is hazy at best.
As protesters have pointed out, the high frequency range of 5G networks will cause the signals to degrade over long distances, or when passing through solid objects. This limitation may require carriers to use more cell towers and nodes, or possibly to transmit more powerful signals. What are the effects of surrounding ourselves with all those new, high-energy radio waves?
Will it be the same as adding a few more light bulbs to your home? Maybe. Or maybe long-term exposure will slightly increase the prevalence of certain types of cancer because of...who knows—some mechanism we haven't figured out yet. Or maybe it will cause subtle problems as a result of interacting with the atmospheric water vapor—altering patterns of humidity that will affect the spread of viruses… Probably not, but it is possible.
At this point we're entering the realm of wild speculation, but we don't have much choice. There is little research—if any—on the long-term effects of constant exposure to these frequencies of radiation. While there's no reason to expect any particular consequences, the amount that we still don't know about physics and biology is at least a strong case for humility. History is full of cases when new technologies had dire consequences that no one predicted—from x-ray shoe fitting to "non-addictive" opioids. Making such sweeping changes to our cities and expecting no health consequences at all—as we're being told to do—may turn out to be naive.
In the next few years 5G is going to spread throughout the US and much of the world, but it may take decades to find out.
Zoom offers us the opportunity to connect with each other, but at a price.
Digital platforms are becoming vehicles for new ways of life during quarantine, offering new methods of loving and working and connecting with people who we can no longer see in person.
In particular, the video platform known as Zoom is quickly becoming integral to many of our quarantine routines. But where did Zoom come from, and is it helping us—or hurting us?
Like everything on the Internet, it's most likely doing a little bit of both. And like everything on the Internet, there's a lot going on behind the scenes.
Zoom was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan. As of 2019, the company is valued at $16 billion. In the era of quarantine, most classes and meetings have been shifted over to its servers. Family dinners, dates, classes, revolution-planning sessions, intimate events—all have been shifted over to the online world.
Zoom is an oddly universal experience for many of us in quarantine, a strange third party in between our solitude and the buzzing outside world we used to know. A whole social culture is cropping up around it, filling the void left by concerts and bars—things like "Zoom Parties" and "Zoom Dates" are becoming common social activities, and as with all phenomena of the digital age, it's generated a fair amount of memes. ("Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens" is just one of the Facebook groups dedicated to the strange parallel reality that is a Zoom video call).
There are fortunate aspects of Zoom. It's allowed businesses to continue and has kept families connected across continents; it's broadcasted weddings and concerts and rallies. Video conferencing services also vitally allow differently-abled people to participate in events they couldn't have attended otherwise.
But there's a darker undercurrent to all this Zooming. The problem with the Internet is that nothing is ever really private. In some part of our mind, we must know this. We know that everything we post on the Internet will live somewhere forever, impossible to scrub away. We know that the firewalls intended to block hackers are just as thin as a few lines of code, as easy to break as a windowpane. Yet now, many of us have no choice but to burn our data at the altar of the web, and to face the consequences that may come.
Zoom-Bombers Inundate Synagogues, Classrooms, and Meditations with Racist Torments
In March, a Massachusetts teacher was in the middle of a Zoom class when suddenly she found her lesson interrupted by a string of vile profanities. The interloper also shouted her home address. In another Massachusetts-based case, another trespasser invaded a Zoom meeting and displayed swastika tattoos on camera.
Cases of so-called "Zoom-bombing" have grown so common—and the attacks are sometimes so heinous and malicious—that the FBI's Boston Division issued a formal warning on March 30, 2020. "As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called 'Zoom-bombing') are emerging nationwide," their website reads. "The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language."
This phenomenon is certainly not relegated to Massachusetts. "Zoom-bombing" (or invading a Zoom call) may seem like just another form of trolling, but so far, many Zoom-bombers have delivered racist, hateful invectives during their intrusions onto video calls.
Also near the end of March, an online synagogue service was hijacked by racist accounts, who filled the Zoom group chat with "vile abuse" and anti-Semitic sentiments, according to the rabbi.
"It is deeply upsetting that at such a difficult period we are faced with additional challenges like these. We will be keeping the security of our online provision under review through the weeks ahead," stated the rabbi.
According to the Los Angeles Times, some University of Southern California classrooms have been Zoom-bombed with "racist taunts and porn." The stories go on and on. Morgan Elise Johnson's virtual morning meditation sessions were interrupted with graphic sexual material, which devolved into racist taunts when she tried to mute the hackers.
"I just exited out right away," Johnson said. "For it to be at a moment where we were seeking community and seeking collective calm … it really cut through my spirit and affected me in a very visceral way." Johnson's digital media company, the Triibe, has moved its meditations to Instagram live.
You can find plenty of additional examples of Zoom-bombs on TikTok and YouTube, as many gleeful hackers have uploaded footage of themselves interrupting various meetings. And if you're so inclined, you yourself can easily find information about how to hack Zoom calls yourself. On April 2, ZDNet reported that there are now 30 Discord channels related to Zoom hacking, at least three subreddits—two of which have been banned—and many Twitter accounts broadcasting Zoom codes.
If you're tracing Zoom-bombing to its origins, the online text and voice messaging server Discord is the place where it all began. Many of the hackers are less than subtle, often posting requests for hacks. "Can anybody troll my science class at 9 15," wrote one user in one of Discord's forums, according to pcmag.com. Another user linked to a since-deleted YouTube video that showed someone sharing photos of the Ku Klux Klan to an Alcoholics Anonymous Zoom meeting. The Discord forums are also full of information about hacking Facebook livestreams and Google Hangouts calls.
While many online hackers are seeking lucrative gains like credit card numbers, Zoom hackers seem to be motivated purely by a desire for mischief and chaos–as well as racism. Essentially, they're Internet trolls, AKA the scourge of the virtual earth. But the maliciousness of these racist attacks, which are hate speech through-and-through, can't be underestimated or taken lightly.
How to Protect Your Zoom Account
There are ways to protect yourself against the trolls. pcmag.com recommends creating your own individual meeting ID rather than using the one Zoom assigns to you. They also recommend creating a waiting room so the meeting organizer can choose who to let in, an option that can be found under "account settings," and requiring a password when scheduling new meetings, which can also be found in the account settings under "Schedule Meeting." When all participants arrive, you can "lock" the meeting by clicking "Participants" at the bottom of the screen window.
In addition, The Verge recommends that users disable the screen-sharing feature. Other sites advise turning "attention tracking" off—which can prevent call organizers from seeing whether you're looking at other tabs during your meeting—and you can use a virtual background to disguise your living space.
The Anti-Defamation League has synthesized all this into a list of handy tips, all of which are explained in detail on its website.
Before the meeting:
- — Disable autosaving chats
- — Disable file transfer
- — Disable screen sharing for non-hosts
- — Disable remote control
- — Disable annotations
- — Use per-meeting ID, not personal ID
- — Disable "Join Before Host"
- — Enable "Waiting Room"
During the meeting:
- — Assign at least two co-hosts
- — Mute all participants
- — Lock the meeting, if all attendees are present
If you are Zoom bombed:
- — Remove problematic users and disable their ability to rejoin when asked
- — Lock the meeting to prevent additional Zoom bombing
Zoom itself has faced scrutiny and questions for quite a while, and its problems extend beyond a vulnerability to hacks. "Things you just would like to have in a chat and video application — strong encryption, strong privacy controls, strong security — just seem to be completely missing," said Patrick Wardle, a security researcher who previously worked at the National Security Agency, per NPR. Wardle discovered a flaw in Zoom's code that could allow hackers to watch video participants through a webcam, a problem Zoom says it has fixed.
And of course, like most big tech companies, Zoom is in cahoots to the evil mastermind behind tech's greatest data suck—Facebook.
Zoom Has Been Quietly Sharing Data with Facebook
Many websites use Facebook's software to enhance and facilitate their own programs. For its part, Zoom immediately connects to Facebook's Graph API app the moment it opens, which immediately places data in the hands of Facebook's developers, according to Motherboard. The app lets Facebook know the time, date, and locations of every zoom call and additional device information. The problem is that Zoom never asked its users for their permission to sell data to Mark Zuckerberg.
Following the Motherboard report, a California Zoom user sued the company for failing to "properly safeguard the personal information of the increasing millions of users," arguing that Zoom is violating California's Unfair Competition Law, Consumers Legal Remedies Act and the Consumer Privacy Act. "The unique advertising identifier allows companies to target the user with advertisements," reads the lawsuit. "This information is sent to Facebook by Zoom regardless of whether the user has an account with Facebook."
In response, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan published a blog post in which he stated, "Our customers' privacy is incredibly important to us, and therefore we decided to remove the Facebook SDK in our iOS client and have reconfigured the feature so that users will still be able to log in with Facebook via their browser." Still, users are questioning whether one CEO's word is enough.
There are other eerie realities about Zoom. For example, call organizers have more power than we think. Using certain settings (which can all be turned off), hosts can read their call participants' messages and can see whether attendees clicked away from the call.
Based on its own technical white paper, Zoom falsely marketed one of its features as making meetings "end-to-end en… https://t.co/Lh1KLYBidT— WIRED (@WIRED) 1585936146.0
The contents of thousands of video calls made on the app Zoom were exposed on the open web, and easily available vi… https://t.co/5s1QYRanG2— Xeni Jardin, #stayathome (@Xeni Jardin, #stayathome) 1585933927.0
Certainly in the future, more dark truths will emerge about Zoom. For now, many tech companies are advising users not to say or do anything on Zoom that they wouldn't want to be broadcast to the public. Of course, Zoom is probably no more or less safe than the rest of the Internet, a thought that could be comforting or nightmarish depending on what you've been up to online.
A Much Larger Problem: The Internet Is Not a Safe Space
The prospect of a Zoom hack or data breach is scary, and it's absolutely not what any of us want to worry about during these unstable quarantined times. Yet it also reveals a dark truth about the Internet: nothing is safe online—and pretty much everything we post is being used to sell us things. Unless you're a super-famous person or the unlucky target of a bored troll, you should be less afraid that someone will go through your Google search history and more afraid of what's happening to all the times you put in your home address and email on a website's pop-up questionnaire.
Zoom's encryption may be shoddy, but it's certainly not the only site that's selling your data to Google, Facebook, and their cohort of advertising companies. In fact, every ad you see is based on your web search history, demographics, location, and other factors individual to you.
Data—which includes but is not limited to the numbers, emails, and information you put in on all those online forms—is one of the most valuable commodities of the Internet age. Every time we do anything online, or carry our phones anywhere, someone is collecting data, and typically that data is filtered into massive data-collection artificial intelligence programs that synthesize data and use it to sell products.
"We are already becoming tiny chips inside a giant system that nobody really understands," writes historian Yuval Noah Harari. "Every day I absorb countless data bits through emails, phone calls and articles; process the data; and transmit back new bits through more emails, phone calls and articles."
And what will happen to all this data? It's hard to say—but conspiracies are thriving. "Dataists believe in the invisible hand of the dataflow. As the global data-processing system becomes all-knowing and all-powerful, so connecting to the system becomes the source of all meaning," adds Harari. "Dataists further believe that given enough biometric data and computing power, this all-encompassing system could understand humans much better than we understand ourselves. Once that happens, humans will lose their authority, and humanist practices such as democratic elections will become as obsolete as rain dances and flint knives."
That might be extreme, but perhaps not. During this coronavirus quarantine, we will all be pouring much more information onto the Internet than ever before, providing the Internet with intimate knowledge of our every move—more than enough to create pretty accurate digital representations of our own minds. Whoever finds out the best way to harness and sell this data (be it an AI program, a human, or Elon Musk and Grimes' cyborgian child) may just be our new god.
Ideas are indestructible, and Anonymous was always—first and foremost—an idea.
Once upon a time, the Internet was less a broken mirror of reality and more a diversion from it.
Maybe that's why prior to the era of identity monetization, blue check marks, and self-branding, anonymity was synonymous with power.
In the early 2000s, a group known as Anonymous sprung up across digital platforms, born out of a spirit of loose anarchism and disruption. "Anonymous" or "Anon" is an umbrella term, and like the Internet itself, the group was always slippery and amorphous.
Between 2003 and 2018, Anonymous's loosely interconnected network of digital hacktivists took on everything from Scientology to the Clintons to ISIS to Trump. At some point, they fractured, and it's unclear as to whether they still exist in any context, or if they ever really did. Was Anonymous an idea? A joke? A movement?
To try and answer these questions is a doomed enterprise from the start, because the group is (or was) so decentralized, so scattered, and so complex that it resists exact interpretation.
But perhaps Anonymous can also teach us something about our modern political moment—after all, the group was entwined with many of the major political forces of the past decade, from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring to QAnon. Maybe it can teach us something about the art of modern rebellion, especially in a rapidly digitizing and artificial age when information is poised to become the most valuable currency of all.
Welcome to the netherworld of Anonymous, where everyone can be no one together.
Born of Trolls, Hackers Turn to Scientology
The hacktivist network known as "Anonymous" arose around 2003. Springing up on 4chan, the group began as a collective of tricksters harnessing the Internet to pull pranks and seed an ethos of trolling and general disarray.
Anonymous eventually gained global reach thanks to its appealing ethos of decentralized leadership and general anarchical spirit. With memetic virality, it spread thanks to broad, decentralized messaging techniques and an emphasis on both humor and justice.
Today, two images are usually associated with Anonymous. There's the Guy Fawkes mask from the 2006 film V for Vendetta, which follows one activist's quest to end a totalitarian fascist rule in England; and there's the "man without the head" image that symbolizes the group's commitment to decentralized, anti-authoritarian rule.
Early on, the group embarked on helter-skelter actions and pranks, with mixed results. The group targeted the white nationalist figure Hal Turner in 2006, eventually exposing him as an FBI informant, and Anonymous first began to dive into high-profile political activism through an effort called "Project Chanology," a coordinated protest against the Church of Scientology. After the Church removed a video of Tom Cruise because they believed it portrayed them negatively, Anonymous hackers started a campaign to take down Scientology once and for all. They posted a video called "Message to Scientology" and launched a crusade against the church, which included a coordinated attack on the organization's website.
And so a movement was born. Thousands of people showed up in real life to protests around the country. "It was a very bizarre scene," the former hacker Gregg Housh said of the protest he attended in Los Angeles. "Here is a church created by a science-fiction author, being protested by people wearing masks created by a science-fiction author." Reality was bending; the simulation was showing its cracks.
For the next decade, Anonymous would harness the Internet in unprecedented ways, fighting for justice and destruction, for irony and distraction, and for change that would reverberate all the way to the top.
WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring: Anonymous Gets Political
Anonymous quickly shifted focus towards censorship and free speech. They used DDoS (Distributed Denial of Services) attacks to shut down websites they viewed as threatening to freedom. In 2010, they emerged to protest a censorship bill in Australia; and later that year, they collaborated to defend WikiLeaks after Amazon kicked Julian Assange's operation off its servers and Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal stopped processing donations to the group. (Anonymous later separated itself from WikiLeaks, due to Assange's influence over the organization).
Around the same time, a segment of the group decided that they'd collectively become too serious. They needed more "lulz"—LOLs, laughs, the trolling ethos that originally inspired the group. So a group called Lulz Security (or LulzSec) was born. They hacked the CIA's website. The next month, the FBI arrested fourteen Anonymous hackers for the aforementioned earlier attacks on PayPal, and Anonymous began to rise on the US government's radar.
In 2011, when the Tunisian government blocked WikiLeaks, Anonymous launched a crusade to support protestors in the movement that would eventually spark the Arab Spring. One of the more infamous leaders of LulzSec, Hector Xavier Monseguer (or "Sabu")—who would later become an FBI informant—and others also allegedly helmed a DDoS attack on the Tunisian government's websites. Anonymous was also integral to the planning of 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, which were somewhat similar to the organization in that they lacked internal structure and clear leadership and set goals.
Soon, White House staff became concerned that the group could destabilize the US power grids. The group became known as cyber-terrorists and anarchists. Perhaps out of necessity, or because its major players were being taken out or growing up and leaving hacktivism behind, Anonymous fractured around 2015 and 2016, leaving behind conspiracies and a legacy of rupture and chaos.
Still, Anonymous's penchant for social action continued throughout the 2010s. In 2013, Operation Safe Winter fought to raise awareness about homelessness. In 2014, a group called "Operation Ferguson" organized cyberprotests against the police after the death of Michael Brown.
In 2015, Anonymous shifted its focus towards the Islamic State. #OpISIS was a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris; despite being a largely uncoordinated effort, they still managed to make waves. "For more than a year, a ragtag collection of casual volunteers, seasoned coders, and professional trolls has waged an online war against the Islamic State and its virtual supporters," writes E. T. Brooking. But they never lost their irreverence.
"Taking away the free speech from a group that is advocating the end of free speech is delicious fun," a member wrote on a Reddit forum about the Hebdo operation.
"They rise up most forcefully when it comes to Internet freedoms and technology, particularly technology that is being abused in some way," says Brian Knappenberger, creator of the documentary We Are Legion. "They're sort of protectors of the Internet. This is their territory, and if it's abused, they're personally offended."
In the latter half of the 2010s, Anonymous waged war against pedophiles and the dark web. In 2018, they lashed out at QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy group that stole Anonymous's branding despite a complete lack of alignment with most of Anonymous's central ideologies.
Some members of Anonymous may have gone off to join QAnon; it's hard to know. Though different from Anonymous, QAnon shares some of Anonymous's hatred of the government—its "deep state" paranoia echoes Anonymous's fears of totalitarianism.
Today, QAnon members often show up at Trump campaign rallies, and though Anonymous and QAnon have very different ideas about what constitutes freedom and free speech, it's clear they both believe they're fighting for it.
In the wilderness of the Internet, especially when so many layers of irony interlace with each other and when trolls abound, it's easy for ideologies to twist out of form. It's easy for trolls to be mistaken as criminals, too—just as it's easy for trolls to become criminals. On the Internet, at least outside the realm of corporate influence and bribes, identity is as fluid and amorphous as you want it to be. Anonymous members can become Trump supporters who can become Bernie supporters who can become QAnon supporters who can become FBI informants who can then rejuvenate Anonymous.
If the Anonymous movement shows us anything, it's that identity and ideology are not set. They're as fluid as the shifting landscape of the World Wide Web, which might just be a reflection of the shifting tides of the human spirit.
Remembering Anonymous in 2020
If you Google Anonymous, you'll see the question "is anonymous good"? pop up on the search bar.
A short search will reveal that most self-proclaimed authorities on the subject believe that Anonymous is neither good nor evil. Instead, it's a diverse group made up of people from all around the world, bound together by a shared symbol rather than a structure or hierarchy.
Because Anonymous never had a set ideology or leader, there's no one precise way to remember them. There's no way to know what's real, or if Anonymous was ever the super-group that the media made it out to be. Most likely, it was more of an idea than anything else, though it may still exist in pockets. There's also no way to tell if the group has just gone further underground or if it truly has been dead for years.
According to Gabriella Coleman, Anonymous was always about freedom and elusiveness. "They dramatize the importance of anonymity and privacy in an era when both are rapidly eroding," she writes.
In terms of ethos, Coleman argues that Anonymous embodied an ancient trickster archetype, using old ideas about freedom, hedonism, and the randomness of the universe to cope with an increasingly unbearable modernity. "Nietzsche was attuned to the vitality of sensuality, myth, and art. Music, poetry, and even the mad laughter of the trickster Dionysus, who he championed, offer an aesthetic life of pleasure," she writes in her book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. "They are pursuits through which humans can overcome their limits and the tragic condition of life: 'Not by wrath does one kill but by laughter. Come, let us kill the spirit of gravity!'"
Is Anonymous nothing more or less than an idea, which became a movement and an identity? Was it all just a story? Has the story ended, or has it fractured and bled into other movements and other corners of the Internet?
Someone in a Guy Fawkes mask is out there, laughing.
The Anonymous forum on Reddit is still alive and well. A month ago, one Redditor mused, "Is Anonymous just a legend to teach us that we do not need a name or an organization to use our power?" Could Anonymous have been a myth designed to reveal that 'All of us can anonymously exploit the options that we have (elections, commercial decisions, jobs we chose, freetime activities) to change the world together?'"
Recently, #AnonHasBeenDeadForYears trended on Twitter. Some agreed with the hashtag. Some warned the world that Anonymous has never been dead—instead, it's everywhere.
These are the kind of conversations that Anonymous inspires. Half-ironic, half-imbued with radical visions—zombified, always mutating—Anonymous (or whatever remains of it) persists.
Maybe it persists in part because it, ironically, offered a form of identity, of differentiation, of meaning crafted through collectivity born out of a crisis of meaning. Perhaps in anonymity, there is identity.
"On the street...I am just another person in a sea of faces," writes a (fittingly) anonymous blogger in Dazed, in a piece that may or may not be a parody or a fake—we'll never know. "But in cyberspace we are different. We helped free the people of Egypt. We helped fight against Israel as it attempted genocide. We exposed more than 50,000 paedophiles around the world. We fought the drug cartels. We have taken to the streets to fight for the rights you are letting slip through your fingers. We are Anonymous."
Here are three crucial ways the digital age complicates your protections under the Fourth Amendment.
When the Fourth Amendment codified citizens' protections against government spying in 1791, Americans couldn't say, "Alexa: turn off the lights." With technology pervasively conducting our daily errands, the amendment against illegal search and seizure is not equipped to protect digital users. In fact, David Cole, a law professor of constitutional law and national security at Georgetown University, critiques, "In the modern digital age, it means very, very little."
To be clear, the totality of the Fourth Amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Here are three crucial ways the digital age complicates your protections under the Fourth Amendment:
1. Law enforcement doesn't always require a search warrant to enter your home
When police want to mine your private information on suspicion that you've committed a crime, they have to meet the familiar requirement of "probable cause." Traditionally, they must convince a judge that there is a sound reason to search and/or bug your property for surveillance. True to the wording of the law, your protected personal belongings include your physical body, "houses, papers, and effects."
However, "probable cause" includes the "plain view" clause, wherein authorities have the right to enter your home if they see evidence, contraband, or suspicious materials in your home. In the age of social media, a picture, check-in, or status you post could very well justify law enforcement entering your home without a warrant. The ruling in Katz v. United States stands as the most notable example that qualifies the Fourth Amendment as only applying to situations in which "an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy." When you're sharing the details of your life on social media sites, you waive much of that expectation.
2. Your personal information is no longer "private" from the government once shared on social media
A series of rulings in the 1960s and 1970s began to add exceptions to the "probable cause" requirement. Namely, the government does not need a search warrant to obtain any personal information that you've already shared with somebody else. Hence, the government can obtain any private information given to credit card companies, banks, or phone companies, because you've technically de-privatized the information by using those services.
Of course the same applies to any and all social media accounts. All the government needs is a subpoena, which experts say is "trivially easy to issue."
3. Your location can be tracked by the government
While it may seem obvious to be wary of broadcasting your location at any given time, some personal devices and social media sites automatically tag and record your location. Your whereabouts cease to be a topic of government surveillance when you share the information willingly (which you do by using digital services). As Justice Alito noted when presiding over the United States v. Jones, social media tools "will . . . shape the average person's expectations about the privacy of his or her daily movements." Traditional protections simply don't apply to what you publicize yourself.
700,000 Muslims were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017.
On Monday, Facebook said it removed 13 pages and 10 accounts controlled by the Myanmar military in connection with the Rohingya refugee crisis.
The accounts were masquerading as independent entertainment, beauty, and information pages, such as Burmese popstars, wounded war heroes, and "Young Female Teachers." Fake postings reached 1.35 million followers, spreading anti-Muslim messages to social media users across the Buddhist-majority country.
Facebook's move comes a year after 700,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh amid widely-documented acts of mob violence and rape perpetrated by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs. The United Nations Human Rights Council denounced the crisis as "a textbook case of ethnic cleansing and possibly even genocide."
Rohingya children rummaging through the ruins of a village market that was set on fire.Reuters
Last month, the social media giant announced a similar purge, removing Facebook and Instagram accounts followed by a whopping 12 million users. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, was banned from the platform, as was the military's Myawady television network.
Over the last few years, Facebook has been in the hot seat for their tendency to spread misinformation. In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, inauthentic Facebook accounts run by Russian hackers created 80,000 posts that reached 126 million Americans through liking, sharing, and following. This problem has persisted in the 2018 midterm elections, ahead of which 559 pages were removed that broke the company's policies against spreading spam and coordinated influence efforts. Recent campaigns originating in Iran and Russia target not only the U.S., but also Latin America, the U.K., and the Middle East.
The situation in Myanmar is particularly troubling—it's not an effort by foreign powers to stoke hate and prejudice in a rival, but rather an authoritarian government using social media to control its own people. According to the New York Times, the military Facebook operation began several years ago with as many as 700 people working on the project.
Screen shots from the account of the Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, whose pages were removed in August.
Claiming to show evidence of conflict in Myanmar's Rakhine State in the 1940s, the images are in fact from Bangladesh's war for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Fake pages of pop stars and national heroes would be used to distribute shocking photos, false stories, and provocative posts aimed at the country's Muslim population. They often posted photos of corpses from made-up massacres committed by the Rohingya, or spread rumors about people who were potential threats to the government, such as Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to hurt their credibility. On the anniversary of September 11, 2001, fake news sites and celebrity fan pages sent warnings through Facebook Messenger to both Muslim and Buddhist groups that an attack from the other side was impending.
Facebook admitted to being "too slow to prevent misinformation and hate" on its sites. To prevent misuse in the future, they plan on investing heavily in artificial intelligence to proactively flag abusive posts, making reporting tools easier and more intuitive for users, and continuing education campaigns in Myanmar to introduce tips on recognizing false news.
The company called the work they are doing to identify and remove the misleading network of accounts in the country as "some of the most important work being done [here]."