I will march, protest, call my representatives, vote, mobilize, and resist. As of Jan 3, 2017 the U.S. government - House, Senate and soon to be White House - is taking a broad swath of actions that I do not support and will not allow to happen in my name. I will do everything I can to let elected officials know that, to resist their actions, and to work toward democratic representation at the federal level that mirrors the votes and political demands of the majority of U.S. voters.
But I am not going to do this digitally. I can't.*
Why, you ask? Aren't you, Lucy, getting emails and tweets and text messages galore about petitions to sign, groups to join, emails to send, and hashtags to use.
Yes, I am. More than I can count.
And the vast majority of them want me to sign up, to send them my friends' email addresses and my cell numbers or follow them on Facebook to learn more and participate. I won't do it.
First of all, I don't use Facebook. Second, while there's good reason to believe that many of these requests and calls to action are coming from legitimate groups, whose missions I support, and to whom I might give my (but not ever my friends') contact information, there's also good reason to assume otherwise. The otherwise takes at least two forms 1) the legitimate nonprofit or political group is using third party software to collect my name and cell number, and that software company is going to package up my personal info. Sure, they'll sell it somewhere. But, more important, I know they'll hand it over when the government asks for it and there's nothing I can do about it or 2) the whole thing is just an email/cell phone farming exercise wrapped in the guise of issues I care about.
It's not just that I don't want commercial companies holding all that information on me. I am working to resist the policies of my government. The U.S. government has access to all of that information once it's online. Yes, I will hit the streets to protest. But I don't plan to call the police or immigration services or Donald Trump and tell him my plans, where I will be when, and with whom. And I don't intend to do the digital version of that and hand the very forces I'm resisting the equivalent of that information in fine-grained digital form.
If you want to know how to deal with this reality regarding your own data and ability to take action then I suggest reading Dragnet Nation, everything else Julia Angwin has ever written for ProPublica, using the materials from EFF's Surveillance Self Defense, and checking out this blog post that points you to other wonderful tools for being smarter about your digital self. Take a training, ask an engineer, attend a cryptoparty, ask a librarian, find another way.
For the political groups, the coalitions and nonprofits, the march organizers and the rally folks - your job is just as important. Don't make me vulnerable to digital enclosure - give me options I can trust in order to work with you. Are you using Facebook for all your outreach? Then count me out.
- Have you a plan for what to do when Facebook again changes their algorithm, and it doesn't work in your favor (or works actively against it?)
- What about when the companies whose platforms you're using hand over all the data they've gathered on your community to the same government you are protesting? Which will happen (it already has)
- Is your group scooping up emails and cell numbers via petitions? Do you know what the software vendor you're using to do that does with that data?
- Has your board of directors put in place its legal strategy to respond to data requests from the government? What will you do when you receive a National Security Letter such as those sent to other nonprofits? Have you trained your staff/volunteers on how to respond? This isn't (just) an IT question, it involves everyone, starting with the person who opens the (e)mail.
- Look at this way - newsrooms are vulnerable. So are you. Learn from them.
Yes, we can use digital tools to help us protest and resist, to organize our communities, to make good philanthropic investments, and to reestablish a democratic government that represents the majority of voters. But first, we need to design and use digital strategies and data models that align with our democratic and philanthropic missions.
*Yes, I get the irony of blogging this on software owned by Google. Think about what info I've shared here and what I haven't.