Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Can Freedom in Person and on the Internet Co-Exist for an Activist?

-- By BriannaCummings - 09 Jul 2016

I have learned more about the how the Internet works in the last year than I have ever known but I remain exceptionally uninformed in many ways. I still do not know many things about how to protect myself online without completely unplugging and going off the grid. I still find value in popular websites but I also value my privacy and the privacy of my friends and family. I now understand and accept that social media websites spy on me and give my information to domestic and foreign government agencies and advertisers and corporations without my permission and there is seemingly no way to stop this, this is the price of using these ‘free’ websites. We are not paying money for use but we are losing something much more expensive, we are losing our privacy and having our online behavior monitored and tracked. Knowing that this is the price makes me not want to use these sites and delete my profiles and do my best to erase my digital footprint. I feel violated when I see ads for items that I have searched for or mentioned to friends in emails or “private” messages. As I continue to learn and grapple with what I have subjected myself to over the years in the name of social media and connectivity I grow angry but also conflicted. I find myself conflicted because I use my social media account as an outlet for my thoughts on activism and as a tool to contribute to the organization of a revolution in the making.

The fight for equal rights for Black people has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have relatives that were members of the Black Panther Party and I myself have been involved in advocacy campaigns since a teenager myself. I experienced racism at a young age competing at a high level in the USA swimming organization. I was personally accused of theft when I was 8 years old, because my challenger’s parents, all of whom were white, could not believe that my mother was able to afford the dozens of competition googles I had accumulated over the season and kept in my speedo bag. It is this type of discreet and covert racism that is being fought now. While something like googles seems so small and insignificant it is the sentiment behind the accusation that is so troubling. The notion that a Black child having the same equipment as a White child could not do so without having stolen the equipment is dangerous. It is this school of thinking that leads people to assume that Black people that are killed by police must have done something to deserve their death. White supremacy has been so ingrained and internalized that it has become invisible and a lot of people, especially White people, are unwilling to acknowledge that White supremacy continues to pervade our society.

Watching members of your community be slaughtered in the streets while their murderers go free is gut wrenching. Knowing you have a voice that can reach people you don’t even know and choosing not use it is incomprehensible to me. I feel the urge to use websites such as Facebook and Twitter that continuously sell me out to express my pain, anguish and disgust. I want to use these platforms to connect with other people who share these feelings that I have no connection to otherwise. I want to use this platforms to educate the ignorance and mobilized the aggrieved. ‘Social media’ can serve as a powerful organizing tool. I have seen these websites be used to mobilize thousands of people for protest in extremely short periods of time. As an activist and future revolutionary I find myself wondering if my privacy and security on the Internet is worth sacrificing for what I believe to be the greater good. I question if it’s fair to knowingly leave people I care about exposed to these forces in an effort to save them from unchecked slaughter at the hands of those sworn to protect. I question if it is right to stay online to have conversations like those I’ve had before to magnify the issues affecting my community those so many were unable or unwilling to see before. I know that I can make a difference but at what cost?

I know that people have organized and protested wrongs for centuries before the invention of telephones, televisions and certainly the Internet. I know it can be done because it has been done in the past. However, as we look to history for guidance we must also adapt to our new circumstances. People are simultaneously more connected than ever and less connected than ever. So few of us have genuine relationship with people now, we have traded true friendship and companionship for surface level interactions with nearly everyone we encounter. Phone and in-person conversations seem to be a dying art while we spend more and more of our time communicating electronically through platforms we don’t understand. In the days of the civil rights movement communities seemed stronger and more interconnected, national networks of organizers existed and were greatly effective. There were also clear and obtainable goals. In some ways I feel that it was easier to organize people against Jim Crow and segregation because it was visible and tangible in many cases. In our current era I find half the work is convincing people that racism and discrimination still happen. No one denied segregation’s existence or considered it an ‘isolated incident’. Having to spend so much time educating people on the existence of systemic racism is exhausting. Being able to reach a wider audience when doing so is preferable to one on one conversations, especially when these conversations happen with people that you do not know. As these conversations can be life-threatening, talking through a computer can serve as a shield.

This is why I pose the title question and find myself conflicted.

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r1 - 09 Jul 2016 - 03:40:28 - BriannaCummings
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