Tethered to Tech: Reclaim Your Data Rights

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We are living in a new civil rights era marked by digital activism, and social media have become the central sites for protest and community organizing. Today, more than ever, the protection of our data rights and privacy is pivotal. As a private industry, big tech has largely gone unregulated in its manipulation of data to oppress our information, our democracy and, ultimately, our voices. We already witnessed the ways that Cambridge Analytica bought and manipulated user information to sway swing voters in the 2016 presidential election. It’s estimated that only about 80,000 voters in three states ultimately decided that election.

Conversely, in the right hands, we have seen the ways that technology can be an invaluable vehicle for amplifying our collective voice and power through trans-national coalition building, collaboration within and between communities, and interpersonal activation and accountability. From the sweeping victories for BIPOC womxn+ candidates in the 2018 midterms to the ever-growing movement for Black lives, social media has become the key mobilizing tool for this generation and has demonstrated that, contrary to stereotypes, young people across the political spectrum are deeply concerned about the state of the world. The onset of COVID-19 and the rise of Generation Z has only pushed our global realities further into an interconnected digital space. As we remain vigilant against cyber attacks and work to safeguard our data, here are some key factors to consider as you protect your data, information and voice online:

Media Literacy

Media literacy encompasses the practices that allow people to access, critically evaluate, and create or manipulate media. The digital age has made it easy for anyone with access to digital mediums to create media. But we don’t always know who is creating it, why they created it, or if what they’ve created is based in fact. Being media literate is a crucial skill in our current online environment as it pushes us to carefully analyze the media we are consuming and the effect it has on our beliefs and behaviors. All media is constructed to reach a specific objective. The better we understand how different media sources and mediums impact our perception and thinking, the more boundaries we can create to filter what messages we receive and who has access to our media, making us more conscious and responsible media consumers.

Funding and Advertising

Capitalist media conglomerates like Google, Amazon, and Instagram, have monetized our access to media and possess an alarming degree of control over what users see and ultimately believe. In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble describes the ways that monolithic media companies use “algorithmic practices of biasing information toward the interests of the neoliberal capital and social elites in the United States.” The bias of algorithms has resulted in a provision of information that purports to be credible but is actually a reflection of advertising

interests. Most recently on Instagram, we have seen the ways shadow-banning has limited and blocked specific user content. As we continue to use social media to engage in the issues that matter most to us, it is critical to ask the questions: Who controls our media outlets? Where are they getting their funding from?

Privacy and Protection

As we strive to protect our data and personal information in the current digital landscape, it is wise to take preemptive security measures to ensure privacy. These can include: encrypting your data, installing a password protection software, learning best practices to spot scams and phishing attacks, limiting your exposure via privacy settings, and securely disposing of personal information. While sharing our experiences and life updates on social media connects us with family, friends, and communities across the world, it is also key to remember that the internet has an eternal memory. Anything we digitally publish will always live online.

Today the planet tilts, skewed on its axis. The forces that be are nervous, and power is shifting. The US democratic experiment has tried and failed. While we grapple with the tangible effects of climate change, police brutality, economic instability, and more, we are met with an opportunity to try a different model. As we aspire toward a reality where we all feel safe, we must prioritize the voices of those most directly and disproportionately affected by the compounded weight of oppression. With vigilance and solidarity, we have the power to re-create a nation made in our image of liberty.

For more information on ways to find your civic role in this current election, check out the Fragile Democracy event series which explores data rights, voter suppression, and the fight for equity that requires our collective political participation and engagement.

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