Very Serious Populists

Really proud to be published in The New Inquiry for the first time. I really love their work and it was a pleasure working with them. 

Just like its government equivalent, voting on social networks is also a nice way to give the illusion that anything and anyone can succeed on merit while actually maintaining the status quo through sociotechnical structures. Tech entrepreneurs deploy voting to show allegiance to their fantasy of a color-blind and genderless meritocracy, predicated on what PJ Rey has shownto be an outdated and debunked notion that the Internet allows us to transcend race, class, and gender by entering a space of pure information. Popular posts are good, the logic goes, because only the best makes it to the front page. Sites use a combination of moderators, reporting procedures, and spam filters to keep the meritocracy in order, but it is the user community (which sometimes includes volunteer moderators, depending on the platform) that polices the boundaries and defends the site from would-be attackers. In practice this often means strict enforcement of majoritarian politics. On Reddit (a completely user-moderated site), this has taken the form of protracted embargoes of Gawker media and internal conflicts between an insurgent “fempire” (a consortium of subreddits that compile and deconstruct problematic content) and the rest of the site. Gawker and the Fempire threaten the legitimacy of Reddit’s system by highlighting the terrible things it enables and promotes. By ignoring the existence of other subjectivities online, these sites reproduce (as bell hooks would call it) the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Implementing voting in online forums, evidence suggests, is a good way to keep them white and full of dudes.

You can read the whole article here.

Voting Reduces Diversity in Social Media Participation (Kinda)

The merits of voting have come under scrutiny as of late, thanks in part to Russell Brand’s comments on the topic in his guest edited edition of the New Statesman. (Oh and I think there might have been an interview as well.) I’m highly suspicious of voting as well, which is why my ballots are mostly blank except for the one or two things I think might be strategically useful in later direct action. I voted earlier this week in a local election because my city is still small enough that there are very real and tangible differences to electing one counsel person over another: One city council person authorizes citizen working groups to organize municipal composting while another led the charge to close an indy media center that hosted an Iraqi artist because… terrorism.[2] A lot has already been said about the efficacy of voting and why it alone cannot possibly bring about the fundamental change that politicians promise. Besides, if you’ve read your Zinn, you know that all the important stuff happens between elections anyway. What I want to touch on today however, has less to do with government elections, and more to do with the abstract concept of voting. Why is it that, if voting is implemented within a system, do we automatically assume that it is more democratic? What happens to social networks and web platforms when we install voting as the overriding system of displaying public opinion? Why shouldn’t the critique of voting in general be directly imported as a critique of the social networking sites that use voting as the primary form of interaction on the site? (more…)