Digital cultural organising is precarious

I have been meaning to write a post about an experience I had earlier this year of the takedown of my own cultural organising via a social media platform, so that’s this week’s weekly blog!

I run Weirdo Zine Fest, a self-publishing fair which I started in 2016 in order to centre work made by radical and/or marginalised individuals or groups in diy cultures. My motivations behind this came from experiences of tabling at other zine fairs which didn’t engage with the politicised ethos behind zine making. This ethos, for me, is about feeling like your voice is unheard in some way, and feeling motivated to document and give testimony to your experiences, share knowledge or resources, or make space for your own cultural/creative practice outside of creative industries (like the art market or mainstream media). It’s also about not needing to be technically good or proficient in order to make things, and instead prioritises scavenging and haphazard making over technical development.

Weirdo Zine Fest happened this February for the first time in about 18 months, at Leeds Central Library (thanks to Leeds Libraries and Leeds Zine Library for giving me some space in their LGBT history month programme!).

About a week before the event, I think I joked to friends that the organising was going “too well”, because nothing had gone wrong yet. Obviously this was like a klaxon, and shortly afterwards the facebook event that I’d been using to promote the event via social media was taken down because it “violated community standards”. Around the same time, Girl Gang Leeds and other feminist and queer organising groups in the North of England had events and facebook pages taken down. Historically there have been comparable cases within DIY music cultures and spaces (LaDIYfest Sheffield, 2014), which have restricted organising capacity and destroyed documentary traces of DIY cultural organising in the process.

I, and others affected in the same way, appealed our decisions (still waiting to hear back, Facebook) and quickly acknowledged that we had little choice but to start afresh. Having built an RSVP list of nearly 1,000, I went back to square one and reset up another event on the same platform. I had used paper fliers in local spaces and other online platforms (Twitter, Instagram) to promote the event but in many ways, due to our current understanding that DIY cultural producers and organisers make use of social media (Jones, 2018), I had little option but to return to and reuse a platform that had deemed my event to be “violating”. This made me feel sad, angry and anxious, about what we do when our data is stored on platforms which are in many ways unsafe for us.

These small individual cases are microcosms of much wider problems relating to the use of large online corporate social media to hold information. Recently, social digital platforms including Tumblr (Waterson, 2018) have changed policies about what constitutes acceptable content on their websites. In the case of tumblr, a policy change which meant that all adult content was removed from the site negatively impacted communities, visibility and networks of sex workers, queer artists and diy cultural producers (amongst others). In the case of the former, this move has been linked to the passing of the Allow State and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act in the USA, which has restricted sex workers ability to form online communities and networks that can help improve safety in sex work. Alongside this, other online platforms that have been used to store documentary traces of DIY cultures and self-publishers including Flickr and Geocities (both owned by Yahoo) have deleted materials and closed sites down due to new regulations about allowance or lack of current relevance/usage (Hern, 2018; Gottsegen, 2018). These institutional procedures, initiated by large corporations, often show little care for the value of materials and networks developed using their tools.

We rely on social media because of its ease and network capacity. These platforms are powerful tools for collective memory practice too (Collins and Long, 2015; Baker and Huber, 2013; Collins, 2012). I am politicised by archival practice that breaks rules and goes against standard practice, practice which might be ephemeral but prioritises access and community-building over long term preservation, as dangerous as that feels. At the same time I am scared of the precarity and temporality of this practice, of what it means when our labour and memory and evidence is destroyed because of policy or a need to reclaim server space. I am nervous about relying on platforms that don’t care about my communities or history, but without time or resource to pursue alternatives. We are often trapped between institutions and corporations, carving out niches and networks that reside in neither and are too easily lost down the cracks.

Baker, S., Huber, A., 2013. Notes towards a typology of the DIY institution: Identifying do-it-yourself places of popular music preservation. European Journal of Cultural Studies 16, 513–530. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549413491721

Collins, J., 2012. Multiple voices, multiple memories: Public history-making and activist archivism in online popular music archives. University of Birmingham, Birmingham.

Collins, J., Long, P., 2015. “Fillin’’ in Any Blanks I Can”: Online Archival Practice and Virtual Sites of Musical Memory,” in: Cohen, S., Roberts, L., Leonard, M., Knifton, R. (Eds.), Sites of Popular Music Heritage: Memories, Histories, Places, Routledge Studies in Popular Music. Routledge, London and New York.

Girl Gang Leeds, n.d. GIRL GANG Leeds – Home [WWW Document]. Facebook. URL https://www.facebook.com/girlgangleeds/ (accessed 3.12.19).

Gottsegen, G., 2018. GeoCities dies in March 2019, and with it a piece of internet history – CNET [WWW Document]. CNET. URL https://www.cnet.com/news/geocities-dies-in-march-2019-and-with-it-a-piece-of-internet-history/ (accessed 3.12.19).

Hern, A., 2018. Flickr to delete millions of photos as it reduces allowance for free users [WWW Document]. The Guardian. URL https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/nov/02/flickr-delete-millions-photos-reduce-allowance-free-users (accessed 3.12.19).

Jones, E., 2018. Platform DIY: Examining the impact of social media on cultural resistance in contemporary DIY music (Doctoral). University of Leeds, Leeds.

LaDIYfest Sheffield, 2014. The Deletion of the LaDIYfest Facebook Account [WWW Document]. LaDIYfest Sheffield. URL https://ladiyfestsheffield.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-deletion-of-the-ladiyfest-facebook-account/ (accessed 10.29.18).

Vagianos, A., 2018. Trump Signs Controversial FOSTA Bill Targeting Online Sex Trafficking | HuffPost UK [WWW Document]. Huffington Post. URL https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/trump-signs-controversial-bill-targeting-online-sex-trafficking_us_5acf5b08e4b08337adca3bfa (accessed 3.12.19).

Waterson, J., 2018. Tumblr to ban all adult content | Technology | The Guardian [WWW Document]. Guardian. URL https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/03/tumblr-to-ban-all-adult-content (accessed 3.12.19).

 

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