Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Are the Messages the new Media?

A few weeks before coming to Boston for the WAM conference, I was reading the New York Times which had an article about people using new media at the SXSW gathering in Texas. It talked about how many people there were using Twitter, writing these micro-blog posts about the events they were going to. The author wrote: “The messages are the media…”

If I think about WILPF and wanting to bring younger women into the organization, I immediately start thinking about how young people are using media.

At WAM! I went to a panel put on by the International Museum of Women, which exists – you guessed it—completely online. It not only showcases the work of women artists, activists and writers, it often becomes a space for critical, political discussions and social change.

Jo Beaton and Masum Momaya were the presenters. The talked about how in the past much of our media looked like this:

The past = authority is the content provider

But now, with new tools like Facebook, Flickr, Tweeter, blogging, etc., it looks more like this:

The future = authority is platform provider

This raises other questions of course (and here we could have a discussion about the Open Source movement, who controls the Internet, privacy matters and more), but for the time being this alone is a major shift. If people are using things the Internet and things like blogging to create independent media, then all sorts of things start to change. People begin to talk to each other, report for each other, share with each other, create the media and the messages that they have not seen in the mainstream, as well as talking back to the platform providers about what they want to see, how they want to use the technology (not to mention hacking it, or building their own.)

The presenters noted that in general, women are using this new technology equally with men, and while the people using it are young(ish) say between 18 - 35 on average, more people that are 35 and older are starting to use these platforms.

While I sat in the room, at least three people there were “tweeting” about the session.

We also looked at social justice movements using technology:

The Blank Noise Project (India)
Sexual harassment incidents are written down and documented by women, what they were wearing and what happened to them when they were harassed. This is a huge blog.
It’s garnered a lot of media coverage, especially in India.

This was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya – citizen journalists started collecting on-the-spot reports and mapping them in a time of crisis; it let’s people “crowd source” when a crisis happens. It is built with open source software; you can see real time maps of what is happening where. It has been used in Congo and Al Jezeera used it to cover the war in Gaza – the effectiveness lies in the combination of offline and online engagement; and it has been adapted and adopted in different places and developers are adding code to it; has gotten some media coverage too.

I came away with a lot to think about, and also felt very excited to see these new ways activists are using new technology to tell women's stories and building maps of real crisis situations.


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