At the organization I work for, we use social media platforms to organize new members and spread the word about our campaigns. But Big Tech is also increasingly a target of our organizing drives. How can we ethically and effectively engage with social media platforms while also challenging the damage that these platforms can cause?


Giants like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon have harmed our communities by not paying their fair share in taxes, extracting and commodifying our data, facilitating surveillance capitalism, and perpetuating white supremacist ideologies and disinformation. ACRE (Action Center on Race and the Economy) — the organization where I work as the Deputy Digital Director — has done extensive research on the role of technology in perpetuating racial capitalism. We’ve seen technology inflame anti-Muslim bigotry, both in the U.S. and abroad, and we’ve seen it aid policing and incarceration through more sophisticated surveillance systems that cause disproportionate harm to communities of color. We also know how quickly these platforms become cesspools of disinformation and hate through algorithms designed to trigger emotional responses from users (namely anger) to encourage more clicks and comments. 

And yet — organizers rely on digital platforms to get the word out about our campaigns. How do we square our criticisms of Big Tech with our reliance on its platforms to build the movements we need to win? 

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a virtual classroom with over eighty organizers eager to learn how to run more effective digital ad campaigns to propel their causes. As an ice breaker, our instructor asked us to drop our feelings about Facebook into the Zoom chat. The chat lit up. “We hate Zuckerberg, but we need to get our message out there.” “It’s frustrating to navigate, but that’s where our members are.” “I don’t care for the platform, but I’m here to learn how to use it to our advantage.” All of us worried about giving these platforms more attention and money, but we also knew that this is where people gather; to be effective organizers, we need to be there too. 

These platforms not only reach massive audiences; they are also where our corporate or legislative targets do business, and where they pour huge amounts of money into protecting their image. If we’re not online, we miss out on the best opportunities to bird-dog members of Congress or to geofence CEOs to expose how they’ve systematically harmed our communities. It’s hard to escape the grip of Big Tech, but we have to remember that they are nothing without us. We make up the digital realm, and we have the ability to use these platforms to dismantle racial capitalism — including Big Tech itself. 

One example of an organization doing just that is Athena, a broad coalition made up of national and local organizations taking on Amazon to defend the benefits of digital technology without having to sacrifice workers’ rights, environmental justice, or our privacy. When taking on such a large corporation like Amazon, digital tactics are often the best way to reach the most people. In a breakout room during the digital ad course, we workshopped an ad they were putting together to engage Amazon workers to sign a petition demanding better working conditions. Gathering signatures is the first step in Athena’s plan to organize workers locally and, eventually, to bring in allies nationwide. Once they have an engaged pool of activists to communicate with digitally, it’s up to the organizers to lead up to a higher ask — usually an offline action or event that challenges Amazon’s attacks on labor rights.

The NewsGuild CWA also recently took aim at a powerful hedge fund — Alden Global Capital — through Google ads. With the help of power mapping, NewsGuild had discovered that the best way to hurt the hedge fund’s image and wallet was to go after one of its most important businesses: SLT gyms in New York. The NewsGuild placed a search ad exposing Alden Global’s harmful practices, which showed up any time someone searched for SLT gyms. Again, there is potential to convert these online actions into offline impact. Those who searched for SLT gyms and clicked through to the campaign’s landing page had the opportunity to take action by signing the petition, making a phone call, or signing up for campaign updates. Whichever option they chose, they embarked on a journey with thousands of other new activists interested in taking the next step to combat the destruction of newspapers. 

These are just a few tools that can allow organizers to use our complex relationship with Big Tech to our advantage. We know Amazon lives online and they constantly bombard us with ads, so why not take up those same spaces to counter them with our messaging? We know search engines connect us to products and services in a fraction of a second, so why not get ahead of the game and spread the truth about who is behind these products and services?  

We can use tech for good; in fact, we already have, from the beginnings of #BlackLivesMatter to the rapid and abundant mutual aid networks that have popped up during the pandemic. Tech has connected us in new and profound ways. It’s up to us to take the reins and shape it into a tool that works for all of us. 


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