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By Anne Collier

The other day I blogged about the collective conscious that social media users could become – are becoming, actually. Then I wrote about how users themselves – and not just ethical venture capitalists – could demand that startups bake safety and other pro-social basics into their apps and other services and that anti-social policies in established services get fixed.

Then I watched this talk by Ilyse Hogue, formerly of and now of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the picture became even clearer. She’s talking about women exercising their rights (and overcoming stigma), but she has a slide in her talk – titled “Stigma Jujitsu” – that’s really for anyone wanting to exercise rights or make change, for themselves or others. Because who hasn’t been marginalized at some point in his or her life – or hasn’t wanted to help someone who was the subject of social cruelty? In a single slide, Hogue presents the steps people are increasingly taking – from an individual or group being victimized to activists seeking change – to make all kinds of things better.

The ‘stigma jujitsu’ how-to

With “stigma jujitsu,” she’s remixing an ancient Japanese martial art and method for defending oneself without a weapon with the power of collective intention and action in social media. But “stigma,” which Webster defines as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something,” is only one of the social problems this jujitsu remix can expose and swamp with collective action in social media.

This is the emerging, largely untested kind of solution of our (digital, networked) age for any number of social problems – hateful or unjust behavior such as bullying, trolling, unfair policies, harmful laws, etc. It’s a social solution, “social” as in lateral, peer-to-peer, bottom-up, collective and chosen rather than top-down and imposed. Here, for social media change agents, are Hogue’s five steps of stigma jujitsu:

  1. #harmony – “Find your people online – you are not alone,” Hogue said in her talk. There are many more ways to find support online, free of geographical and other constraints.
  2. Broadcast the bullies – Together publicly “call out their behavior for what it is, but that’s not enough. Then…
  3. Sequester and swarm – “Stigma cannot live in the light. Exposure is its kryptonite.” Together flood social media channels with facts, support, whatever most effectively opposes the anti-social behavior (e.g., how high school students in California support peers online and the #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter after the shootings in Isla Vista, Calif., last month)
  4. Shift structures – “Build our own media,” create new communications channels, require fixes in social media features, laws, school policies, business practices, etc.
  5. Sense significance of scale – This last one is really important to Hogue, she said….

“I [we all] now live in a world where the tools we take for granted are just now starting to bring power to millions and millions of people who need it,” Hogue said.

Understanding our powers

All we need is awareness of that fact. What is now mainly a “collective unconscious” of social media – users of today’s user-driven media unaware of their powers – is slowly becoming a collective conscious, as users recognize that…

  • Problems in social media need social solutions (at least as much as the regulatory ones that were created for the regulated mass media of the 20th century)
  • There’s power in social solutions
  • They – users – are, by definition, part of the solution
  • Companies, communities and governments are parties to social solutions too
  • Social solutions are more effective and powerful in proportion to their inclusiveness
  • The better the intentions and actions (the more widely accepted they are as good), the better the solution.

That organizations and governments are parties to the solution too may take longer for some users to accept – those who feel that the solution to marginalization is marginalizing or demonizing, as in “fight fire with fire.” But that goes against Hogue’s and other activists’ principle that, just in the process of mass exposure, unacceptable behavior or policy gets marginalized. It “cannot live in the light,” she said. Besides, the goal is change, not punishment. It may take time for social norms and social change to change things, but social media has a way of speeding up the clock.
[Thanks to writer, activist and friend Soraya Chemaly (@schemaly) for tweeting Hogue’s talk.]
Related links

Ilyse Hogues’s talk at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York, June 5-6, 2014

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