Data Activism: Reviving, Extending and Upgrading Critical Citizenship Education and Consumer Rights MovementsUlaş Başar Gezgin
Considering the omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence of big data as the upgraded big brother, any resistance appears to be in vain. However, pessimistic accounts usually revolve on a model of a citizen as an individual. This atomized version of citizenship underestimates the power of citizens’ social solidarity networks which can be as traditional as nuclear or extended families or as modern as professional organizations and rights movements. However, big data activism and these forms of resistance are rarely connected with each other. In this article, we discuss how to integrate already existing rights organizations with data activism. The following themes are explored for this purpose: Snowden revelations and evolution of state surveillance; digital activism and data activism; and data activism and critical citizenship education. The notion of ‘critical’ citizenship education rather than citizenship education is mobilized in our reflection, since the mainstream, official citizenship education agenda is far from addressing the negative effects of big data and associated double surveillance by the state and corporations. Contrary to a merely theoretical understanding of citizenship, data activism needs to unite its forces with already existing rights movements, including human rights and consumer rights movements as distinguishing components of a critical citizenship. The purpose of this article is to show in what ways citizenship education and consumer rights movements can be integrated and updated within the context of data activism. The introductory section provides the background for the main arguments of the article. The method of this work is critical reflection and a theoretical discussion supported by a survey of a set of relevant research papers.
Our era of surveillance capitalism is characterized by pervasive rather than targeted surveillance. Currently, the big brother is not watching the dissidents but everybody for a tiny probability of disobedience. In the past there were mainly two kinds of surveillance: Physical chase which means undercover agents following the target anti-government figures in person and technical chase which mostly corresponds to phone taps. However nowadays there is no need for physical chase, as technical chase replaced it and expanded the areas and ‘opportunities’ of surveillance through ubiquitous surveillance devices including CCTVs, mobile tracking, net tracking etc.
Citizenship education offered in schools that can form the basis of antisurveillance activism is usually from the governments’ perspective. A critical sense of citizenship is rarely promoted in these official contexts. Thus, acquisition of critical citizenship consciousness is usually through peer learning at informal and nonformal settings. In many countries, adults and especially young adults join protests, and usually they acquire citizenship education skills and knowledge in a blended way whereby offline and online political activisms support each other. Thus ICTs usually utilized for entertainment are educationalized to serve the pedagogical interests of the citizens. They learn more on social media about citizenship education than the formal citizenship education courses.
We should reflect on informal and non-formal forms of critical citizenship education via ICTs including but not only limited to social media platforms. We propose that in order not to formalize and institutionalize citizens’ actively acquired critical citizenship skills and knowledge, the disconnect between formal non-critical, official forms of citizenship education and informal, non-formal, blended and citizen-based critical citizenship education should continue. Under the funding of governments or corporations, the criticality of citizenship education will be limited. That is why, citizens should support and develop their own citizenship initiatives and resources in both online and offline settings. The citizen and consumer rights movements are the perfect matches for such an endeavor.
In the case of activist uses of social media, a remarkable point is the fact that most of the Internet users voluntarily release personal information on the web. They are fulfilling their needs for recognition, reputation, socialization etc. Thus, activist use of social media should be able to identify the motivations behind voluntary release of personal information and be cautious about what to share and not to share on social media. This brings up the notion of social media literacy. However, since social media literacy is not necessarily critical, as it may develop on the basis of conservative reactions to the corruption of traditional society by the influence of computers and internet, this literacy should be critical. Hence we have the term ‘critical social media literacy’ as a better match.
Even under ubiquitous surveillance capitalism, either through literacies or by other means, we should still find the ways to resist. Citizen data activism can be about surveilling the corporate surveillers themselves. Data activist citizens can feed a website with corporate surveillance practices that they find unethical. Unlike the government who justifies surveillance on the basis of security, corporations have no excuse for surveilling other than maximizing profits. Under pre-big-data capitalism, a number of initiatives were successful to protect and promote consumer rights. For citizen data activism, those websites need upgrades to surveil the surveillers.
Citizen data activism should be in close collaboration with citizen science movements which capitalize on crowdsourcing for scientific purposes. We need to develop alternatives to surveillers by collecting and interpreting our own data –to break ‘the monopoly of interpretation’ as stated previously.
We urge data activists and rights movements to unite their forces for mutual benefit. The search on Google Scholar for ‘data activism’ and ‘consumer rights’ bring out almost no results. Same holds for ‘data activism’ and ‘rights movements’, and for ‘data activism’ and ‘social solidarity’, while a higher number of results are listed for ‘data activism’ and ‘human rights’ although the number is far from satisfactory considering the possible links between the two. This picture clearly shows that the links mentioned here are uncharted and understudied.
To conclude, the resistance against big data, the new big brother is not in vain and neither hopeless. Instead, there are potentials not even utilized and links not considered. Through this article on data activism, our hope has been to show a way of resistance to be argued, elaborated on and ultimately evaluated in terms of its merits and demerits by the decision makers of the rights movements.