Saturday, 12 March 2022

Note on Everyday Digital Internationalism

Are younger generations more pacifistic than older people? Commonsense, as well as evidence would say yes. As discussed plenty of times on this blog, the turn away from social and political conservatism by young people isn't a consequence of "being young" and full of idealism. It's part caused by right wingers of all stripes repeatedly pushing policies that harm their interests, a culture where struggles against inequalities and prejudice have made enormous advances in the last 50 years, and the decades-long reorientation of work around immaterial labour. These processes were underway before the internet became an party of everyday life, but have in significant ways reinforced them.

This short guest post from @catherinebuca sees her teasing at one thread about how online communities among the young strengthens networked social liberalism, and why it irks authoritarians and would-be warlords everywhere.

Been thinking a bit around this lately. Younger generations have far less appetite for war in part because international interconnectedness via social media platforms buffers against the Othering that is required to manufacture mass consent for conflict.

Last month (before the invasion) a gaming community I'm part of was up in arms when EA weren't going to release a piece of downloadable content in Russia because of Putin's stance on LGBTQI+ issues. Russian fans set out in-depth and convincing reasons why this wouldn't hurt the Russian state and instead hurt only ordinary people who, in the case of this fan base, are largely LGBTQI+ supportive. It inspired an outpouring of solidarity amongst players around the world, and as a result Electronic Arts reversed their stance and went ahead with the release.

Platforms and online communities help erase - or at least make less solid - national boundaries and feelings of difference. When people share interests, it's those interests that inspire a sense of belonging and familiarity, and which country or culture someone is from is often unimportant to the point of it often not being known by participants in these spaces.

Severing those links makes sense if you're trying to reinforce nationalistic boundaries and set people apart from one another, creating antagonisms where they had previously been ameliorated.

Banning things like Instagram is done for the usual obvious reasons: economically punishing international (often American) companies, stopping information getting out/in, etc. But it also threatens that no-border solidarity inherent to online communities.

The problem for Putin - and other leaders - is that it's too late. Young people's social worlds are organised through nationless online engagement, where other groupings and identifications are more important. The idea of national loyalty is muddied and confused and no longer adheres to the more stable, traditional pre-social media identification. People still rally around their nationalities, and there's a lot of silly 'my food is better, your pronunciations are daft' stuff, but when it comes to sincere expressions of belonging, our shared interests trump what we see as artificial and arbitrary national divisions that are for the benefit of power.

That's a long-winded way of saying part of why I think this war feels different is because online social interconnectedness is a far greater force than it has been in previous inter-state conflicts, and it's going to be a problem for leaders from now on. We can also (and should try to) expand this to (partly) understand why this same effect isn't apparent to the same extent for Yemenis or others suffering under constant bombardment.

Not all populations have the same access to social platforms, not all have become part of the wider borderless, nationless online social commons. And because of this they are not as co-present. Younger people are still more solidaristic perhaps than they otherwise would have been though, because this has effects beyond the individuals they interact with.

These are rough and indistinct thoughts on the subject. It's basically just to say while there are lots of awful things about the platforms, more broadly they've complicated (in a good way) national identifications, which is having (and will continue to have) a significant impact on the ways consent for war and other types of conflict are manufactured, and ultimately support for an unrestricted internet should be one of our primary concerns.

Obviously, blind support for the companies that own these platforms isn't what we should be championing. Control of these platforms should be in the hands of the users (as per democratic ownership or whatever method you prefer).

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