Where #FemFuture Fails

A few months ago, the internet was buzzing about the release of #FemFuture, a report about the origins of online feminism, what online feminism is, and what lies ahead. It drew a lot of criticism–some warranted–and caused some in the online feminism space to clap back, if you will.

My problems with #FemFuture wasn’t with the lack of inclusion of women of color, though that was a valid concern. My issue is that this idea of online feminism limits who has access to feminism as a whole and ultimately who gets to own it.

There are LOTS of conversations about feminism and feminist critiques of pop culture all over the internet, especially on social media. I’m glad that women have created spaces online where they can address the issues that are important to us. It’s important to note that many of the issues women have dealt with have been brought to light because of online feminism. For instance, perhaps I wouldn’t have known about Standing Up for Texas Women without the conversations taking place on Twitter.

But the biggest problem I see with online feminism is that I don’t see as many people talking about ways to bring the dialogue happening online…..offline. We talk about feminism, we blog about it,we make videos about it, we go to expensive conferences and attend panels about it…and then what? One could say that online feminism has failed to reach out to women who are perhaps less privileged and less engaged on social media–so who is reaching out to them?

The major take away for me as an online organizer is this: Online organizing — whether it is in the form of petitions, viral videos, or just a conversation or hashtag on Twitter, must have a component that takes the online dialogue offline. Otherwise, why are you doing it?

#FemFuture is failing at creating action and movements offline. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen much to make me believe otherwise.

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What We Can Learn from Black Twitter

Okay, so here’s the thing.

25% of Twitter users are African-American.

Naturally, African Americans on Twitter are going to create their own communities online, just as we do offline. Because of this, Black Twitter exists and it is an extension of black culture, as Maya Francis so eloquently wrote in a recent XOJane article:

Here, I’ll say it a bit more directly: Black people are awesome, our culture is innovative and Black Twitter, should you choose to accept its existence as fact, is like a digital unfolding of cultural blackness. The stoop. The back tables in the cafeteria during lunch period. The corner. Ball courts. Barbershops. Church. Technology is reconstituting the traditions embedded in the history of black rhetoric. The anonymity of the Internet provided a new gathering space.

Ever since I read Maya’s article, I’ve been thinking about what this means for both online organizers and even a few companies. I’ve also been thinking about the power of Black Twitter. I tried to find examples to point to that could illustrate that African-Americans on Twitter are influencers.

Then, Paula Deen happened.

Yes, Paula Deen shared her dream of a plantation-themed wedding and admitted to using the N-word numerous times. She had already been sued by a former employees for discrimination and harassment (a point that constantly gets overlooked), and then her admissions became the icing on the cake.

It was a story that mainstream media wasn’t quite talking about – that is until it exploded on social media in general and Twitter in particular. The people most vocal were–wait for it–Black Twitter users. First, there was #PaulasBestDishes as a trending topic. Then, when Paula released that terrible “apology” video, there was #PaulaDeenApologyBingo. Black Twitter was abuzz with all kinds of conversations about Paula Deen and her admitted racism. And soon – in fact, not even three days later as the tweets got louder and more frequent – Paula Deen began losing sponsorships left and right. The chips started to fall faster than you can say “Paula’s fried butterballs” (and yes, they are a thing).

I’m not saying that Black twitter users alone led to Paula Deen getting fired. What I am saying is that naturally, the more people are talking about an issue, the more attention it gets from the powers that be (mainstream media, corporations, etc.). And I think this recent situation shows us that perhaps communities of color on social media have value and influence that both brands and organizers alike should tap into.

Organizers who work on issues effecting communities of color should think about how they can use social media to reach their audience – and not take it for granted. Companies should take note of who is talking about their brand, and how they are talking about them; it may effect how you market their brand and how they reach out to consumers of color. But one caveat: be careful not to co-opt the online communities that people of color have built for themselves.

How can brands effectively reach out to communities of color on Twitter? What about Facebook? Where is the line between reaching out and co-opting? Is Black Twitter’s influence understated? Let’s talk about it in the comments.