The Power of Like: Solidarity in a time of social media

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It used to be pretty lonely being a left-wing feminist off-campus. While I had political friends I was reasonably sure were feminist too, I was surprised enough times by sexist statements from lefties and ardent rejections of the f word by sisters in the movement that I didn’t take it for granted that we were fellow travellers on the Down With Patriarchy journey.

Slowly but surely I started to identify like-minded individuals, many of them already people I gravitated to for other reasons like simpatico senses of humour. But still it was a lonely every-day existence sometimes, with energy stored up from those sparse get-togethers to see me through.

These days my life fair buzzes with feminist left-wingedness and it’s mostly thanks to my friend The Interweb. Through the internet, blogging at first, then Facebook and now Twitter, I have met so many amazing women; feminists all, left of centre mostly, and each a jewel in their own way. It seems hard to remember now that five and a bit years ago, before The Hand Mirror existed, I was often nervous about posting a feminist-minded status update; how could I know that my Facebook friends wouldn’t trot out the old tropes “man-hater” or “feminazi” or, perhaps worst of all, silently defriend me.

I’ve also found the feminist friends I had all along but didn’t recognise as such, or wasn’t sure of; people from my past, before I was actively political, who I knew from school, or sailing, or via family connections. They’ve been able to show their agreement and support through the really very small, but often highly significant, act of clicking Like.

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For me this solidarity has been amazing. Not only have I been able to make visible my work, I’ve been able to receive feedback, not always positive but generally always well-meant. The Likes, the comments, the occasional Shares have been like a kind word in my ear, or a thumbs up and a grin from across the room. Retweets and Favourites are the high fives of the digital world. They give me a warm glow that helps to keep me going when the world that isn’t in the ether is getting tough.

Here’s a very different example which reached across political boundaries: the solidarity shown by dozens, possibly hundreds, of tweeters and bloggers when Colin Craig of the Conservative Party decided to take on The Civillian’s Ben Uffindell for a mischievous satirical misquote.

The proliferation of hashtaggery poking fun at Colin Craig was not just a chance for people to exhibit their wit (although it was also that). It was in a very real way a chance to show support for Uffindell and his (often) good works on The Civillian. Tweeters nailed their colours to the mast, very publicly, and most of them weren’t in Colin Craig’s shade of blue.

Then there were the solidarity blog posts, from other oft-times satirical bloggers Danyl Maclauchlan and Scott Yorke, and even a newspaper column from Toby Manhire, again standing alongside Uffindell, for satire, for freedom of speech, and for puncturing the pomposity of politicians who act in such a humourless manner.

The Power of Like is now an undeniable part of our political interaction. Those who are excluded from the internet are excluded too from this solidarity. I hope we can get better at becoming more effusive with our honest compliments and warm thoughts in real life too.

5 COMMENTS

  1. “The Power of Like is now an undeniable part of our political interaction. Those who are excluded from the internet are excluded too from this solidarity. I hope we can get better at becoming more effusive with our honest compliments and warm thoughts in real life too.”

    Cheers to that Julie. Great post.

  2. Having recently set up a politically motivated website, and then linking it to Facebook, meant this piece resonated with me. It’s a definite buzz to see the ‘likes’ escalating and to feel that you and your comrades aren’t alone.

    The flip-side to this, for myself at least, is to begin wondering how engaged the ‘likers’ actually are. After all, it’s not all that hard to click the little thumbs up button before moving on to the next site.

    US scholar Jodi Dean has written an article (quite a few years ago now) arguing that the Left is all too often today caught up in what she calls ‘communicative capitalism’: the endless proliferation and circulation of information as if it is an ends in itself, a turn towards quantifiable online validation at the expense of ‘real politics’. You can read it here: http://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcommonconf.files.wordpress.com%2F2010%2F09%2Fproofs-of-tech-fetish.pdf&ei=PdaGUbSHGoS6kQWVj4DwAw&usg=AFQjCNHQStIYH68ZNUkBIidQItFjdPxHHw&sig2=8YDgSYAxVyZQM-hVRns_ow&bvm=bv.45960087,d.dGI

    Every time I make a post on the website I’m involved with, or take delight at new likes on our Facebook page, or post a comment as I am now, Dean’s article rings in the back my ears…

    • Thanks for link, I had a quick squizz, bit more academi-cy than I’m used to 😉 I think there are opportunities to cover the country in a society the size of New Zealand that are out of reach in larger states and federations. The other day a workmate came up to me to tell me she was looking up stuff about abortion law reform online and inadvertently ended up reading a presentation I gave over 2 years ago on the matter. We had not discussed it before. Somewhere like the States it would have been impossible for me to get enough likes and links on something I wrote for it to come up in her google search. So there’s an opportunity here, in this time at least, to be sharing and connecting in a way that is (more) real. The chance to find allies here is huge – I’ve now met a lot of the women I first met through online feministy stuff – or aspire to do so. I’ve had friendships that were based on a real life connection grow so much deeper because of sharing online. Would that translate as well in a bigger society?> Possibly not. And of course the digital divide remains, and cannot be overcome. What happens online is only part of our lives – for me it’s an important support mechanism in political work that is often isolating and frustrating (the everday sexism of local govt is particularly grinding), but on its own it isn’t enough to change a policy, change a situation, change a government. Likes etc are important fuel for people doing that work to keep going as they do so.

      • That’s an interesting point you make about the size of New Zealand mapping over to the ‘size’ of the internet community – that makes a lot of sense.

        A lot of activists I talk to mention ‘burn out’ as being one of the gravest problems they face for ongoing activity. So if ‘likes’ online keep your fueled for action then so much the better.

        I enjoyed reading your piece, and thanks for replying to my comment. I’ll be keeping an eye open for your future blogs (and will be sure to ‘like them’ when I like them!).

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