The Rise of "Great Potential": Youth Activism against Gender-Based Violence

By Damodar, Aashika | Harvard International Review, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

The Rise of "Great Potential": Youth Activism against Gender-Based Violence


Damodar, Aashika, Harvard International Review


On February 12, 2012, thousands of young people watched the Grammys in anticipation of who would win the year's most coveted awards, such as Best Artist and Best Album of the year. The Grammy telecast encouraged Tweeters to participate in a parallel awarding process based on snap judgments of all the performances and awards, grounded in personal taste. One commentator wrote, "Twitter, after all, is like a T-shirt whose slogan you can keep changing: every new tap of he keyboard trumpets your tastes." When Chris Brown accepted the award for Best R&B Album for his latest record "F.A.M.E" there was a surge of tweets across the "twitterverse" both in celebration and disgust. Brown's assault on his ex-girlfriend, Rihanna, after a pre-Grammy party back in 2009 had made him the most Contentious character of this year's awards.

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Youth across the world hurled various responses all over Twitter and Facebook, some in disgust at every mention and sight of Brown. Others shouted overwhelming support for the award. Perhaps the most upsetting to witness were the women who made his history of abuse light and trivial by stating their willingness to allow him to beat them.

Their rawness and insensitivity prompted several bloggers and activists to write about the incident. This surge in dialogue in the twitterverse was indicative of several issues, the most important being how complex and nuanced gender-based violence actually is, and how far we still have to go as a movement to end it.

Shortly after this episode, BET.com temporarily dropped Dream Hampton's "The Trouble with Chris Brown," which discussed the origins of Brown's man-childish behavior and his rash attempt to replace critically needed therapy with a small team of tweeters using the hashtag #teambreezyto show he still had support. "Team-Breezy" is simply a group of Chris Brown supporters. It is often referred to as a digital team of fans, whose primary goal is to tell everyone about their position, and share their passion both on-and offline as much as possible.

BET's permissiveness, the slew of young women and girls who made up #teambreezy, female bloggers (and commenters on blogs), and twitter followers who unwaveringly stood by Chris Brown amidst domestic violence charges and uncontrolled violent outbursts are very telling of some of the issues youth will face, and how they will address it in the future. Nearly 10 million @chrisbrown followers drove his album "F.A.M.E" to the number one spot, but failed to hold him accountable, relentlessly displacing responsibility for his actions onto others.

In this paper, I will attempt to unpack the parameters of what social media and connective technologies do for youth and youth activists. As a practitioner who has seen a diverse range of uses of connective technologies against human rights violations and gender-based violence, it is clear that social media has been important in recent social movements. Numerous cases show that opportunities for participation by youth and members of the public are greatly expanding through social media. However, the "youth" cannot be described as a homogenous category, and the use of connective technology among them is diverse and heavily contingent on context and level of access. I will explain how social media is creating new possibilities and practices among youth and its role in promoting and prompting progressive social change. With regular access to social media, the youth are influential "enablers" and have the greatest potential of spun ring change. I will also outline the limited functionality of social media, the need for associated offline action and clear targets, and cases of success and failure in which technology is involved. Gender-based violence both in the developed and developing world are a complex blend of structural and cultural challenges, many of which are enhanced and enabled by communicative technology.

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