From Virtual Volunteers of Katrina to Cyberactivists of Arab Spring
A new study conducted by the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy details how women cyberactivists effectively used social media to facilitate activism and citizen journalism during the Arab Spring uprising of 2011. The study describes women cyberactivists by the roles they played off the front lines:
Women cyberactivists largely stayed behind the scenes in their homes, taking mobile phone videos, pictures, and reports from the frontlines and putting them online as well as spreading information about what was happening elsewhere in Libya (pg. 17).
While reading the report, I immediately thought about the work women were doing online 7 years ago during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. I thought about the ways in which social media helped to facilitate national relief efforts particularly during a time when government support was slow to non-existent. Similar to women cyberactivists of the Arab Spring, women virtual volunteers of hurricane Katrina were organizing and disseminating information from their homes in order to assist survivors directly affected by the storm.
I presented on the topic of women virtual volunteers back in 2007 at a Women's Studies conference at SUNY-Albany. I'm posting the slides below, along with my abstract, for MMC readers to peruse. In a time when digital media tools are increasingly being used as means to facilitate relief efforts and revolts, it's important for us to think back to a time not so long ago when women were virtually volunteering before Twitter and popular Facebook activist groups existed.
"Virtual Volunteers: Hurricane Katrina's Impact and Women's Resolve"
My research focuses on a new form of twenty-first century activism I call virtual volunteering. Virtual volunteering is when community activism/support and grassroots organizing is conducted via the World Wide Web. More specifically, my research focuses on hurricane Katrina networking relief blogs, newsgroups, and Internet forums that are operated and utilized mainly by single mothers in search of assistance for their families. These virtual spaces are fascinating pieces of historical evidence that reveal not only the horrific impact of hurricane Katrina, but also the ineffectiveness of government sponsored assistant programs like TANF and FEMA. Some of the voices echoing through the blogs share similar sentiments regarding their current state of living and their dwindling confidence in government agencies such as FEMA. My research focuses on Katrina survivors, specifically single mothers, and how they have found ways and means beyond government assistance. If anything, these networking forums provide a place where women can connect with other women and families. These virtual spaces not only provide material and monetary assistance, they also seem to be a necessary and comforting place to congregate.