ELECTION INSIGHTS 2018
Research-based perspectives from MIT
Sasha Costanza-Chock | On Media Technology and Immigration Policy
Associate Professor of Civic Media
Photo by Danny Goldfield
"The new wave of intersectional social movements, largely led by social media–savvy younger women and femmes of color, is the key to a long-term transformation of our polity to one that better represents the dreams and aspirations of the new millennial majority."
ELECTION INSIGHTS 2018
Research-based perspectives from MIT
The treatment of immigrants by the Trump administration has drawn a firestorm of criticism and sparked protests around the country. Drawing on your research into media activism and the immigrant rights movement, how do you expect this contentious issue to impact the midterm elections? In your ideal scenario, what role would media technology play in moving the United States toward a fair and equitable immigration policy?
Trump rode to victory on a wave of anti-immigrant fervor and the slogan “Build the Wall.” Thus, the administration’s xenophobic policies, such as the “Muslim ban” (which barred immigration from several majority Muslim countries); the increase in raids, detentions, and deportations; and the so-called “zero tolerance” policy that led to dramatic increases in family separation and child detention, came as no surprise to immigrant rights advocates. However, in the summer of 2018, images and video clips of babies, toddlers, and small children locked in makeshift detention cages spread rapidly through the media landscape and appalled people across the political spectrum.1
High-profile political leaders condemned the policy: Pope Francis called it “immoral”2; and the American Academy of Pediatrics denounced it as “child abuse.”3 Despite backpedaling on the policy, the Trump administration still has not returned hundreds of young children to their parents, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has lost track of the whereabouts of many.4 Some of these children faced abuse while in detention,5 and at least one has died.6
Most recently, Trump proposed to “solve” the problem by placing entire families in detention together for extended periods of time. In late September, Trump directed DHS to consider any undocumented person who uses federal assistance (such as aid for housing, food, education, and/or health care — benefits meant for low-income people regardless of immigration status) to be a “public charge,” and thus, deportable.7
In response, since 2016, immigrant rights networks and their allies have organized a series of highly visible actions, protests, and campaigns. Most recently, these include #KeepFamiliesTogether, #AbolishICE, and #TechWontBuildIt. These are what I have called transmedia mobilizations: They are cross-platform, participatory, and deeply rooted in ongoing community organizing efforts.8 In other words, the immigrant rights movement seeks to advance its goals by any media necessary — across all social media platforms as well as commercial print and broadcast outlets.
Image from: #MoreThanCode: Practitioners reimagine the landscape of technology for justice and equity
"Immigrant rights networks and their allies have organized a series of highly visible actions, protests, and campaigns. These are what I have called transmedia mobilizations: They are cross-platform, participatory, and deeply rooted in ongoing community organizing efforts."
Potential impact on the midterm elections
Widespread access to social media lowers the barrier for communities that have been marginalized by mass media and makes it easier for them to gain visibility and adherents.9 How might any of this affect the midterm elections? Here I offer three brief hypotheses, based on my ongoing research into the relationship between media technologies and social movements:
#KeepFamiliesTogether, a movement centered on reuniting immigrant families separated by the Trump administration, will hurt the Republican Party in the midterms by reducing support among some moderate Republicans and independent voters, many of whom are disturbed by the Trump administration’s horrific treatment of undocumented children. Moral outrage on this issue (and many others) will also contribute to historically high Democratic voter turnout.
#AbolishICE, a movement to eradicate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has already forced some Democratic elected officials and candidates to take more explicit and progressive stances on immigration and contributed to the victory of leftist candidates in several primaries. For example, high-profile Democrats who have called for abolishing or completely restructuring ICE include Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young Nuyorican feminist socialist who took her district’s congressional primary by surprise; and Ayanna Pressley, the Boston city councilor whose recent primary victory over a 20-year incumbent and progressive Democratic senator, Michael Capuano, sent shockwaves through the political establishment.
#TechWontBuildIt is a new movement led by workers in the tech sector, focused on pressuring companies to engage with the ethics of technology development. It first gained national visibility when Google workers, with support from scientists, scholars, and academics, successfully organized to force Google to cancel Project Maven (a Department of Defense drone warfare contract).10 However, #TechWontBuildIt truly took off when it linked with the immigrant rights movement and raised demands for tech firms to cancel contracts with ICE (see #NoTechForICE).
The new wave
In the midterm elections, this will translate to high campaign contributions, get-out-the-vote efforts, and pro-immigration cross-platform media ad buys by tech firms that want to get ahead of the issue and brand themselves as ethical companies. This is in part because many tech leaders truly hold these values, in some cases because their firms rely on immigrant labor (see FWD.us), and in part a strategy to attract a new generation of highly politicized young workers — some of whom have taken to social media to reject recruitment from tech companies that are known to profit from ICE contracts.11
There is no guarantee that any of this will be enough, in the immediate future, to flip the handful of seats needed for the Democratic Party to take control of Congress, block the worst of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant moves, and advance a more just immigration system. However, the new wave of intersectional social movements, largely led by social media–savvy younger women and femmes of color, is the key to a long-term transformation of our polity to one that better represents the dreams and aspirations of the new millennial majority.
MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing program
Works by Costanza-Chock
Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets, by Sasha Costanza-Chock
Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement (MIT Press, 2014)
#MoreThanCode: Practitioners reimagine the landscape of technology for justice and equity
(Sasah Costanza-Chock with Maya Wagoner, Berhan Taye, Caroline Rivas, Chris Schweidler, Georgia Bullen, and the T4SJ Project)
MIT News Interview: Sasha Costanza-Chock on the #MoreThanCode
Study distills key recommendations about using technology to advance social justice and the public interest.
Design Justice, A.I., and Escape from the Matrix of Domination
Award-winning essay in Journal of Design and Science (2018)
How to Vote in Every State.
See video with info for your state — and vote!
8.Costanza-Chock, Sasha. Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement. MIT Press, 2014.
9.Tufekci, Zeynep. Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. Yale University Press, 2017.