It’s hard to deny the lasting effect social media has had on the largest Black liberation movement in recent history.
It’s where the Black Lives Matter movement was born, out of response to Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of a neighborhood watchman, and where thousands of Ferguson, Mo. residents spread information following the death of Michael Brown Jr. The use of social media as a tool to inform and organize eventually sparked national protests to beat back the systemic killing of Black and Brown people.
But social media is also where modern-day surveillance thrives, where the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement can monitor individuals, mine information and track demonstrations. It’s what many activists today battle with — between harnessing the power of such an effective organizational tool or inviting the inevitable infiltration meant to neutralize the movement.
This is not a new fight. The tools may be different, but it’s infiltration that ultimately led to the demise of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. It’s a thought that crosses the mind of Dr. Rosemari Mealy, a former Black Panther and author of Fidel and Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting, when considering how similar the new movement is to her own.
What’s discouraging, Mealy said in an intergenerational discussion with Black Lives Matter NYC member Arielle Newton, is that people attempt to separate the two movements without realizing that both are fighting state-sanctioned violence — a battle that summons the same dangers.
“The other thing that’s discouraging is when, speaking about my generation, ‘you all didn’t do anything, that’s why we have to do what we’re doing,’ without understanding that it’s all about dialectics, it’s a continuum,” Mealy said.
“We were infiltrated by the FBI, the CIA, the whole counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) which fundamentally contributed to destroying that movement and why there was such a lapse in between before something more sustainable came on the horizon,” she added.
COINTELPRO, which operated under the direction of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, sought to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of the Black nationalists.”
Newton, the Founder and Editor-in-chief of BlackMillennials.com, understands that these dangers still exist, though in a different form.
“Infiltration is very real, we see similar patterns from the past starting to rear its ugly head yet again and its even scarier now because social media is a tool we absolutely use in our organizing,” she said. “Because it’s so open source, anyone can see our conversations and our dialogue with one another which makes infiltration a whole lot easier.”
Mealy, who said her generation would certainly use social media if they had access, did offer a warning about relying on the technology heavily for organization.
“With anything, there are positives and negatives,” she said. “I think one thing that it does on the negative side…it does not allow us to move more into the base where the people are and to actually have face-to-face discussions with the communities that we want to organize. We rely too much on it to mobilize.”
“I think that we should use it. But we need to have, organizationally, more control over how we’re going to use the technology.”
In honor of Black History Month, watch the continuing conversation between Mealy and Newton in “Bridging The Gap,” a series that honors the civil rights movements of the past and present while building a bridge that will better help us understand how to propel what has become the largest Black liberation movement in recent years forward.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kyle Goldberg/NewsOne, Getty