Session 1: Digital interactions and solidarity movements in an algorithmic age

Enhancing solidarity in Georgian Queer Movement: Building Connections and Supporting the Community during COVID-19 Crisis
Aia Beraia

In this paper, I want to focus on the Georgian queer activism/movement and its responses to the crisis created by COVID-19 Pandemic. I will discuss several activities and/or initiatives of queer activists and allies in Georgia and try to show how they try to strengthen the community and enhance solidarity. I will name and discuss three examples.

Examples of Queer Solidarities in Georgia
1. Transgender support/solidarity group was created on Facebook by the individual allies of the community in March
Transgender sex-workers are the most vulnerable group in the community. They don’t get the legal gender recognition from the state and face severe transphobia, violence and discrimination. When the lockdown was announced in Georgia, they were forced to stop their work which is the sole source of income for them. It was clear that transgender sex-workers could only survive by relying on the solidarity networks. 

The transgender solidarity group was created on Facebook by the individual allies of the community. For now there are about 800 members. The group proved to be quite effective as it managed to collect money to support those in need – about 15 000 GEL (5000$) was collected for two times.

2. Tbilisi Pride organized the online rally/conference on May 17
Tbilisi Pride, as many other prides around the world, managed to organize the digital visibility event – the online rally/conference on May 17. The event was very important for the queer community as it gave access to public space, gave visibility and helped to attract attention to the problems and voices of queer people. The participation of two transgender women also proved to be very valuable as they were able to speak about the unbearable conditions that they are forced to live in because of the cultural and institutional transphobia. Meanwhile, the participation and support speeches of the officials and politicians gave some hope to the community that they are not alone and perhaps there are chances to dismantle political homophobia and introduce more antidiscrimination and LGBTQ –friendly policies. Overall, the digital event conveyed how the queer community of Georgia is striving for survival and for ending its own marginality. 

3. The queer association Temida announced in May about its new initiative of building a shelter for queer people and creating a fund for this
The problems of homelessness and unaffordable housing is not new for the queer community in Georgia. The pandemic showed the housing problems even more vividly. Community members who had worked in the service industry or sex-work, abruptly lost their income. Many of them did not know how to continue paying rents. After the announcement of lockdown, a lot of them addressed the community organizations asking for help in this regard. 

To answer this problem, the queer association Temida decided to start project for building a shelter for queer people. They created a fund/account to collect donations. The information about the initiative was spread mainly on digital platforms – namely, the Facebook page of Temida and the online edition Publika. 

The Queer community in Georgia is struggling for survival on the one hand, as well as for pushing forward its agenda in politics and policies of Georgia. The struggle for space is also evident. On the one hand, this is struggle for private spaces such as safe homes and/or shelter, on the other hand, the community is also trying to occupy the public space which is reflected in politics of visibility of Tbilisi Pride. The state was negligent of the needs and rights of the community and hardly changed this approach during the pandemic. In these conditions, the community relies heavily on solidarity networks. These networks proved to be particularly important in case of transgender sex-workers. The visibility event organized by Tbilisi Pride helped to attract attention of the public to the severe social insecurity and hate/phobia that the community members are facing. Tbilisi Pride also plays vital role in creating and making visible the important connections outside the community – for example, some of the politicians and officials figured as allies of the community on the event organized by Tbilisi Pride. 

In a country stricken with general poverty, after the years of neoliberal policies, many members of the community still face intersectional oppression and insecurity. However, the examples discussed show that: (1) during the COVID-19 crisis the society managed to create support networks for its most vulnerable members; (2) queer activism is striving and working for creating more connections and enhanced solidarity. 

Changing Patterns of Re-Cognition
Waltraud Ernst

Feminist and queer solidarities have materialized important change in patterns of re-cognition that have been co-produced in science and society. Modern European Science and Technology has been obsessed from the beginning with elaborating categories of differentiation, discrimination and hierarchization, especially regarding sex, gender, sexuality and race. Although already challenged in the twentieth century by feminist, decolonial and queer STS, these categories have entered computing often unconsciously as patterns of re-cognition. 

So, contrary to the promises of high-tech advocates, the mathematical models constituting algorithms and “artificial intelligence” (AI) do not necessarily provide more objectivity when pervasively installed as automated assistance or even sole method for decision making and discernment in everyday life. Instead, they are accused to reinforce discrimination concerning e.g. schooling, loans, health insurance and even threaten democracy as “weapons of math destruction” (O’Neil 2012). Automation is analyzed as encoded inequity and amplifying racial hierarchies while appearing neutral (Benjamin 2019). Actually, algorithmic profiling is criticized of discriminating job seekers through privileging (some) men by predicting lower chances for other groups differentiated via demographic data (Allhutter et al. 2020). Thus, these technologies of computing constitute elements in a political and socio-technical value system that differentiates persons along outdated patterns of European modernity and values people differently. In perpetuating – often unconsciously – the modern European value system mentioned above, it results in an automation of inequalities and contributes to an aggravation and intensification of racism and sexism, class hierarchies, homophobia and transphobia. Consequently, this aggravation of inequality by automation, algorithms and AI which becomes more and more obvious, provokes more and more protest and makes it possible to scandalize hierarchization anew. This means that it is possible to question these passed down hierarchies and search for a change of these patterns of re-cognition. How to recognize differently? How to change the patterns we – and the machines we are teaching – are able to re-cognize?

The paper asks how feminist and decolonial epistemology can contribute to change these problematic patterns of re-cognition in a digitalized world through connectivity, materiality, and mobility. In relation to a framing of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, to be represented in the digitalized world in order to be recognized is something that we cannot not want, although we thereby risk constant misrepresentation. Confronting this dilemma, the paper presents Chela Sandoval’s “methodology of the oppressed” (2000) as a way out and a call for a “differential movement”, a movement beyond the old ideologies of hierarchization and liberation in order to materialize future visions of anti-racist feminist and queer solidarities. The idea is to confront the rigid patterns of categorization and hierarchization with a conscious flexibility and fluidity of mind and body to re-cognize and re-signify these old patterns of re-cognition. This may lead to a celebration of plurality and fluidity in a new horizontal value system. Therefore, the paper explores participatory methods for confronting and overcoming tendencies in programming algorithms and systems of AI which perpetuate and amplify biases present in big data sets. It explores activism as epistemological and technoscientific practice in academia and beyond. The goal is to contribute to a conceptualization of becoming an interdisciplinary high-tech anti-discrimination activist collective for variously situated digital solidarities and beyond.

Feminist and queer solidarities have materialized important change in patterns of re-cognition that have been co-produced in science and society. Modern European Science and Technology has been obsessed from the beginning with elaborating categories of differentiation, discrimination and hierarchization, especially regarding sex, gender, sexuality and race. Although already challenged in the twentieth century by feminist, decolonial and queer STS, these categories have entered computing often unconsciously as patterns of re-cognition. 

Solidarity in the video game community: The case of Blizzard-Hong Kong 
Nadia Ruiz-Bravo

In the last decade, we have witnessed an increased involvement of the public in political conversations  and participation through different digital platforms such as social media platforms (Selander &  Jarvenpaa, 2016). The literature on digital collective action and political messages had focused in large  groups of people protesting against their governments or established system of oppression (e.g.  patriarchy, police, etc.), and how the use of different digital platforms (mostly social media platforms)  had enabled or not the advances of these collectives (Margetts et al., 2015; Milan, 2015; Oh, et al.,  2015). The video game industry and their massive community are rarely seen involved in international  politics like this. However, since the early 2010s, the video game community had engaged in different  movements and collective actions that had led to different consequences for the industry. Movements  like #1ReasonWhy in 2012 or #GamerGate in 2014, marked precedents in the video game industry both  uncovering the reality of the female workers in this industry and showing the dark side of the industry (MacDonald, 2018; Todd, 2015; Massanari, 2017; Chess & Shaw, 2015; Mortensen, 2018;  Buyukozturk et al., 2018). The case study of this paper is part of the collective actions taking place in  the video game community.  

In the early days of October 2019, the e-sport winner of the card game Hearthstone, Blitzchung, voiced  his support for the Hong Kong protests in an after-tournament interview. Blizzard, the company creator  of the game and host of the event, punished the player and the interviewers for breaking the rules of the  tournament. This triggered a wave of backlash from the gamer community that led to several actions  such as boycott campaigns, loss of sponsors, physical protests, and even letters from the USA Congress  aimed at pressuring Blizzard to reconsider the punishment decision. Accusations of being compliant  with an authoritarian regime (China), violations of freedom of speech, economic gain over human  rights, and many others, were directed towards Blizzard for over a month while the scandal led the  newspapers. While Blizzard reduced the penalty for both the player and the casters, and in the annual  Blizzard convention, BlizzCon, the CEO of Blizzard addressed the issue in an opening statement for  the event, his words were not well received by a large number of the protestors that continued voicing  their dissatisfaction with the company’s decisions. 

This study analyzed this phenomenon by using secondary data including posts, chats, and comments of  the protestors in two popular digital platforms used by this community, Twitch, and Reddit. The results  of the analysis confirmed the enormous response in solidarity of the esports player, the protests in Hong  Kong, and against Blizzard and the Chinese government. On Twitch, the observed behavior was of a  massive spamming campaign filled with messages supporting the protests in Hong Kong. However,  there was a fairly high amount of ‘trolling’ comments, where the words of the spamming messages were  twisted a bit in order to mock the campaign. On Reddit, the ones participating in the collective action  posted news, personal analysis of the situation, and even art (mostly fanart and paintings). Although  most of these posts and comments were voted-up thousands of times, many messages were critiquing  or questioning the motivations of the movement, and sometimes mocking them. Most of these comments in opposition were voted-down but on many occasions those comments ended in fights  between members of the community, making the organization of the collective action slow down.  

In terms of the incidence that each type of protest in these two different digital platforms had for the  creation of a collective action that would go beyond the limits of the video game community, the design  of the platforms used did not help for this goal. On Twitch, the fact that only the people watching  specific videos (the Hearthstone championship in this case) were seeing/participating in the spam made  it difficult to bring the awareness and conversation to spheres different than the Blizzard community.  On Reddit, the fact that only a handful of posts and comments get to be voted-up enough times to gain  momentum and get to be seen by other members of the Reddit community, make it hard to engage and  organize people.  

In conclusion, in the Blizzard-Hong Kong case, where the studied digital platforms were two alternative  ones, the design of the platforms was proven to not be optimal for the creation of a larger involvement  of the public. However, their efforts to create solidarity and awareness about the situation in Hong Kong  during the protests in 2019, was fruitful within the community. In addition, thanks to their activism, the  company decided to reduce the punishment for the esports player. In the future, the video game industry  might have to deal with similar situations since they seem to have more politically active users now. 

Enhancing Feminist Solidarity in the Digital World: The Role of Gender in Tech Education
Anna Szlavi

The world is becoming more and more digitalized, both regarding professional life and private life. In fact, the IT sector has been growing so rapidly that a high number of jobs are expected to remain unfilled by the end of the year. At the same time, only around 16.5% of IT professionals are women in the EU28 zone according to the statistics of Eurostat. The low representation of women in IT is not only a social problem but it has economic and technological repercussions as well. Therefore, the primary means of enhancing feminist and queer solidary in the digital world is to involve more diversity, women and LGBTQ+, in the creation and control of the digital world itself.

The low number of women in IT has strong ties with IT education; the stereotypes that link science to men, and thus, to boys, are revealed to be primary causes of women’s — and girls’ — exclusion from STEM-fields. Studies show that high school senior girls refuse to apply for STEM majors because they consider those fields to be “masculine” in which they could not fulfill their “feminine roles”. Others explained their reluctance with having bad experiences in high school STEM classes as teachers treated them differently than boys. Therefore, the role and responsibility of teachers is immense in directing girls towards – or away from – the tech sector. If we want to have better solidarity and more diverse workforce in the IT sector, educators need to create a more hospitable environment for girls and women in (both secondary and tertiary) education. It has been declared that IT classes need to be diverse, interactive, and cooperative. The present paper claims that this is not enough. IT classes, in addition, need to be sensitive to social identities and social stereotypes as well, including those connected to gender. It is vital that the educator considers not only the unique skills and competences of students, but also their cultural, ethnic, or gender and sexual identities, counterbalancing possibly harmful social stigmas. 

The present study, therefore, has two main goals. Firstly, it wants to demonstrate why it is key to introduce the gender aspect into IT education by underlining social, economic, and technological benefits. Among others, gender-based bias in machine learning and facial recognition will be explained. Secondly, the paper will attempt to reveal how it is possible to overcome women’s scarcity in tech. Instead of the usual approaches of “fixing the numbers” and “fixing the institutions,” the research will showcase how “fixing the knowledge” through inclusive education can lead to a more sustainable change. The paper will introduce a case study in which IT-classes were designed with an eye for feminist solidarity, in order to give practical tips about how to create and manage gender-sensitive tech classes. In other words, after calling attention to the repercussions of entrenched stereotypes about gender and sexual orientation in education, the paper will attempt to offer specific methods that can make IT-related classes more inclusive, emphasizing the role of women and queers in the digital world.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments