Reimagining transparency and secrecy in the era of digital data
When total data surveillance delimits agency and revelations of political wrongdoing fail to have consequences, is transparency the social panacea liberal democracies purport it to be? This book sets forth the provocative argument that progressive social goals would be better served by a radical form of secrecy, at least while state and corporate forces hold an asymmetrical advantage over the less powerful in data control. Clare Birchall asks: How might transparency actually serve agendas that are far from transparent? Can we imagine a secrecy that could act in the service of, rather than against, a progressive politics?
To move beyond atomizing calls for privacy and to interrupt the perennial tension between state security and the public’s right to know, Birchall adapts Édouard Glissant’s thinking to propose a digital “right to opacity.” As a crucial element of radical secrecy, she argues, this would eventually give rise to a “postsecret” society, offering an understanding and experience of the political that is free from the false choice between secrecy and transparency. She grounds her arresting story in case studies including the varied presidential styles of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump; the Snowden revelations; conspiracy theories espoused or endorsed by Trump; WikiLeaks and guerrilla transparency; and the opening of the state through data portals.
Postsecrecy is the necessary condition for imagining, finally, an alternative vision of “the good,” of equality, as neither shaped by neoliberal incarnations of transparency nor undermined by secret state surveillance. Not least, postsecrecy reimagines collective resistance in the era of digital data.
This surprising study of online political mobilization shows that money and organizational sophistication influence politics online as much as off, and casts doubt on the democratizing power of digital activism.The internet has been hailed as a leveling force that is reshaping activism. From the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, digital activism seemed cheap, fast, and open to all. Now this celebratory narrative finds itself competing with an increasingly sinister story as platforms like Facebook and Twitter—once the darlings of digital democracy—are on the defensive for their role in promoting fake news. While hashtag activism captures headlines, conservative digital activism is proving more effective on the ground.In this sharp-eyed and counterintuitive study, Jen Schradie shows how the web has become another weapon in the arsenal of the powerful. She zeroes in on workers’ rights advocacy in North Carolina and finds a case study with broad implications. North Carolina’s hard-right turn in the early 2010s should have alerted political analysts to the web’s antidemocratic potential: amid booming online organizing, one of the country’s most closely contested states elected the most conservative government in North Carolina’s history.The Revolution That Wasn’t identifies the reasons behind this previously undiagnosed digital-activism gap. Large hierarchical political organizations with professional staff can amplify their digital impact, while horizontally organized volunteer groups tend to be less effective at translating online goodwill into meaningful action. Not only does technology fail to level the playing field, it tilts it further, so that only the most sophisticated and well-funded players can compete.
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