How Chinese Censorship Practices Could Effect You

“The great mask debate in the free world no longer interests me, if there are people being virtually gagged in the pandemic’s country of origin.”

-Mothering Humanity

Continuing in the same vein as last week’s blog post on censorship within social media. I was surprised and alarmed to find that it’s not only private Facebook groups that are being moderated and their narratives steered. An entire application can be commandeered, its message dictated, and its users silenced. It happens in China, daily, and it’s happening right now with the coronavirus.

Various news agencies including BBC News, NPR, and the New York Times, as well as the internet watchdog The Citizen Lab from the University of Toronto, Canada have all reported on the oppressive and tyrannical actions taken by the Chinese Government to silence social dissent and unrest on social media, and most recently in regards to the coronavirus. Although it’s been hard for the government to keep up on the sheer mass of social media and government criticism as of late, it seems one of the country’s most popular social media apps, WeChat, is only getting better and better at its monitoring methods and its censorship tactics.

WeChat (also known as Weixin)–with 1.15 billion users–is an all-in-one, super-charged social media app that is hailed by some critics as the future of mobile app technology. In Mahoney and Tang’s book Strategic Social Media, they claim:

“It offers a wide range of functions from sending a baby photo to friends, getting news, text messaging, to finding a cab on the street. Weixin is more than a combination of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and eBay. Audiences can do almost anything via Weixin, which makes the platform particularly appealing.”

“Sure, over a billion users have a highly-functional app in the palm of their hands that helps them avoid app-hopping for different services, but at what price to privacy and autonomy?”

-Mothering Humanity

One thing the book fails to mention in their glowing review of the app is the criticisms and backlash WeChat and its parent company Tencent has received for its cooperation with the Chinese Government to monitor and censor its users in an unethical way that infringes on individual freedoms and human rights.

Sure, over a billion users have a highly-functional app in the palm of their hands that helps them avoid app-hopping for different services, but at what price to privacy and autonomy? China is a dictatorship, and they are not shy about it. If the popularity of this app spreads around the world (there are already thousands of international users) and becomes a mainstay in social media, what will we be agreeing to?

This is an application owned and operated under a communist dictatorship. Privacy and security laws there are much different from the protections I enjoy as a European Union resident, and as a frequent user of U.S.-based app technology. Until coming across WeChat and researching their background, I have to admit that I would hop on my app store and download an app without even taking these sorts of things into consideration. I can’t tell you how many times I breezed through a “user agreement” to accept it and just hit download.

Not anymore!

The great mask debate in the free world no longer interests me, if there are people being virtually gagged in the pandemic’s country of origin. If you want to read up on the type of word combinations WeChat specifically monitored and censored as part of the coronavirus, and how the Chinese government sought to spin their response to the pandemic in the news, I would highly recommend checking out the report from The Consumer Lab.

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing up this sort of subject two weeks in a row, it is because I want to share my media literacy with you, so we can grow together as an online community. Media literacy is defined in Strategic Social Media as “the ability of users to critically access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms.” In other words, I’m becoming a more intelligent consumer of online information, so I can more effectively discuss powerful and note-worthy messages with you!

Looking forward to our future conversations…

Best,

*Kristine*

Featured Image Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Facebook Groups: Community or Conditioning?

Have you ever felt like virtual groups you joined to lift you up and support you were actually having the opposite effect? When I was pregnant with my first child and struggling as a first-time mom, I found amazing support on Facebook from breastfeeding groups, to cloth diapering groups, to local parent support groups, and numerous pages and blogs in between ready and willing to answer all my questions.

Navigating the waters of motherhood would have proved a lot more difficult without them.

Lately, however, I’ve been searching for connection and not just information—what with the current world situation and finding myself at home with two small kids more often than ever before.

This virtual sisterhood that I’ve come to cherish over the last five years has recently been bringing me down, and I wanted to share my struggles with you.

One particular Facebook Group that I joined a few years back, which I believed would help me create the type of homelife I desire, has turned out to be a scary place to hangout. Whereas the group’s title is exactly what I thought I was seeking, the conversations held there—especially this year—have not reflected the group’s name. It feels like the group is being shaped or molded by the moderators and admins. More and more, I’m beginning to wonder if this is because it’s an American election year.

The group is a “moms” group. It is international, with members around the world, but predominately American. It’s supposed to support spirituality and the crunchy kind of lifestyle I dabble with in different forms.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen this group’s message become more and more narrow. Diverse voices from women of color were being silenced. Contrary opinions to politically persuasive posts were being deleted by moderators, even if the comments were backed up with facts. In various member posts asking for honest opinions of public figures or current events, any criticisms that differed from the majority opinion were immediately addressed by group admins or moderators with sugary sweet aggression.

At first, I felt like this was being done to help keep the peace. We’ve all seen these sorts of groups get out of hand with drama at times. Unfortunately, I kept seeing certain voices silenced and other voices amplified, as the conversations were clearly being steered. All this within a moms support group.

Right now in my MFA studies, I’m taking a Communications class and a Marketing class in addition to my Creative Writing studies. Both of the aforementioned classes address the social media landscape. The COMs class is teaching students how to identify “fake news” and judge various content on the Web for hidden bias and overall accuracy. The Marketing class is teaching students how to sell a brand or message online and engage readers, especially via social media. It also extrapolates on the power of social media as a social change agent, if a business or organization can foster a sense of community. From what I’ve learned in these two classes, I can see exactly the type of member shaping and conditioning that is taking place within the Facebook Group I’ve been discussing, and it’s disturbing.

There are studies of Facebook Groups being createdorinfiltratedspecifically with community shaping in mind, because Facebook is where people hangout mostonline and can be influenced. 

This moms group is a large group, a couple thousand followers, and new members are added daily. I’m distressed by the fact that these unsuspecting members are being (very politely) force-fed a politically-charged message by a seemingly benign group, which flaunts a name that in my opinion does not reflect the hidden undercurrent being peddled.

I’m not looking to be politically persuaded by a Facebook Group of moms that is supposed to be trading in motherly and spiritual support. The political stance held by the administrator and the moderators is getting so apparent, in fact, I’m beginning to wonder if someone is getting paid to spin the message.

There are plenty of Facebook Groups for politics. There are Facebook Groups for professionals to network. There are Facebook Groups for learning a new trade, or new diet, or new hobbie. Facebook even opened an avenue for businesses to create groups that foster customer feedback, since mall surveys are pretty much a thing of the past. 

When we join those sorts of groups, we do so freely with a good sense of what to expect, since the message is more straightforward. However, in friendly support groups regarding personal topics, like these moms groups, it begins to feel more like a meet up with confidants. I can’t believe that a group could become so skewed so quickly.

From now on, I’m going to be a lot more cautious of these types of groups and their thinly-veiled ulterior motives. The world is divided enough without a support group of Christian mothers being conditioned to take a side.

Seek unity, friends! …and continue mothering humanity.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured Image Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Is Cyberactivism Real Activism?

Today, everyone has a cause. Mine is mothering humanity through carefully constructed sentences of social commentary and contemporary fiction. The latter, you’ll have to wait and read to decide for yourself. The former, however, is under fire. Do words—thrown out into a giant worldwide web that is interwoven with truth and lies daily—really make a difference?

It is a very noisy web.

Let’s take a look.

My first thought when discussing cyberactivists was Vani Hari aka The Food Babe. You might be like, “Come on! Her?” I bet you thought I’d hit some of the harder topics ablaze in the media today, but Hari was one of the first people I heard of to create real change with the use of nothing more than a blog and a relentless and optimistic heart.

Evidence of The Food Babe’s amazing lifestyle change. Photo Graphic Courtesy of FoodBabe.com

According to FoodBabe.com, Hari’s unhealthy lifestyle, which landed her in the hospital, inspired her to make big changes to her diet. She didn’t go to nutrition school to “get healthy.” She simply wielded the power of the Internet. In her switch from processed foods to “real food” she also began to investigate hidden or harmful ingredients in the American food supply. She drastically changed her own life for the better and decided to share her story and her new knowledge online with friends and family, using her platform to speak out against the lack of transparency within the American food industry.

Nearly a decade later, her personal blog has become a powerful change agent, helping to influence multi-billion dollar food giants like Kraft, General Mills, Subway, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and more to address the concerns of their consumers and make very real changes to their products.

The Food Babe is a cyberactivist. Her tactics have sometimes come under fire. Her writing has taken serious hits. Her critics are numerous. Her claims can’t always be 100% substantiated by science. And the Food Industry refuses to name her as the catalyst for their product modifications. That still doesn’t change the fact that her blog has lead to real-world awareness and action.

I think Hari was one of the original influencers of social media. She did, after all, garner a spot on TIME’s very first “Most Influential People on the Internet” list, which has now become an annual thing and a coveted label.

The term influencer may induce eye rolling from older generations, but it’s a very real aspiration for a lot of tweens, teens, and twenty-year-olds. Talking to friends the other day, I compared it to my generation’s “I want to play video games professionally.” Basically, the unicorn of job possibilities.

You may still be naysaying, but people get behind faceless causes with little-to-no usefulness all the time. Influencers just personalize an idea by giving it a story.

In my MFA studies this week, old Breast Cancer Awareness memes on Facebook came under scrutiny as being little more than a frivolous bandwagon for quasi-supporters to jump aboard. Facebookers shared and shared again obscure or sexualized, coded messages in the name of “awareness,” but didn’t bother to participate, donate, or educate, according to a case study in the book Strategic Social Media: From Marketing to Social Change. It made me think of the recent “Blackout Tuesday,” which saw millions of people throwing up black squares of solidarity all over social media, but did little to promote real change for the Black Community. To make real change, like The Food Babe, you have to put your money (or resources) where your social media mouth is.

I will, however, argue that awareness is sometimes the first step to social change. Perhaps, when people jump on these somewhat misguided bandwagons, their online demonstration of alliance can be a catalyst for later change. Vani Hari’s efforts have also been criticized as “misguided,” but her bandwagons crashed full-bore into real walls of resistance in the food industry and mac-n-cheese is now a safer, easy weeknight meal option for kids across America.

If you still think cyberactivism isn’t a thing, check out TIME’s “Most Influential People on the Internet” list for 2019. Some of them hurt my peepers, yes, but I could also see Mothering Humanity getting behind the message of more than a few others.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Social Networks Feature Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

Teen Influencer Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

VisionSpring & Warby Parker: A Clearer Vision

In my studies last week, I came across a non-profit organization that resonated with me as a group leading the type of change the world needs, and it reminded me that I hadn’t done a changemaker profile, since relaunching Mothering Humanity in May. This global social enterprise fits the bill as caring for humanity in a big way. The organization is VisionSpring.

According to VisionSpring’s website, Jordan Kassalow was 23 years old and on a “volunteer medical mission in the Yucatán Peninsula,” when the overwhelming need for eyeglasses for the poor and underprivileged became abundantly clear to him. In 2001, Kassalow founded the organization that later became VisionSpring, and to-date has helped in “changing millions of lives across the globe, one pair of glasses at a time.”

In addition to providing free eye exams, the organization offers ridiculously cheap eyeglasses for people around the globe who wouldn’t normally have access to optical services. As of this year, VisionSpring’s website boasts, “6.8 million glasses sold.” They also work with myriad entities around the globe training women and providing loans for them to start their own businesses providing eye care to their communities.

A decade after its founding, VisionSpring teamed up with the socially conscious company, Warby Parker, a carbon-neutral eyewear company that donates one pair of glasses to the VisionSpring mission for every customer-purchased eyewear.

CNBC offers a great in-depth spotlight on Warbly Parker and its founders Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal.

“We also want Warby Parker to influence the way business is done. If we can demonstrate that we can scale, be profitable, and do good in the world, without charging a premium for that, then hopefully that will influence the way that other executives and entrepreneurs run their businesses.”

-Neil Blumenthal, via interview with Lucy Handley, CSNBC

Although Warby Parker is a for-profit company, they have been hailed by Forbes, Inc.com, and more as a business with a conscience—focusing great attention and energy on their global impact and paving the way for other socially conscious businesses. Warby Parker claims, “Almost one billion people worldwide lack access to glasses, which means that 15% of the world’s population cannot effectively learn or work,” (Disruptor Awards) and they say their company and their partnership with VisionSpring is dedicated to changing that.

In my opinion, Warby Parker stands as a wonderful example of a business that doesn’t put profit over people.

When I first read about their partnership with VisionSpring in my marketing class, they were being hailed as innovators and marketing gurus, having basically invented on-line eyeglass shopping and creating an entire direct-to-consumer, e-commerce business that expertly deployed social media to interact with customers and adjust their business and operations models to fit client wants and needs. Their online engagement with customers via social media was a big factor in making their business a success, and fast.

It’s a marketing class and I’m a creative writing major, so basically what I really heard was, Blah, blah, blah… They care about customers and doing social good on a global level, and you can connect with them on Facebook. For some reason, it also brought the business model of TOMS shoes to mind. Brands that care. Brands that listen. Brands willing to take a chunk of their profits and give back to humanity. Essentially, brands that are changemakers.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise that paying attention to customers’ praise and complaints online and responding appropriately helps shape a successful business—but, apparently, many businesses haven’t caught on to this just yet. It also seems that companies taking social responsibility into account as part of their business model are faring better than others… So, hooray for that.

If Warby Parker is an example of the type of Millennial business—innovative, environmentally aware, customer responsive, and socially conscious—that we can look forward to in the future, then I’ll take my hat off to the generation that butts up against mine. As a matter of fact, I might even warm up to the label, or at least embrace “Xennial” fondly.

If you need a new pair of glasses and you’re trying to practice social distancing responsibly, Warby Parker is perfect. Check out their Facebook page for more info. They also just announced a refocus on “diversity, equity, and inclusivity” and a desire to combat systemic racism as part of their brand and business structure. What’s not to love about this socially woke company?!

According to the CNBC article, Blumenthal actually started under VisionSpring founder, Kassalow, as he built the pilot program that would eventually become VisionSpring, proving that great ideas of philanthropy and social awareness are contagious. Change inspires change!

Check out VisionSpring’s commitment to a better world in other areas such as equal employment (all the way up to their Leadership Team and Board of Directors), empowering women and girls (training women especially to perform eye exams in developing countries), offering women of color paid internship opportunities that include paid-travel for work, and their inspiring vision statement.

NOTE: I don’t receive any sponsorship on this blog whatsoever at this point in time. I’m simply highlighting these two organizations as part of my own learning process and in an effort to bring awareness to people who are putting humanity first and paving the way to a world in which I’d be happy to raise my children.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured image courtesy of Binti Malu via Pexels.com

Millenial/Xennial image courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels.com