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With the right weaponizing social media, what's a leftist to do?

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Are you rolling up your sleeves and working to get out the vote for the federal election? Do you go online every day, battling on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in newsfeeds and everywhere else, against random conservative users? I did that for a long time, feeling disheartened when my bon mots and compassionate engagement went ignored. Then I started learning about how the right-wing has weaponized online trolling to disrupt discussionscurate outrage, and radicalize users. This April, The Globe and Mail, published an analysis of 150,000 messages in a right-wing chatroom which showed, among other disturbing things, that this is a deliberate strategy being used by the Canadian right-wing. 

We hear again and again that online activism makes no difference, that the left can't meme. But these platitudes aren't necessarily true and, frankly, most of us are engaging people online anyway. The question we should be asking is: how do we engage people online effectively?

So what do we do? This blog advises us to stop feeding the trolls -- and it got me thinking about a way forward, both as networked individuals and movements.

  1. Develop a strategy for what you want to communicate. These can be five posts from your Facebook feed, or can be more sophisticated like an online campaign you are pushing.
  2. Search for current news stories, social media groups, and other online spaces -- both in your bubble and outside of it -- and start using information to engage people strategically. Strategically means starting a discussion instead of just posting facts. It also means taking the time to read others' comments and supporting those you agree with. Start new threads and make sure that you are not adding to a thread or responding to a comment by a troll. Being deliberate allows users to engage people outside of their bubbles. 
  3. If you want to convert people, engage the conservatives you know -- IRL. I have an some family members with whom I am in consistent conversation. I am respectful and factual and I consistently comment on their posts. They are polite because they know me. Visiting their social media pages also helps me understand what messages resonate on the right. Bringing it close to home may become uncomfortable, but this blog provides information that may help to guide those difficult conversations. 

If you decide to use this strategy, send me an email [email protected] and tell me how it worked. Let's work together -- I'll amplify some of the conversations you start. 

If you want a comprehensive tool to develop a digital strategy for a movement or an organization, Tactical Tech has developed a brilliant information activism guide, profiled in the Activist Toolkit.

Stay tuned for more election tools from the Activist Toolkit.

Maya Bhullar is the Activist Toolkit coordinator at rabble.ca. She has over 15 years of professional experience in diverse areas such as migration, labour, urban planning and community mobilization.

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