Following the death of George Floyd, masses of people gathered across the US and around the globe, calling on elected officials to address long-standing systemic racism and inequalities, from police brutality to mass incarceration to healthcare.
The massive human rights movements — crossing age, borders, colors, and genders — have reignited an otherwise downcast form of communication amid the many struggling to organize, and fighting to remain informed: the sharing of Google Docs.
Nevertheless, the world processing software — that allows users to smoothly generate, edit and share documents online — has been used since 2010 for various tasks, as a messaging-app for students to scientists cataloging what animals fart, the personal, direct platform for collaboration has become a perfect way for like-minded individuals to connect about political issues across the country. Hence, the web-based software has been the focal point for various different movement throughout the latest years, most importantly: in 2016, to fight the rampant misinformation campaigns around the elections, from 2017 to protest immigration bans and advance the #MeToo movement, in 2018 to campaign for the Democrats during the midterm elections, and most recently, to deal with the wave of lockdowns, by turning Google Docs into an escape room, a stand-up comedy venue, and a collaborative puzzle factory.
Now, a multitude of Google Docs created in response to Floyd’s murder has become viral, with the software emerging as a way to share everything from lists of books on racism to templates for letters to family members and representatives to lists of petitions, funds, and resources that are accepting donations.
Among the various Docs which have gained a wide following, one has emerged especially in the last weeks, the “Resources for Accountability and Actions for Black Lives”, which meticulously explains how people can support victims of police brutality.
Created and organized by 28-year-old Carlisa Johnson, the document is a compilation of resources people can easily use to protest police injustice. She stated:
“Hyperlinks are the most succinct and quickest way to access things, and you can’t do that on Facebook or Twitter. When you say “Contact your representative,” a lot of people don’t know how to do that.” Direct links in the Google Doc make it much easier for people to get involved”.
Aside from the ease of sharing, the great thing about the modern-day resistance tool is anonymity, an important advantage that Twitter and Facebook don’t offer.
On Google Docs, users are assigned an animal avatar that hides their identity.
Unfortunately, as the spreadsheets gain more and more momentum, also the possibility for the US government to demand access to Google’s data increases, with the platform potentially becoming a threat in itself. Google is no better than his fierce competitors.
Surveillance and profiling are also part of the company’s activity — meaning that an open Google Doc is not a safe space, since the tech-giant still has a record of every participant.
Nevertheless, the movement shows no sign of stopping, confirming Clay Shirky’s statements, NYU professor, writer, and consultant on the social and economic effects of the internet, regarding the activists’ goal of spreading as much information as accurately as possible, which far outweighs their privacy’s concerns.
“Reach is what’s important at this time. A Facebook post can only go so far. An Instagram post can only go so far. But this? This is accessible. Nothing else is as immediate. While social media has been great for publicizing movements, it’s far less efficient at creating stable shelves of information that a person can return to. What makes Google Docs especially attractive is that they are at once dynamic and static. They’re editable and can be viewed simultaneously on countless screens, but they are easily shareable via tweet or post.”
Beginning always as blank pages and empty cells, as we’ve seen in the last weeks, once determined minds set out to raise awareness and encourage activism, a Google Doc can transform from a blank sheet into a vessel of unlimited potential.
Article by Brando Coleman