Fair warning: This post is heavily influenced by my identity & community as a queer white female. I think it’s valuable but look forward to other’s input.
As a zinester and zine librarian, I see the Indie Web as a pretty direct correlation to 1980’s and 1990’s zine culture. The method of production may be completely different (photocopiers and direct mail vs web posts and servers) but the goals are almost identical – controlling the way in which your message and identity are displayed, crafted, and stored while avoiding censorship that corporate media might impose. The end goal of both zine and indieweb technologies is ownership of your own identity without a filter.
Just as subcultures and those whose experiences are marginalized by mainstream media have flocked to zines to find community and express (possibly unpopular) opinions, the Indie Web has the potential to be a great tool for those who do not find corporate social media to fit their needs. Rather than a prescribed method of interaction (e.g.: check this box, filter your photo in this way, describe yourself within this binary form) indieweb technology allows the individual to control their own narrative. One of the most important parts of recognizing diverse perspectives is insuring that individuals are heard in the way that they choose. When there is an intermediary between those creating media and the consumption of said media, there is a potential for that narrative to be suppressed. Within cultures of oppression (patriarchy, classism, racism), the dominant power controls the narrative through the methods of distribution (such as newspapers, magazines, television.) Both zines and the Indie Web are alternative distribution models. This is particularly important when corporate control has led to deletion of whole identities.
A very timely example of the corporate web suppressing narratives is the recent firestorm over a “Real Name” policy implemented and recently aggressively enforced by Facebook. This policy has negatively affected drag queens, transgender individuals, activists, and those that are outside the gender binary (not to mention makeup artists and those that are perceived as being “over the top”). By forcing those in the GLBTQ & performer community to use their “real names” on Facebook, this policy opens the door to harassment, stalking, abuse, and violence. Many people in the GLBTQ community choose to use pseudonyms in order to protect themselves from discrimination, separate their “weekend” selves from their day-to-day lives, and/or to avoid being outed. While Facebook has had a generally positive corporate attitude to GLBTQ individuals, this choice has been so impactful on the drag community that Drag Queens are leaving Facebook en masse for other options. There’s a change.org petition to allow drag performers to keep their profiles on Facebook.
I think that fighting Facebook is the wrong approach. I see this not as a Facebook-specific issue but a key failing of the corporate social media model: as long as we’re subjected to the TOS of a corporation, as long as all the writing, photos, and identity that we create online is filtered through someone else’s channels, there’s always the potential for censorship or worse. If we were able to see drag queens move to the Indie Web and away from Facebook, suddenly their narratives would be back in their hands. No longer would they need to be part of making their “identity” or “gender” or even their photos fit within the Facebook corporate TOS. Drag performers are exceptional at creating identity within an infinite space of possibilities, and I have no doubt that many would succeed at creating robust indieweb identities. This is why zines have flourished in subcultures: they are a way to control your identity that doesn’t require you to ask permission from anyone.
As I wrote this post, I realized I could write a dissertation on the correlation between zines and the Indie Web as a mode of expression for diverse populations, but here’s the short list of reasons why they’re similar:
- Both Zines and the Indie Web allow individuals & communities to control their own narratives
- Both Zines and the Indie Web give individuals access to tools to create their own media outside of corporate control & possibly censorship
- Both Zines and the Indie Web allow individuals to control the method of distribution of their content/identity, allowing them to have greater control over their safety and the use of their work (e.g. is your work being sold or used to sell things without you knowing?)
- Both Zines and the Indie Web allow individuals to control the level of engagement they have with those consuming their content: within data silos, you are at the discretion of the corporate control (E.G.: Want that user’s sexist comment deleted on your photo? Fill out this form, we’ll decide if it is acceptable or not!)
- Both Zines and the Indie Web put content control back in the hands of those whose views may be unpopular or suppressed
The key issue right now for diverse populations utilizing the Indie Web is accessibility. As long as the tools for creating & controlling your own identity online are still relatively obtuse & technical to implement, we won’t have great diversity within the Indie Web. I recognize that there are key access issues around the web, and I am not trying to discount the very real fact that access to computers and internet service is an equity issue. However, as method of engagement and content delivery in 2014, the internet has probably the broadest representations of socioeconomic status, gender, age, nationality, sexuality of anything short of paying taxes and breathing air. The real key is making the technology for engaging with the Indie Web as accessible as the tools for creating media within data silos.
And that, my indieweb friends, is our challenge and our mandate.