Interview Highlights: Immigrant's Rights Movement and Media Activism | MIT Center for Civic Media

Interview Highlights: Immigrant's Rights Movement and Media Activism

The following is a brief summary of an interview with Kyle de Beausset regarding a project with the Center for Civic Media at MIT on the role of Media and Technology in Social Movements.

Kyle de Beausset has been involved with immigrants’ rights movements for nearly seven years. Specifically, Kyle has been working locally in the Boston area with the Student Immigrant Movement. Nationally, Kyle works with the United We Dream network and has also collaborated wtih Dream Activist. Kyle is also currently employed with Presente, and his personal blog can be accessed at Citizen Orange. Kyle became involved with the immigrants’ rights movement while an undergraduate at Harvard College. Trained as a journalist at the student newspaper the Crimson, Kyle began using media as his primary means of activism - a practice that has only strengthened over time.

A typical day for Kyle involves checking thousands of email messages and starting up Tweet Deck and RSS Desktop to keep up with his electronic organizing efforts. Also, Kyle is in charge of a mobile text message list of over 30,000 people who have signed up to keep informed on immigrants’ rights issues. Kyle comments on today’s media saturation, where it is difficult to weed out the useful information from the useless. When deciding what media to use, Kyle typically asks himself, “What am I trying to achieve?” and “What is the best media to do that with?” Kyle used this strategy on his current project to persuade the Obama administration to stop the Secure Communities Program.

In terms of the immigrants’ rights movement’s relationship to mass media, attention continues to be a sore subject. While ethnic media generally tends to sympathize with the immigrant movement, English-speaking media rarely gives the topic any attention. In any case, Kyle comments that both mass media and ethnic media are becoming increasingly unreliable on reporting immigrant issues. Consequently, organizers have responded to this problem by taking media production into their own hands. For Kyle this means routinely updating his personal blog, posting videos on his YouTube channel, tweeting on Twitter, and using Facebook and foursquare. The same can be said about immigrant youth who have widely embraced Facebook, Twitter, and email lists along with cell phones as means of staying connected. One notable example of cell phone prevalence among immigrant youth, according to Kyle, is how mobile phone petitions are overshadowing email petitions in this demographic.

However, media use is very much generational because for older groups of immigrants, traditional mass media such as television, radio and newsprint continue to be huge sources of information. In Boston, Univision and Telemundo are popular with Spanish speaking communities, while Haitian and Brazilian radios are equally important in Haitian Creole and Portuguese speaking communities. Kyle comments, “I’m a big fan of organizing with free tools. I like to use Google Groups and then I track it with Bitly links.” Economic sustainability is a very pressing matter for immigrants’ rights activists. For this reason, open source and freeware are all the more important.

Kyle also discussed what he believes to be the pros and cons of social media during our interview. He says, “A lot of folks think social media…[is] gonna make the world so much better, it’s not necessarily true…tools are tools, they can be used for good, they can be used for bad.” One benefit of social media is its incredible speed as we saw in the quick mass mobilizations of Occupy Wall Street. Kyle mentioned the relative freedom of content and “power of narrative” that is possible with social media. He states, “They don’t have to tell our story, we’re going to tell our own story.” On the other hand, Kyle sees certain drawbacks to social media. For one, there is a tendency for content to be reactionary and not intentional due to the sheer volume of information. Also, as Kyle states “There is sometimes an illusion of making a difference, but you’re not really making a difference.” Kyle offers the example of a hypothetical Facebook status urging one to “call your senator.” Instead of calling a senator, one simply clicks on the "like" button. This is the illusion of “making a difference” because clicking the like button is not civic engagement.