Social Cooling


“Like oil leads to global warming, data leads to social cooling”


I see a great need to educate progressive activists about this topic. In my experience, activists fall on a spectrum regarding how they relate to data and technology, depending on how non-conformist they are. Unfortunately, this spectrum is mostly one-dimensional and I rarely find them tackle the issue addressed in the article:

Liberal activists who act in the framework of established politics and push for specific issues make great use of technology. Groups like the Women’s March organise on Facebook and use these technologies without regard of how much power they relinquish or how resilient their means of communication are.

On the other end of the spectrum, those who have anarchist tendencies and reject power structures tend to also reject much of modern technology. That means that they organise using person-to-person contact or by telephone. Some of their occupation camps even have sufficient permanent members that they can operate similar to a commune or tribe and therefore don’t need regular long-distance communication. The problem here is that these groups fight for issues in a closed group and don’t realise the potential lost by social cooling among the rest of society. They too would agree that widespread support for their cause is essential, but the issues with how everyone else communicates and gets their news is lost to them.

It doesn’t matter how much any particular group uses technology, they just need to recognise the general problem. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case so far, even for groups that otherwise don’t fit in the spectrum, such as the Occupy movement (which acts in anarchist tradition, but seeks better enforcement of current law and order.)

Have you seen any promising activism (not journalism) in the broad area of surveillance-capitalism? Maciej Ceglowski and come to mind as players who help make some progress; Crypto-activists such as Moxie Marlinspike have also contributed to general use of encrypted messaging apps. But that’s mostly technology supporting freedom, not activism per se.


While it’s good to use technology to amplify activism, we always have to bear in mind two things:

  1. Is the technology we’re using contributing towards the systems of inequality we are trying to destroy? Using centralised closed systems owned by a few rich white men is making them richer and, particularly when they are people farmers, making us poorer and more vulnerable.

  2. Activists are particularly vulnerable to surveillance systems. Unless communications are end-to-end encrypted by default, they are not safe. If communication tools require your contacts list to operate, you are making your contacts vulnerable. Even if the content of a message is encrypted, if your name, the name of the person you are communicating, and dates/times/quantities of these messages is still visible to these surveillance systems, you are still vulnerable.

See and for more Facebook-specific information and criticism.