mutual aid

Mutual Aid, Social Media, and Net Neutrality

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J Aprileo

A queer, non-binary, fat activist who can't turn their brain off for even just a second.

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Mutual Aid is an intrinsic part of communal societies in which an exchange of resources and services amongst communities occurs voluntarily, and on a regular basis. The idea is that this sharing of resources would create a healthier community for all parties.

Mutual aid is similar to the barter system. Societies have used bartering systems for a very long time. It stems from capitalizing on the skills of individuals who can then trade their product with another skilled worker for a mutually beneficial exchange. For example, the baker trades a few loaves of bread for milk from the dairy farmer. The theory of mutual aid dives even deeper, which often exhibits a sense of responsibility toward members of communities that we also belong to.

In addition, the scope of this exchange has evolved over time. For so long, these communities were bound by physical territory. Exchanges of goods and services were limited to villages and towns. However, with the invention of the internet and the development of social media sites, communities are connecting across the globe. These “communities” are even defined by much more complicated concepts than region or affiliation. People are connecting with others of the same gender identity, disability, and sexuality, etc. They feel a sense of commonality with one another, though separated by state lines, countries, and even large bodies of water. With the scope of community broadening, and access to information and connection with others widening, the theory of mutual aid has also evolved. You may not know it, but there is a truly beautiful network of individuals caring for one another and preserving their communities, right under our noses.

For example, as access to medical care fluctuates depending on political climate, in this case specifically in the US (which we all know can certainly surprise as well as devastate us) mutual aid via social media has become a popular way to combat disparities. This is especially apparent in the transgender community amongst individuals seeking donations to help pay for gender confirmation surgery and medications related to transition.

There are countless examples of folks creating posts on social media asking for donations for surgery which is not covered by their health insurance. The reason there are so many people asking for help in this way is because sometimes…it works! There is certainly a formula for creating the kinds of posts that get attention. One must include plenty of detail, a photo or two, and link to their paypal/gofundme/etc. Let us not forget to mention the hierarchy of privilege within the queer community itself in which conventionally attractive, white, thin, trans masculine people tend to get the most attention and have the greatest amount of representation. Nevertheless, there is some truth to the idea that these pleas for help truly work. It is because of the sense of community and access to the internet that people who are drawn to share resources with others experiencing a struggle they are familiar with, are then able to do so with such ease.

What is even more amazing is when you look into the ways in which mutual aid connects people who otherwise might never have crossed paths due to class differences. Back in May 2017, CNN reported that rapper Nicki Minaj had utilized Twitter to pay off thousands in student loans and tuition fees to students who could show proof of receiving A’s in school. Nicki Minaj has been an advocate for pursuing higher education and pushes her fans to be assertive and strive for the kind of life they want to lead. She used mutual aid and social media to provide access to resources that those individuals who shared her values otherwise may not have had.

Why does this matter? Let’s look at the current vote to repeal net neutrality. Net neutrality protections were put into effect during the Obama administration so that internet service providers would be required to treat all online content the same. This means that certain service providers did not have the ability to pay to have their services pushed to the fast lane, while all other content was slowed down. Now that the FCC has voted to repeal such protections, access to certain content will be limited to those who can afford the inevitable increase in costs.

What will happen to our new form of mutual aid? People have been using social media as a way to share information, seek support, and provide help to one another. We are sharing resources and learning how to provide for each other on our own when the system has failed us. It does not seem to be a priority for the capitalist republican led parties in charge to uphold such a collective system, especially since they tend to be anti-mutual aid and more aligned with individualism and self-reliance. This vote to repeal net neutrality could have a devastating impact on the ways we have adapted to communicate with one another and share resources.

Despite the recent vote to repeal net neutrality, mutual aid will evolve and persevere as it once had. Cultures across the globe have always learned how to be creative and come up with ways to provide for one another in times of hardship. It is intrinsic within us to feel a connection to those who are a part of communities similar to ours or who hold our values. Humans have been organizing cooperative designs for ages and we will not stop, as shared information and redistribution of resources are critical now more than ever with a government which intends to oppress and silence us.