Critical Connections: Adapting Old Lessons to Our New Tech-bound Reality

Taylor Roseweeds
5 min readFeb 22, 2021


This short essay originally appeared in the Dorothy Day Labor Forum newsletter (#9), edited by Nick & Linda Braune

still from “Hackers”, 1995

The podcast project I’ve been working on this past year is a reflection on the changes weathered by social movements during the Trump years — and as an unexpected bonus — during covid-19. It would be impossible to summarize all that collected learning in a short article here, but I want to pull out a common thread that is of urgent importance to us all, and also contains practical action we can take in an overwhelming time. Those of us with the both the privilege to be able to stay home and the good sense to do so during this pandemic are increasingly interacting with each other, working, learning, and filtering the world using various online platforms and technologies.

From one angle, these tools — and our widespread adaptation to using them — answer a long term call, primarily from disabled activists, for a greater diversity of access points to our social movements.

At the same time, the issues with these technologies, from their opaque and unregulated corporate power structures to their documented ill effects on mental health (particularly social media) to their severe limitations as organizing tools, remain.

Moving forward in these contradictions, I wonder:

How will we center the leadership of those navigating the permanent isolation of being housebound, sick, or otherwise unable to traditionally participate in movements?

How will we create and use tools that are most accessible to a wide array of users, rather than relying on what’s easy or convenient for us and our abilities or current knowledge?

How will we harness the power of the tools that bring us together without being milked for our data and left at the mercy of a handful of massive corporations?

How will we use our wildly connected web of relationships to share the information we need to tear down oppressive systems together and build the world we desire and deserve?

How will we remain grounded in a shared reality as we navigate the world from within our algorithmically constructed filter bubbles?

On the surface, my conversation this fall with Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, was about The News, in a traditional sense. As he stated in the interview, “…the importance of the news media for setting an agenda and framing how the public understands the issues that American society face are as high stakes as they’ve ever been and therefore the need for the public to be media literate, to have a critical media literacy, is as great as it’s ever been.” We couldn’t talk about news literacy for long, though, without diving deep into those big questions listed above.

I think that our new context for receiving and sharing news requires the addition of a new layer to our last generation’s media literacy tools as well as an intentional revisitation of the foundational principles of critical news consumption.

Roth described the literacy we need this way: “…something like what Project Censored champions, a kind of critical media literacy…that includes in effect being algorithmically literate…understanding that when you go to your Facebook feed, that something is making a decision about what posts you see…Those are being targeted to you in ways that we understand a little bit now…but the more we can understand and the more we’re aware that there is a filtering process going on now…It’s much more sophisticated and distributed now.”

He said we do not know much about the specifics of how these tools work, because their designs are proprietary, but we are able to study their end result and impacts. We know, thanks to scholars like Safiya Umoja Noble, that they reproduce the oppressive structures of society at large in terms of race, gender and other power relations. We know through disclosures over time that — at least in the case of Facebook — these algorithms prioritize controversial information regardless of its veracity, because it engages users for longer durations. We know that the flames of confusion regarding what information we can trust have been fanned by Trump and his allies who successfully hijacked the once-neutral term “fake news” and that confusion has spawned a massive popularization of conspiracy thinking in general and a brand new cult recycling old anti-Semitic, red-baiting, racist tropes into a fresh form.

The concern over “fake news” itself became news in recent years, giving rise to another troubling phenomenon — the corporate-controlled fact-checker. Roth summarized a prominent example, NewsGuard, in our conversation. “…You can look at this as kind of wolves guarding the henhouse, here, right? …Who checks the fact checkers? These are people who have serious ties and investments in the status quo power structures of this country’.”

This landscape leaves busy people who care about the world more overwhelmed and paralyzed. For Roth, and for me, part of the answer is returning to the basics of critical thinking. To paraphrase (and I highly recommend you listen to or read the whole conversation and sources if you are interested), if something grabs your attention online, read through before you re-post it or take it as fact. Think about the basics — who are the sources? What is missing from this story? Can I verify the data or primary sources referenced? Dust off that list of logical fallacies you had to learn in debate club and put it to work as you encounter information in your daily online journey. Slow down for a minute and ask why you want to spread the information. Is it actionable? Does it help the causes you care about? Or is it simply reaffirming your existing beliefs?

My new year’s resolution is to be more critical about which tools I use and to spend more intentional time engaging with media in general, including by breaking my Google dependence. I hope that this provides food for thought for yourself and your internet outrage-loving network so we can all become the combination of engaged, critical, and inclusive that we need to be to shape a better future.



Taylor Roseweeds

focused on collective trauma & its relationship to chronic illness. also working on a book on social movements w/ archive of interviews from my podcast, Praxis.