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Mediatizing or Datafying Iranian Women’s Struggles? The #WhiteWednesdays Campaign, the Economies of Visibility, and Suffering of the Other Women
This research explores the tensions and complexities in the work of an Iranian diasporic feminist campaign and the techno-social affordances of social media and data-driven platforms for (lack of) recognition and (in)visibility of feminist activism. Situating this research within the sociopolitical context of feminist activism in the diaspora, I look at the 2017-2018 #WhiteWednesdays hashtag campaign on Twitter (X), launched by a New York-based journalist and women’s rights advocate, which invited women to post photos of themselves walking unveiled or wearing White headscarves. This campaign, using the Orientalist trope of the veil aligned with imperial feminist discourses, gained heightened visibility and coverage in popular media, particularly American mainstream news. The research draws upon the concept of datafied recognition and visibility (Brighenti, 2010; Campanella, 2022) to explore how the campaign’s practices are distributed, under which logics, and with what consequences. It asks: To what extent does the #WhiteWednesdays campaign from the diaspora articulate a mode of feminist activism and resistance intertwined with imperial feminist frameworks and logics of recognition and visibility through data-driven digital platforms? In what ways does the mainstream news mediate the #WhiteWednesdays campaign as the dominant resistance narrative of women in Iran, resulting in the active suppression of local campaigns? To grapple with these questions, I employ digital ethnography and trace its life on Twitter and in Farsi-speaking sponsored popular outlets and the American mainstream news to argue how liking, retweeting, sharing, and commenting are social media practices implicated in the platform’s dynamics of recognition, attention, and visibility. These practices imply a particular type of sociability marked by the process of datafication, which is heavily influenced by high demands for branding and personal visibility, commodifying the suffering of the Other women, transforming violence and injustice into spectacles that generate profit, and erasing the voices from the margins. In this sense, the struggles of women on the ground are both datafied and mediatized. The simultaneity between that which is datafied and mediatized further explains how news discourse extends conversations about the already-existing Orientalist trope of the veil and represents a binary narrative, glossing over the multivocality of protests. Datafied visibility and the mediatized attention dedicated to them contribute to legitimizing imperialist agendas while actively silencing alternative political imaginaries. The research offers a nuanced perspective on the evolving movement for women’s liberation, a movement that culminated in the 2022 uprising in Iran around the issue of compulsory hijab.
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