The death of George Floyd has seen people standing up against police brutality, systemic racism and many are now joining efforts to defund the police. But organising a resistance online can prove itself to be tricky—social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are quick to delete or flag posts. That’s where Google Docs has yet again appeared as the key tool for organising protests and educating people on systemic racism.
It might come as a surprise to some but this is not the first time Google Docs is being used for something else than smart editing. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen Google Docs become the number one tool for entertainment—from comedy nights to escape rooms, everyone used the tool in creative ways in order to fight off boredom.
So how has Google Docs now become the best resistance tool for Black Lives Matter protesters? And should we really trust the software? To answer these questions, we need to look at the first time the software was used as a political tool.
During the 2016 US elections, misinformation campaigns became omnipresent. That’s exactly when the software came into its own as a political tool. Google Docs users created informative guides about misleading news sources and academics created listicles on ways to help specific political parties.
According to the MIT Technology Review, in 2018, “Google Docs were also being used to protest immigration bans and advance the #MeToo movement.”
Now, communities and protesters are using the software to organise their movement. One of the most popular Google Docs that appeared in the past week is the Resources for Accountability and Actions for Black Lives document, which features clear advice for people who desire to support victims of police brutality. Created and organised by 28-year-old Carlisa Johnson, the document is a compilation of resources people can easily use to protest police injustice.
A multitude of Google Docs created in response to Floyd’s murder have now become viral. The software has turned into a staple for sharing petitions and resources. But why Google Docs?
Of course, it helps that Google Docs are easy to access and simple to use. But anonymity is also an important advantage that Twitter and Facebook don’t offer. On Google Docs, users are assigned an animal avatar which hides their identity. The same cannot be said about Twitter and Facebook.
But, as those documents gain more and more reach, the possibility for the US government to demand access to Google’s data increases too. Such use of Google’s software in the ongoing battle over social justice could create another privacy scandal. As protesters involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are primarily relying on free and open channels of communication, Google Docs could soon become a threat in itself.
Google is no better than Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Surveillance and profiling are also part of the company’s activity—meaning that an open Google Doc is not a safe space. Google still has a record of everyone who participates.