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The consequence of swooping activism

Branded activism has forever faced a mounting backlash. And for obvious reasons. What happens to political agency—usually rooted in inequality and the fury of those it affects—once it is used to sell consumer goods? That’s exactly what thousands exclaimed last week when Nike revealed its latest campaign featuring Take A Knee activist and former NFL quarterback player Colin Kaepernick. The new campaign depicts a black and white close up of Kaepernick with a Nike’s-esque inspirational quote, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” An unmissable yet subtle swoosh and “just do it” underneath seals and stamps the whole composition together.

The campaign accumulated, as predicted and perhaps provoked by Nike’s team, vast criticism as well as praise. On the one hand, liberals and activists, particularly of racial equality, criticised Kaepernick for selling out and with that diluting his fight against police brutality. While on the other hand, more conservative-leaning consumers and politicians (the President, of course, included), adhered that the brand should not be associating itself with a movement that the President and NFL team leaders have deemed against the rules at best, and unconstitutional at worst. Needless to say, shortly after the publication of the campaign the internet filled with hashtags such as #JustBurnIt and #BoycotNike and longstanding Trump supporters posted videos of their Nike gears set on fire.

As acutely noted by The Guardian’s Ben Carrington and Jules Boykoff, “Nike may be amplifying a courageous voice of dissent, but we should also recognise that it’s in its economic interest to do so.” Yet at the same time, Kaepernick and his peers have risked and lost their careers fighting for the Take A Knee movement for racial equality (his former teammate and fellow activist Eric Reid has equally not yet been resigned by an NFL team). Currently untouchable within the NFL, Nike’s campaign is directly helping Kaepernick fund his grassroots camp, Know Your Rights.

Brands’ adaptation of activist slogans and transformation of activist individuals into brand ambassadors is without a doubt worthy of debate. Scepticism towards attempts of this is important at times, such as the response to the ‘I am a Feminist’ T-shirts being adopted by high street brands. In other occasions, like in the case of the Pepsi ad fiasco, outright fury was equally appropriate. But if used correctly, brand adopted activism, as frightening as it may sound, could generate powerful results. Carrington and Boykoff hit the nail on the head when they identified Kaepernick’s fights as being essentially about “class politics”, and that Nike “rarely addresses issues around class, which is not surprising since Nike has an appalling history of labour.” Hence the brand’s adaptation of Kaepernick’s labour rights fight while itself being renewed for inhumane working conditions in more than 300 factories across the world is hypocritical and false. But despite this very correct argument, siding with this campaign still doesn’t seem as clear-cut.

The release of the campaign came at the start of the new NFL season, and while Nike arguably may be using the political divide across the country and the realm of sports to rank up sales, Kaepernick is equally utilising the global reach of the brand to keep his fight alive across the nation and across the world. As new players quickly fill in Kaepernick and Reid’s places, it is time to focus on the success this collaboration has had in reigniting the quarterback’s brave Take A Knee fight. Nike should be held accountable for its hollow stance on labour rights, but Kaepernick really has lost everything in his belief of something.

This article was originally published by FAIRPLANET and is part of an ongoing content partnership.

An Egyptian hotline using text messages to censor the free press

In an attempt to regulate the free press, The Office of Public Prosecutions of Egypt launched a hotline that allows the public to report via WhatsApp, text or instant messaging, any information that it deems to be inciting, a threat to public security or that could cause harm to the public interest with the target being both traditional and new media. The judiciary has also been tasked with monitoring websites and social media accounts, prosecuting any ‘peddlers of fictitious news’—as to the opinion of the government.

“A set of mobile telephone numbers are assigned to receive complaints on the instant messaging on WhatsApp. The sent messages should contain all information available on the reported fake news”, the statement from the prosecution reads. And in order to restrict free speech on social media in what the government claims is an attempt to protect the data and privacy of its citizens, it has announced plans to launch an Egyptian social media platform that rivals Facebook.

But the avalanche of mediums with which Egypt is monitoring its news has instead been described by liberal media and civil society groups as merely a new way for the government to curtail freedom of expression and threaten journalist, with President Abdel Sisi accused of using state institutions to terrorise dissident voices.

Under the new directive the media is facing a tough time in the country. Dozens of journalists have been arrested with hundreds of websites critical of the government blocked. A Freedom House report indicates that over 400 media and NGO websites have been closed so far.

In one of the highly publicised cases, the BBC carried a story of 23-year-old A. Adib Zubeida who disappeared in what the broadcaster indicated was the growing list of forced disappearances in the country. Her mother told the BBC that the police had kidnapped her. Days later Zubeida would appear in a local TV station to dispute the BBC story. The government was outraged, accusing the U.K. broadcaster and Western nations of meddling in its affairs and using fake news to achieve political motives. The government termed the BBC report as having been flagrantly fraught with lies and innuendos and accused BBC of “alarming visible non-neutrality and blatant violation of media standards that the BBC is supposed to be on top of media corporations adhering to.” BBC responded saying it stood with the story and was guided by the basic tenets of journalism while pursuing it.

The all-out war on the media as occasioned by the recent attacks and decrees in Egypt has been thinning the democratic space in a country ranked as 161 out of 180 in the 2017 RSF World Press Freedom Index. “After arresting journalists, blocking online media and bringing traditional media outlets under its control, President Sisi’s regime is now inciting the public to be on the watch for supposedly fake news. This new measure by the Egyptian authorities establishes a dangerous climate of denunciation and tightens the gag on media that have already been reduced to silence,” read a statement from Reporters Sans Frontières.

The real danger of the directive and its hotline format is that it is immediate and discreet. Those who have been influenced by the government’s war on the media have been given a tool to censor their fellow citizens, thus instilling not only an atmosphere of government surveillance but also of powerful self-censorship.

This article was originally published by FAIRPLANET and is part of an ongoing content partnership.