Brains and Boobs: Viral Activism (BarCamp Chiang Mai 2010)
Brains and Boobs: ‘Viral Media’
How I survived ‘BoobQuake’ and what I
Barcamp Chiang Mai 2010
"First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.”
Photo: Maritia Cosma / Creative Commons
In June 2009 Twitter profiles were
‘going green’ to call the media’s
attention to Iran’s recent election
The Obama administration
Twitter to hold off on
People took Twitter a
lot more seriously after
I’m here to talk about
something less serious…
Iranian prayer leader Hojatoleslam Kazem
Sedighi stated in April 2010:
"Many women who do
not dress modestly ...
lead young men
astray, corrupt their
chastity and spread
adultery in society,
When translated this led to much amusement.
A (Canadian) science student in the USA decided
to test this, and created a Facebook Group.
On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt
I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I
encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the
supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if
that's your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our
scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an
‘BoobQuake’ got 14,000 members in 24 hours,
and continued to grow.
• Two Iranian Professors, Negar Mottahedeh and
Golbarg Bashi, suggested ‘BrainQuake’ for the
same day, to take advantage of the growing
• “Everyday women and young girls are forced to
“show off cleavage” and more in order simply to
be heard, to be seen, or to advance
professionally.”… “Let’s create a “Brainquake”
and show off our resumes, CVs, honors, prizes,
accomplishments (photo evidence) because the
Hojatoleslam and the Islamic Republic of Iran are
afraid of women’s abilities to push for change”
• They were ‘saddened’ at Boobquake and critical
of the movement and founder.
• Ms. McCreight issued a clarification after
• “Seriously, internet, you scare and amaze me
• “Really, it's not supposed to be serious
activism that is going to revolutionize
women's rights, but just a bit of fun juvenile
humor. I'm a firm believer that when
someone says something so stupid and
hateful, serious discourse isn't going to
accomplish anything - sometimes light-
hearted mockery is worthwhile.”
immodestly in Iran (and
other countries) can
face arrest and
I am not an expert on
Iran. But I live in
Cambodia where there
was recently a ‘short
After a friend joined #BoobQuake, I clicked
through the various sites, and wrote a short
blog post. #BoobQuake & #BrainQuake would
take place two days later (April 26th
Via tags and Twitter I ended
up corresponding with
Negar Mottahedeh aka
introduced me to others
discussing the issue,
Ms. McCreight aka
@JenniFurrett was being
bombarded by media
attention, and coordinated
meetups. In addition to
‘BrainQuake’ many others
started groups such as
‘AssQuake’, and some even
further off topic. (A fake
Facebook identity for her was even started.)
While this looked like a classic example of ‘2nd
Wave’ feminism contrasted with ‘3rd
feminism, the founders had a cordial
discussion on Twitter.
I think a LOT of people would have enjoyed an
argument. But these activists were too polite
and smart. There were strong arguments
about the two approaches in blog posts.
I thought BrainQuake sounded like a good ‘follow-on’
from #boobquake. But I’m a guy. The spotlight was
reserved for women.
As April 26th
approached, I decided to:
(avoid ‘male answer syndrome’)
(retweet positive tweets)
: #BoobQuake was
covered on TV, radio,
newspapers, web media,
and even Persian media,
which had some trouble
describing the event.Its
main channel was
Twitter, where it was a
frequently mentioned in
contrast. The reaction
was humorous and
Coverage appeared via NPR, CNN, the
BBC, ABC, Fox, The Guardian,
Newsweek, and many varied print and
web news services.
@Jenfurrett sold t-shirts & donated
profits to the Red Cross and James
Randi Foundation. (Her own school
printed t-shirts without her approval until
she asked them to stop.)
Below: ‘Girls with Slingshots’ webcomic.
Also on the 26th
, #Brainquake first posted profiles worth
celebrating on their FaceBook Group, then on a Tumblr blog.
(@JenniFurrett was included in the list.)
There was a small earthquake in Taiwan.
But an analysis by @JenniFurrett showed that
statistically it was not significant.
The Iranian prayer leader never responded directly.
Jen McCreight has an excellent wrap-up on her blog,
Blaghag.com (statistics, observations, video.)
led to a live
on the Herald
de Paris show.
podcast is also
For one day, #BoobQuake rocked the airwaves,
but now things are pretty quiet.
Some personal observations from the craziness:
1. Viral activism and campaigns are not 100%
(Humor is a big help.)
2. Viral campaigns can quickly overwhelm
founders due to scalability issues.
(And watch out for hackers and trolls!)
3. It’s important to show respect in efforts that
reach across language and gender.
- @JenniFurrett thoughtfully reviewed
feedback from the Persian blogosphere.
- (Guys, sometimes we need to STFU.)
4. The more specific, targeted (and locally run) a
campaign is, the more effective it can be.
I’m going to close with an example from another
feminist campaign to demonstrate some of
In 2009, Hindu fundamentalists (Sri Ram Sena)
began a video harassment campaign
(including physical violence) against women
who drank alcohol in public. (Mangalore)
India has a high degree of social media
The Consortium of Pub-
going, Loose and
quickly appeared on
Facebook and Blogger.
They provided contact
information for political
The ‘Pink Chaddi
push to send pink
underwear via mail
to Sri Ram Sena
-140 members of the group held in
custody on Valentines Day.
-Due to widespread media attention, the
leader has requested to resolve matters
via dialogue, not violence. WIN!
But - The Facebook group / blog has been shut down by
‘trolls’, and the blog is not updated any more.
So it’s difficult to locate ‘follow-on’ activities.
In conclusion, viral activism can have a huge
impact, but usually over no more than one
And just as abruptly as the subject I’m profiling,
it’s time for me to evaporate and welcome