Recent news from the Center for Civic Media

Recent news from the Center for Civic Media

Binders Full of Election Memes: Expanding Political Discourse

This is text of the talk I delivered for the "Click, Meme, Hack, Change: Civic Media Theory and Practice" panel I organized at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, Chicago, IL on March 14, 2013.

What do I mean by memes? Well I'm talking about internet memes: cultural artifacts that are generally user-generated content that is shared widely and remixed in various ways. This should be very familiar to most people in the Digital Media and Learning community.

We've got image macros like the lolcat, we've got animated gifs, and the viral video. There are of course political versions of these popular meme forms. And I'm going to focus on three that came out of the last US presidential election cycle: "Fired Big Bird," "Binders Full of Women," and "You Didn't Build That."

Each of these memes mainly consist of image macros, and I'm going to feature the image macros because they are the easiest meme to produce, thus available to the most people to produce. There are several image macro meme generators online now that allow you to upload your own image and overlay the classic bold white font.

But what I want to argue in this talk is that it isn't just about the creation of these memes—which we all know is interesting and valuable—it's also about the sharing of them. Sharing these memes I believe represents a political speech act itself, which generates political discourse of value. And just like we have low barriers to entry for creation, so also do we have low barriers for sharing with ready audiences on Twitter, coalescing into publics around hashtags, or on Tumblr, through tagging and curation.

Hawaii Proposes the First Civic Crowdfunding Legislation

Hawaii has become the first state to propose a bill supporting civic crowdfunding, as it seeks to raise funds for the maintenance and repair of local schools.

HB2631 outlines a pilot program in which two maintenance projects at Hawaii schools are selected for public crowdfunding campaigns.

Is Crowdfunding Participatory Citizenship or a Sign of Institutions in Decline?

Civic crowdfunding is the beginning of a new type of participatory democracy for communities."
"Civic crowdfunding is a triumph of individualism over the collective good."
"Civic crowdfunding is the result of a crisis in government."

These three divergent intepretations are among the most common responses to civic crowdfunding. I hear them in one form or another almost every time I give a talk on the topic. Despite their differences, these interpretations are also, for the moment, coexisting quite happily. Platforms and the people who use them don't show much need to agree on what civic crowdfunding is for, or what kind of future its rise might foreshadow.

Trip Report: Connecting with Belo Horizonte, Brazil

I just returned from a fascinating week in Belo Horizonte (Brazil)!  The trip was organized by the Office of Strategic Priorities (@escritorio_gov) of the State of Minas Gerais (they are members of the MIT Media Lab).  The Escritorio joined the Media Lab to think harder about fostering innovation and empowering their citizens.  Following those themes, we worked together and planned an agenda that focused on four main activities:

Design Strategies for Crowdsourcing Policy: Elizabeth Murnane at the Cooperation Group

Can we actually crowdsource policy, if e-democracy technology is simply adding token digital inputs to political processes that aren't naturally inclusive?

Last week at the Berkman Center's Cooperation Working Group, we were joined by Elizabeth Murnane, a 3rd year PhD student in Information Science at Cornell University, where her research aims to help people more effectively find, create, and reflect on digital information. For her PhD, she designs intelligent systems that can better recognise and tune themselves to individual's abilities, a question that puts her right at the middle of what civic engagement means in the 21st century.

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