social networks

Social networks, or online communities, in the context of civic media work are web sites organized to enable individuals to connect with one another and to share information, photos, videos, and personal reflections.

HOPE X: Themes and Reflections

Image by Willow Brugh.

Over the weekend, I attended HOPE X, the 10th Hackers on Planet Earth conference, organized by 2600 Magazine. HOPE is my favorite hacker conference, and a strong contender for my favorite conference overall, because although content is tech-heavy, it's not really about technology. HOPE is a conference by and for those interested in the hacker ethos of free information, understanding the world, and empowerment to fix what is broken— including keynote speakers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. So HOPE is a great place to think about the intersection of technology, journalism, and activism. Throughout the conference, I noticed several recurring themes.

Code Is Not Enough

Learning from Political Experiments and Information Cascades on Facebook

This is a liveblog of Lada Adamic's plenary keynote from Political Networks 2014.

When your friends deliver the news
Lada Adamic is a Data Scientist at Facebook and former associate professor at the University of Michigan's School of Information. Her talk is entitled "When your friends deliver the news." Using studies based on Facebook data, she invites us to think about factors of social networks that affect the spread of information.

She opens with a set of questions and concerns raised by the idea of your talk's title: what happens when your friends deliver the news through what they share on Facebook...

  • How is your exposure affected? (Your friends are not a random sample of the population nor are they mainstream media journalists.)
  • Does it affect political engagement? (How interested you are or likely to vote.)
  • What do social movements look like? How does success propagate?
  • How does any information spread, is it predictable?
  • Is it reliable?

Lada shows us the top five most shared stories from a year ago (i.e. June 2013):

  1. Drowning doesn't look like drowning (Slate)
  2. Boy's death highlights a hidden danger: Dry drowning (Today Show piece containing substantial misinformation)
  3. 22 Maps that Show how american speak English totally different from one other (Business Insider maps that were later integrated in the most read NYT story of 2013)
  4. Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations (The Guardian)
  5. 8 Foods we eat in the us that are banned in other countries (Buzzfeed)

She tells us that women in their 40s read the drowning pieces, whereas men in their 20s read the Snowden piece. There are definitely clusters of people more likely to read certain stories. But Lada asks: Is there a filter bubble? Do we get echo chambers, especially across political lines?

Using information from users' profile pages, Lada and team members rated what people's political leanings were: very liberal, moderately liberal, moderately conservative, very conservative. And they coded the different news sites by what was read by users of certain political leanings: from ThinkProgress on the far Left to FoxNews on the far right. They found that content skews liberal in aggregate over Facebook even though ideology is balanced. There is simply more liberal content shared by all users on the network. Lada cites Duncan Watts' Friend Sense app research, and asks: Can we understand what the egonetwork of a conservative looks like?

People's friends aren't exclusive to their political beliefs. They found that the distribution of friendships skews toward their own political leaning but still retains some balance across the spectrum. Then they looked at the interactive patterns between users and news across the political spectrum, breaking them down into four buckets of user-news interaction:

  • Potential: all of the news your friends are sharing
  • Exposed: what showed up in your news feed (balanced diet of liberal and conservative for conservative users)
  • Selected: what was clicked on (no effect, they were clicked on in proportion to what showed up in feed)
  • Endorsed: what is liked this is where the difference exists, conservatives are much less likely to endorse liberal news

They found that endorsement was the key difference between users of conservative versus liberal ideology. Conservative users were significantly less likely to endorse liberal news, even though they were served and even clicked to read liberal news at similar rates to the liberal users.

Research by Solomon Messing and Eytan Bakshy looked at and experimented with activity on Facebook prior to the 2012 election. The treatment involved adding more political news in certain users' news feeds. They found that people reported being more interested in politics and government when, unbenkownst to them, they were getting more news in their feed. There was a greater effect for users that don't log in everyday, since people who log in everyday are more likely to read everything. The treatment group also reported they were more likely to vote, with a stronger effect again on less regular users. 

[Peer Economy] Keep it real to catalyze the sharing economy

Last week, I was in San Francisco as a panelist and plenary speaker at the inaugural SHARE conference. The event was organized by Peers (a research partner in January) and SOCAP, and I spoke about the future of work. I also gave a lightning talk at the closing plenary. All of the plenary speakers had to bookend their lightning talk with "--- catalyze the sharing economy." I took advantage of this five-minute window to urge thoughtful discussion. This is the script that I more or less adhered to: 

I’ve been at MIT for the last few years researching peer-to-peer marketplaces. When I got the prompt for this talk, “BLANK will catalyze the sharing economy,” I had lots of different reactions. But in the five minutes I have, I want to say that straight talk is what will catalyze the sharing economy.

Facilitative Leadership & Civic Media

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Facilitative Leadership training offered by the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC).  I took away a fantastic set of insights and processes to use in the various workshops and trainings I do, in addition to better coaching, listening, facilitation and leadership skills.  The two-day training hosted a group of about 15 people at the IISC office in Boston.  The goals were to build our ability to engage the colleagues and communities we work with as partners in creating the change we all want to make. I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the training and its connection to our work here.  If this stuff sounds relevant you should attend their training because it was great!

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Controlled Interactivity: Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Controlled Interactivity: Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age

Notes from Center for Civic Media Lunch, 02/20/14. This is a collaborative live blog by attendees and may contain errors. A video of the talk will be posted soon.  

Jennifer begins by showing a slide: Obama "This person's got his back – share this if you do too."

This particular effort launched during the 2012 campaign around the time that Romney was getting attention as the apparent Republican nominee. They made this meme with the idea that people would change their profile picture to this image.

What does the wealth distribution of crowdfunding look like?

To get noticed as a crowdfunding campaign in 2013, you need to aim high. Three years ago, topping $345,000 would have made you the biggest Kickstarter of all time. In the past year and a half, the platform has gone from zero to fifty-one successful $1M+ campaigns. Long gone (and thankfully so) are the days when simply running a campaign was enough to generate media interest.

A Timeline of Crowdfunding Since 2000

On Monday I gave a talk to MIT's New Economy Group titled "Crowdfunding, Community Assets and the New Economy". One of the first things I presented, by way of context, was this timeline.

It's not meant to be an exhaustive collection of events, but here are a few things I found most interesting and worthwhile to include.

Donors Choose was arguably the first civic crowdfunding platform, although it has never referred to itself in those terms. It took DC ten years to become entirely self-financing.

Do we own part of this? What Obama’s vision of OFA means for crowdfunding

As the field of civic crowdfunding emerges and grows, it is spawning many competing visions of what the field is and where its appeal comes from. Lately I’ve been thinking about questions such as: how much is crowdfunding about community and shared values? How much is it about physical places? How much is it about a desire to participate and feel agency, and how much is it about ownership?

It’s unlikely to be just one of the above, and surely differs across contexts. But there are instances that present one vision over the others. Last week President Obama made a clear appeal to the last category, ownership, by tweeting this image about Organizing for Action.

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