What is Civic Media Revisited

Looking back at my first blog post, I defined civic media as:

Civic media is any use of a medium that empowers a community to engage within and beyond the people, places, and problems of their community.

I then explained what I meant by a medium, a community, engagement, people, places, and problems. (I realize that I didn’t describe what I meant by empower though!) I still stand by this definition, but I believe this class enriched it across many dimensions and contexts. For example, I enjoyed learning about the many ways people expressed engagement, from traditional forms such as protests to DDOS attacks by Anonymous.

It was also interesting to understand this definition across networked contexts and new media ecologies alongside old media. For example, there are many tools and services today such as social media that have been useful at facilitating connection and mobilization. However, many of these tools are commercial products. which use the content and labor we produce for commercial purposes. A question for future civic media interventions is how can civic media tools and services truly be free as in freedom not as in beer?

Our class has reinforced my belief that people are at the center and it is important to connect people and build relationships. Designers of civic media must work hard to understand who they designing for and also reflect on what biases they may be designing into their tools. These biases can also be embedded in beliefs and ideas about how people organize and discuss, such as in the assumptions in Jurgen Habernas’ public sphere theory which Nancy Fraser breaks down. People who want to use civic media for civic engagement should also consider what their goals are before finding new tools. Sometimes what you need may be as simple as your rap song on YouTube.

There were multiple frameworks that I found compelling, particularly those that unravel digital inequalities and support digital inclusion. In the discussion between Henry Jenkins and Dana Cunningham, I found the idea of “hybird systems” to be an interesting model to try to connect the interactions and content emerging in online spaces to people who are not wholly immersed in these virtual spaces.

I also find digital inequality and inclusion to be areas for future interventions for civic media and engagement. In our class activity on digital inequality earlier this semester, our group created our own framework to support digital inclusion. I believe that to support such a framework civic media projects need to build in multiple forms of engagement, like the hybrid systems that Jenkins and Cunningham discuss. As a designer, I believe these multiple forms will require both creativity and empathy. What other mediums or hybrid mediums can connect to diverse audiences and empower them to engage? In what ways can we better understand who and how people will use civic media?