elplatt's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Decentralized Networks for Social Movements: AMC 2015 Liveblog

This was liveblogged at the 2015 Allied Media Conference.

Allen Kwabena Frimpong, Black Lives Matter
Tammy Shapiro, Movement Netlab
Arielle Newton, Black Lives Matter

In 2011, Occupy Wall Street held huge demonstrations in New York’s Zuccotti Park and around the world. But within months, many media outlets had proclaimed that the movement had entirely disappeared. But when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, many of the same participants in OWS organized Occupy Sandy to pick up the slack where FEMA fell short. The connections formed by OWS and later tapped to create Occupy Sandy show how decentralized networks can used to quickly organize effective responses.

Data Sculpture: Media Perspective

For those of us who work with data, we get used to visualizing in our mind and develop an intuition for it. For everyone else, data visualization usually takes the form of a diagram on a small, two-dimensional screen. Standard data plots can take an exciting idea and turn it into something boring, or even worse, drudge up memories of panicked high school math exams. This experimental data sculpture attempts to draw the viewer into the visualization and connect them with the data on an intuitive, physical level. The sculpture shows the amount of coverage the U.S. mainstream media gave to Net Neutrality between January 2014 and April 2015, while the FCC was creating revised Net Neutrality rules. Each of the 33 panes of clear acrylic represents a two-week time slice, with the size of an etched circle corresponding to the amount of coverage. The top row shows total Net Neutrality coverage, with the other three rows representing coverage of "innovation," "discrimination," and "regulation," in reference to Net Neutrality.

Andrew Keen: The Internet is Not the Answer

Live notes from a lunch talk by Andrew Keen. Notes by Ed Platt and Ali Hashmi.

Ethan introduces Andrew as a former silicon valley entrepreneur, then historian. He’s since focused on understanding the culture of silicon valley.

Andrew set out to write about the history of the Internet. Although the book is called “The Internet is Not the Answer,” he thinks it needs to be the answer. In the book, he concludes that so far the Internet is not the ‘answer’ and that the digital revolution is not doing what it expected it to do. He suggests that “The Internet” can’t be described as a single entity. Rather he sees the beginning of a “Networked Age.” Since at least 1995, it’s been common to hear that “it’s too early” to make conclusions about the Internet. He argues that we can.

Making Together with Jeff Sturges

Live notes taken at Jeff Sturges's Director's Fellow workshop on January 22, 2015.

Jeff Sturges
ML Director's fellow and Founder, Mount Elliott Makerspace @jeffsturges

Jeff has many years making and participating and makerspaces. He's had both successes and failures he'd like to share with us. He sees makerspaces as a big category that includes things like fab labs, grant-funded community spaces, member-run hackerspaces, and commercial/hierarchical groups like TechShop.

When Jeff first started, he tried to do it alone to keep things cheap. He blames his gray hairs on this and suggests working with others. He admires the model used by Maker Works in Ann Arbor, MI. He wishes he'd gone to something like the makerspace bootcamp they offer before he had started.

Citizens Rising - Liveblog

Live notes from the Citizens Rising event at MIT on Friday, Sept 19, 2014.


Daniel Miller opens. Next, Daniel Wong speaks. He worked as a designer in 2009. Bad news about the economy and the government weighed on him. His sister introduced him to Lessig's work and he got involved with Rootstrikers, attended meetings, led meetings. But then he got a new job, and activism fell by the wayside, until he came across an article on Gilens's work suggesting that the US government operates as an oligarchy. He introduces Martin Gilens.

Martin Gilens

Gilens opens by showing us "the most unsettling line in American politics." He continues to explain that the near-horizontal slope of the line is the significant part. It represents the probability of a policy to be adopted as a function of how popular it is with the American people. The most popular policies are virtually no more likely than the least popular. His results suggest that the views of Americans have very little influence on US policy.

Talking the Talk: Communication Styles for Diversity at AlterConf

Photo by jordesign

The first AlterConf Boston hosted a mix of techies, gamers, and journalists to discuss diversity in these communities. As a self-identified communication-nerd, I was excited for Shauna Gordon-McKeon's "Talking the Talk" presentation on the role of different communication styles in encouraging diversity inclusion. These notes are from her talk.

Gordon-McKeon wants to dispel the myth that arguing is the road to truth, that truth = people + talking - emotions + data. She suggests memorizing stock phrases so they're like second nature when you need them. For a deeper analysis of communication, she suggests the work of Dr. Deborah Tannen.

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

HOPE X: Hackerspace Community Dynamics Meet-Up

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Facilitator: Naomi Most

The goal of this meet up is to take a step back, look at building communities, and talk about what doesn't work, and more importantly what does.

Do you hackerspace?

Most folks here have some experience starting and growing spaces. The rest are interested.

Are hackers normal people? Or are they really different?

We're just like anyone, e.g. baseball fans, who have a particular set of interests.

Hackers are people who question assumptions.

One participant say there's sometimes a "we're better, and we're exclusive" and they're not in favor of that. Much agreement from the group.

A person who wears hacker as a badge on their arm says "I have superpowers" but a person who wears it on their heart says "I have superpowers, you can too."

Hackerspaces in libraries help bridge the gap with people who wouldn't identify as hackers.

HOPE X: When You Are the Adversary

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Quinn Norton

In the past year, there has been a lot of attention towards major adversaries, like the NSA. Most of the time, we're actually up against small adversaries. Most adversaries are just jerks. Small adversaries target everyone, with whatever technology they have. It might be gossip around the water cooler. It might be local law enforcement, or your IT department, in schools, corporations, or NGOs. They're honor killings, partners committing domestic violence, friends who mean well, stalkers who don't mean well, or random interactions.

What are the tools of small adversaries? A common one is making someone give you their password to email, Facebook, etc. Hacker tools can be used in negative ways. The people Quinn works with as a journalist need security tools that work practically, not academically. How do adversaries get access? Usually through email. More and more tools are becoming available. The tools used by small adversaries, are modeled after those used by large ones.

HOPE X: Community Infrastructure for FOSS Projects

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

James Vasile, Open Internet Tools Project

Infrastructure is any mechanism that helps developers and users engage. OpenITP believes that community infrastructure should come from the community. We're used to infrastructure like roads: someone else builds and maintains it. A lot of FOSS projects build their own infrastructure and wind up repeating efforts and not doing a great job of it.

OpenITP tries to find a middle ground between building infrastructure and everyone fending for themselves. They do this by coordinating between projects with similar needs.

Projects need more than just code to succeed: