Civic media

Gratitude and its Dangers in Social Technologies

How do our designs change when we start emphasizing people and community and not just the things they do for us? Over the next year of my research, I'm exploring acknowledgment and gratitude, basic parts of online relationships that designers often set aside to focus on the tasks people do online.

In May of last year, Wikipedia added a "thanks" feature to its history page, enabling readers to thank contributors for helpful edits on a topic:

Thanks on Wikipedia July 28-30, 2014

Joi Ito's '9 Principles' of the Media Lab

Joi Ito's 9 Principles of the Media Lab from MIT CMS/Writing on Vimeo.

Liveblogged at #civicmedia with help from Ed Platt. Any errors are likely ours.

Joi Ito (@joi), Director of the MIT Media Lab, is here to share his nine principles.

Nearly thirty years ago when the Media Lab was founded, the internet was about connecting together supercomputers. The Media Lab was all about empowering the individual and making everything digital. The Lab’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, wrote Being Digital.

The Civic Project Carousel

Rahul Bhargava introduces the Civic Media Bingo session, a whirlwind introduction to Civic’s many interesting projects.

Nathan Matias starts off with NewsPad, a tool he created with Andres Monroy Hernandez at Microsoft, and Eventful, which Andres and Elena Agapie created to carry on the work. Nathan sees NewsPad filling the need for events that don’t currently get reported on, like neighborhood yard sales. Nathan cites Wikipedia’s cooperative online news reporting as the exception in a field of single-user news curation tools like Storify. Newspad is designed to let curators pull together a seed post that additional contributors can join.

The Open Web's Second Chance

Liveblog by: Ali Hashmi @alihashmi01, Whitney, Ed, Willow on vizthink

The Open Web and Participation

Live blogged by Rahul Bhargava and Matt Stempeck Monday, June 23, 2014 - 3:45pm

The Internet lowers coordination costs, making it easier for groups of people to cooperate and work together. Despite this, it's often been hard to apply the lessons of online cooperation to the world of civics. A set of exciting new projects and initiatives offers hope for what's possible and a clearer sense of the challenges of using the web to participate in offline social change.

Interlude: Three Lightning Talks

Live blog by Sands Fish and Willow Brugh

Matt Carrol - Future of News / Civic

Wanted a "BuzzFeed"able title. 5 top media leaders, hot new media trends. 10 called back.
Lesson to be learned about writing headline first.
C. - Circa, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Storify, The Washington Post, Twitter, Financial, Times, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews - Dan Sinker, Fresco - Dan van der Merwe., co-founder

Fresco News was created by 2 19 year old freshmen from NYU. The tools that exist today. But if 19 year olds are doing this, what happens after the seasoned professionals are done tearing it apart and putting it back together.

#2. Nevermind digital first… it’s mobile first.
50% traffic club (mobile) ;- Washington Post, etc., Twitter @ 80%
ATOMIZATION of news. Like Circa, bite-sized paragraphs. Like NYT Now, taking news and putting it into a tiny bucket so easy to consume on mobile.

Breaking down the language barrier between developers and journalists

By Caty Arevalo, Aleszu Bajak, and Matt Carroll

It ended with dramatic, insightful presentations on video gaming and addiction, possible gender disparities in Medicare payments, and how drug cartels might hinder shale oil exploration in Mexico.

The middle was a rush of frantic coding, reporting, and research, fueled with a stream of coffee, soda, pizza and donuts.

And at the beginning were more than 20 journalists, developers, and others interested in breaking down the cultural barriers that can cause communication problems between reporters and coders.

It was a one-day hackathon at the Media Lab on Sunday, May 18, with the long but descriptive title of, “Breaking down the language barrier between developers and journalists.” (Hashtag: #Digitalfluency.)

Civic Fiction: The Real Insidiousness of A Gay Girl in Damascus according to Molly Sauter

At Theorizing the Web this year, MIT Center for Civic Media alum Molly Sauter delivered a powerful paper on the idea of "civic fiction" using the the case of A Gay Girl in Damascus (about how a white American man created a compelling fake lesbian Syrian blogger named Amina during the height of the Syrian resistance) to show how a fictional narrative co-constructed by a culturally homogenous author and audience (in this case Western) can do problematic political work by amplifying an Orientalist narrative. The result is a feedback loop through a media ecosystem that thinks its functioning as a bridge between narratives but is actually serving as a insidious mirror.

Her concepts of "civic fiction" and the "mirror figure" are important new constructs for civic media to wrestle with. At the Center for Civic Media, our standard "demo" slides feature an image of Mike Daisey holding an iPad with the caption "exaggeration and distortion," which we use as an example of ways we need to be skeptical about the way media is used for civic and activist purposes. In Daisey's case, his source was actually theater, but it was dropped into a news context—a situation he's reflected on with respect to how truth is negotiated with the audience.* Often we think about these not as fictions but little distortions that add up to propaganda in some cases. What's new about the Amina hoax in the case Molly presents is the possibility that we will all be in on it, unwittingly or not—our biases confirmed. And we won't be able to fact-check our way out of one of these feedback loops because the truth is inaccessible in a place like Syria. What if This American Life couldn't do the background research and produce a completely separate episode to retract Mike Daisey's "creative" version of the truth?

Below are my notes from Molly's talk, and you can also watch her deliver it thanks to the livestream capture. 

Notes on Monitory Democracy and a Networked Civil Society

Schudson's The Good Citizen

Ethan and I have been exploring the concept of monitorial citizenship in the pursuit of a definition or roadmap for "effective citizenship." We are working on related projects trying to operationalize Michael Schudson's idea of monitorial citizenship from his book The Good Citizen, but using slightly different definitions. Ethan's project Promise Tracker, being developed by several of our colleagues at the Center for Civic Media, thinks of monitorial citizenship as the responsibility of citizens "to monitor what powerful institutions do (governments, corporations, universities and other large organizations) and demand change when they misbehave." My master's thesis project Action Path thinks of monitorial citizenship more like Jane Jacobs idea of "eyes on the street," whereby average citizens are being civic and gathering useful information in aggregate by simply "watching their kids, keeping abreast of important consumer recalls, noting how weather affects the cost of groceries or their ability to check in on family members' safety."

Both of us may be thinking of monitorial citizens in different ways than Schudson and other scholars use the term. Marc Hooghe, in a paper reacting to Schudson called "Does the 'Monitorial Citizen' Exist?" [paywalled] looks for citizens who are critical non-participants in political life, but care deeply about social issues.

This week Ethan and I read a couple of papers as part of our ongoing conversation of monitorial citizenship. Schudson, himself, kindly pointed us to an essay by John Keane, unpacking monitory democracy as a new vision of "democracy in our times." Ethan has also been eager to dive into a prescient manuscript by David Ronfeldt, which proposes a framework for societal evolution wherein networks represent the latest organization form necessary for the success of advanced societies.

The following are our thoughts on these two pieces... 

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