networks | MIT Center for Civic Media

Computer networks (computers or other devices that are connected via wires or wireless connections) have changed the way that people work and socialize. New developments in network technology such as mesh networking show promise for even more innovative ways that networks can support communities and civic engagement.

An Open Letter From Civic Hackers to Puerto Rico & USVI in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

I am working with a group of civic developers committed to supporting Hurricane victims for relief & recovery who have helped with the software development and data analysis of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma primarily in Texas and Florida. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, we want to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the same way. Devastation has already occurred in Puerto Rico and the USVI, and we’re here to help in the response and recovery pending from Maria.

But, we won’t jump in without your permission. These places have a long history of imperialism, and we refuse to add tech colonialism on top of that.

Here’s how we might be able to help:

Rescue

Sometimes emergency services are overloaded fielding calls and deploying assistance. Remote grassroots groups help take in additional requests through social media and apps like Zello and then help to dispatch local people who are offering to perform rescue services (like the Cajun Navy in Houston after Hurricane Harvey).

How Would You Design Crypto Backdoor Regulation? Ed Felten at CITP

Law enforcement sometimes argue that they need backdoors to encryption in order to carry out their mission, while cryptographers like Bruce Schneier describe the public cybersecurity risk from backdoors and say that the "technology just doesn't work that way."

I'm here at the Princeton University Center for Information Tech Policy, liveblogging the first public lunch of the semester, where Ed Felten shares work in progress to find a way through this argument. Ed is the director of CITP and a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University. He served at the White House as the Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer from June 2015 to January 2017. Ed was also the first chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission from January 2011 until September 2012.

All in Our Backyard - social justice in disaster response

One of the hardest lessons and ongoing challenges in digital disaster and humanitarian response is how to connect with a local population. While many digital response groups deal with this by waiting for official actors (like the affected nation's government, or the United Nations) to activate them, this doesn't always sit well with my political viewpoints. Some of these affected nations have governments which are not in power at the consent of the governed, and so to require their permission rankles my soul. But to jump in without request or context is also unacceptable. So what's to be done? It's from this perspective that I've been diving into how civics, disaster, and humanitarian tech overlap. And it's from this perspective that I've been showing up to Bayview meetings for San Francisco city government's Empowered Communities Program. ECP is working to create neighborhood hubs populated by members already active in their communities.

Surveillance in the Telegraph Era

This week in class we discussed how the telegraph started shaping communication after it was invented. My final project is about domestic surveillance, so I thought it would be interesting to look at what type of surveillance got dreamed up when we had just the telegraph.

Nowadays we are subject to PRISM, a surveillance program that allows agencies to query stored communication at various technology companies that match court-approved search terms. Back when we had the telegraph there was a similar program called Project SHAMROCK. The project involved accumulating all telegraphic signals that enter or exit the United States. This data got printed and passed down to law enforcement agencies, who sifted through it all to find evidence. It can be thought of as a physical manifestation of database querying we use nowadays to match search terms, except that comparison breaks down because the SHAMROCK investigators get to see a bunch of other communications in the search for information on an open investigation. By the 60's they did actually have an electronic system for searching for keywords.

How Can Online Platforms Prioritize Worker Interests? Steven Dawson on Worker-owned Co-ops

What does it take to create business models that put worker well-being at their center, and what can platform economies learn from that history? How can we turn a lousy job into a better one?

Every Tuesday, Brian Keegan and I are privileged to facilitate the Berkman Cooperation working group, which brings together a Boston-wide conversation among designers, advocates, social scientists, computer scientists, and economists on themes of online cooperation. This week, we welcomed Steven Dawson, a veteran leader in the U.S. co-op movement. Here are my live notes from the conversation.

Steven Dawson is the co-founder of Paraprofessional Healthcare, the largest employee-owned co-op in the U.S. Together with Steven, we had a discussion about peer production and cooperative sharing economies through the lens of the concrete histories and operations of cooperative businesses.

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.

Boston Civic Media Conference: Institutions Panel

This is a liveblog account created by Christina Wilson, Becky Michelson, Alex Eby and Jedd Cohen at the Boston Civic Media Metrics & Methods Conference.

(Crossposted to the Engagement Lab blog)

Civic Values in Technology Design: Read Along With Me!

When people in society come together to collectively perform a task -- from cleaning up a park to organizing around a cause-- the benefits of their cooperation extend far beyond the specific task at hand. People get to know each other, build bonds of trust, argue their understanding of a situation, and often form long-lasting partnerships, organizations, and communities for learning and action. Within cooperative technologies, these civic and community values are not easily computable. As a result, it is easy to pass over these values in favor of improving the performance of a task, increasing the number of petition signatures, or measuring the immediate outcomes of a social action. A core theme of my work at MIT has been to imagine how new kinds of measures more aligned with civic values, community, and social justice might transform our technology designs and our social interactions online. 

Supporting Change from Outside Systems with Design and Data: Stuart Geiger on Successor Systems

Are social computing and data science just tools for the powerful, or can they be used to question power and reshape the structures that influence us? It's a question I've been wondering as I've watched civic tech & academic communities idolize the employees and "alums" of big corporations and governments-- partly because of the resources they have, and partly because it seems like these companies are the sole gatekeepers of social experiments and large-scale interventions to influence society.

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