ashapiro | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent blog posts by ashapiro

Final Project Post

Disclaimer: This is only a summary with a few excerpts. If you would like to read the entire paper, please leave a comment with your email address and I will personally send it to you.

My final project, a 34-page monster titled Digital Discourse and Civic Engagement in Ukraine, examines how specific technological, structural, and discursive conditions of Internet use in Ukraine have affected democratic consolidation by promoting virtual public spheres that encourage political deliberation and civic participation.

Defining Civic Media, Again

Originally, I defined civic media as “the tools and technologies that facilitate the exchange of information and ideas between people, often in pursuit of common goals.” I also noted that it’s important to avoid normative judgments of civic media, because the effects and potential of these tools are dependent upon the intentions of those who utilize them. After learning more about digital inequalities, however, I would also like to add that the impact of civic media in a given community is largely dependent upon whom is using it. New media, in particular, seem to exacerbate existing socioeconomic disparities in communities by increasing the gap between information “haves” and “have-nots,” not to mention contributing to the global “digital divide.”

Civic Lulz: 11/21 Discussion Recap

Monday’s discussion, led by Dan Schultz, was centered on evolution of hacktivism, Anonymous, and the pursuit of the lulz. Molly Sauter also dropped by to contribute.

Lulz, while not necessarily as intellectualized, is a modern incarnation of satire as political critique. In times and spaces where open political dissidence is suppressed, jokes and satire are some of the few available outlets for expressing discontent. As a contemporary example, Sasha related a story from 2005 in Tunisia, where critics of Ben Ali posted images of the ruler with a photoshopped clown nose in public spaces. While the stunt may seem “lulzy” to those of us who have grown up in cozy Western liberal democracies, in the context of authoritarian rule, the act comprised an intense, high-risk form of protest.

Something Short

Using Ukraine as my point of reference, I decided to list some of the pros and cons of online media in democratic transition and consolidation. My eventual aim is to gain an understanding of why the same tools that enabled Ukraine’s democratic transition have been so ineffective at the stage of consolidation. Mind you, I am trying to avoid falling into the trap of techno-determinism. Rather than scrutinize the inherent qualities of the technology itself, I am examining how ICTs have functioned in the context of a real-life movement, particularly when they are co-opted by traditional civic actors.

- Disseminate info more quickly and to a wider audience (ex. exposing election fraud, organizing protests, etc.)
- More platforms for critical discussion – especially important in non-democratic regimes where fewer opportunities exist offline.
- Online coverage keeps international community informed of developments, more likely to provide monetary support and/or place pressure on government for democratic reform.

Project Update: News Sources

I recently undertook the task of comparing leading independent online news sources for the Central, Eastern, Western, and Southern regions of Ukraine. My overall goal was to get a better sense of the political orientations of these websites, their readership and their content, as well as gauge the inclusivity of voices. At the same time, I was also looking for material related to ICTs in Ukraine. In the interest of time, I'll briefly discuss some findings on two sites: Ukrajins'ka Pravda and Ostrov.