erhardt | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent blog posts by erhardt

Increasing Voter Knowledge with Pre-Election Interventions on Facebook

Liveblog of Winter Mason's talk at MIT sponsored by the MIT Gov/Lab on 13 November 2017. All errors are mine.

Moving voter knowledge is hard but possible.

Winter starts by introducing the unusually large research team serving the Civic Engagement products at Facebook. Civic engagement is one of the five major pillars of how Facebook seeks to realize its mission. Zuckerberg has clearly stated that ensuring people have a voice in their government is a priority for the platform and is the mission driving the civic engagement product team. 

Digital Democracy: Participatory Mapping & Tool-building in the Amazon

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This is a liveblog of a talk by Emily Jacobi (@emjacobi) at the MIT Center for Civic Media, written by Erhardt Graeff, Rahul Bhargava, and Alexis Hope. All errors are our own.

 
Digital Democracy (DD) works in solidarity with groups around the world to empower marginalized communities to use technology to defend their rights. This means that they are different from other groups because they are not trying to pursue their own agenda through their work. Their mission is driven by the agenda of their partners.
 
DD was founded almost 10 years after being inspired by research they were doing in Burma. Emily noticed a correlation between internet access and political engagement. She had a realization that new technology was being leveraged to make new kinds of engagement possible, but that it also creates new risks and challenges. They started by doing workshops and trainings that were requested by local partners

Kathy Cramer on The Politics of Resentment: What I Learned from Listening

On May 30, 2017, Kathy J. Cramer, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and author of The Politics of Resentmentspoke at the MIT Media Lab. This is a summary of that talk; any errors are mine.

Research Question

Cramer notes that the question on many scholars and citizens minds right now is "Why do people vote against their interests?" Most are implicitly asking, "Why are people getting it wrong?” But she believes that the better question to ask is "How are people understanding their world?"
 
The motivating question in the research Cramer has done that culminated in her 2016 book is "How does social class identity matter for the way people understand their world?” She tries to listen to people talk in the places where they live and spend their time. This gives her a chance to understand their social identity. So she invites herself into conversations with people who vary across socio-demographic characteristics. 

Methods

When she started in 2007, she chose to study a couple dozen communities in Wisconsin that would represent a diverse sample. Before she set out to visit a place, she would contact the local newspaper and the University of Wisconsin extension office nearby to learn where to find groups people who meet up regularly that she might chat with. She found herself in diners, churches, gas stations, and other local haunts. 
 
Cramer had a semi-structured interview protocol to follow but tried to let the conversations go where they would. In the first year of research, she would return to the groups up to three times over the following year, and then at least once a year going forward until the study ended in 2012. When her book came out in 2016 and after the election, she followed up with the groups, sharing her book and findings and asking them about their current opinions. 

Mobile Security Primer for Activists

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At MIT's Day of Action, Nathan Freitas of Guardian Project led a workshop on mobile security for activists, focusing on various secure messaging apps available today, touching on their benefits and risks for different kinds of activities and communities.

Common messaging apps (and their secure setting)

  • Conversations (default, can also interface with other secure XMPP apps like ChatSecure and Zom)
  • Facebook Messenger (secret conversations setting)
  • iMessage (only for messages to another iPhone/iMessage users, i.e. "blue" messages)
  • Signal (default)
  • WhatsApp (default)

All of these apps transfer messages over the internet via your data plan. SMS messages are never encrypted and can additionally be seen by your telephone company, which is particularly insecure because metadata from phone companies can be acquired without a warrant. Instead, internet-based messaging apps can be secured using "end to end" encryption with their secure settings. This means that messages are encrypted and then conveyed over encrypted connections (HTTPS/TLS) between phones and servers.

It's important to understand what each service knows about its users and what it stores. This may include:

  • When you are connected to the internet
  • Your phone number for user identity purposes (thus, they can look up your name at the phone company)
  • Your network of friends, IF you uploaded your contact book

Because of end to end encryption, these companies generally don't have access to your messages unless you are using them on an insecure setting like green messages on iMessage (actually sent by SMS) or non-secret Facebook Messengers messages. Because of this companies under subpoena can only provide metadata, not the messages themselves. 

The Civic State of the Union

The is a liveblog of the “The Civic State of the Union” panel on March 7, 2017, part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series at Tufts University. The video is on YouTube. Note: this is not a transcript, any errors are mine.

Panel

Panelists
* Robert D. Putnam, Harvard University
* Shirley Sagawa, Service Year Alliance
* Peter Levine, Tufts University
* Mara Liasson, NPR (moderator)

Is the Civic State of the Union strong, and if not how do we go about strengthening it?

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