“People in civic tech didn’t go through the hurdles of face-to-face civic life…We need to think about design,” said Tiago Carneiro Peixoto, Team Lead, World Bank’s Digital Engagement Unit, during a recent panel discussion entitled The Ethics of Democracy Entrepreneurship. The event was hosted by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard.
Serious Thinking about Democratic Design
Peixoto wasn’t talking about design details – he was talking about fundamental institutional design in its full political-economic context. The term democratic design crystalized the topic of the panel. Such thinking represents important progress in the development of civic tech and civic media.Read more
Sad fact: the wrong politics can get you killed in many places in the world. Sam Ford, Vice President at Univison’s Fusion Media Group and Head of the Group’s Center for Innovation and Engagement mentioned at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology presentation recently that he was surprised to find that so many of the reporters at Univision and Fusion had been personally threatened with guns. Ford seemed confident that the unabashedly political agenda of his company will produce good outcomes but I left the presentation wondering whether academic media studies are looking at the political applications of their work through too rosy a lens.
“Innovation” and “Engagement”: Experiments with What Industry Buzzwords Can Mean in Practice was the title of the colloquium held under the auspices of the Comparative Media Studies|Writing program at MIT of which Ford is an alum (link to podcast). Univision’s Fusion Media Group (not the Saudi mall branding company with the same name) is a portfolio of media companies which includes Fusion, Univision Digital, Univision Music, The Root, Flama, The Onion, A.V. Club, Clickhole, Starwipe, El Rey and as of August 2016, what is left of Gawker Media.Read more
Are you willing to test yourself? Before you read any further, perform the following thought experiment: Relax. Take a deep breath. Now gently and slowly, in your mind, substitute a series of ethnic groups for the “blank” in “Blank Lives Matter.” For example, “Irish Lives Matter, Italian Lives Matter, Puerto Rican Lives Matter, Mexican Lives Matter, African-American Lives Matter,” etc.
Feel your emotional response to your words representing each ethnic group as you do this. If you are like me, you experience at least a slight variation with each substitution. Don’t judge or explain – just observe.
Now try religions and denominations, “Christian Lives Matter, Catholic Lives Matter, Jewish Lives Matter, Hindu Lives Matter, Muslim Lives Matter,” etc.” Try sexual orientation, “Gay Lives Matter, Straight Lives Matter, Lesbian Lives Matter,” etc. Try colors and shades, “White Lives Matter, Red Lives Matter, Yellow Lives Matter, Light Lives Matter, Dark Lives Matter,” etc. You can try it with any categorical series that might relate to having a life.Read more
The truth is not getting play in our media according to New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg. An increasingly partisan press is the culprit, he charges in an Independence Day column. Dangerous political outcomes are afoot. But do we really think conventional “nonpartisan” journalism can shift the balance toward truth?
If truth is losing out to falsehood we need stronger stuff on the side of truth. That is why I assert we need “novpartisan” journalism produced on a new kind of media platform. The need is urgent. Some of the same technologies that make a new platform possible can be deployed to promote falsehood.
I coin the term novpartisan to signify a novel, alternative way of producing civic content but also novel way of being part of a party. Novpartisan is “partisan” not by blindly adhering to an external party, faction, cause, or person. Novpartisan is partisan in the sense that it develops and cultivates common interests in civic action among its participating audience members. The audience itself becomes a party or a better informed faction of a larger party.Read more
So…I am not saying that Hulk Hogan didn’t have a case against Gawker but there are much better uses of the 10 million “Washingtons” Peter Thiel invested to punish Gawker. More generally, Thiel and other Tech Billionaires are getting poor returns on the millions they are putting into philanthropic, social, and political investments because they are nibbling around the edges of the biggest problem.
The biggest problem is that it sucks to be an active citizen. You can focus in one area for a lifetime and with a little luck and talent make a real difference but meanwhile twenty other things you really care about are going to hell. Reliable civic information is incredibly hard to come by, organizing is the task of Sisyphus, and meanwhile you’ve got a life to lead, family, a job, and many other things to do in your waking hours besides go to fruitless meetings.
A little blue birdie told me about a very worthwhile post by Matt Stempeck, Director of Civic Technology on Microsofts’ Technology and Civic Engagement Team. The post, Towards a Taxonomy of Civic Technology attempts to define the field, categorize its functions, discuss ways participants in the field may work together, and finally looks at ways to view the true meaning of the field. He invites thoughts, reactions and contributions, which I offer below with deep appreciation.
Civic Tech is Taking Off
“The field of civic technology is poised to take off,” Stempeck writes. He sees a convergence of trends bringing the field to “an inflection point.” He and and his collaborators Micah Sifry, co-founder the long-running Personal Democracy Forum conference and Civic Hall, and Erin Simpson, Program Director of Civic Hall Labs, organized the taxonomy to attract more participation to the field move resources in productive directions and crucially, to understand impacts. He published the post on the day of their joint presentation at The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference.
While you’ve been taking a short breather from all-Trump-all-the-Time, Facebook’s trending bias has become “news.” Apparently Facebook’s contract workers responsible for “curating” (a word I’ve always thought sounded more appropriate for meat preservation) the Facebook trending feature have been accused of deliberately or unconsciously favoring “liberal” over “conservative” content. Senator Thune of South Dakota has called for an investigation. You can take three lessons from the flap. The third, about the freedom of the press, is most vital.Read more
If Civic Tech excites you, you would have loved the recent Roundtable on the Future of Technology and Democracy. The Roundtable took place at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
The Roundtable was an indication that Civic Tech is becoming more citizen-centric and less tech-centric. Civic means “relating to citizenship or being a citizen.” The dictionary definition of civics is “the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works.”
One-dimensional left-right views of politics are no more accurate or useful to navigation than a map of the flat earth surrounded by angels. The main purpose of common political labels is to claim “us vs. them” which is why simple labels are so often used.
Today, we use Einstein’s multi-dimensional physics to derive physical position in GPS systems but persist in the one-dimensional political classifications arising from the habitual seating choices of members of the French National Assembly of 1789. Even then, observers noted a second dimension, front and back which denoted a degree of engagement with prevailing views on either side.Read more
Acquiescence to the candidacy of Donald Trump in the name of “democracy” is sloppy thinking.
Simplistic and unrealistic beliefs in democracy can get people killed. Bad things can happen when well-meaning people misapply good ideas. Ross Douthat says, in a recent op-ed in the New York Times that Americans, including our “officially neutral press…speak and think in the language of Democracy without appreciating the deeper wisdom of the American system.”
“You do believe in democracy, don’t you?” was a question Paul Wolfowitz, then US Deputy Secretary of Defense, posed to Paul Bremer, before he became head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq according to Neil Swidey’s recent Boston Globe profile of Bremer. Bremer later concluded that Wolfowitz wanted to be sure Bremer was not “infected” by the State Department’s “defeatist” thinking that democracy is not possible in the Middle East. Wolfowitz's slack triumphalism turned out to be more dangerous.Read more