Joho the Blog » e-democracy

June 29, 2012

[aspen] Eric Schmidt on the Net and Democracy

Eric Schmidt is being interviewed by Jeff Goldberg about the Net and Democracy. I’ll do some intermittent, incomplete liveblogging…

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

NOTE: Posted without having even been re-read. Note note (a few hours later): I’ve done some basic cleanup.

After some amusing banter, Jeff asks Eric about how responsible he felt Google was for Arab Spring. Jeff in passing uses the phrase “Internet revolution.”

ES: Arab Spring was enabled by a failure to censure the Internet. Google enabled people to organize themselves. Especially in Libya, five different militias were able to organize their armed revolt by using the Net. It’s unfair to the people who died to call it an “Internet revolution.” But there were fewer people who died, in part because of the incessant media coverage. And we’ve seen that it’s very easy to start what some call an Internet revolution, but very hard to finish it.

JG: These were leaderless revolutions, crowdsourced revolution. But in Egypt the crowd’s leaders were easily pushed aside after Mubarek fell.

ES: True leaders are very hard to find. In Libya, there are 80 militias, armed to the teeth. In most of the countries there were repressed Muslim groups that have emerged as leaders because they organized while repressed. Whoever takes over inherits financial and social problems, and will be thrown out if they fail.

JG: Talk about Google’s tumultuous relationship with China…

ES: There are lots of reasons to think that China works because its citizens like its hierarchical structure. But I think you can’t build a knowledge society without freedom. China wants to be a knowledge society. It’s unclear if China’s current model gets them past a middle income GDP. Google thought that if we gave them free access to info, the Chinese people would revolt. We were wrong, and we moved Google to Hong Kong, on the open side of the Great Firewall. (We had to because that’s the Chinese law.) Now when you enter a forbidden query, we tell the user that it’s likely to be blocked. We are forbidden from announcing what the forbidden terms are because we don’t want employees put in jail.

JG: Could Arab Spring happen in China? Could students organize Tianamen Square now?

ES: They could use the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. But if someone organizes a protest, two people show up, plus 30 media, and 50 police.

JG: Google’s always argued that democratization of info erodes authoritarian control. Do you still believe that?

ES: The biggest thing I’ve learned is how hard it is to learn about the differences among people in and within countries. I continue to believe that this device [mobile phone] will change the world. The way to solve most of the world’s problems is by educating people. Because these devices will become ubiquitous, it’ll be possible to see how far we humans can get. With access to the Net, you can sue for justice. In the worst case you can actually shame people.

JG: And these devices can be used to track people.

ES: Get people to understand they have choices, and they will eventually organize. Mobiles tend to record info just by their nature. The phone company knows where you are right now. You’re not worried about that because a law says the phone company can’t come harass you where you’re sitting. In a culture where there isn’t agreement about basic rights…

JG: Is there evidence that our democracy is better off for having the Internet?

ES: When we built the Net, that wasn’t the problem we were solving. But more speech is better. There’s a lack of deliberative time in our political process. Our leaders will learn that they’ll make better decisions if they take a week to think about things. Things will get bad enough that eventually reason will prevail. We complain about our democracy, but we’re doing quite well. The US is the beacon of innovation, not just in tech, but in energy. “In God we trust … all others have to bring data.” Politicians should just start with some facts.

JG: It’s easier to be crazy and wrong on the Net.

ES: 0.5% of Americans are literally crazy. Two years ago, their moms got them broadband connections. And they have a lot of free time. Google is going to learn how to rank them. Google should enable us to hear all these voices, including the crazy people, and if we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.

JG: I googled “Syria massacre” this morning, and the first story was from Russia Today that spun it…

ES: It’s good that you have a choice. We have to educate ourselves and our children. Not everything written is true, and very powerful forces want to convince you of lies. The Net allows that, and we rank against it, but you have to do your own investigation.

JG: Google is hitting PR problems. Talk about privacy…

ES: There’s no delete button on the Net. When you’re a baby, no one knows anything about you. As you move through life, inevitably more people know more about you. We’re going to have to learn about that. The wifi info gathering by StreetView was an error, a mistake, and we’ve apologized for it.

JG: The future of journalism?

ES: A number of institutions are figuring out workable models. The Atlantic [our host]. Politico. HuffingtonPost. Clever entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make money. The traditional incumbents have been reduced in scale, but there are plenty of new voices. BTW, we just announced a tablet with interactive, dynamic magazines. To really worry about: We grew up with the bargain that newspapers had enough cash flow to fund long term investigative research. That’s a loss to democracy. The problem hasn’t been fully solved. Google has debated how to solve it, but we don’t want to cross the content line because then we’d be accused of bias in our rankings.

JG: Will search engines search for accuracy rather than popularity?

ES: Google’s algorithms are not about popularity. They’re about link structures, and we start from well-known sources. So we’re already there. We just have to get better.

JG: In 5 yrs what will the tech landscape look like?

ES: Moore’s Law says that in 5 yrs there will be more power for less money. We forget how much better our hw is now than even 5 years. And it’s faster than Moore’s Law for disks and fiber optic connections. Google is doing a testbed optical installation. At that bandwidth all media are just bits. We anticipate a lot of specialty devices.

JG: How do you expect an ordinary, competent politician to manage the info flow? Are we inventing tech that is past our ability to process info?

ES: The evidence is that the tech is bringing more human contact. The tech lets us express our humanity. We need a way of sorting politicians better. I’d suggest looking for leaders who work from facts.

JG: Why are you supporting Obama?

ES: I like having a smart president.

JG: Is Romney not smart?

ES: I know him. He’s a good man. I like Obama’s policies better.

Q&A

Q: Our connectivity is 3rd world. Why haven’t we been able to upgrade?

A: The wireless networks are running out of bandwidth. The prediction is they’ll be saturated in 2016. Maybe 2017. That’s understandable: Before, we were just typing online and now we’re watching movies. The White House in a few weeks is releasing a report that says that we can share bandwidth to get almost infinite bandwidth. Rather than allocating a whole chunk that leaves most of it unused, using interference databases we think we can fix this problem. [I think but please correct me: A database of frequency usages so that unused frequencies in particular geographic areas can be used for new signals.]

A: The digital can enhance our physical connections. E.g., a grandmother skyping with a grandchild.

JG: You said you can use the Net to shame govts. But there are plenty of videos of Syria doing horrible things, but it’s done no good.

ES: There are always particularly evil people. Syria is the exception. Most countries, even autocratic ones, are susceptible to public embarrassment.

Q: Saying “phones by their nature collect data” evades responsibility.

ES: I meant that in order to their work, they collect info. What we allow to be done with that info is a legal, cultural issue.

Q: Are we inherently critical thinkers? If not, putting info out there may not lead to good decisions.

ES: There’s evidence that we’re born to react quickly. Our brains can be taught reasoning. But it requires strong family and education.

Q: Should there be a bill of rights to simplify the legalese that express your privacy rules?

ES: It’s a fight between your reasonable point of view, and the lawyers and govt that regulate us. Let me reassure you: If you follow the goal of Google to have you as a customer, the quickest way to lose you is to misuse your information. We are one click away from competitors who are well run and smart. [unless there was money in it, or unless they could get away with it, or...]

Q: Could we get rid of representative democracy?

ES: It’ll become even more important to have democratic processes because it’s all getting more complicated. For direct democracy we’d have to spend all day learning about the issues and couldn’t do our jobs.

JG: David Brooks, could you comment? Eric is an enormous optimist…

ES: …The evidence is on my side!

JG: David, are you as sanguine that our politicians will learn to slow their thinking down, and that Americans have the skills to discern the crap from the true.

David Brooks: It’s not Google’s job to discern what’s true. There are aggregators to do this, including the NYT and TheBrowser. I think there’s been a flight to quality. I’m less sanguine about attention span. I’m less sanguine about confirmation bias, which the Web makes easier.

ES: I generally agree with that. There’s evidence that we tend to believe the first thing we hear, and we judge plus and minus against that. The answer is always for me culture, education.

Q: Will there be a breakthrough in education?

ES: Education changes much more slowly than the world does. Sometimes it seems to me that education is run for the benefit of the teachers. They should do measurable outcomes, A-B testing. There’s evidence that physics can be taught better by setting a problem and then do a collaborative effort, then another problem…

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October 12, 2010

[berkman] The MoveOn Effect

David Karpf [twitter], an assistant prof in comms at Rutgers U., is giving a Berkman Tuesday talk on “The MoveOn Effect: The Internet’s Impact on Political Activism.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

David begins by noting that in 1999 he was the exec dir of the student arm of the Sierra Club. He ran into a guy early on who was doing e-petitions, which seemed ludicrously doomed. The guy turned out to be one of the founders of MoveOn.org.

David points to the recent Malcolm Gladwell article as an example of the pushback against the idea that the Net can change politics. But, David says, we’re looking at the wrong thing. We’ve been looking at e-petitions and weak ties. As Gladwell says, change takes more than that. David points to other recent nay-sayers, who say that we new elites the same as the old elites. “Clicktivism” doesn’t really change anything, says Micah White. But we’ve been ignoring the substantial organizational change that’s been going on.

David points to a set of organizations, including Progressive Change Campaign Committee (found Aaron Swartz is in the room), 1 Sky, Act Blue, Fix Congress First, Organizing for America, Campaign for America’s Future. and Daily Kos. The big changes are coming at this organizational level.

MoveOn is his main example. Found in 1998, founded by the couple that created the flying toasters screensaver. They emerged in 2002-3 as a vocal force in the anti-Iraq-War movement. They have 5M members — a member is someone who receives their emails. “MoveOn has changed the meaning of membership.” They raised $90M in the 2008 election. 933,800 volunteers volunteered 20M hours in the ’08 elections. They have 200+ local councils, 32 staffpeople, and zero offices.

They are not just doing emails. They do offline events, including house parties to deliberate about what their national agenda should be. They sponsor get-out-the-vote calls.

He also points to PCCC. It was started in Jan 2009, so you can’t explain it as first mover advantage. 450K members. $1.3M raised in 2009. Fourteen staff. No office space.It was built initially around the Norm Coleman-Al Franken contest. Instead of setting up an e-petition (as the DSCC wanted), the PCCC set up a donation system that had people donating to the Democratic Party every day that Coleman didn’t concede the election that he had lost. Since they have continued to take bold progressive stances.

Theda Skocpol in her 2003 book Diminished Democracies said that we need to look at the displacement of cross-class membership federations by professionally-managed advocacy. We’ve moved from membership to management. That changes how we Americans participate. Bruce Bimber found that this was a technologically-mediate transition. Membership in the 60s and 70s moved from going to meetings to writing checks (“armchair activism”) because managing massive mailing lists became affordable by non-profits.

David identifies three ideal types of organization. 1. MoveOn is hub-and-spoke. A core staff sends out emails. 2. DFA (from the old Dean campaign) is neo-federated. A national org has affiliates. DailyKos is an online community of interest that also holds annual f2f meetings.

David sees three broad shifts over time. Up through the 1960s, we had cross-class membership federations. 1970-2000s we had single-issue professional advocacy orgs. Now we have Internet-mediated issue generalists. The most important change to explain this has been in funding, from membership dues, to patrons, to online + patrons. A group like MoveOn is sustainable because it has (1) zero-cost scaling (costs about the same to send 5M emails as 5 emails), (2) A/B testing (tuning by seeing the effects of variations in the email), and (3) headline chasing (targeted, timely appeals).

Meanwhile, the old revenue streams are collapsing. “Prospect direct mail” is in freefall because people aren’t opening their snail mail if they don’t have to. Most people under 65 are paying their bills online. Also, targeted fundraising appeals yield money that cannot be used to organizational overhead. Existing advocacy orgs have high overhead costs.

To research this, David created a dummy gmail account and signed up for 70 progressive advocacy groups. In 6 months, he got 2,162 email alerts. About 250 were fund-raisers. Msgs from newer orgs asked far more often for money for specific campaigns, as opposed to asking for general support. The old orgs are applying their old techniques to the Net. The new groups are relying on small donations from many people. There were 202 requestes for e-petition signatures and 85 calls for direct action. MoveOn in the past 6 months sent out as many requests for local action as e-petition. After that it was to call Congress or donate to campaigns.

Overall, the Net’s effect on activism is not clicktivism. It’s not just asking for weak-tie petition clicking. They call to action. This is a new form of organizing. We’re seeing a generation shift here: the old orgs’ sunk infrastructure costs can’t transition to becoming a network org. This is disruption theory a la Clay Christensen. The revenue streams of the old orgs are beginning to collapse. This new type of advocacy groups, with their new types of membership and ways of interacting with their members, is undermining the old orgs. The Internet skeptics generally are missing this.

Q: How does this reconcile with what the Tea Partiers are doing? And how about the Republicans?
A: I did this research before the Tea Party. So, why aren’t there the same sorts of groups for conservatives? They’ve tried to create their own DailyKos, MoveOn, etc. Why is Red State no where near the scale of DailyKos? It’s due to out-party incentives. A Republican organizer said that it’s because it’s more fun storming the castle. The out-party is more likely to adopt the new technology. At the party network level, the new technologies that enter political campaigns are brought in by new political consultants. (See Amy Sullivan: Fire the consultants.) The Dems got new consultants after losing to Bush, and they brought in new tech. While the Reps were winning, they were continuing to use the old consultants. One the Dems gain control, the Tea Party starts. We need to figure out how big the Tea Party is new social movement activism, as opposed to TP as meme.

Q: What other structural differences have you seen how progressive organizations behave and conservative ones?
A: Think of DailyKos vs. Red State. The puzzle is: What do we do with our crazies? Their are extremists on both side. On the left, we identify crazies as 9-11 truthers. DK bans 9-11 truthers because Markos Moulitsas “didn’t want his site to appeal to the nut jobs.” The right has been more tolerant of its crazies, e.g., the birthers. Few of the big conservative blog sites are open to bloggers. And, usually, you need to register to be able to comment. One site only allows one hour of open registration every few months because they’re worried about comedy sites like Wonkette coming in and trolling.

Q: Fox tried to come up with a half hour show like The Daily Show but it was horrible. Why is the Left funnier?
A: Colbert: it’s because the left has reality as a straight man.
Q: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are purposefully funny/humorous.
Q: Beck and Rush call themselves rodeo clowns to deflect criticism from the Left.

Q: Deval Patrick’s first campaign was beautiful: Green roots, net roots, etc. But he hasn’t governed the way that he ran.
A: [missed the answer. sorry.]

Q: Do you see one of your three ideal types becoming the paradigmatic one?
A: As Clay Shirky says in his Thinking the Unthinkable: Nothing will work but everything might. We will see the collapse of a major non-profit within the next two years, and then this will get the same attention that the newspapers are getting now. For now, multiple models. Which wins depends on how the tech develops, but if I had to bet, I’d say the neo-federated is promising because of the rise of mobile phones.

Q: [me] Why believe these new orgs have any effect except raising money? Has an epetition ever changed anything?
A: The aim of an epetition is to take a first action, which engages people. But compare the effect of MoveOn etc. to organizing ten or twenty years ago. Everything pales against the Civil Rights Movement, but that may be the wrong comparison, because it’s the one time that everything came together and mass action worked. A million-signature petition can make a diff, even though that’s 0.03% of the population. E.g., DailyKos leads to the YearlyKos event that helps build a movement. The Drinking Liberal local events have led to people running for local offices. This is an improvement over how it was ten years ago. It enables the small percentage of people who want to be engaged to be engaged more successfully.

Q: What’s the role of professional management? And how about bringing in new, young activists.
A: Political scientists talk about the interest group explosion in the 1970s. Skocpol’s point is that these new groups were of a different kind: from membership to professional-managed advocacy. When we think of online activists, we tend to think of young people, but the rooms are actually filled with people in their 40s-50s. There’s a generational lifecycle thing going on: there’s a spike of activism when people are students, and rise in 40-50s and on. Zack Exley talks about the tyranny of the annoying: in the old movements, the people who take over are the ones who want to pound the table and be a committee of one. Thanks to the Net making it easier to engage locally, it makes it easier to avoid the tyranny of the annoying.

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October 2, 2010

Gladwell discovers it takes more than 140 characters to overturn a government

It seems to me that Malcolm Gladwell’s debunking of the claim that the Net will empower political revolutions is right about one big thing, but wrong about a whole lot more.

Because of Gladwell’s often-emulated twisty way into a topic, here is my take at an outline of of the article, so that we can see its argument better.

In 1960, four college students staged a sit-in in NC. Within a week, sit-ins had started to spread like “a fever.”

Gladwell now states the claim he is going debunk: “The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism.” He then points to world events that have been claimed to support that view.

But, (he continues) those events were not really brought about by social media. Why would we think they were? It’s not due just to over-enthusiasm for social media. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, “we seem to have forgotten what activism is.” It is really our understanding of activism that is at issue.

Now, back to the sit-ins. They were dangerous. Civil rights activism took courage. That courage required strong ties to other activists. This was true not just of the civil rights movement in the US, but is a general characteristic of activism.

But, “The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all.” Social media (Twitter, Facebook) are all about weak ties. Weak ties are “in many ways a wonderful thing…But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.” Social media activism works when little is asked of people.

Activism requires not just strong ties, but also strong, centralized, hierarchical organization. Not networks. You need a hierarchy “if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment…”

As an example, Gladwell ridicules the opening story in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, about how “the crowd” got a smart phone returned to its rightful owner. “A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls.”

Gladwell is right, in my view, to debunk the over-enthusiastic belief that the Net would sweep away all traditional institutions that stand in the way of the great populist uprising.

He is also right to debunk the notion that the Net would replace all traditional forms of governance and organization.

At this point, however, those are strawpeople. Find me someone who believes that these days.

The more plausible belief is that the Net affects the most entrenched of institutions by changing the ecology around them. So, citizen journalism has not obviated the need for professional journalism and traditional news media. Rather, a new symbiotic ecology (hmm, mixing metaphors) has arisen. Likewise, amateur scientists have not replaced professional scientists and their institutions, but the new ecology allows for the interaction of everyone with an interest, and this is changing how science is done, how it is evaluated, and how it has an effect. Likewise, the Dean campaign — and every national campaign after it — understood that it was not enough to have a social network, but that that network must be moved to take action out in the real streets of America.

Likewise, I venture that few believe that Facebook or Twitter on their own are going to bring about revolutionary political change. But that doesn’t mean that political change is unaffected by them. As the Tea Party looks like it’s rolling to victory in 2010, try to imagine that it could exist much less succeed without social media. It also needed money from Big Interests, the attention of mainstream media, and non-Net communication channels. But, who is arguing otherwise? The ecology has changed.

Further, Gladwell misses the point about strong and weak ties. He’s right that committed activism requires strong ties. But it doesn’t require many: Three like-minded friends can be enough to embolden a college student to risk sitting-in at a segregated lunch counter. Social networking services facilitate strong ties because strong ties come from weak ones, and because casual interactions among people with strong ties can strengthen those ties. Further, having lots of weak ties can encourage political action by making that action a common cause: Wow, everyone I know is going to the protest march!

Further, the effect of courageous activists (enabled through their strong ties to other activists) is magnified insofar as it emboldens and affects a far wider swath of the population. Networks of weak ties spread ideas, information, and enthusiasm faster and more effectively than letter-writing campaigns or newspaper ads. From these networks of loose ties come the new activists, the supporters of activists, and an engaged citizenry that can vote (or throw) the bums out. Courageous activists succeed within a population that is not as engaged or courageous.

Gladwell also, in my opinion, is mistaken to treat networks and hierarchies as if they were mutually exclusive. He points to the massive organizational effort it took to sustain the year-long Montgomery bus boycott. They created a large, efficient carpool service, and had a hundred full-time staffers. So, what exactly was the hierarchy required for? “Discipline and strategy,” Gladwell says, although his example also stresses organization. To this I have three reactions.

First, hierarchies are indeed good at some things. But hierarchies can work with networks. That’s how national political campaigns work in this country, for example. Hierarchies and networks are not exclusive. And networks can be powerful tools for hierarchies. Likewise, networks are never entirely flat. They can have a local center that makes decisions and organizes actions.

Second, Gladwell dismisses the contribution networks could have made to the bus boycott by pointing to the shallowness of tweets (vs. ML King’s messages from jail), the messiness of Wikipedia, and some unexplained problem with communicating through Facebook. This is sloppy from the likes of Gladwell. No one thinks MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech really would have been better if whittled down to 140 characters. But, tweets are a good way to drive people to read a longer work, and tweets are a good way of alerting a crowd when action is required. Gladwell is also wrong to say that Wikipedia is mired in a “ceaseless pattern of correction and revision.” And Facebook messaging is great for communicating among those with strong and weak ties. Three misses out of three, by my way of thinking.

Third, the strengths of hierarchies that Gladwell points to are not totally absent from networks:

Networks have their own way of making strategy: Someone puts it forward, and it catches on (including via networks of weak ties) or it doesn’t.

As far as organizing goes, there is a reason that every movement for political change now uses the Internet: it is superb for organizing. Think how much easier it would have been to set up the carpool system with its “forty-eight dispatchers and forty-two pickup stations”? An online, on-demand system would have freed up the forty-eight dispatchers, and would have made a “pickup station” out of wherever you are. Further, it would have been written overnight, for free, and open-sourced so it could be replicated in town after town and country after country.

So, Gladwell is right that the Net by itself doesn’t cause tyrannies to fall. He’s right that activism requires courage and determination. He’s right that we — not all of us, but a group of us that includes me — over-sold the Net in this regard. But he’s picking on what’s now a strawperson, and, more important, his argument pays no heed to the truly important question: How the Net, in a real world in which old institutions aren’t going away so fast, is altering the context within which brave activism occurs, spreads, and has effect.

 


[The next day:] R.A on the Economist site reminds us that hierarchies are fragile while networks are robust and resilient. Good point. Gladwell’s model of political upheaval seems to assume a relatively open society that will tolerate a movement with identifiable leaders. In more repressive regimes, hierarchies are too easy to disrupt.

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September 18, 2009

Interview about e-gov ‘n’ stuff

Ulrike Reinhard has posted a video interview she did with me yesterday in preparation for the Reboot_D – Digital Democracy conference in Germany. We talk about e-gov, transparency, and whether the Web is a “third place.”


And, while I’m on the topic of videos, here’s a somewhat more lively one:

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July 22, 2009

My PDF talk on facts ‘n’ transparency

Link. (The video embeds my slides, but (1) they get more and more out of order in this YouTube; they were in the right order when I actually presented them. 2. My font got lost somewhere in the translations, and so there’s a fair bit of mis-sizing, text overflows, etc.) (I posted about one of the ideas in the talk (transparency as the new objectivity) here.)

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July 10, 2009

Internet freedom, but not equality

From the National Journal:

Sens. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., secured $30 million in federal funding for the State Department’s efforts to promote Internet freedom as part of the agency’s fiscal year 2010 spending bill. The program must be approved by the full Senate and the House before it makes its way to President Obama’s desk. The money would promote widespread, secure Internet use by individuals residing in countries practicing repressive Internet monitoring, censorship and control. The outlay is “a low-cost method of allowing people, especially those living under repressive regimes, to access all-source, uncensored, unfiltered information,” the senators said in a Friday press release.

“Tearing down these Internet cyberwalls can match the effect of what happened when the Berlin Wall was torn down,” Specter said. “This funding seeks to enable freedom of thought, expression and the unimpeded flow of ideas and information, and I am pleased my colleagues have recognized the program’s importance.” Brownback added the battle being waged in the streets of Iran and China is also being fought on micro-blogging site Twitter, social network Facebook and other platforms. “This is a pivotal moment for people living in oppressive regimes. The best way to ensure their ability to communicate and share their story with each other and the world is to keep the Internet open,” he said.

The House passed a State spending bill Thursday that did not include Web freedom funding but Energy and Commerce Committee member Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., earlier this week urged lawmakers to hold a hearing on the role of the Internet in giving a voice to those in repressive countries. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who in the 109th Congress chaired a high-profile Internet freedom hearing of the House subcommittee that oversees global human rights, has repeatedly introduced legislation that would prevent U.S. tech firms from working with nations that capture and convict citizens for engaging in democracy promotion and human rights advocacy online.

The NY Times reports on danah boyd’s kick-butt keynote at PDF09, in which she pointed to the class divisions in the Net:

Is the social-media revolution bringing us together? Or is it perpetuating divisions by race and class?

Many of us would like to believe the Internet is a force for unity, but danah boyd, a social-media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, thinks we’re deceiving ourselves.

Speaking last week at the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference that explores how technology is changing politics, Ms. boyd asked a packed audience of activists, political operatives, entrepreneurs and journalists to raise their hands if they use Facebook. Almost every hand in the place went up. Then she asked who uses MySpace, and barely a hand was seen.

How could that be? Sure, Facebook is growing much faster. But MySpace is far from dead. In May, Web-traffic tracker comScore reported that Facebook and MySpace are neck and neck in terms of U.S. visitors, with 70.28 million that month for Facebook, up 97% from a year ago, and 70.26 million for MySpace, down 5% from last year.

vMs. boyd got some answers from group of people she’s been hanging out with over the last four years: U.S. teens. During the 2006-2007 school year, her conversations with high-school students began showing a trend of white, upper-class and college-bound teens migrating to Facebook–much like the crowd in the conference hall has. Meanwhile, less-educated and non-white teens were on MySpace. Ms. boyd noted that old-style class arrogance was also in view; the Facebook kids were quicker to use condescending language toward the MySpace kids.

“What we’re seeing is a modern incarnation of white flight,” Ms. boyd said. “It should scare the hell out of us.”

More in the article, including research by Eszter Hargittai… [Tags: ]

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July 1, 2009

PDF: The takeway

PDF was an unusually rich conference. Great folks there and an especially good year to be talking about the effect of the Net on politics and governance.

My take-away (although having a single take-away from a conference I just said is rich is rather contradictory, don’t you think?): The Web has won in a bigger way than I’d thought. The people President Obama is appointing to make use of the Web for increased citizen participation and greater democracy (well, at least as access to the Web and the skills required are distributed more evenly) are our best, brightest, and webbiest. And they are doing remarkable things.


Douglas Rushkoff interviewed me for his radio show yesterday or was it the day before? Anyway, here it is. We talked about PDF and about my presentation there, which was about transparency and the changing role of facts.

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June 30, 2009

[pdf09] Mark Pesce on global politics in the hyperconnected universe.

Mark Pesce is talking about the new global power. [I didn't liveblog Michael Wesch's talk because it was too hard to. It's was close to his popular YouTube lecture about YouTube. He got and deserved a standing ovation.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The distribution of power has changed but it comes with a loss of control, which means our culture might start hydroplaning. We need to watch the collisions, but remember that people are going to get hurt. We need a political science for the 21st century.

Last month, Wikipedia banned Scientology from editing WP. The Scientologists compared WP to Nazis. Scientology is highly hierarchical. WP is a social agreement to share what we know for the good of all. What happens when they crash? Scientology uses law suits. How does Scientology deal with a social agreement. If Scientology wanted to declare war, it would attack the social agreement, wearing away at the bonds of trust. ckobama,

Mark points to the phenomenon of “communication overload.” E.g., the NY my.barackobama site was overwhelmed by supporters, so O supporters moved elsewhere, using older media. We haven’t yet seen a hybrid beast that can operate hierarchically but interact with the ad hocracy. Project Houdini (tracking who voted) crashed on Election Day, overwhelmed by info. These both were “friendly fire” incidents. We need to learn how to crush the gulf.

“The next decade will be completely hellish” for parties and campaigners.

Hyperempowered communities face a mismatch with the hierarchical mechanisms of the state, even with the best of intentions. But the catastrophes are the first sign of success. So, the state has to radically reform its means of communication, moving out of hierarchies, becoming more chaotic. But this is asking the leopard to change its spots.

We need to watch hyperintelligences emerge and see how governments react. The rules of the game are changing. “The best first step is observation.” The O administration provides the “perfect lab.” This will give us the first snapshot of a political science for the 21st century. Powerful, hyperconnected communities wil sometims struggle against or work with hierarchical institutions. But in each case the hierarchical will have to adapt itself to a new order.

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[pdf09] Todd Herman – A conservative in Oz

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. POSTED WITHOUT BEING REREAD You are warned, people.

Todd Herman is a conservative who wants his team to be using the new tools better. Conservatives need to understand the rules of engagement better. The ecosystem favors Obama. How is that working and how can Conservatives work it? “Chairman Steele said ‘Take the lid off.” What would you do if you were me?” E.g., he’s excited by Vivek Kundra’s announcement and wants to bring the data to his site where Republicans can comb it for info. But how open should a political be? How open can it be? “Can a political party really be open?” “Can we be as open as Twitter? I would love it if we could.”

He points to a 1997 Republican site: A virtual town. Very 1997-cool. USAToday rated it as more fun than the Disney site. The Republicans “have been here before. There’s nothing genetically stopping us from using them.” He shouts out to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Alinsky.

Q: How do you envision this change in tech with the underlying philosophical approaches changing the Rep party?
A: I love that our elected leaders can have pretty direct communication with the voters. I think it’s changing that way. But we need to change the rules of engagement, e.g., away from gotcha.

Q: [jay rosen] Cognitive dissonance while listening to you: You seem to address us as if you didn’t know that the Bush admin had an opacity agenda. E.g., Ashcroft’s 2001 memo saying err on the side of not honoring FOIA requests. So, I’d think the Reps should be asking why it was in favor of opacity.
A: It’s a long conversation. Todd points to some instances of the Obama admin’s lack of transparency. “I’d gladly buy you dinner to have a long conversation about it…”
Jay: Good enough! Where are we going?

You picked on DemocraticUnderground, but missed FreeRepublic. But you asked us socratically what we would do if we were you. What would you do if you were us and saw the way the REpublicans manipulated voter roles?
A: I don’t accept the premise, but my question goes both way.

[Great to have a conservative speaking. IMO, it'd would have been better if he hadn't used it as a way to address his political grievances, and instead solely focused on the issues of tech, politics, governance where we genuinely share interests. But, that's just me.]

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June 4, 2009

White House bloggers get names

The bloggers who write the posts at the White House blog now are putting their names on their posts. I think this is a terrific move.

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, my interest isn’t in accountability. On the contrary. Usually, we think that along the Continuum of Responsibility, putting your name to something will push you toward the Staying In Line side, while being anonymous lets you run toward the Recklessness goal post. But, it doesn’t always work that way. At a site like WhiteHouse.gov, the anonymity of bloggers reinforced the notion that the blog is a faceless voice of authority, with an adjoining door to the Office of Press Releases. I’m hoping that now that the bloggers are signing their posts, they will feel free-er to speak in their own voices, and present shades of view that are a bit more off-angle, and thus more interesting than the Official View. That’s already been true of the posts of the guest bloggers on the site. Now I hope the official bloggers will feel ok about occasionally saying “OMG!!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!!!” except maybe a little more constructively and definitely with the caps only implied.

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