Making Drones Civic

Link to Conference Paper



Can drones be fully accepted as civic technologies? Are there values embodied by drones that undermine their ability to perform in a civic capacity? What design principles might make drones more civic? Where does responsibility lie between civil society actors, drone designers, and policymakers in pursuing this goal while balancing privacy, security, and innovation? Although drones have several proposed civic use cases, particularly involving practices described as monitorial citizenship, drones are different from other civic technologies. Civic technologies are about shifting power away from corrupt actors and toward virtuous actors. And a motivating concept and ethic for civic technologies, whether used for interacting with governments or against them, is participatory practice. If we aspire to a definition of civic action that is fundamentally participatory and we hope for our civic technologies to embody that value of participatory practice, we must investigate whether drones can be fully accepted as civic technologies. This paper will address these questions and issues, problematizing the use of drones for civic purposes by defining a set of values and design principles for civic technologies and by showing where drones may play a role, situating contemporary cases among relevant political and ethical questions.

News, Memes, and Civic Identity



“Measuring engagement with news is comprised of more than just a set of quantitative metrics. It is a process of civic identity construction that unfolds on social networks when someone decides to share a piece of content. This is a core part of contemporary civic learning and political participation. “In his book Post-Broadcast Democracy, Markus Prior uses the term “by-product learning” to refer to learning “politically relevant facts as a by-product of nonpolitical routines” (2007, 4). Prior derives this concept from his study of the “efficiency” of citizens’ media environments, finding that less efficient systems like broadcast television actually produce high levels of by-product learning because exposure to political information was high when so few channels and programming options existed. “Ironically, in the age of “information overload” with a proliferation of free news online and readers spreading their attention across many sources, we have adopted new centralizing mediators in the form of social networks. One important example is Facebook, which services a broad array of information, entertainment, and social needs. Historically, one’s choice of news source was an expression of identity through ideological affiliation, or professional membership. Now, rather than subscription and conspicuous print editions, we signal these things through the headlines we choose to share with our Facebook friends or Twitter followers.”

Challenges for Personal Behavior Change Research on Information Diversity



Researchers have tested a variety of personal informatics systems to encourage diversity in the political leaning, geography, and demographics of information sources, often with a belief in the normative value of exposure to diverse information sources. Methods attempted have included information labeling of media sources, personalized metrics of reading behavior, personalized visualization of social media behavior, recommendation systems, and social introductions. Although some of these systems demonstrate positive results for the metrics they define, substantial questions remain on the interpretation of these results and their implications for future design. We identify challenges in defining normative values of diversity, potential algorithmic exclusion for some groups, and the role of personal tracking as surveillance. Furthermore, we outline challenges for evaluating systems and defining the meaningful social impact for information diversity systems operating at scale.