Civic Media encompasses a broad array of tools, practices, content, and communities that foster or enhance civic engagement. While civic media has always existed, it has recently flourished and been transformed thanks to technologies like smartphones and social media.
At its heart, civic media is best understood as a social phenomenon empowered by technology. Civic media reaches and engages a diverse audience, inviting all to create, share, remix, and share again. Young people are creating memes as political speech, as naturally as they might share a photo of their last meal. Developers are volunteering to build humanitarian software after disasters, enjoying the thrill of solving a hard problem and producing something that matters. And libraries, working at the nexus of information and public interest, are creating spaces in which communities can make change.
“Civic Media: Communities Making Change” will explore prominent examples of civic media; how tools, practices, content, and communities can be designed to be more civic; and the roles libraries can, and already are, playing in making civic media.
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.
“Participatory culture handed the 2012 U.S. presidential election season a bumper crop of political memes. These “election memes,” largely in the form of image macros, took sound bites from the candidates’ debates and speeches and turned them into “digital content units” of political satire “circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the Internet by many users,” to paraphrase Limor Schifman’s definition of “internet meme” (2013, 177).
“Image macros like the lolcat, feature bold text on top of an image, often a “stock character,” and like all Internet memes are “multi-participant creative expressions through which cultural and political identities are communicated and negotiated” (Ibid.). This case study focuses on three popular image macro-based election memes that came out of the 2012 US presidential election cycle: “Fired Big Bird,” “Binders Full of Women,” and “You Didn’t Build That,” and argues that sharing such memes is a valid form of political participation in the style of what Tommie Shelby calls “impure dissent” (forthcoming).”
“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.”
Action Path is location-based survey platform for Android smartphones that crowdsources feedback from citizens in a way that fosters civic learning through reflective political practice. Existing platforms for civic engagement, whether online or offline, are inconvenient and disconnected from the source of issues they are meant to address. They require that citizens leave the places they normally inhabit physically or virtually and commit to a separate space and set of processes. Action Path is designed to answer the challenge: How do you address barriers to effective engagement in community projects, and ensure all citizens can have their voice heard on how to improve their local communities? It does so by converting individual actions into collective action and by providing context and a sense of efficacy, which may help citizens become more effective through regular practice and feedback.
Related Talks and Publications
- Graeff, E. 2014. ‘Crowdsourcing as Reflective Political Practice: Building a Location-based Tool for Civic Learning and Engagement.’ Presented at Internet, Politics, and Policy 2014: Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy, Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford, UK, Sep 26.
- Graeff, E. 2014. ‘Action Path: a location-based tool for civic reflection and engagement.’ S.M. Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Graeff, E. 2014. ‘Action Path: A Location-Based Tool for Civic Reflection and Engagement.’ To be presented at Place, (Dis)Place and Citizenship, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, Mar 22.