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How the Internet Saves at #PDF14 (Updated)

BY Rebecca Chao | Friday, June 6 2014

While yesterday's focus was on saving the Internet, today PDF speakers examine ways in which the Internet Saves.

Saving Politics

When $35 billion is spent on quants and data to get someone into political office and only $850 million is spent on helping them to make decisions, it is clear why it is easier to get someone out to vote than it is to put that voter's child into college, said Marci Harris, founder of PoPVox, a tool that melds data and stories to help Congress make decisions. It’s like investing in sales and not much on product development, she explained.

The solution to this problem begins with open data: "It is really expensive to be informed – to get congressional reports and data – about what’s going on in congress. And that is a travesty."

Recently, and for the first time, the government released Medicare data, which resulted in a number of news articles that put public pressure on the government to clean up Medicare.

"There are good people in government and they want you to help them and get them to do the right thing," said Harris. Open data and open government could be that tool to get us out of political gridlock.

Chuck Defeo said that the Internet is ending the days of big campaigns, where in the last decade, political candidates have engaged more and more in outrageous wars to outbid each other in T.V. ad spending. "People want a level of intimacy now," he said. And the Internet can give us that by making it significantly cheaper to campaign and allowing politicians to interact directly with citizens.

Saving Philanthropy

Stacy Donahue, an investment partner at the Omidyar Network, explained that without the Internet, there would have been no E-Bay and therefore no Omidyar and therefore none of the civic tech investments it has made, such as Tumml, an urban accelerator that incubates projects by impact entrepreneurs who want to do social good in their communities.

Tumml has incubated a number of projects that address the harsh realities faced by the poor and disenfranchised in our cities: HandUp is like a mobile money-wiring app that allows us to give directly to the city's homeless and needy. Work Hands is like a LinkedIn for those in blue collar trade who traditionally remain professionally isolated and disconnected from each other.

Saving Ourselves

How else does the Internet save?

By "chang[ing] the way we relate to each other," said PDF's Micah Sifry.

Kimberly Ellis, activist and scholar of American and Africana studies, told us how black Twitter is creating a highly engaged community. While blacks make up 13 percent of the nation, 26 percent of Twitter users are black. The black Twitter network is also more tightly woven and interconnected than any other community on Twitter, said Ellis.

It is this interconnectedness that has led to effective social media campaigns like the one against Juror B37 who wanted to take advantage of the controversy around the Trayvon Martin case and write a book about her "hard two days" as a juror. The campaign worked: the book deal was dropped.

While this is an old statistic -- 72.5 percent of online harassment are aimed at women -- the disproportionate level of online harassment towards women has not changed. A recent University of Maryland study revealed through a simulation that male accounts receive 3.7 harassing comments per day while female accounts receive 100 per day.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America says that the Internet, particularly social media, allows women to counteract harassment and stigma through "significance of scale."

A few weeks ago, the #yesallwomen campaign went viral, rallying against the misogynistic philosophy of the shooter at UCSB. In 2012, #ididnotreport broke the silence on women who suffered from backlash when they reported abuse.

When a high school student spoke out against an abstinence program at her school, the principle threatened to submit a negative report about her to the colleges she had applied to. Instead, Katelyn Campbell took to Twitter. Her principal not only backed down but Wellesley college personally tweeted Campbell's acceptance at their school.

"Everyday," said Hogue, "I see the Internet save individual women and smash stigma."

Saving the Economy

Despite the controversy around Aribnb and its NYC lawsuit, founder Brian Chesky explains how Airbnb is "more than just a bunch of rooms." It's a radical way to rethink the economy. Around 62 percent of Airbnb hosts use the service to pay rent or mortgage.

"Cities takes hundreds of millions in funding to create jobs; now with record unemployment, massive income equality, we actually have this gold mine under our feet," said Chesky. "It used to be we lived in a world where people created their own content, but now we can now create our own jobs and maybe even our own industries."