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First POST: Glass Half Full

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, April 21 2015

Glass Half Full

  • A new survey report from the Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the Knight Foundation and released this morning, finds that a slight majority of the public believes more transparency and open government data can help journalists cover government better and make government more accountable. Skepticism about the government's overall ability to do the right thing appears to drive public attitudes, with only 45% saying that open government data can result in better decisions by government and 53% disagreeing. Partisan identities also strongly color opinion about this issue, with Democrats far more optimistic about government transparency efforts and Republicans far more skeptical.

  • Very few Americans think federal, state, or local governments are sharing data effectively (they are right!), the survey finds, leading John B. Horrigan, a senior researcher at Pew, to comment that "most Americans are still largely engaged in ‘e-Gov 1.0’ online activities, with far fewer attuned to ‘Data-Gov 2.0’ initiatives that involve agencies sharing data online for public use." The report's authors note: "The jury is still out for many Americans as to whether government data initiatives will improve government performance."

  • Digging deeper into the Pew report, it's interesting to find that beyond the "ardent optimists" (17% of adults) who embrace the benefit of open government data and use it often, and the "committed cynics" (20%) who use online government resources but think they aren't improving government performance much, there's a big group of "buoyant bystanders" (27%) who like the idea that open data can improve government's performance but themselves aren't using the internet much to engage with government. (Heads up Kate Krontiris, who's been studying the "interested bystander.")

  • It's not clear how much of the bystander problem is also an access problem. According to a different new analysis done by the Pew Research Center, about five million American households with school-age children--nearly one in five--do not have high-speed internet access at home. This "broadband gap" is worst among households with incomes under $50,000 a year.

  • Transparency advocates are up in arms about a new and broad exemption to the Freedom of Information Act that is in legislation moving through Congress handling cybersecurity, Josh Gerstein reports for Politico.

  • In a post on the Brookings Institution blog, Hollie Russon Gilman reminds us that governments have been leveraging technology to deepen the relationship between citizens and the state for a long time.

  • Christopher Gates and Emily Shaw of the Sunlight Foundation share more details of the organization's role in the Bloomberg Philanthopies' new "What Works Cities" initiative.

  • The first annual report of the Democracy Fund offers highlights of the more than $25 million this spinoff from Pierre Omidyar's Omidyar Network has given away since 2011. There's a lot on civic tech: Check out what Talia Stroud of the Engaging News Project says about the promise for online discourse of putting a "Respect" button rather than a "Like" on discussion pages, and what Tiana Epps-Johnson says about how the Center for Technology and Civic Life are working on template websites for local county election services.

  • Osama Manzar, one of the Indian villagers who helped host Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook during his visit touting his Internet.org project says that using the app was "the first time in my life of accessing the Internet for over 20 years when I was told I have to access it only through a particular service provider. It is like saying that I go to the Saket Select Citywalk mall in south Delhi, and the security at the gate tells me that you can enter only if you have used a particular road or a highway to reach the mall."

  • Reporting from the Perugia International Journalism Festival, George Brock comments on the odd refusal of Andy Mitchell, Facebook's director of news and global media partnerships, to even admit that Facebook makes editorial decisions about its News Feed. (h/t Jay Rosen)

  • In the New Republic, Doug Bock Clark goes inside the shady world of social media bot farms, where low paid workers create fake social media profiles in order to sell Facebook likes and Twitter followers to people looking to boost their follower counts.

  • In the UK, almost half a million people registered online to vote yesterday as the deadline closed for the upcoming elections in May, James Temperton reports for Wired UK. More than 7.1 million Britons have used the online voter registration system since it was introduced last June.

  • The city of Philadelphia is now sharing real-time analytics showing how people are visiting city websites.

  • Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs is hosting a major public conference on Internet governance and cyber-security May 14-15 that is open to the public (advance registration required). Speakers include Vinton Cerf of Google, former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, MEP Marietje Schaake, Brad Smith of Microsoft and Tim Wu of Columbia University.