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First POST: Catalysts

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, April 30 2015


  • There will be a Democratic presidential primary: independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has announced formally that he is running for president. Compared to Hillary Clinton, he enters the field with a much smaller digital footprint: 294,000 Twitter followers (and that's to his official Senate account—his official personal campaign account has just 11,600) to her 3.45 million; and 301,000 likes on Facebook compared to her 787,000. Still, Sanders' economic populist message may give him surprising traction—for years he has successfully appealed to many of his state's more conservative and independent voters despite being an avowed socialist. It will be interesting to see if the mainstream media, which has essentially anointed Clinton the Democratic nominee, gives Sanders a fair shake, and also how the new media ecosystem, which has made more room for previously ignored or suppressed voices, responds to his campaign.

  • With Section 215 of the Patriot Act due to sunset on June 1st, the Senate appears increasingly likely to pass the USA Freedom Act, ending most authority for bulk data surveillance of Americans, writes Greg Sargent for the Washington Post.

  • Related: Slovakia's constitutional court has ruled that the mass surveillance of citizens under the country's Electronic Communications Act is unconstitutional.

  • If you are trying to make sense of the raw real-time information that surges through your feeds during a live event, Anthony de Rosa of Wired offers a great set of tools to help separate fact from rumor.

  • David Simon on why the Freddie Gray death has been a huge catalyst for protests in Baltimore, interviewed by the Marshall Project's Bill Keller:

    Because the documented litany of police violence is now out in the open. There’s an actual theme here that’s being made evident by the digital revolution. It used to be our word against yours. It used to be said — correctly — that the patrolman on the beat on any American police force was the last perfect tyranny. Absent a herd of reliable witnesses, there were things he could do to deny you your freedom or kick your ass that were between him, you, and the street. The smartphone with its small, digital camera, is a revolution in civil liberties.

  • Observing the tightening relationship between big legacy news publishers and the giant platforms (read: Google, Facebook) through which many people now get their news, Columbia University's Emily Bell writes in the Columbia Journalism Review that " no one really knows where this new, closer partnership approach is leading." But then she offers a hint, quoting Kara Swisher of Re/code, speaking of how the platforms will likely behave: "They will pet you, then later on, when you are dependent on their traffic, they will start charging you. It’s a bad idea.”

  • If you spend a lot of time worrying about your organization's list size, open rates and web traffic, you aren't really getting a real measure of your members' engagement, argues veteran progressive online strategist Colin Holtz. He's the author, with advisors Jackie Mahendra and Michael Silberman, of a major new report on how to get past these "vanity metrics" produced for Greenpeace's Mobilisation Lab and the Citizen Engagement Lab. Here's a sampling of their findings:
    —"Right now, our metrics bias us towards recruiting the most new members, not the right new members."
    —"You can increase 'actions taken' just by sending lots and lots of petitions with little substance."
    —"People engage in all sorts of tactics that hit short term goals at the cost of long-term engagement."

  • This is civic tech: Natural disasters have been rallying points for distributed networks of online helpers ever since Hurricane Katrina and the "People Finder Project," and the Nepal earthquake is no exception. This post by Arun Ganesh of Mapbox details the amazing collaborative effort unfolding on OpenStreetMap, where more than 2,000 volunteer mappers have added tremendous detail to Nepal's maps--four times as many that pitched in after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

  • The Kathmandu Living Labs adds more details from its "situation room" in Nepal's capital.

  • Writing for TechCrunch, Omidyar Network's Stacy Donohue says that civic tech--which she defines as "any technology that is used to empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient and effective"--is at a break-out point for investors and entrepreneurs.

    Lisa Abeyta, the founder of APPCityLife, writes in the Huffington Post that for urban civic tech to take off, more cities are going to have to make their procurement policies a lot more flexible, pointing to Citymart as one company that is having success disrupting the procurement process itself (Citymart is based in the US at Civic Hall.)

  • The new round of winners of the Knight Foundation's Prototype Fund include several civic and political projects: Ballot by WeVote, Neighborhood Drawing Tool by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Open Permit by Aecosoft Corp., She said, he said, by Open Media Foundation, and Troll-Busters by Michelle Ferrier. Winners all receive $35,000 grants.

  • The New Republic has added five advisory board members, reports Joe Pompeo for Capital NY, including Jay Rosen of NYU.