Papers & Findings
Using the internet leads to civic engagement. Sometimes. Kind of. This according to structural equation analysis of US college survey data (n=2000), which finds “both positive and negative effects” of internet use on engagement patterns (students who share political opinions online tend to have less political conversations offline) but also identifies “feedback loops” between online and offline engagement activities (the effects of offline activity on online activity being slightly stronger than the other way around), and online info-gathering as having particular predictive power for engagement, both online and off.
Crowdsourcers, microtaskers and distributed team wranglers, choose your platforms wisely. Online groups do not display “collective intelligence.” This based on a replication of the 2010 study that demonstrated collective intelligence among groups, but using online groups. The likely explanation is that collective intelligence relies on social sensitivity of group members rather than individual intelligence, and that social sensitivity in turn relies on social cues absent in the type of online group-work tested in this study.
Open data enthusiasts and civic techies are good at exploiting norms around #open for mobilization, but “open data intermediaries lack a shared culture and political understandings necessary for broader and more impactful action,” with “exceedingly fragmented” perspectives on what data can and should do. This from work with focus groups in a mid-sized US city.
Controversial e-petitions are not more likely to gather anonymous signatures than non-controversial petitions, according to content analysis of Finnish e-petitions (n=220) with the click-baity title “The Dark Side of E-petitions.” The year the petition was created and whether the petition creator was anonymous did play a role.
Mainstream press tend to “normalize surveillance”, while blogs are more critical, according to content analysis of UK newspapers and blog coverage following the Snowden revelations and subsequent debate.
Political Communication has a special issue on Digital Politics: Mobilization, Engagement, and Participation. The collection of articles presents empirical results from a variety of contexts, all building on the theoretical premise that people get prompted to civic action either by organizations, social contexts, or internal/personal triggers. The articles fairly consistently emphasize the importance of external motivations and incentives for political mobilization, with clear strategic implications for online advocacy. I found the findings regarding social capital in organizations’ online engagement to be particularly relevant.
Elsewhere, a framework was proposed for evaluating the value of crowdsourcing in policy-making. A comparison of e-gov implementation in Switzerland and Estonia shows the the efficiency and culture of government structures matters a lot. This book chapter suggests that Romanian OGP implementation is having an impact at the neighborhood level, while this article argues that e-government is having a modest impact on corruption in Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, this (unpublished?) paper suggests that Kenyan politicians are using social media to communicate with citizens, but what happens on social media stays on social media.
On the darker side, Citizen Lab summarizes a year of research on the state of the art in cyber attacks against activists and rights campaigners.
Commentary & Community
A deep dive into the work of seven accountability initiatives in the Philippines argues for greater emphasis on “strategic approaches (“using multiple actions and tactics over time to achieve a goal, and an awareness of the complex and dynamic governance landscape”), and by extension, implies that research on accountability initiatives should employ ecosystemic analyses, in which tech does not necessarily play a dominant explanatory role, compared to other factors. At least that’s how I read it. Compelling.
The DataActive team has released a workshop report on their September ‘Contentious Data’ event (…in a terrible online reading format and with
no download link [found it!]. Contentious data indeed. Sigh.).
@ offers a wonderfully concise guide on how to spot lies in visualizations. @ thinks about how this actually requires a deeper skill set for advocacy, and how poor the advocacy support community has been at promoting it.
In the Methodological Weds
Researching the rise of alternative facts: DMI’s Liliana Bounegru describes digital methods approaches for assessing the spread of fake news, filter bubbles and manipulation of belief structures online. She outlines the basics of three approaches tested at the DMI winter school (Mapping fake news sites through linking patterns and tracker signatures, Mapping the infrastructures and tactics of the alt-right online, Understanding filter bubbles beyond Facebook) and hints at more. There’s lots of great work to do here, and wonderfully, much of it can be done using the DMI open source tool set. For more on the DMI tools and approach, you can see my report on their summer school
DataBasic has released a set of tools that really lower the bar for doing network analysis from spreadsheet data.
LSE has liberal funding for teams researching inequality, with liberal terms that include affiliation and support. “It’s like an inequalities boot camp.” (Deadline: 8 March)
The Munk School/Citizen Lab has a fellowship for an advanced engineering science student, to work at “the intersection of human rights, security, and information technology.” (Deadline: March 6, Toronto)
Call for panelists: Everyday Politics & Digital Activism (Aoir 2017 in Tartu, no web link, email me for forward)
Miscellanea & Absurdum
All headlines this week: