Democracy and the Internet

Democracy and the Internet (2000-2004)

Internet technology has created political opportunities, including new potentials for direct democracy and other bottom-up, self-organizing political forms. These forms range from democratic decision-making by online communities, such has Indymedia, to those activist groups like Move On, which use the amplifying capacity of the internet to mobilize large constituencies towards effecting social change.

Increasingly, these groups are employing grassroots techniques via the Internet in creative ways. Online communities such as Slashdot employ reputation systems to circumvent hierarchical editorial processes, while Indymedia uses open publishing to radically democratize media. Move On uses its powerful e-mail lists and innovative software to wage a virtual march on Washington or hold a virtual primary for the democratic presidential candidates. In the following pages we offer several institutional exemplars of these groups that use the Internet to “amplify cooperation” as the well-known technology commentator, Howard Rheingold, suggests in his book, Smart Mobs.

Democratic Applications of Internet Technology

Use the links below to jump to a specific section.

I. Democratizing Web Software
II. Open Publishing
III. Trust Building Online: Reputation and Rating Systems
IV. Grassroots Mobilizing Online
V. Self-Organizing Networks and Coalitions
VI. The Internet’s Impact on News Media
VII. The Internet’s Impact on Mainstream Politics

I. Democratizing Web Software

Certain software being developed for use on the Internet have particularly democratizing properties. Open source software, for example, is available for free downloading and adaptation, allowing a level of use and distribution prohibited in the realm of proprietary software. Social software, meanwhile, facilitates open publishing, online organizing, collaboration, and interaction, giving voice to and bringing together people who likely would never have encountered one another without these new technologies, and facilitating new forms of political organizing and activism. Democratizing software often has overlapping properties: for example, many versions of social software are also open source.

Social Software
Social software enables a variety of many-to-many online interactions, including open publishing, collaborative moderating, and self-organizing. Open publishing sites, such as Indymedia.org, facilitate online journalism and other forms of expression by the public at large, which has traditionally been relegated to the role of media consumers. Some open publishing sites implement collaborative moderating, such as Discordia's rating scheme and Slashdot's reputation software. Other web sites, like Idealist.org, facilitate self-organizing activist coalitions. These sites encourage users to contribute information by adding their organization to the coalition, creating online petitions, and creating content. By fostering collaborative online activist communities such sites facilitate relationships between users and give them opportunities for a deeper involvement in the site (contributing rather than merely consuming) and, by extension, the movement to which it pertains.

Articles on Social Software

Historical Roots of Social Software by Howard Rheingold

Social Software defined at Meatball Wiki

My Working Definition of Social Software by Tom Coates
Social software is a particular sub-class of software-prosthesis that concerns itself with the augmentation of human social and/or collaborative abilities through structured mediation (this mediation may be distributed or centralized, top-down or bottom-up/emergent).

Social Software and the Politics of Groups by Clay Shirky
To get a conversation going around a conference table or campfire, you need to gather everyone in the same place at the same moment. By undoing those restrictions, the internet has ushered in a host of new social patterns, from the mailing list to the chat room to the weblog. The thing that makes social software behave differently than other communications tools is that groups are entities in their own right. A group of people interacting with one another will exhibit behaviors that cannot be predicted by examining the individuals in isolation, peculiarly social effects like flaming and trolling or concerns about trust and reputation.

Are You Ready for Social Software? By Stowe Boyd
Social software supports the desire of individuals to be pulled into groups to achieve goals. Social software allows us to create new social groupings and then new sorts of social conventions arise. Social software works bottom-up. Over time, more sophisticated social software will exploit second and third order information from such affiliations — friends of friends; digital reputation based on level of interaction, rating schemes and the like. Social software reflects the "juice" that arises from people's personal interactions. It's not about control, it's about co-evolution: people in personal contact, interacting towards their own ends, influencing each other. But there isn't a single clearly defined project, per se. It's a sprawling, tentacled world, where social dealings are inductive, going from the individual, to a group, to many groups and, finally, to the universe.

Social Software - Get Real by Martyn Perks
By creating and fostering communities of interest, distant disenfranchised sections of the population will supposedly begin to establish new partnerships, which will help to transform political activity. The key words and phrases of social software are 'transparency', 'decentralisation', 'inclusion', 'local not global', 'the powerless majority' and 'power to the people'. At its root is the desire to recreate lost social capital.

Sites Addressing Social Software Issues

CiteSeer
Offers articles pertaining to reputation systems in peer-to-peer networks.

PlaNetwork
Could the next generation of online communications strengthen civil society by better connecting people to others with whom they share affinities, so they can more effectively exchange information and self-organize? Could such a system help to revitalize democracy in the 21st century?

Reputations Research Network

Social Software Examples

Active
The active software creates a set of web pages which allow web surfers to contribute to a shared calendar, groups listing, and multimedia news with discussion.

Aegir
Aegir CMS is a versatile and user-friendly Web Content Management System. It provides site managers with MS Word compatible tools for maintaining site information, approval system for controlling the publication process, and a separate layout management system. Aegir CMS is available for free under Open Source licensing.

Everything Company
Features of Everything include “chatterbox” which allows realtime communication between users; a voting system to help establish trust among users; weblogs allow easy communication with users.

Samizdat
Samizdat is a generic RDF-based engine for building collaboration and open publishing web sites. Samizdat will let everyone publish, view, comment, edit, and aggregate text and multimedia resources, vote on ratings and classifications, filter resources by flexible sets of criteria, cooperate and coordinate on all kinds of activities (see Design Goals document for details). Samizdat intends to promote values of freedom, openness, equality, and cooperation.

Scoop
Scoop is a "collaborative media application". It falls somewhere between a content management system, a web bulletin board system, and a weblog. Scoop is designed to enable your website to become a community. It empowers your visitors to be the producers of the site, contributing news and discussion, and making sure that the signal remains high.

Slashcode
Slash is the source code and database that was originally used to create Slashdot.

WebDAV
WebDAV provides a network protocol for creating interoperable, collaborative applications.

Twiki

Wiki

Open Source Software
Open source software is available free to the public, on condition that the source code, as well as all of its derivations, remains freely available to the public. By protecting source code under the terms of copyleft as opposed to copyright, programmers ensure that their code will remain free and cannot be co-opted and used in propriety software sold for profit. Source code can be downloaded for free, used, and even altered, but the new code must then be made freely available to the public to use and alter under the same conditions. Open source software can be created to serve any function–for example it can run an operating system (Linux) or it can be a programming language (Perl). Many of the software platforms designed to facilitate open publishing are also open source. These include Active, Wiki, and Twiki.

Articles on Open Source Software

The Power of Openness: Why Citizens, Education, Government and Business Should Care About the

Coming Revolution in Open Source Code Software from Opencode.org.

Examples of Open Source Software

Debian and Red Hat
Active
Perl
Apache
mod_perl
MySQL
WebDAV
Twiki
Scoop

Web Sites Using Open Source Software

OSDN

OSDN (Open Source Development Network, Inc.) is the most dynamic community-driven media network on the Web. OSDN sites include Slashdot.org, the award-winning news discussion site; and SourceForge.net, the world's largest collaborative open source software development site. OSDN also owns ThinkGeek.com, the leading e-commerce site featuring innovative products "for smart masses."

OSCOM

OSCOM is an international, not-for-profit organization dedicated to Open Source Content Management.

Samizdat

Samizdat is a generic RDF-based engine for building collaboration and open publishing web sites. Samizdat will let everyone publish, view, comment, edit, and aggregate text and multimedia resources, vote on ratings and classifications, filter resources by flexible sets of criteria, cooperate and coordinate on all kinds of activities (see Design Goals document for details). Samizdat intends to promote values of freedom, openness, equality, and cooperation.

Sites Addressing Open Source Software Issues

OpenSource.org

Gnu.org

II. Open Publishing
Online open publishing subverts the one-to-many relationship of traditional media, offering a mass communication platform from many-to-many. Internet sites run on open publishing software allow anyone with Internet access to visit the site and upload content directly without having to penetrate the filters of traditional media. Thus open publishing allows members of the public to break out of their traditional role as media consumers to become media makers.

Several fundamental principles tend to inform the organizations and sites dedicated to open publishing, though they do so to varying degrees. These principles include non-hierarchy, public participation, minimal editorial control, and transparency. Because most open publishing sites are not run for profit, there is no hierarchy of stockholders, corporate sponsors, or editors controlling the content to be fed to the public—instead these sites are created and maintained by the people for the people. Editorial control is kept to a minimum and the process is transparent, meaning the public can see what editorial decisions have been made.

Open publishing sites take many forms, from community news sites like Indymedia, to techie sites like Slashdot, to the rapidly proliferating online journals known as blogs.

Open Publishing Sites

Indymedia
Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage. Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth.

Slashdot
A largely user-driven, user-moderated forum billing itself as news for nerds, stuff that matters.

Slash
Slashcode is the site for All Things Slash. Slash is the source code and database that was originally used to create Slashdot, and has now been released under the GNU General Public License. It is a bona fide Open Source / Free Software project. Use this site to get the Slash source, read the latest Slash news, and participate in Slash discussions.

Kuro5hin
Kuro5hin.org is a site about technology and culture, both separately and in their interactions. It is updated whenever interesting things appear in the submission box, or whenever your humble hosts rusty and Inoshiro feel inspired to write something. Besides the two admins, Kuro5hin relies on its readers -- it exists for them and through them. Submit stories about interesting things that you hear about, things you think of, or other things which strike your fancy. This site has an open submission queue. Any user can see and vote on all submitted stories. If you want to see something posted, you can make it happen by participating in the moderation of the stories in the submission queue.

The Palestine Chronicle
Palestine Chronicle is an independent internet magazine, dedicated to addressing issues and offering perspectives rarely seen in mainstream western media. These issues include the plight and welfare of Palestinian refugees, as well as other displaced and oppressed people around the world. We are committed to democracy and freedom of expression, and we encourage contributions from people who are genuinely concerned with the specified above.

Protest.net
Protest.Net is a collective of activists who are working together to create our own media. By publishing a public record of our political activities on the web we are taking a stand against the established media. Allows visitors to post information about upcoming protests.

Articles on Open Publishing
Indymedia: Between Passion and Pragmatism by Gal Beckerman
Net Repertoire by Heather Gorgura
Modern Day Muckrakers by Theta Pavis
Online Uprising by Catherine Seipp

Blogs
A variation on the open publishing theme, weblogs, popularly referred to as blogs, are online journals. While many take the form of personal diaries, others constitute unedited collaborative journalism. Because blogs often allow visitors to post comments, the dialogue created between the blogger and her contributing readers begins to create a journalism that is public and participatory. When blogs link to news articles, offering and inviting commentary on mainsteam media—they create a public dialogue online where before there was merely transmission (by the news outlets) and reception (by the public).

Individual Blogs
Instapundit
Andrew Sullivan
Talking Points Memo

Collaborative Blogs
Stand Down: The Left-Right Blog Opposing and Invasion of Iraq, Syria
Plastic
Metafilter

Articles on Blogs
Weblogs: A History and Perspective by Rebecca Blood
What Makes a Weblog a Weblog? by Dave Winer
Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality by Clay Shirky


III. Trust Building Online: Rating and Reputation Systems

As new Internet technology facilitates democratic participation online through open publishing and cyber activism, new challenges arise. How can we create and maintain trust in online communities? Rating and reputation systems are being implemented on many sites to cope with this concern.

Rating Systems
Open publishing websites—where users can post content directly to the site—can become cluttered and noisy if content is completely unmoderated. In an effort to strike a balance between the democratic principles of open publishing and maintaining standards of quality, some sites have incorporated rating systems, allowing readers to collaboratively impose editorial influence on the sites’ content. In some cases, registered users have access to as-yet unpublished content, and have a say in whether it will be posted to the site. In other cases, visitors to the site rank articles on a numerical scale, influencing how prominently an article will be featured or contributing to an average score which will serve as a guide to other users.

Such schemes, while not flawless, can contribute to users’ sense of trust. When rating software helps the community to eliminate bogus posts or send low-quality content down in a queue of articles, users become more confident that they will find useful content when they visit these sites. At the same time, allowing users to rate articles and/or develop rank over time, trust-building software help foster community-driven, bottom-up social organizations that are more democratic and less rigid than traditional bureaucracies.

Examples of Websites Using Rating Schemes
Discordia
Discordia is based on a customized version of the Scoop weblog software that provides a multi-layered discussion interface, similar to the Slashdot and Indymedia websites. The aim of Discordia is to develop a community based on open editing and open publishing principles in which users can both publish their own contributions and comment on postings of other users. A system of community moderating allows users to rate articles and user comments.

infoAnarchy
This site is community-edited—users decide what gets posted. Once a user creates an account and logs on, s/he can see submitted but as-yet unposted articles and recommend them for posting or for dumping.

Reputation Systems
Just as rating schemes provide information about the perceived quality and utility of online content, reputation systems give people information about contributors’ past performances. Software such as mojo and karma can enhance an on-line interaction environment by helping people decide who to trust and encouraging trustworthy behavior. It can also serve as an incentive for people to become more active within the online community. However, reputation systems are not without drawbacks. Web sites and other online communities run the risk of evolving over time into hierarchical structures that may lead to abuses of power – a recurring topic of debate for many online groups.

Examples of Websites Using Reputation Systems

Kuro5hin
Kuro5hin uses mojo to allow users to moderate the site. Mojo is a time-weighted average of comment ratings, in order to set the "initial" rating for each new comment.

Slashdot
This “News for Nerds” site uses a moderation system for both articles and authors that allows for a largely self-governed news outlet that obviates most hierarchical editorial functions. Regular users earn “karma” by submitting stories that get chosen for posting, and by posting comments which are rated by other users. As users’ karma goes up, they have a stronger voice on the site, and as their karma goes down they lose moderation power.

Links to Reputation System Resources
Everything Company
Reputations Research Network
Samizdat
Scoop

Articles on Reputation Systems and Trust-Building Online
Building Communities with Software by Joel Spolsky
Social Software and the Politics of Groups by Clay Shirky

Cyber Activism and Social Strategies for Trust-Building Online
As activists turn to Internet technology to facilitate grassroots campaigns, they must find ways to foster and maintain trust within and between networks. Two approaches to trust-building online can be applied independently or in concert: trust-enhancing software including rating and reputation schemes, and the traditional social interactions which build trust by developing relationships over time.

Although many collaborative and open publishing sites depend on software to enhance levels of trust, activist networks, like all social groups, have been addressing the issue of trust since long before the Internet and social software existed. Social mechanisms for developing and maintaining trust within groups are still viable in the realm of cyber activism. Basic principles are at work in the network environment: networks are held together by shared values, common goals and unifying ideas. As connections between network members increase communication becomes denser as people and groups interact more, developing relationships and building trust.

While issue-driven organizations naturally attract people with shared values and common goals, sites can actively work to enhance trust while growing the network by encouraging existing members to recommend their site to new members MoveOn.org relies on it’s member base for word-of-mouth and email recommendations; E The People has a “pass it on” solicitation linked to their petition feature which suggests that users “List up to ten email addresses and we'll pass on the exact web address of this petition plus a personal message from you”), or asking members to sponsor new members (LiveJournal requires new members to be sponsored by existing members).

Articles
The Augmented Social Network: Building Identity and Trust into the Next-Generation Internet: A Link Tank Report by Ken Jordan, Jan Hauser, and Steven Foster.
Could the next generation of online communications strengthen civil society by better connecting people to others with whom they share affinities, so they can more effectively exchange information and self-organize? Could such a system help to revitalize democracy in the 21st century?

Connecting with the Wired Left by William Schneider
“MoveOn has something of a fetish for participation and involvement. They ask people to do things.”
“People join our organization by taking some form of action, which sometimes means signing an online petition on our Web site. Sometimes it means calling their congressperson to speak out on an issue they care about.”

From Screen Savers to Progressive Savior? MoveOn.org Founder Galvanizes Opposition to Bush, Democratic Centrists
"The primary way to build trust is to consistently fight for things that people care about.” –Wes Boyd, MoveOn.org.

Global Civil Society Networks Online: Zapatistas, the MAI, and Landmines by Rory O’Brien
“The distinguishing feature of networks is their links, far more profuse and omni-directional than in other types of organization. As communication pathways increase, people and groups interact more. As more relationships develop, trust strengthens which reduces the cost of doing business and generates greater opportunities.”


IV. Grassroots Mobilizing Online
Online grassroots campaigns have moved beyond mass emailings of protest dates and petitions. New “social software” makes it possible for groundbreaking sites like Moveon.org to foster online advocacy groups and facilitate online petition-signing. Moveon’s ActionForum software allows visitors to the site to propose issue priorities and strategies; others will see and respond to those suggestions, and the most strongly supported ideas will rise to the top—meaning that the site’s users, and not just the site creators and owners, have a voice in choosing the focus and direction of the organization. At Votenotowar.org and Action Network users can follow links to tools that offer pre-written messages to their own political representatives and the media protesting the war in Iraq. At the Digital Divide Network activists can submit organizations and initiatives for inclusion on the site. Long-established organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Greenpeace are also taking advantage of evolving Internet software to empower their members.
Sites like Moveon.org and the social software which enables the kinds of grassroots, online mobilizing that is taking shape have prompted observers to label networked international activism the new superpower.

Grassroots Mobilizing Web Sites

MoveOn
Starting out as a campaign focused on convincing the U.S. congress to drop impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, Move On has had several incarnations, most recently a formidable anti-war organization that boasts two million members. In recent months, Move On has generated, often in days or even hours, online anti-war petitions with hundreds of thousands of names, raised millions of dollars for pro-peace politicians, and launched primetime television and radio commercials. MoveOn has taken the organizing power of the internet to an entirely new level with its creative strategies, such as facilitating a candle light vigil, a virtual march on Washington and a virtual primary. As Move On becomes a major player in U.S. politics, it has bolstered the presidential candidacy of the anti-war candidate Howard Dean, and thus, many would argue, helped move the Democratic Party leftward.

Digital Divide Network
Members can submit their own feature stories, initiatives and events for publication and list organizations on the site.

Volunteer Match
This site has a virtual volunteering section with links to online volunteering opportunities, such as helping with web-site design, developing fundraising strategies, translating, and other work which can be done from home with a computer for a wide range of social justice organizations.

E The People
E The People calls itself a public forum for democratic and deliberative discussion—a digital town hall for the nation. In cooperation with over 1,000 sites around the Internet, e.thePeople promotes diverse discussion and political action, with pages dedicated to conversation, polls, and petitions.

Vote No War
The site offers pre-written messages to political representatives and the media protesting the war in Iraq, and allows visitors to email or to print addressed letters to these parties.

Action Network
An online environmental activism community, Action Network helps activists to send personalized fax and email messages to key policymakers. Action Network matches activists with their elected officials in an effort to strengthen the effectiveness of campaigns by ensuring that elected officials will only hear from their own constituents.

SaveOurEnvironment.org
Save Our Environment is a collaborative effort of U.S. environmental advocacy organizations. Using the power of the internet to increase public awareness and activism on today's most important environmental issues; the site allows visitors to generate letters addressed to government representatives, using pre-written text which can be completely or partially altered.

Greenpeace Cyberactivist Page
Helps generate messages and letters regarding various environmental issues.

Venture Collective
Venture Collective is a non-profit, grass-roots venture fund focused on systemic social change; of, by, and for the people; not for-profit but for common benefit. Our mission is to enable global citizens to turn small donations into significant funding for enterprises that promote large-scale eco-social transformation.

ActForChange
Act For Change allows individuals to speak out on urgent issues of the day found on our news site such as gun violence and environmental degradation. We give you a direct link to the decision-makers who can make a difference on these issues-free of charge.

Seattle Community Network
The Seattle Community Network (SCN) is a free public-access computer network for exchanging and accessing information. Beyond that, however, it is a service conceived for community empowerment. Our principles are a series of commitments to help guide the ongoing development and management of the system for both the organizers and participating individuals and organizations.

GoPetition.com
Gopetition.com is an Australian owned petition hosting service provider. The site is non-partisan and we have no political affiliations. Anyone or any group can use gopetition.com to have their voice heard. The site promotes the effective organization and distribution of petitions to relevant decision makers. No fees are charged to our users to create a petition.

NetAid
NetAid employs a range of tools and activities to raise awareness and empower everyday people to become committed activists for the world's poorest.

Taking It Global
TakingItGlobal (TIG) is about encouraging young people to believe in themselves and their ability to make a difference in the world. We create environments where people are exposed to new thinking, a diversity of voices, and new opportunities. Driven by youth, our goal is to foster a sense of leadership and social entrepreneurship through the innovative use of technology, creating meaningful experiences for young people around the world.

Trade Justice Movement

Articles on Online Grassroots Mobilizing
Boyd, Andrew. “The Web Rewires the Movement”
Perrone, Jane. “Virtual Protesters Bombard Washington”
Hazen, Don. “Moving On: A New Kind of Peace Activism”
Thompson, Elizabeth and Lertzman, Renee. “Networking the Network”
Townsend, Eric J.S. “E-Activism Connects Protest Groups”
O’Brien, Rory. “Global Civil Society Networks Online”


IV. Self-Organizing Networks and Coalitions

Web sites powered with innovative social software are helping advocacy groups online to connect, creating new and powerful networks and coalitions. Features of self-organizing websites allow users to collectively grow the site by adding their organization to the site’s coalition and by adding content to the site such as articles, calendars of events, and online petitions. Some sites facilitate volunteer matching, allowing organizations and volunteers to find each other by entering in criteria such as area of advocacy, skills, and location. Other sites let engaged citizens select customized content to receive via email. By fostering collaborative online activist communities such sites facilitate relationships between users and give them opportunities for a deeper involvement in the site (contributing rather than merely consuming) and, by extension, the movement to which it pertains.

Self Organizing Activist Sites
Idealist.org
A coalition of over 35,000 nonprofit and community organizations in 165 countries, Idealist.org allows visitors to search or browse by organization name, location or mission. If an organization is not yet listed, visitors to the site can add it. Individuals can use Idealist to define what information they would like to receive by email from among the job openings, volunteer opportunities, internships, events, and resources posted on the site by organizations all over the world. Visitors can also design their perfect volunteer opportunity for themselves by setting up Volunteer Profiles. These Profiles can then be searched by organizations in Idealist. The site also allows visitors to find people around the world who share their interests, goals and ideas. Organizations can post job openings, volunteer opportunities, events, internships, campaigns, and resources and can find volunteers that want to work with you by looking through the Volunteer Profiles created by individuals on the site.

The Petition Site (a partner on the eActivist.org site)
Anyone can create a petition which will be "live" for collecting signatures immediately after it is created.

Stop the War Coalition
A coalition of trade unions, civil liberties organizations, anti-racism groups, women’s groups, peace groups, community organizations, gay and lesbian groups, student organizations, religious groups, environmental groups and other organizations that united in opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

United for Peace and Justice
Like the Stop the War Coalition, the United for Peace and Justice web site permits groups to fill out a form, adding their organization to the coalition web site. United for Peace and Justice is a coalition of more than 650 local and national groups throughout the United States who have joined together to oppose the U.S. government's policy of permanent warfare and empire-building.

Kubatana.net
The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe aims to strengthen the use of internet strategies by Zimbabwean NGOs and civil society. Kubatana is working to make human rights and civic education information accessible to the general public from a centralised, electronic source.
Goals of the Kubatana project include developing an e-activism page for on-line campaigns and linking existing Zimbabwean NGO and civil society web sites to the portal. Visitors to the site can complete an online form, giving detailed info about your organization for posting to the Kubatana.net site.

Articles on Self-Organizing on the Web and Social Software
The Augmented Social Network: Building Identity and Trust into the Next-Generation Internet: A Link Tank Report by Ken Jordan, Jan Hauser, and Steven Foster
Could the next generation of online communications strengthen civil society by better connecting people to others with whom they share affinities, so they can more effectively exchange information and self-organize? Could such a system help to revitalize democracy in the 21st century?

Hollering Into Cyberspace by Allie Gottlieb

Web Antidote for Political Apathy by Leander Kahney
In October the BBC plans to release a website designed to help Britons organize and run grassroots political campaigns. The site, dubbed iCan, is designed to help citizens investigate issues that concern them, find others who share those concerns and provide advice and tools for organizing and engaging in the political process. Creators of the site say that the idea is to provide a loosely structured set of tools to make it easy for ordinary citizens to run their own activist campaigns on the Net, and hope that television coverage of emerging campaigns on the site will form a feedback loop -- political activism becomes a subject for the news, which in turn generates more political activism, and so on.

Dispatch from Britain by Maria Margaronis
On the first day of the invasion, spontaneous protests sprang up across [Britain] in response to the Stop the War Coalition's call for a walkout from work, school or college. In Leeds, protesters closed the main motorway; in Manchester several thousand young people shut down the city center. Civil servants left government offices, including the deputy prime minister's. Thousands of schoolchildren walked out of class under their teachers' noses, roaring and chanting, sitting in the streets. The young are back in politics with a vengeance, high on that heady mix of joy at their own rebellion and horror at the war. Saturday's demonstration in London surprised even the organizers: More than 200,000 people marched to Hyde Park with whistles, horns and drums, making a most un-British racket. Girls in hijab walked with girls in crop tops, peace slogans lipsticked on their faces.

BBC to Launch Citizen Activism Site by Howard Rheingold

Writing the Web by Al Williams
Self-organizing sites let users create content. For example, Wiki lets any user edit or post pages. This practice is in stark contrast to the usual Web model, in which the Web is regarded as a one-way medium, and like television, you have a group of broadcasters providing content to an audience.

Are You Ready for Social Software? By Stowe Boyd
Social software supports the desire of individuals to be pulled into groups to achieve goals. Social software allows us to create new social groupings and then new sorts of social conventions arise. Social software works bottom-up. Over time, more sophisticated social software will exploit second and third order information from such affiliations — friends of friends; digital reputation based on level of interaction, rating schemes and the like. Social software reflects the "juice" that arises from people's personal interactions. It's not about control, it's about co-evolution: people in personal contact, interacting towards their own ends, influencing each other. But there isn't a single clearly defined project, per se. It's a sprawling, tentacled world, where social dealings are inductive, going from the individual, to a group, to many groups and, finally, to the universe.

Sites Addressing Social Software Issues
Organizers’ Collaborative
Staff and volunteers have scoured the Internet and located over 280 links relevant to computers and social change organizing.

PlaNetwork
Could the next generation of online communications strengthen civil society by better connecting people to others with whom they share affinities, so they can more effectively exchange information and self-organize? Could such a system help to revitalize democracy in the 21st century?

 

VI. The Internet’s Impact on News Media

New communication technology, including accessible online publishing software and evolving mobile device technology, means that citizens have the potential to observe and report more immediately than traditional media outlets do. Swarms of amateur online journalists are putting this technology to use, on open publishing sites such as Indymedia and on countless weblogs, adding a grassroots dimension to the media landscape. Bloggers and other amateur journalists are scooping mainstream news outlets as well as pointing out errors in mainstream articles, while people who’ve been made subjects of news articles are responding online, posting supplementary information to provide context and counterpoints. Increasingly, the public is turning to online sources for news, reflecting growing trust in alternative media.

While some traditional news outlets are reacting with fear and uncertainty, many are adopting open publishing features to their own online versions. The Guardian and other mainstream media outlets have added blogs to their sites. The BBC’s web site posts reader’s photos, and other sites solicit and use reader-contributed content. Mainstream news outlets are increasingly scanning blogs and other online sources for leads on news items, and some are hiring journalists from the blogging ranks. Journalists are blogging live from courtrooms, from Baghdad, and elsewhere, allowing them to post frequent updates in near real-time.

As the public turns toward participatory forms of online journalism, and as mainstream news outlets adopt more of those interactive features in their online versions, the media environment is shifting, slowly and incrementally, away from the broadcast model where the few communicate to the many, toward a more inclusive model in which publics and audiences also have voices.

General Articles and Reports
We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis
Terms of Authority by Jay Rosen
Will the Web and Blogs Change How We Govern—and Are Governed? by Joichi Ito
Participatory Journalism Puts the Reader in the Driver’s Seat by J.D. Lasica

New Journalism: Examples of Mainstream Media Interactive Web Sites
BBC’s iCan
OhmyNews
OhmyNews Makes Every Citizen a Reporter by Yeon-Jung Yu
Citizen reporters write for South Korean site
The Guardian Weblog
The Note ABC’s weblog
Glenn Reynold’s Blog at MSNBC.com

Articles on Blogs and Journalism
Bloggers of the Left, Unite!
Blogs are becoming the medium of choice for politically attuned members of the digital generation. Like talk radio, they are dominated by the political right. Why has the left ceded this potentially influential medium without a fight?
Blogworld: The New Amateur Journalists Weigh In by Matt Welch
Blogs Blur Line with Journalism by Julie Moran Alterio
Blogs Make the Headlines by Noah Schactman

Moblogging
Moblogs Seen as a Crystal Ball for a New Era in Online Journalism by Howard Rheingold

Resources
Many2Many a group weblog on social software
The Media Go Blogging: Columbia Journalism Review’s list of big media’s blogs
Journalism.co.uk online news for online journalists
The Cyberjournalist List A directory of blogs by professional journalists
Columbia Journalism Review’s September/October issue is dedicated to new media alternatives


VII. The Internet’s Impact on Mainstream Politics
At a time when political engagement appears to be waning, hope is emerging that democratic participation may be revived and enhanced through the use of Internet technology. E-democracy seems to be transforming socio-political behavior and influencing political agendas and debate.
Change is occurring on several political fronts. Political candidates are adapting their campaigns to take advantage of Internet technology such as weblogs. Social software embedded in sites such as MeetUp.com, have helped some candidates ride a wave of grassroots support. Direct democracy, facilitated by deliberative polling sites, is amplifying public opinion in policy discussions and media coverage.

Some continue to doubt the democratic impact of such emerging technologies, even as reports of new applications grow. For example, online grassroots campaigns have been credited with shaping the course of two political conflicts in the U.S. In the fall of 2003, the Senate passed a joint resolution of disapproval in an effort to overturn the FCC’s relaxed media ownership rules, and the House and Senate voted on language disapproving the Bush administration’s proposed changes to overtime rules. Online grassroots organization MoveOn.org was a key player in the FCC campaign, while organized labor’s grassroots campaign on the overtime vote was aided by a system in which a union member “only had to hit a button” to send an e-mail opposing the Bush administration’s proposed changes. In South Korea, online campaigns have affected a presidential election and shifted government policy on the nuclear standoff. In a town in the Netherlands, a website was credited with helping to shut down a soy factory that had been expanding and polluting the neighborhood for years.

Articles
Emergent Democracy by Joichi Ito
The World’s First Internet President Logs On by Jonathan Watts
Visit the Site that Has all of Capital Hill Talking by Catherine Brosche
Wired for Politics? Researchers Examine Internet's Impact by Carey Hoffman
The Impact of the Internet on the Politics of Cuba by Andy Williamson

Resources
25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics
e-Democracy International
The World-Wide e-Democracy Projects Page
The Hansard Society e-Democracy Programme

The Internet in the 2004 Presidential Campaign
Over the past few months, news of the Internet in the 2004 democratic presidential primary campaigns found its way into the headlines of the mainstream media. Some news stories credited the very existence of the Dean and Clark campaigns to online organizing and fundraising and predicted that Howard Dean’s decentralized and highly networked campaign had forever changed the face of politics. While the full effect of new communication technologies on campaigning remains unknown, the Internet strategies have emerged as powerful organizing, networking, and fundraising tools.

Blogs
Over the summer of 2003, several candidates followed Howard Dean’s lead and created weblogs to facilitate two-way communication among supporters and between a campaign and its supporters. Blogs act as up-to-date information sources, encouraging deliberation through open commenting policies, and functioning as network hubs because of the many links they display.

Howard Dean’s weblog

DeanSpace – “an open development community providing powerful web-tools, quality support, and expert advice to Howard Dean's grassroots supporters. [Its] goal is to better interlink existing web activism, bring new citizen participants into the political process, and assist individuals to network and organize for taking action in Howard Dean's presidential grassroots campaign.”

Articles on Blogs and Internet Use in Campaigns

Presidential Candidates use Blogs to Communicate – an article on blog use in the 2004 presidential election from the Center for the Study of American Government at Johns Hopkins University
A large collection of news articles on internet use in the 2004 presidential primaries

Meetup
Meetup is an online tool that organizes local interest groups. It began as a place for people with common hobbies, interests, musical likes, and gaming preferences to connect online and then meet up in the real world. However, since the spring of 2003 when Dean first brought it into his campaign, several candidates have used Meetup to turn online networking into real-world action. Supporters of a candidate register to attend a Meetup in their area, vote on a venue, and then show up to work towards furthering their chosen candidate’s campaign. Meetups happen once a month.
Meetup

Dean’s Use of Meetup
Meetup has been instrumental in bringing large numbers of supporters into Dean’s campaign and in creating a broad grassroots support network. By early November 2003, Dean’s Meetup had over 140,000 registered participants. By encouraging Meetups, Dean partially turned over control of his campaign to his grassroots supporters in a unique move that abandoned a more traditional and hierarchical campaign structure.
Dean’s Meetup

 
 

Center for Communication & Civic Engagement