Category Archives: Civic Media

Kickstopper: When crowdfunding pipes money to projects you abhor

cross-posted from Civic

Like Facebook and other corporate social platforms, Kickstarter has been asked to further refine its policies governing which speech it will and will not accept on its platform.


The catalyst for the conversation is a petition with over 50,068 signatures (in just over a day) against Ken Hoinsky‘s successfully completed Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Hoinsky’s initial $2,000 goal was surpassed, reaching $16,639 before the campaign ended.

(The reason people have taken issue with Hoinsky’s Above the Game is that it advises men to be more physically aggressive and dominant in their pursuit of sex with women. There are many people who feel that men are already plenty physical and plenty dominant in heterosexual dating. Hoinsky has responded here.) petition against Above the Game crowdfunding

Regardless of how you feel about pick-up artists and amateur authors who wish to spread that gospel, this campaign raises interesting questions for a wide range of social sites, and crowdfunding in general.

This isn’t actually the first campaign to attempt to prevent a Kickstarter project. Several campaigns have sought to shut down feminist Kickstarter projects that intersect with games, such as Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and 9 Year Old Builds Her First RPG (thanks Philip Tan of MIT Game Lab for the tip).

What are the rules governing speech, and who interprets the rules? Continue reading Kickstopper: When crowdfunding pipes money to projects you abhor

6 productive responses to PRISM

new PRISM logocross-posted from Civic

Along with the other free peoples of the internet, we’ve been discussing our reactions to PRISM, and whether and how US (and global) citizens might be able to organize against this unprecedented domestic spying. There are more questions than answers at the moment, and the enormous challenge of confronting an extra-legal entity like the NSA with people-power is strongly felt. But here are 5 things you can do that could prove more productive than petitioning the White House to respond. Thanks primarily to Sasha Costanza-Chock for the roundup:

1. Encrypt yourself
See The Guardian Project’s Android apps, Security in a Box, and Tor. If you have the skills, go further: build tools / better UI / How To Guides / visibility to encourage more people to encrypt themselves, too.

2. Support calls for a Congressional committee to investigate
You and your organization can sign on at

3. Organize, or participate in, a protest.
People are starting to plan for these in various locations; July 4th is a good date. Here’s one in DC. Continue reading 6 productive responses to PRISM

Holmes Wilson, internet activism, and why we need you

(originally posted on Civic MIT)

Fight For the Future is known for its massive viral organizing campaigns that changed Internet history both nationally and globally. Faced with the passage of Stop Online Piracy Act/SOPA and the Protect-IP Act/PIPA — legislation that would have jeopardized the open Internet as we know it — Fight for the Future organized the largest and most visible online protest in history. Holmes Wilson has also co-founded Miro, OpenCongress, and Amara. He’s been at the forefront of a range of open internet and participatory culture projects and campaigns.

Holmes Wilson (foreground) and Dalek (background)

The internet delivers newfound powers of expression
The key thing about the internet that drives Holmes’s passion for it is that it gives us a new power, which ultimately translates to freedom of expression. But not in the conventional sense. The freedom of expression the internet enables isn’t just about speaking. It’s about making art, starting a business, overthrowing a government, building a new government, realizing dreams, and the ability to give your greatest gift to the world. When we think about expression this way, it’d be unthinkable to fail in preserving this medium. It would stifle human potential.

But that power is inherently fragile
The internet is fragile. The power that is being given to people is not necessarily stable and there are significant threats to it. The most present threat of the recent year is SOPA/PIPA. In some ways, these seemed like very small reasonable changes to the law. There’s a law that says sites aren’t responsible for content that users generate and this would make site owners responsible for users’ content. The consequence would have been that any copyright holder could have taken down any site where their content appeared and any site that is built with user generated content would have to aggressively police user behavior and contribution. Most of the harm would have been invisible. If SOPA was in effect when YouTube was first invented, we wouldn’t have YouTube.

Continue reading Holmes Wilson, internet activism, and why we need you

Encouraging Flexibility from Social Media Giants: How We Get Private Platforms to Support Public Speech

(originally posted on Civic MIT and PBS)

There are many problems with using commercial technology platforms to host democratic, social, or activist content and communications. These problems came up in multiple sessions at the National Conference on Media Reform last weekend. There are also obvious reasons to continue using these platforms (audience reach, most notably), and so we do. Some activist efforts that silo communications on more open, but relatively unknown platforms strike me as irresponsible, if the goal is to reach as many people as possible (but this is a fine line). The more I think about this issue, though, the more I see potential solutions and a future in working with the platform providers to build some degree of flexibility into their products and policies.

soapbox at #ncmr13
The spot on the carpet reserved for public ranting at #NCMR13

Social media giants do not have immediately obvious incentive to participate in such compromise. First of all, supporting individual humans doesn’t scale at anywhere near the order of magnitude they seek with their software. This model of customer support is perhaps best illustrated by Google, where serious and eminently solvable problems are routed through static FAQ pages, or, if you’re lucky, a forum page where a Google developer or superuser might stumble across your concern and provide some hint of illumination as to its origin or any hope of forthcoming resolution.

Continue reading Encouraging Flexibility from Social Media Giants: How We Get Private Platforms to Support Public Speech

81 Ways Humanitarian Aid has Become Participatory

Update: I’ve since posted my full thesis and a short summary.

My Media Lab Master’s thesis argues that information and communication technologies, and particularly the web, have expanded the range of ways the public can help in times of crisis, even (or especially) if we’re nowhere near said crisis. Or, to be more formal about it, participatory aid is mutual, peer-to-peer aid mediated or powered by information and communication technology. We’re building a platform to help coordinate participatory aid projects, but first, I wanted to share some examples.

Table of Contents:

A Framework for Considering Participatory Aid
Ways to help:
I. Help Prepare Before Crisis Occurs
II. Build technical platforms to facilitate peer-to-peer aid
III. Use Tech to Identify Crises
IV. Improve Situational Awareness of Aid Decisionmakers and Affected Populations
V. Crowd Cognition and Creativity
VI. Aid with technology expertise itself
VII. Improved Donation-making
VIII. Pro Bono Skills Donation
IX. Donate the Gift of Attention
X. Donate physical goods in new ways
XI. Help meet social and cultural needs


The collective response to a far-away crisis in the 20th century went something like this:

  1. Find out about a crisis happening far away (if it’s in the news)
  2. Want to do something to help (if you’re so motivated by the particular crisis, affected community, or other factors)
  3. Realize that the only things you can do to help are:
    • Travel to the crisis location (which aid groups usually hate, because it means they now have to feed and shelter YOU, too)
    • Send food or supplies to the crisis location (which aid groups usually hate, because then they need to figure out how to distribute this stuff, or worse, warehouse it like the Ark in Indiana Jones)
    • Send money to aid groups (which aid groups are usually OK with, because they can figure out how to appropriately allocate this liquid asset)

As a result, one can imagine that citizens watching an endless parade of crises on the nightly news might eventually develop disaster fatigue, or develop the widespread belief that all of the news is negative (AP – A New Model for News).

But today, our radical connectivity lets us do things in new ways, and often without waiting for permission. The formal aid sector, for so many years the conduit between donors and victims, is facing tech-driven disintermediation not unlike the disruptive trends already experienced by the music, travel, and news industries. Technology increasingly allows us to provide this new form of aid directly to the community in need, or as part of newly emerging digital-volunteer-powered organizations, rather than routing everything through a few major aid groups. There are pros and cons to this development, as with anything. I’ll get into those in greater depth in my actual thesis. But the point of this post is to illustrate the range of ways we can help, and get your feedback on the model I’ve abstracted from the following examples.

When we really care about a community in crisis, there’s a lot more we can do than give money to an aid organization. I’m not arguing that everyone will be so motivated every time. That’s not how most of us work. But when that motivation is there, when it’s our friends’ community at stake, or our heartstrings have been sufficiently tugged by a powerful story, the range of activities we CAN do from far away is much greater and richer than it has ever been before.

Continue reading 81 Ways Humanitarian Aid has Become Participatory

Organizing the Internet to Protect the Open Internet #NCMR13

Future of the Internet panel

Josh Levy, Internet Campaign Director at Free Press, introduces the topic. The SOPA protest was the biggest online protest we’ve seen. Millions of people participated and made a real impact. For organizers who have been fighting on open internet issues, it was exciting to see so many people take action and recognize that the internet is something you have to proactively protect, or else the openess that you know and love and maybe didn’t think about before could go away.

An alphabet soup of bills and meetings have followed in SOPA’s wake (CISPA, ECPA, CFAA, WCIT and FISA). We’ve had to learn what they mean and figure out how to leverage this newly engaged network to beat back the bad bills and support the good bills and educate the public on why the open internet is so important.


Holmes was encouraged by the fact that everyone, from individuals to companies to organizations, did something, from changing Twitter avatars to website shutdowns. Within a few days, it was apparent that the bills were to be shelved, and the event had put a crater in the years-long lobbying push by the studios. It reset the rules for how Congress and policymakers around the world treat the internet.

So who led this response?

Continue reading Organizing the Internet to Protect the Open Internet #NCMR13

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