[DRAFT] Design Principles


The Abacus Principle

Our obsolete means of measuring civic and political engagement have not kept pace with the drastic increase in number of ways citizens can express themselves and engage. There is also likely more cultural, political, and civic engagement occurring at any point in time than we can reliably measure from basic units like votes.

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Expect and enable modern literacies from citizens

Every personal network is a latent political network
Individuals’ ability to leverage their network towards action depends on their success nurturing and growing their network as well as technological affordances that allow such social maintenance to scale.

The Window of Disruption Theory

The democratic potential of new media resides not in the technologies themselves, but in their disruptive force.

Takeaway: Existing powers may co-opt and neutralize the disruptive nature of new media. There is a variable but sometimes significant advantage to exploiting new media before this happens.

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Citizenship in an Era of Participatory Politics

Politics should be conceptualized beyond the electoral focus that often dominates literature about political participation and to include a broad array of activities undertaken by individuals and groups to influence how the public sets agendas and addresses issues of public concern.
(FVTI p58)

In the modern era of participatory politics, citizens pull from a wide and ever-growing range of traditional and entrepreneurial tactics

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Modern civic literacies are as likely to include the interpretation of complex data sets and mobilizing one’s personal network towards action as they are to include running a bowling league or organizing a fundraiser.
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The ability to code the software platforms that increasingly govern discourse is a core literacy of participatory politics.

Citizens’ identities coalesce in a networked world. The intertwined nature of the personal and the social bestows great potential, but can also deliver new harms. 

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The disruptive nature of social technologies and participatory politics begs a rethinking of the ethics involved.

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Civic engagement

Our ideals of citizenship and society’s institutions are colored by our histories of inclusion and exclusion, of romantic notions of Habermas’s deliberative citizen and the mid-20th century’s bulwarks of trusted media companies.

The personal is political, particularly on social media

“Networks allow for and inhibit specific modes of civic engagement” Soep p36

Every personal network is a latent political network. Individuals’ ability to leverage their network towards action depends on their success nurturing and growing their network as well as technological affordances that allow such social maintenance to scale.

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Apolitical actions can produce results that change the underlying political structure even when that is not a goal (and may also produce positive externalities for citizen engagement even when political impact is not achieved)

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Civic and political campaigns should be designed in accordance with the fundamentally social nature of citizenship

Citizenship is multi-layered and networked and manifests itself in many more places than the metrics of formal electoral involvement can measure. We each maintain entire constellations of socially-dependent considerations that drive our expression and action.

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Voice / Expression

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 Creative production of media produces positive externalities for youth engagement

see, e.g. “Decreasing World Suck”

The nature of youth online participation matters: Purely friendship-driven engagement may have less impact than political- and interest-driven participation.

Youth online participation can be driven by news and political interest, personal interests, and social interests. Of these three motivators, friendship-driven online participation may have the smallest impact on civic and political engagement.

Self-expression is easy to do, hard to un-do; Online expression is extremely simple to commit but its social ramifications can be extremely complicated to navigate

Platform developers invest enormous effort reducing the barriers to individuals sharing their thoughts, but the act of sharing on these networks often involves a complicated navigation of identity, personal networks, and society.

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A complex interplay between technological affordances, young people’s psychosocial development, and peer dynamics contributes to both positive and ill-conceived online sharing by young people on social network sites.
, The Digital Disconnect_manuscript_July 15_2013, pg. 26-26

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On social networks, software features directly impact discourse

In recent years, the practice of metrics- and test-driven platform development has led popular social networks to adopt a number of solutions for common platform challenges (such as allowing users to act as crowdsourced moderators by flagging malicious speech on the site). Platform developers solve for growth-threatening forces like spam, hate speech, and under-sharing of content with a variety of software features. These emerging best practices can have unintended consequences on youths’ civic engagement and expression online.

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Our networked powers of expression do not belong to us alone. Our voice and actions may be used to fortify us or destroy us.

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Which platforms? The benefits of conducting activism on mainstream commercial platforms often outweigh the investments made in custom-developed activist platforms

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Limits and Warnings

New channels to power can produce new forms of exclusion
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Nascent elites are also forming.
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“Interest-driven activities can power civic engagement” (Soep)

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The exponential growth in public expression has led to increases in both traditional political channels and channels of pure expression, which themselves can impact political structures

Enabled by new media tools, individuals whose activities reside primarily outside of gatekeeping institutions are pursuing greater voice and influence in the political realm than the hierarchical political infrastructure has traditionally provided them opportunity for. This pursuit of voice and influence depends heavily on a particular set of practices, at the center of which are interactive peer-based acts, and the norms that accompany those practices From Voice to Influence 8.16.13, pg. 57

Purely interest-based expression can alter underlying political structures…

Frequently, acts of participatory politics tap the public’s connection to popular culture…using playful imagery and creative expression, these activities reached many people who would not normally be drawn to political commentary or speeches.
From Voice to Influence 8.16.13, pg. 65-65

The political value of online expression is measured not only by the process that went into its production, but also their “digital afterlives” (Soep, 2012), meaning the period after publication when public audiences are invited to comment, share, and remix the original media’s messages.
Soep – Next-Gen Public Sphere-Soep-final, loc. 316-318

…but “with more and more movements targeting change at the level of discourse, we run the risk of pursuing simple attention as the ultimate political currency, sometimes foregoing or at least postponing efforts to change something more concrete.”
Soep – Next-Gen Public Sphere-Soep-final, loc. 840-841

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A young person who develops literacies around their interests develops literacies useful towards political and civic engagement

Youth expression produces its own positive externalities regardless of political impact, and should be encouraged regardless of the potential political engagement that may result.

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Radical changes to expressive power reshape expectations of political expression as well

“The “self-actualizing” expressive power that has emerged in the cultural domain is driving similar changes in expectations for political participation” From Voice to Influence 8.16.13, pg. 61

The Identity Formation of an Engaged Citizen (civic education)

Youth civic development is best supported…
1) In the culture and context of communities and movements.
Youth need opportunities to see that they are not working in isolation when they are engaged in civic and political work, to practice the social skills of deliberation and leadership, and to think broadly and systemically about the issues they are working to address.
2) When youth are treated not just as future civic leaders, but as capable participants in their own right.
If youth are going to advocate for their own needs and to build a sense of themselves as capable civic actors and important contributing members of society, they need opportunities to not simply learn about how they might act in the future but to participate meaningfully now.
3) Through authentic learning experiences.
Civic and political knowledge and skills are more likely to be learned and understood when youth are learning them in service of purposeful activity.
4) Youth have opportunities to grapple with issues of what is just and what is fair.
Civic and political activity, particularly in a democracy, inevitably requires weighing in on decisions that affect the life chances of others. Grappling with such issues not only provides youth with opportunities to practice an important aspect of the work of civic engagement but helps them see the importance of the work they are doing.
Service p30

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Rather than simply measure results, we should study the various paths towards engagement young people take

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Whether causation or correlation, the channels provided to young people early in their education are consequential:

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“Literacies are best conceived as practices honed through participation and situated within social contexts, rather than discrete, transferable skill-sets.

Think verb, not noun, and imagine collective orchestration versus individual knowledge acquisition (Heath, Flood and Lapp 2008; Varenne and McDermott, 1999; Street 2001).
Soep – Next-Gen Public Sphere-Soep-final, loc. 684-685

Schools should not see themselves as the only game in town when it comes to civic education.
Schools have long recognized the value of interest- driven extracurricular activities such as the band or the French Club in pre- paring students to participate in their communities and their world. Interest- driven online communities can play a similar role. Adults’ automatic response to the vast amount of time that youth spend online is often simply to try to limit screen time. But it matters a lot what youth are doing when they’re in front of the screen.

Even if new media tactics may come naturally to young people, the literacies that make such tactics effective are not a given.
Soep 88

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As with youths’ identities, civic literacies are developed and distributed throughout networks now, too

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The Web has two primary affordances of relevance to a study of online protest; sharply reduced costs for creating, organizing and participating in protest; and the ability to aggregate people’s individual actions into broader collective actions without requiring participants to be copresent in time and space
-DESC p10

Like other online actions, protests can now occur asynchronously, anonymously, and across time and space. 126 DESC

The degree to which the web fundamentally transforms or merely augments and amplifies traditional protest movement theory depends on how the Web is used by activists and how its affordances are leveraged.

It is people’s usage of technology — not technology itself — that can change social processes.

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Social movement platforms (or “warehouse sites”) allow individual users to easily become organizers. DESC 110 These platforms offer many more protest tactics and options than traditional social movement organizations.

When costs of organizing are inexpensive, innovative uses of the web can cause organizing to begin to follow power-law dynamics in  some situations DESC 153 – a single active organizer can bear the majority of hte costs, with few organizing costs left to bear further down the line DESC 154

Such efforts allow movements to experiment and fail at faster rates with less collateral damage (a ship with only a captain aboard) DESC 154

For expensive organizing efforts, usually still organized by SMO forms, there’s a clear vetting and mentoring process that results in heavily socialized leaders. But solo organizers and small teams are vetted only by whether or not additional participants join them in their quest. The bar is lower.  Organizers are judged by the success  of their campaign after it is launched, whereas in SMOs, organizers are judged before they are given the responsibility of launching a campaign. DESC 155

the degree to which organizers leverage the web’s key affordances – such as lowered costs of organizing and participation – is the degree to which digital movements are merely supersizing traditional protest tactics or creating fundamentally novel movement theory 2.0.

People will organize around a much wider aarray of causes and concerns, including far-from stnadard political concerns. E-tactics will be reappplied to concenrs around entertainment and private issues.

These organizers will pay relatively little attention to common movement concerns such as peers, allies and enemies, fundraising, and framing. They will bring their existing socialization, norms, and priorities from worlds outside of professional movement-building. DESC 156

Protest platforms enable lone wolf organizers. These organizers may feel interconnected with others who share their passions, but are less connected and socialized into social movement ways of thinking even though they u se classic social movement tacics. DESC 164

Lower costs of organizing have led to a veritable explosion of causes and the proliferation of the use of e-tactics for issues that many might not have previously considered “true” protest. DESC 164

In addition to the tactics of citizenry listed in the participatory politics section above, a new digital “repertoire of contention” may be emerging. Unlike previous repertoires of contention, which involved collective action where people gathered together in time and space using tactical forms that were costly to organize and participate in, leading to a series of predictable consequences, the increasingly available range of outlets for online participation may be creating a new digital repertoire of contention that breaks from social movement theory.  DESC p16

Flash activism, like flash floods, where the power comes not from people’s willingness to bear heavy costs to participate, but rather from the massive influx of participation that is possible when the costs of participation are lowered enough that a much larger percentage of ideologically sympathetic individuals are willing to participate. (Bennett and Fielding 1999)

“Gurak 1999 and Gurak and Logie 2003, 31 hold that there is an instant-ethos online that prizes speedy activity, and that standard hierarchies can be bypassed through the less intermediated design of the Web, also facilitating faster mobilization. We argue that when participation is relatively inexpensive, it is much easier to build high levels of mobilization in short periods of time.” DESC p74

“Innovative uses of the Web can shift the balance of participation costs downward over time as more and more collective actions are conducted online.”


If we are going to encourage young people to become active citizens, we must support them when such activity leads them to conflict with gatekeepers

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Cultural expression and political expression are never far apart

The history of youth political media production and the history of youth cultural expression are intimately intertwined. (FVTI Light 54)

Young people need to be mentored as makers, and not just users, of the technological platforms that increasingly govern discourse.

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Achieving Impact

The 4 levers of structural change are:

  1. political institutions;
  2. major NGOs;
  3. collective action efforts;
  4. cultural norms and practices (FVTI 31)
    Legal and institutional structures are critical for understanding politics, but their operations are constrained and shaped by the surrounding socio-cultural context, whether one labels that context as “civil society” or the “public sphere” From Voice to Influence 8.16.13, pg. 59
    transform policy, sway elites, render new services, or reframe issues and identities at the level of culture (Zuckerman 2012).

New media offer youth more immediate pathways to attempted impact than traditional political engagement:

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  • Traditional political engagement marginalizes youth and also requires skills youth have not yet developed
  • Youth are highly engaged with and skilled in new media
  • The affordances of new media enable youth to have political voice and influence without being 18, having money, or even being a citizen.
    From Voice to Influence 8.16.13, pg. 57

Participatory politics is not foolproof, but “we see growing opportunities for youth to exert agency in the public sphere, both as individuals and within communities of practice”, particularly given the usual marginalization of youth within traditional institutions of power.

The ubiquity of technology does not immediately translate to an equal playing field for traditionally marginalized groups

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Participatory Politics

Like traditional political activity because they address issues of public concern. But, unlike traditional political activity, participatory politics are interactive, peer- based, and not guided by traditional institutions like political parties or newspaper editors.  – Digital media shapes

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Online participatory cultures “are contexts in which participants create and share with others, experienced participants help less experienced ones acquire knowledge and solve problems, and participants develop a sense of connection with one another and come to understand functional community norms (Jenkins et al., 2007).” the civic and political

Media literacy: “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms” (Aufderheide & Firestone 1993, p7)
describes a set of capacities related to media consumption and creation that one can acquire.

“An affordance is the type of action or a characteristic of actions that a technology enables through its design”
DESC p10

Civic and Political Engagement

Frequently described as commitment to a community beyond oneself and one’s family (neighborhood, city, nation) and participation in activities to maintain or change the institutions that regulate these communities (government or civic organizations).

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Tweet-length annotated Bibliography:

Author(s) Title Tweet-length abstract
Allen Ai Weiwei and the Art of Protest Ai Weiwei’s in-your-face petitioning combines the artist’s voice with the citizen’s voice to deliver both expression and influence in China.
James The Digital Disconnect Coming of age in the network era brings new potential but also new ethical threats, including those to privacy, property, and participation.
Gardner and Davis App Generation Affordances provided by our increasingly app-driven worlds could enable us to achieve new heights or enslave us by restricting our choices.
Allen and Light From Voice to Influence How are new media information and communications technologies transforming political life, and, by extension, political participation?
Jen Light Putting our Conversation in Context: Youth, Old Media, and Political Participation, 1800-1971 The recent impacts of new technology may not be distinct from the history of young peoples’ use of new technologies to share political ideas. // History of youth expression using new technologies finds tech typically provides only a temporary window before adult gatekeepers close it.
Kahne, Middaugh, Allen Youth, New Media and the Rise of Participatory Politics Young people are re-purposing competencies and strategies that they are learning in the cultural realm for political goals
Shelby Impure Dissent: Hip-Hop and the Political Ethics of Marginalized Black Urban Youth Hip hop’s political critiques are often impure dissent, but they allow meaningful expression in between ‘voice’ and unrealistic ‘exit’.
Beltran ‘Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic’: DREAM Activists, Immigrant Politics, and the Queering of Democracy Young immigrants break from traditional groups and use social media to creatively self-assert and re-humanize themselves in public debates.
Chun The Dangers of Transparent Friends: Crossing the Public and Intimate Spheres The transparency of friend networks online demands we rethink concepts like collaboration, safety. Networks themselves are latent publics.
Allen Reconceiving Public Spheres We can model complex public spheres as streams of discourse and begin to visualize how some expression alters structures, and others do not.
Fung and Shkabatur Viral Engagement: Fast, Cheap, and Broad, but Good for Democracy? Political entrepreneurs initiate viral campaigns (Kony 2012, Trayvon Martin) and powerful interest groups respond and amplify their spread.
Zuckerman Cute Cats to the Rescue? Participatory Media and Political Expression Popular social media platforms offer activists key affordances like built-in audiences and free hosting, but companies also govern speech.
Farrel and Shalizi An Outline of Cognitive Democracy Diverse viewpoints allow for better democratic decisions, and new media allows experiments which can inform the design of our institutions.
McAfee Using New Media Politically It’s important that democratic citizens see for themselves a robust role of engaged worldbuilding beyond protesting formal policy decisions.
Earl and Schussman Contesting Cultural Control In a movement society where the cost of protest is low, citizens readopt movement tactics to organize around popular and cultural concerns.
The Personal is Political on Social Media Even civically-engaged youth carefully consider how they express (or refrain from expressing) this part of their identities online.
Allen Toward Participatory Democracy The Port Huron statement established that we cannot be free without being equal. Political equality is much more than the right to vote.
Kahne and Middaugh Digital media shapes youth participation in politics Educators must be prepared to play by the new rules of youth civic participation, where outlets for activism are peer created and directed.
Kahne, et al Youth online activity and exposure to diverse perspectives
Kahne, Lee, Feezell Digital Media Literacy Education and
Online Civic and Political Participation
Digital media literacy education was found to be associated with increased online political engagement and exposure to diverse perspectives.
Kahne, Ullman, Middaugh Digital Opportunities for Civic Education Educators can take advantage of digital media to foster desired forms of civic and political engagement and development.
Kahne, Lee, Feezell The Civic and Political Significance of
Online Participatory Cultures among
Youth Transitioning to Adulthood
Youth engagement in nonpolitical interest-driven participatory cultures is positively related to participation in civic and political life.
Croft “It’s Just a Game”—
Ethical Reasoning within Virtual Worlds
Interviews found some youth willing to scam others in World of Warcraft, ethically reasoning that a virtual world brought no real harm
Soep Next-Gen Public Sphere Citizenship in an era of networked identity and participatory politics requires modern literacies, which can be developed through interests.
Middaugh and Kahne Youth Internet Use and Recruitment
into Civic and Political Participation
The internet is the most common channel for youth to be recruited into political participation, and it can be an effective one.
Cohen and Kahne Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action  Survey finds youth taking advantage of participatory political practices in ways that amplify their voice and sometimes their influence.
Middaugh Service & Activism in the Digital Age
Supporting Youth Engagement in Public Life
New media can enhance civic education. Youth Led Organizing and Service learning have emerged as effective models for youth engagement
Kligler-Vilenchik and Shresthova Learning Through Practice:
Participatory Culture Civics
“Participatory Culture Civics” organizations combine civic goals with the shared pleasures and flexible affordances of participatory culture
Zimmerman Documenting DREAMs: New Media,
Undocumented Youth and the Immigrant
Rights Movement
New media present powerful ways for DREAM activists to mobilize their social networks given undocumented youths’ legal vulnerabilities.
Kligler-Vilenchik “Decreasing World Suck”: Fan Communities, Mechanisms of Translation, and Participatory Politics Tapping existing content worlds and producing new creative works can scaffold fan identities into civically-defined and -engaged citizens.
Thompson The Cost of Engagement:
Politics and Participatory Practices in the U.S.
Liberty Movement
The Liberty Movement works with elite political institutions, but also embraces participatory channels like online communities.
Earl and Kimport Digitially Enabled Social Change The web sharply reduces costs of organizing protests, and allows organizers to work asynchronously, across great distances, and even alone.
Gardner In Defense of Disinterestedness in the Digital Era Disinterestedness is the capacity to look beyond one’s own interests and make decisions that are in the interests of a larger group.
Parham and Allen For Rooted Cosmopolitanism and Equitable Self-Interest We should protect disinterestedness, the capacity to make decisions in the interests of a larger group rather than one’s self or friends.

From Voice to Influence