DC Event: The Role of Social Media in Conflict

the new USIP pavilion

Meta-Activism Project founder Mary Joyce will be a panelist at a half-day conference tomorrow at looking about the effects of social media on conflict around the world. The event, which will focus on data analysis, also features panelists such as MAP advisor Clay Shirky, Alec Ross of the State Department, Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Internet researcher John Kelly of Morningside Analytics.

Event: Sifting Fact from Fiction: The Role of Social Media in Conflict
Date: Friday, September 16
Time: 9:00am – 1:oopm
Location: USIP / 2301 Constitution Avenue NW / Washington, D.C. 20037 (map)
RSVP: http://social-media-in-conflict.eventbrite.com/



Social Media in New Orleans: The Rising Tide Conference

This past weekend I was a panelist at the sixth annual Rising Tide blogger conference here in my home town of New Orleans.  Video of the panel, on social media and social justice, is below.  I went to the conference as a spectator and ended up as a panelist because one of the scheduled panelists was waylaid by Hurricane Irene and I was asked to fill in.  Hopefully I did a good job on the fly. My opening remarks begin at 00:09:00.

Rising Tide 6 – Social Media, Social Justice from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Oslo Keynote: How to Use Social Media to Combat Extremism

Last summer Norway suffered a terror attack that struck at the heart of multiculturalism. Today I gave a keynote address at the annual conference of the Contact Committee for Immigrants and the Authorities (KIM) and decided to use that opportunity to discuss ways in which social media can be used to fight back against extremism and intolerance (slides below).  Social media can be used to create both narrow tribes living in echo chambers and inclusive communities that embrace difference.  It’s up to citizens to define the character of social media by challenging and exposing hateful ideologies.

Google+ Hangouts for Virtual Organizations

I don’t usually write about the inner workings of the Meta-Activism Project, but our meeting today on Google+ Hangouts was a bit of a revelation.

We are a virtual organization, which means that we have no office and no two team members are even based in the same city. We rely heavily on email, GChat, and Skype to coordinate and on Google Docs to co-create content. However, none of these tools simulates presence.

I am a firm believer in the value of in-person contact to build trust and affinity. There are subconscious cues that we absorb when we see how someone speaks and gestures that cannot be conveyed through text or voice alone.

In real life there is also the opportunity for non-task interactions, like telling a joke or giving a compliment, that are less likely to happen on an email thread or conference call because of the perception of time scarcity: task-oriented emails and calls enforce a norm of productivity where casual conversation acts only as a time-filler while waiting for others to join a call.

Yet talking about work is a very narrow way to perceive personality and personality is important in a volunteer project where a lot of the motivation to engage is based on whether you like your collaborators. On a virtual volunteer project, any opportunity to build affinity through simulated presence is valuable.

For this reason, I am really excited about the free video-conference feature of Google+: the Hangout (see above). In some ways it is a technology ahead of its time. My computer’s processor was taxed by the four video streams and our Internet bandwidth was not really up to the task either. Still, it was as close to virtual presence as I’ve ever gotten, and as the director of a virtual organization that makes me very happy because I know how important that is.


Making Connections: an Internal Communications Workshop

Last week I had the privilege to work with the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition on internal communications for their global organization of grassroots AIDS activists. I started by asking the staff to create an org chart of ITPC on the wall of the meeting room, which we could refer to throughout the day.

Creating an org chart for ITPC

Creating an org chart, adding communication pathways

Then they added in the different communication pathways the organization needed to succeed.  Colored yarn represented different types of communication, like “informing,” “consulting,” and “directing.”

Pathways that were not up to snuff got a "gap" marker.

Pathways that were not up to snuff got a GAP marker.

After the pathways were drawn, all the gaps were recorded on note cards so staff could vote on which they wanted to focus on.  We didn’t have time to address all the gaps, but we wanted to make sure we addressed the most important.

Staff vote for the gaps they think should be addressed during the workshop

Staff vote for the gaps they think should be addressed during the workshop

Then I facilitated a group discussion of solutions.  We developed several practical processes to improve internal communication, such as Watering Hole Wednesdays, when staff around the world would be on Skype at the same time twice a month for casual conversation.

Staff discuss practical solutions and create a plan for implementation,

Staff discuss practical solutions and create a plan for implementation,

Report from Personal Democracy Forum

I am still exhausted from two great days at Personal Democracy Forum. There was a lot to absorb – over 30 keynotes on the main stage and over 20 break-out sessions. I kept my laptop closed for most of it so I could concentrate on what was being said. Here were some of the highlights for me:

There were a lot of discussion of the implications of activism and social life in the quasi-public sphere, platforms on which we can all participate, but which are privately owned. Good presentations on this topic included Susan Morgan (video) of the Global Network Initiative, danah boyd on the privacy hacks of teenagers, Marietje Sschaake (video) on the role of European communications firms in international freedom of expression and privacy, and Eben Moglen (video) announcing FreedomBox.

Other great ideas came from Zeynep Tufekci (video), who presented a number of theories of global digital activism, Rebecca MacKinnon (video), on the role of the network in the evolution of political power, Lisa Gansky (video) on the “meshy” new sharing economy, and Jay Rosen’s (video) report card on pro-am journalism in the digital age.

There were a lot of emotional keynotes too, from funny (Dan Sinker – video, Omoyele Sowore – video, Marko Rakar – video) to heart-felt (Jim Gilliam – video) to righteously outraged (Larry Lessig – video)

I hosted a break-out session on the second day with Zeynep Tufekci and Alix Dunn. I started out by describing our knowledge of digital activism as best symbolized by a ping-pong ball (thanks Patrick), between the paddles of cyber-optimism and cyber-pessimism.

Our “knowledge” of digital activism is highly dependant on the outcome of the most recent revolution. We were pessimistic about digital activism after the 2009 revolution in Iran and feel very optimistic now after Egypt and Tunisa, but we could move back to pessimism depending on the outcomes in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. Needless to say, this is not empirical. In fact, it is little more than a form of representation bias.

Next Zeynep Tufekci mentioned some methodological challenges of studying digital activism, such as the inability to do experiments. However, she did express hope in the value of “digital footprints” (so much more is recorded and available for analysis in the digital age) and in cross-country comparisons like the Global Digital Activism Data Set. Alix Dunn briefly described the data she collected with her research partner, Christopher Wilson, about the Egyptian Revolutions, called the Tahrir Data Project, which includes survey results, tweets, and in-depth interviews about media use.

I also briefly presented the GDADS infographics (see below)

It was a great time with lots of smart people and excellent ideas. I look forward to returning next year.

Find Us Today @ Personal Democracy Forum

I’ll be presenting a break-out session on open digital activism research and the Global Digital Activism Data Set at Personal Democracy Forum today in New York, details below. I’ll also report back on any feedback I get from the session.

    Getting Beyond Anecdata: The Global Digital Activism Data Project
    Mary Joyce (moderator) with Zeynep Tefecki of technosociology and Alix Dunn of Tahrir Data Project @ 3:30 – 4:30pm in Room 803


e-Mediat: Putting Civil Society 2.0 into Practice

e-Mediat team photo (clockwise from top-left): Chris Blow and Ed Bice from Meedan, Heather Murphy and Heather Ramsey from IIE, a representative of TechSoup, Jessica Dheere and Mohamad Najem of Social Media Exchange (SMEX) Beirut, Beth Kanter, Shradha Balakrishnan of IIE, me, Kit Bartels of Middle East Partnership Initiative, Andrea Burton of Meedan. (photo: Beth Kanter)

In November of 2009, Secretary of State Clinton announced her “Civil Society 2.0” strategy which aims to “help grassroots organizations around the world use digital technology.”   A corollary of the more controversial Internet Freedom agenda, Civil Society 2.0 aims to use digital technology in a way even Internet Freedom cynics like Evgeny Morozov might support – as a tool for strengthening civil society by identifying existing institutions that are already stakeholder group for political accountability and provide a digital skill set to strengthen it.

But how do you operationalize this strategy?  The Department of State, through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, has provided approximately $5 million in funding to a small number of projects to provide this training.  I am a consultant one of the largest, a project by the Institute for International Education to provide training to over 100 grassroots organizations in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, and Morocco.

Along with nonprofit tech guru Beth Kanter and Jessica Dheere and Mohamad Najem of Social Media Exchange Beirut (SMEX), I’ll be training a group of local trainers from these countries, who in turn will be responsible for training NGOs in their own countries.   We know that in order to create stability be need to link these NGOs with local resources, so in addition to developing a cohort of local trainers, we’ll also be working to develop outreach strategy that connect local techies to the NGOs in their own countries.

We are starting this project at an interesting time.  During the course of our meetings we learned about – and eagerly tracked – action on the ground in Tunisia.   e-Mediat is working in the context of a rich environment of regional activists, digital and traditional.  We seek to find a niche where we can do some good.

Training Young Leaders at Students United!

Today I trained a great group of young leaders from the public higher education system in Massachusetts.  The training was part of Students United!, a conference that brought these students together to learn about activism and increase their own power in defending higher education funding in their state. I lead four 30-minute sessions which began with the group creating their own definition of digital activism, a strategy presentation by me, and a group activity where students decided how to apply social media tools. The slides from my presentation are below.

Sessions began with each group creating their own definition of digital activism.

Participants during the small group exercise.

Training in Lebanon: Digital Activism Strategy

Earlier this month I was in Beriut to train a group of civil society members from the Middle East and North Africa on digital campaigning.  It was part of e-Mediat, a new technology training and capacity building program funded by the U.S. State Department and developed in response to Secretary Clinton’s announcement of Civil Society 2.0.  Fellow trainer Beth Kanter has a number of great blog posts on the training, which lasted several days and also included trainers Jessica Dheere and Mohamad Najem from Social Media Exchange.

Here are the slides from my day-long session, which covered digital communications strategy, media choices, and action planning:

View more presentations from Mary Joyce

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