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Today seems like a good day to talk about political participation and how it can affect actual change.

Habermas’ public sphere has long been the model of ideal democracy, and the benchmark against which researchers evaluate past and current political participation. The public sphere refers to a space of open debate, through which all members of the community can express their opinions and access the opinions of others. It is in such a space that reasoned political discourse develops, and an informed citizenry prepares to enact their civic rights and duties (i.e., voting, petitioning, protesting, etc.). A successful public sphere relies upon a diversity of voices through which citizens not only express themselves, but also expose themselves to the full range of thought.

Internet researchers have long occupied themselves trying to understand how new technologies affect political processes. One key question is how the shift from broadcast media to peer-based media bring society closer to, or farther from, a public sphere. Increasing the diversity of voices indicates a closer approximation, while narrowing the range of voices indicates democratic demise. more...

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Atrocities in Eritrea atop my Twitter feed. A few tweets below that, police violence against an innocent African American girl at a pool party. Below that, the story of a teen unfairly held at Rikers Island for three years, who eventually killed himself. Below that, news about the seemingly unending bombing campaign in Yemen. Below that, several tweets about the Iraq war and climate change—two longtime staples of my timeline. It reminds me of the writer Teju Cole exclaiming on Twitter last summer that “we’re not evolving emotional filters fast enough to deal with the efficiency with which bad news now reaches us….”

This torrent of news about war, injustice, and suffering is something many of us experience online today, be it on Facebook, Twitter, in our inboxes, or elsewhere. But I wonder about the ‘evolutionary’ framing of this problem—do we really need to develop some new kinds of emotional or social or technical filters for the bad news that engulfs us? Has it gotten that bad? more...

Editors Note: This is based on a presentation at the upcoming  Theorizing the Web 2015 conferenceIt will be part of the Protocol Me Maybe panel. 

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I’ve been researching hacking for a little while, and it occurred to me that I was focusing on a yet unnamed hacking subgenre. I’ve come to call this subgenre “interface hacks.” Interface hack refers to any use of web interface that upends user expectations and challenges assumptions about the creative and structural limitations of the Internet. An interface hack must have a technical component; in other words, its creator must employ either a minimal amount of code or demonstrate working knowledge of web technologies otherwise. By virtue of the fact they use interface, each hack has aesthetic properties; hacks on web infrastructure do not fall in this category unless they have a component that impacts the page design.

One of the most notable interface hacks is the “loading” icon promoted by organizations including Demand Progress and Fight for the Future in September 2014. This work was created to call attention to the cause of net neutrality: it made it appear as though the website on which it was displayed was loading, even after that was obviously not the case. It would seem to visitors that the icon was there in error; this confusion encouraged clicks on the image, which linked to a separate web page featuring content on the importance of net neutrality. To display the icon, website administrators inserted a snippet of JavaScript — provided free online by Fight for the Future — into their site’s source code. A more lighthearted interface hack is the “Adult Cat Finder,” a work that satirizes pornographic advertising in the form of a pop-up window that lets users know they’re “never more than one click away from chatting with a hot, local cat;” the piece includes a looping image of a Persian cat in front of a computer and scrolling chatroom-style text simply reading “meow.” The links to these, and other interface hacks, are included at the end of this post. more...

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Every year my little city of Troy, New York holds a kind of Dickensonian Renaissance festival called The Victorian Stroll. The Stroll has been going strong for over 30 years and it affords an opportunity for lots of white people to dress up in period clothing that matches the surrounding buildings and ––as some have recently demonstrated–– their retrograde race politics. Even police officers don those funny dome-shaped hats and long wool coats that make it seem as though they’re ready to beat someone up over taking too much gruel. A few really great activists in the area organized a #Shutitdown solidarity event at The Stroll and I was there to capture video. The video above is a nice summary of what we were able to accomplish. more...

A tweeted picture of predominantly white faces with their hands up in a mall. Tweet reads: Back in #macys "hands up, don't shop" #blackoutblackFriday #boycottblackfriday #blacklivesmatter. tweet by @seanick_

This one time I got to meet Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir. They’re fun people with a knack for spectacle. The Reverend dresses up in all white to match his brilliant, platinum pompadour, and leads people into a mall or a busy street corner to preach and sing about the evils of consumer society. A small group of us exorcised a Bank of America ATM which was a great diversion for reaching around and unplugging it. All in all it was a lovely afternoon but today I’m nervous about the way people who look like me (white) are organizing around this topic. Given that it is prime time for shopping, it also means it is an excellent opportunity to protest the intricate tapestry of social norms and institutions that make up present-day consumerism. It is certainly true that lots of people should probably consume less than they do, but the activism around consumerism is often tin-eared and tone deaf when it comes to issues of class and, as we are seeing this year, race. more...

A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat.
A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat. Source.

Paul Budnitz describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” having created other companies that make artisanal toys and luxury bicycles. He’s also the creator/founder/president/charismatic leader of Ello. And when a social network launches with a manifesto that proudly proclaims “You are not a product”, there’s more on the line than embedded video support. Despite the radical overtures of the initial launch, we shouldn’t expect any more from Ello than we would from a luxury bicycle. more...


Image from The Atlantic Cities, Flickr user Bikoy under Creative Commons

About this time last year I asked our readers, “why we don’t criticize other things like we criticize the internet?” It seemed like a fitting topic for the season; we utilize some of the most resource-intensive technologies at our disposal so that we may enjoy egg nog with old friends or taste grandma’s famous Thanksgiving day turkey. Everyone wants to be near their loved ones for the holidays, and so begins a massive effort to transport ourselves in cars, trains and planes until we arrive at our optimal holiday season arrangements. It is a wonder, then, why we spend so much of our lives outside of this optimal arrangement. What kind of relationship do we have with our immediate surroundings? Not just the people, but the technologies and the patterns. There is a lot of excellent work on carbon footprints, local food movements, and walkable communities but I hear comparatively little about who is capable of making this transition. What does opting out of the status quo truly entail?  more...

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 4.2.12 and was updated to include video on 7.11.12. See the conference website for

Any study of politics is going to be fundamentally about power, and about who is free to exercise it and how: How policy is made, how the public sphere is constituted and how boundary lines are drawn around it, who has a voice and who is excluded from


Presider: Sarah Wanenchak

discussion or consideration, who is central and who is marginalized. By the same token, the study of contentious politics – as it focuses on dissent and protest – is fundamentally about how those who have been marginalized, denied a voice, and left without power act to seize the things that have been denied them: How activist communities form and frame themselves, how their objectives and tactics change over time, how they seek entry into the public sphere and engage the actors they find there, how the voiceless find a voice and what they use it to say. Moreover, it’s about what is visible and recognized: How we understand political action in light of what’s gone before and what might come in the future.

All of this would be complex enough without communications technology, and what this panel highlights is how technology changes and enriches this already-complicated picture. Communications technology has the potential to change what we understand by “public sphere” and how we construct meanings around events, as well as how different collective actors organize and react to each other. If knowledge and information are vital to the development of a social movement, then understanding how knowledge and information flow is additionally vital.

Given recent and ongoing global protest movements, the intersection of technology and protest is a subject both broad and deep. Rather than attempt to capture all aspects of it, the excellent papers in this panel call attention to more tightly focused corners of the political picture, and in so doing, illuminate further potential avenues for research and exploration. Additionally, the geographical and cultural focus of this panel is truly diverse, allowing us to push back a bit against the American-and-Eurocentric bias that appears too often in research of this kind.

Titles and abstracts are after the cut.

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One of the numerous memes inspired by “Kony 2012″

Viral media saw an interesting development last week with Invisible Children’s release of its “Kony 2012″ film, which at the time of this writing has garnered well over 75 million views as well as storms of heated criticism. One could practically write entire books on the issues that Invisible Children raises – both intentionally and unintentionally – in this campaign, but for the purposes of this post I want to keep the focus fairly narrow and trained on the actual components of the video that make it successfully viral – and what that potentially indicates about how information regarding especially complex issues is diffused, as well as what difference that form of diffusion makes.

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Rush Limbaugh is experiencing an advertiser exodus, and social media is playing a big part.

It’s the kind of story that writes itself. A popular media entity, on one of the oldest forms of electronic mass media, bears the brunt of activists’ Facebook wrath. It combines two old rivalries: liberals and conservatives and new media versus old media. In case you missed it, here’s the brief synopsis of events from ABC news:

Rush Limbaugh remains in big trouble. Advertisers – 11 at last count – are pulling spots off his radio talk show because of the reaction to his calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Opponents are mobilizing on social media for a long campaign to try to convince even more sponsors to drop his program. Ms. Fluke herself has rejected as insufficient Mr. Limbaugh’s attempts at apology

Fluke had testified before congress about the importance of “the pill” for medical uses beyond birth control. Rush concluded that she was having so much sex that she needed the American tax payer to help defer the cost of her contraceptives. (This has led to some speculation that conservatives don’t know how hormonal birth control works.) Thousands of people are organizing to get advertisers to pull their money out of Rush Limbaugh’s show, and many of them are organizing via Twitter and Facebook. Will we be subjected to another round of technologically deterministic news stories about “cyber revolution,” or are we going to have a more nuanced conversation? More precisely, does Rush have a social media problem or has he -all things being equal- just gone too far this time? more...