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MAKING THE UK’S POLITICAL DEBATES MORE RESPONSIVE TO PUBLIC NEEDS

MAKING THE UK’S POLITICAL DEBATES MORE RESPONSIVE TO PUBLIC NEEDS

Can political debates become more informative after the debate? Researchers in Britain are building a debate-replay website that aims to increase viewer comprehension,
engagement, and political confidence.
The Democratic Reflection app aims to gather nuanced feedback from political debate viewers. All images (c) the Election Debate Visualization Project.

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Case Study:
 Election Debate Visualization Project
Country: United Kingdom
Research Team: University of Leeds: Stephen Coleman, Giles Moss (School of Media and Communication), Paul Wilson (School of Design); the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute: Anna De Liddo, Brian Plüss, Alberto Ardito, Simon Buckingham Shum (now at the University of Technology Sydney)
Debate: ITV Leaders Debate, April 2, 2015—the only debate where all seven leaders of British political parties met in advance of the May 7 general election for the 56th Parliament of the United Kingdom.
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Picture this: You’re watching a televised debate involving two political candidates, and one of them accuses the other of breaking a campaign promise. There’s a denial, followed by a cross-accusation. Pretty soon you’re not sure if either candidate is telling the truth, but you are certain that they’re avoiding the central question, and the moderator seems unable to refocus the conversation.

Now, what if you could replay the debate—but this time, there’s built-in fact-checking and data maps that track the arguments and show who violated the debate rules? And what if the viewing platform was interactive, so you could call up previous articles about an issue, pull in other viewers’ responses to the debate, and share your own?

What if, in other words, debates became more informative after the debate? Could the enhancements increase viewer comprehension, engagement, and political confidence?

That’s the question researchers working in Britain on the Election Debate Visualization (EDV) project are attempting to answer.

Robust political debate is common in the United Kingdom; the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions has been broadcast live since 1990, drawing international audiences. The first televised election debates, however, didn’t take place until 2010. They attracted strong public interest, but through a series of national surveys completed before and after the debates, Stephen Coleman, a professor of political communication at the University of Leeds, found that many viewers were left with questions on the issues and uncertainty about the candidates’ competing responses.

In 2013, researchers from University of Leeds, including Coleman, teamed up with data science experts at the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMI), a research and development lab, on the EDV project. The three-year effort (it concludes this fall) aims to identify the information needs of various audiences and create interactive visualization tools that respond to those needs.

“The analogy that I often use is that the debate is rather like trying to buy a car from someone who is a very fast-talking salesperson,” said Coleman. “What we want to do is to give you a chance to go home, sit at your computer, slow the whole thing down, take it apart, and really ask the questions that you want to ask.”

KMI researchers had already been conducting some informal experiments around creating interactive maps that tracked argumentative moves during the 2010 prime-ministerial debates. They were eager to do more with debate rhetoric and computer-supported argument visualization (CSAV), which captures and presents argument structure. They also wanted to analyze “fair play,” a specialty of EDV team member Brian Plüss, a research associate at KMI who codes linguistic behavior. Also known as non-cooperative dialogue, fair play refers to how well a candidate sticks to the debate rules. Avoiding a question or interrupting another candidate would be considered violations.

With a grant from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, the EDV team set out to develop an open-source web platform that would allow viewers to re-watch a debate with a full array of interactive visuals and analytics on discourse, audience feedback, debate topics (such as healthcare or the economy), and, in the future, data-mining tools that could answer such questions as, “Did the candidate actually promise this last year?” They named it Democratic Replay and expect to release in May, with a tutorial explaining the components.

But that’s not the only interactive use of technology they are introducing to the debate experience. Early on in the collaboration process, as ideas were being tossed around, the project team decided to see if they also could create an audience-response web app that would provide genuine insight into voters’ attitudes and needs. It was outside the project scope (and unfunded), but they were motivated by voters wanting a say in the debates and the limitations of existing ways to capture feedback.  

In 2010, for instance, U.K. debate broadcasters introduced the “worm,” an analytic tool used to gauge audience responses. Using a control device, such as a dial, a pre-selected group of voters register approval or disapproval of the candidates’ comments, and the responses appear in a line graph on screen, wiggling like a snake or a worm. Some researchers have had concerns about the tool’s influence on debate viewers.

“We agree with the view of the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications that ‘the use of the worm might distort the viewer’s perception of the debate,’” EDV team members wrote in a 2014 project report, referring both to the small sample of participants and the fact that the worm only asks the audience to “like” or “don’t like” what the candidates are saying. There’s no context.

More insight into voter reactions can be gained by analyzing Twitter activity during the debates, but this, too, is limited. “If instant audience feedback is to be a new fact of political life,” they concluded, “we need better tools for capturing and interpreting what viewers and voters are thinking.”

Gathering Debate Reactions

The audience-response app—called Democratic Reflection—began as a paper prototype. EDV team member Anna De Liddo, a research fellow at KMI and leader of the Collective Intelligence and Online Deliberation group, proposed using flashcards to elicit more nuanced feedback.

The team settled on 18 cards representing three categories: emotion (how debate viewers related emotionally with what they were viewing), trust (whether viewers trusted the person speaking or what was being said), and information need (if viewers had questions about the debate topics).

Collective intelligence systems generally require complex tasks to be broken down into smaller tasks, with the actions distributed across large collectives. Looking at how this could be applied to political debates, De Liddo focused on this question: “How can we capture and harvest people’s feedback to the debate in a way that is light and non-intrusive enough so that people may be willing to react, but also in a way that is nuanced and detailed enough so that analysts can make sense of the feedback?”  

The flashcards were designed to gather “soft feedback,” meaning that viewers voluntarily share what they are thinking or feeling. There are no intrusions, and no binary questions such as, “Do you agree or disagree with the candidate’s response?” This type of collective intelligence can be useful for analyzing both the viewer’s immediate experience and shifts over time.

On April 2, 2014, the team invited 15 students from the University of Leeds to demo the cards during a one-hour televised debate between Nick Clegg, then-deputy prime minister, and Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, on whether the UK should remain in the European Union. The BBC hosted the debate in front of a live audience.

Participants were encouraged to raise a card in the air at any time if it represented how they were feeling. The experiment was recorded so researchers could later code each response. They used Compendium, a software tool for mapping information, ideas and arguments with support for synchronized video annotation.

Plüss said the team initially thought the cards offered too many options. Debates can be complicated enough to follow without the added responsibility of choosing from 18 different reflections. To their surprise, the students not only engaged with the cards throughout the entire debate (researchers cataloged 1,472 times the cards were raised), they even started to combine several cards together to express more complex feelings.

When Plüss reviewed the video, he also realized the students started selecting the cards based on design elements. “That gave us a lot of courage because we thought if they engaged with these pieces of paper like that, then maybe if we give them an app, it’s going to be even easier,” he said.

Determining Democratic Entitlements

Around the same time the flashcards were being developed and tested, Coleman, along with two other University of Leeds researchers (Giles Moss, a lecturer in media policy, and Jennifer Carlberg, a doctoral candidate), asked groups of voters and non-voters about their experience with the 2010 televised debates and what they hoped to gain from future debates.

The Leeds team identified five demands, or “entitlements,” that people said the debates needed to fulfill in order for them to feel comfortable taking part in the democratic process:

  • They wanted to be addressed as if they were rational and independent decision-makers.
  • They wanted to be able to evaluate the claims made by debaters in order to make an informed voting decision.
  • They wanted to feel that they were in some way involved in the debate and spoken to by the debaters.
  • They wanted to be recognized by the leaders who claimed to speak for (represent) them.
  • They wanted to be able to make a difference to what happens in the political world.

The design of the focus groups was ambitious. Researchers looked at the relevance of debates in the broadest sense; that is, not whether the debates simply influenced viewers’ perceptions of the candidates, but what people need in the run-up to and during the debates to propel them to engage. (The interviews are also discussed in this report). This moved the focus from the politicians (suppliers of information) to the public (demanding information).

Why go to such trouble?

“We were looking at this on the basis that Britain claims to be, as the United States claims to be, a democracy. In a democracy, you have a public which is in charge and which makes the most important decisions about its future,” said Coleman.

“Very often when political scientists talk about the public, what they say is, ‘Oh, people can’t understand that,’ or, ‘This is too confusing for people.’ That wasn’t really good enough for us. We wanted to know the answer to the question, ‘What is it that makes this confusing?’ Is it inherently the case that the electorate is just dumb? Probably not. If not, then there are barriers in the way. If there are barriers in the way, what are those barriers? Are they barriers that are the same for everyone, or are they different for some people? Are they movable?”

Coleman said getting to that point was made possible by the decision to go into the focus groups with a curiosity about what norms people would establish for themselves, instead of establishing a set of norms for them to meet. Besides being surprised about how forthcoming people were about what they needed to make democracy work for them, and how much people wanted the debates to involve them as well as inform them, the researchers were a little startled by the lack of interest in digital technology as a solution.

“There’s an assumption that people are looking to digital technologies. They weren’t looking,” said Coleman. “They’re looking for particular opportunities to do things rather than particular technologies that they think have got a magic solution.”

Focus group participants came up with interesting ideas for improving the debates, said Plüss, including penalties for candidates who dodge questions. While such a suggestion would never pass the negotiation stage—much like it is with debates in the United States, the debate format in the United Kingdom is decided after a long negotiation between the political parties and the broadcasters—the EDV team began to envision how technology could be used to deliver more of what the public wants.

“If one of the politicians says something that has no evidential basis or that is plainly wrong, we can show it, and then make people aware of that,” said Plüss. “Even though we can’t make changes to the debates themselves, with technology we can empower citizens. That’s one of the overall grand goals of the project.”

From Flashcards to Web App

It took almost a year to turn the Democratic Reflection flashcards into a web-based app. The digital design ended up being similar, but the statements were restructured to extract meaningful insights around the entitlements identified in the focus groups. Coleman recalled arguments over Skype, debating whether to make the questions more colloquial, for example, or the options easier to analyze.

The choices now range from straightforward (“This is informative” / “I’m losing interest”) to more complex reflections (“If s/he understood my situation, s/he wouldn’t say this” / “S/he’s provided convincing evidence for this claim”).

“People’s reactions are used to make sense and assess the debate, but from a people-perspective,” said De Liddo, adding that this collective point of view “would be impossible to capture otherwise in such a rich way and, most importantly, in a way that provides very specific insights on the democratic entitlements.”

“Additionally, people who did not watch the debate can eventually ‘replay’ people’s reactions, and these can also be part of how they shape their opinion on the debate,” she added.

In March 2015, researchers assembled a dozen Open University students and staff in an auditorium to watch the Clegg/Farage debate from a year ago. This time, instead of holding up flashcards, participants could open the Democratic Reflection app on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones and select from 20 color-coded reaction buttons. A second test that month was similarly structured, except participants from the University of Leeds watched the debate independently (on YouTube), at home or at work, to better simulate a real-world scenario.

Everything worked as expected. But all of these tests involved university students or staff, so the users were generally tech-savvy, and no consideration was given to their age, gender, or political leanings. There wasn’t money in the budget to repeatedly test the app with a demographically representative sample of voters.

For that, the EDV team would have to wait until the main event—the ITV Leaders Debate on April 2, 2015—a year to the day of the original flashcard test.

One Test Becomes Two

In advance of the Leaders Debate, the EDV team turned to a polling company to recruit more than 300 people to use the Democratic Reflection app. Participants were given a pre-debate survey about their views on the election and a post-debate survey about the event and their experience using the app. At the end of it all, the team gathered data from 242 participants; some didn’t watch all of the debate, or didn’t complete both surveys.

Plüss said most users were active for the full two hours, with activity peaking near the end, during closing statements. The EDV team was concerned 20 buttons would making viewing more complicated, but that didn’t seem to be an issue.

“It leaves the question open to see how many [statements] people would be able to take,” said Plüss, adding that some users indicated that they would have liked more options, particularly more emotionally charged responses—the impolite things people say when they’re watching a debate and something happens that makes them yell at the TV.

On April 16, during a BBC election debate featuring the leaders of the five main opposition parties, the EDV team made the app available to everyone.

It wasn’t planned as part of the study, and they did very little promotion, only a couple of tweets and a mention on the Open University’s Facebook page. The server was optimized to support up to 700 users, said Plüss, and that night, as he watched the number of logins inching upward, he grew anxious. Close to 2,000 people joined in. Sure enough, the server crashed.

“Obviously, if we had collected that amount of data without any interruptions, it would have been amazing, but the fact that we got that amount of interest, I think it’s wonderful,” said Plüss. “It’s not that people were just coming in, taking a look, and leaving—they were actually wanting to interact.”

In fact, that interaction is probably what caused the crash. The team had modified the platform, allowing users to view a live feed of other viewers’ reflections as well as their own responses.

“The idea was to create a bit of a more of a social community kind of experience,” said Plüss. “Technically, that’s what got us in trouble, because that stream of information, when you have such a high number of users, is huge.”

The server was down for about five minutes. But Plüss considers the extra run a success of sorts: To his surprise, some users returned, and the EDV team ended up with about 400 streams of data—not useful for longitudinal data, due to the gap in the middle, but researchers could still study responses to specific moments of the debate.

Besides harnessing more data, said Plüss, “It was amazing to see that people had the appetite for this concept.”

The EDV team is open to discussions with media partners in and outside Britain interested in using the Democratic Reflection app in future debates. The entitlements on which the questions are based might be different, and the technology might be applied in different ways, but the ultimate goal of providing debate viewers with the means to express their emotions as well as their needs could be applied in any country, said Coleman.

“When we were doing this in April and May of 2015, we were saying to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something for the presidential election in the States in 2016?’ My guess is it is almost certainly too late for that,” said Coleman, adding that Germany’s election in 2017 might be a more realistic possibility.

“What we’re looking at is who we can work with for the greatest public good,” he added.  

Launching Democratic Replay

Democratic Replay will be made public in May as a tutorial website. It will include an analysis of data gathered from the Democratic Reflection app—51,964 pieces of data to be exact, one for each time a viewer clicked on a reflection during the ITV Leaders Debate on April 2.

The EDV team is working on multiple layouts with programmer Alberto Ardito, a visiting research student from the Polytechnic University of Bari in Italy. One shows a timeline of audience responses; click anywhere on the timeline to bring up that point in the debate. Another option shows a histogram as the video plays. There’s also a “feedback flower,” its size corresponding to how many people chose a particular reflection during each 10-second segment.  

“What our analysis will show is what was going on during the debate when people felt that particular entitlements were either being satisfied or being particularly not satisfied,” said Coleman.

Users will be able to filter the demographic profiles of viewers who provided feedback, making it possible to compare, say, how men and women responded to a candidate’s statement. Argument maps, fact-checking, and other components will also be available.

The EDV team finished the first iteration of Democratic Replay in October, five months after the election—too late to test if the platform could affect civic engagement or influence voting behavior. But between May and the end of the EDV project in September 2016, the team will continue to assess its use.

In the future, it might be possible to produce a Democratic Replay within a week of a debate, said Plüss. That’s well outside the 24-hours news cycle, but the team thinks the value is in turning the debate into an educational resource and a hub of data for journalists and other researchers.

As for the general public, the platform is going to be most useful for those who watched the debate, said Coleman. Both technologies, Democratic Replay and Democratic Reflection, are aimed at people who are “taking some notice of what’s going on,” but who may not have followed everything closely or who have not yet decided who to vote for.

“What I don’t think Democratic Replay as a technology does is open up a lot of space for people who are completely disengaged from the process,” said Coleman. “I think that will involve us in a different piece of work.

“It can be done, but I think that the problem is to throw everything in and try to take the disengaged, the engaged-but-confused, and then the engaged-but-highly opinionated all together and assume that you can create technologies for all of them. You can’t, I think.”

After all, this isn’t the worm.

Categories
elections First Post

FIRST POST: SELF-ORGANIZING

FIRST POST: SELF-ORGANIZING

How Bernie Sanders supporters are using Reddit, Facebook and clipboards to self-organize; Jeb Bush’s opposition to encryption; Amsterdam’s Internet of Things network.

    • Tech and the presidentials: Must-read: How Bernie Sanders supporters around the country are organizing themselves, frequently in advance of the campaign or with limited help from it, using Reddit, Facebook and clipboards, as reported by Ben Schreckinger for Politico.

    • One key Sanders supporter is Aidin King, a 23-year-old winery employee who administers the Bernie Sanders for President subreddit, which has 90,000 subscribers. (Notably, the Sanders campaign has made no moves to take over the Reddit page–those of you with long memories will recall how the Obama campaign’s online organizing team took over a supporter’s grassroots MySpace page back in 2007. One of the people responsible for that decision, Chris Hughes, is now the owner of The New Republic. The other one, Scott Goodstein, is working for the Sanders campaign.)

    • Related: On Facebook, Zack Exley shares that he joined the Bernie Sanders campaign six weeks ago, where he says he’s “doing the massively-scaled movement organizing work that I’ve been dreaming about, and only scratching the surface of, for two decades.” Exley was director of online communications and organizing on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, and also co-founded and was the president of the New Organizing Institute.

    • Interviewed for a Time magazine cover story, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump (who is also self-organizing his campaign) says he would get rid of the artificial separation between Super PACs and candidates, arguing “Now you’re not supposed to talk, you’re not supposed to – they go out and play golf, they get together, but they don’t talk. Who believes that? So I want transparency. I don’t mind the money coming in. Let it be transparent. Let them talk, but let there be total transparency.”

    • Paging Larry Lessig: Trump also says this about Members of Congress and campaign finance:

      All they do it fundraise. They don’t really govern. They just fundraise. Their whole life is raising money. And I say what percentage of the time you’re raising money as opposed to legislating? …I mean they’re constantly – it’s that time of year, you come in. I mean that’s all they do is raise money….It’s the rare politician that can do what’s right in the face of massive contributions.

    • And in a comment that is sure to interest companies like Apple, which have billions in profits parked overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes, Trump says, “We should let them back in. Everybody. Even if you paid nothing it would be a good deal. Because they’ll take that money then and use it for other things.”

    • GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush says he’s against encryption, reports Jenna McLaughlin for The Intercept. This is kind of like saying you are against math. The actual quote, from a South Carolina event sponsored by Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security, was ““If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job — while protecting civil liberties — to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst.”

    • The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin makes a really good point about the latest twist in the Hillary Clinton email server brouhaha: the post-facto discovery that some of her emails might have contained classified information is largely meaningless, because government bureaucrats routinely classify far too much information and often do so for reasons have little to do with actual national security. And, as he notes, “Criminal violations for mishandling classified information all have intent requirements; in other words, in order to be guilty of a crime, there must be evidence that Clinton knew that the information was classified and intentionally disclosed it to an unauthorized person. There is no evidence she did anything like that. This is not now a criminal matter, and there is no realistic possibility it will turn into one.”

    • Future, Imperfect: Cosmopolitan’s Jill Filipovic reports on how Twitchy, a conservative online platform founding by rightwing blogger Michelle Malkin that monitors Twitter, has become an “organized harassment tool.” The site, which Malkin sold to Salem Media, gets 2 million unique visitors a month. She notes that “Twitchy’s terms of use disallow content that is ‘fraudulent, unlawful, threatening, abusive, harassing, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, offensive, pornographic, profane, sexually explicit or indecent,’ but those terms don’t seem to be enforced.”

    • The Awl’s media writer John Herrman says the AshleyMadison.com data dump “is in some ways the first large scale real hack, in the popular, your-secrets-are-now-public sense of the word. It is plausible—likely?—that you will know someone in or affected by this dump.”

    • This is civic tech: A bottom-up network of Amsterdam residents have built an open “Internet of Things” wireless network, Martin Bryant reports for The Next Web. “Unlike other ‘smart city projects’,” he notes, “this one is entirely crowdsourced by citizens and was put together in just six weeks.” Ten $1000 LoRaWAN gateway devices were all it took to cover the entire city.

  •  
Categories
elections First Post

FIRST POST: TRUMP CARDS

FIRST POST: TRUMP CARDS

Why to take Donald Trump seriously; Lawrence Lessig’s open source campaign; and warnings about the Internet’s future.

  • Tech and the Presidentials: Just as the Obama campaign collected the mobile phone numbers of tens of thousands of supporters attending his mass rallies, candidates like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are looking to the text message channel as the best way to communicate with their core supporters, Nick Corasaniti reports for The New York Times.

  • Politico’s Annie Karni reports on concerns among Clinton allies that her response to the ongoing questions about her private email server is too legalistic.

  • Wondering why Donald Trump is doing so well in Republican primary polling? Political scientist Lee Drutman argues in Vox that its because he’s in tune with a sizable chunk of the public: populists who want to reduce immigration AND protect Social Security, who may be as many as 40% of the overall electorate. What holds these two positions together is a “turning inward” mood led by Americans fearful that their middle class standard of living is disappearing. (Republican business elites who favor cutting Social Security while taking a more liberal view of immigration are deeply out of touch with their party’s base, he adds.)

  • If you subtract Trump’s demagoguery on immigration from the picture, he’s somewhat more moderate than most of the other Republican contenders, Josh Barro argues for The Upshot. He cites Trump’s statements and positions on taxes (he hasn’t signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise them) abortion (he favors allowing it in cases of rape or incest), and trade (he’s not a free trader) as example.

  • My view: If Trump starts talking up his call to eliminate the inheritance tax in exchange for a one-time mega-tax on the mega-rich (14.25% on individuals and trusts worth $10 million or more), which he made in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve [h/t to Daily News columnist Errol Louis for the long memory], and keeps talking about how all the other top GOP candidates are too beholden to their billionaire Super PAC backers to call for anything similar, he could take the Republican base away from the party establishment entirely and win the GOP nomination. And if he fails at that goal, the Commission on Presidential Debates will be hard pressed to exclude him from the general election debates if he runs as an independent, since he’s highly likely to be above 15% in the polls if he keeps campaigning.

  • All of the software that Lawrence Lessig’s 2016 presidential campaign makes will be released “under the GPL 3.0 open-source licence [sic]”, and all creative materials will be released “under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 licence [sic]”, his exploratory committee announced. We have no idea why his organisation is honouring Her Majesty’s English.

  • Ross Choma reminds us in Mother Jones that most online political advertising is essentially unregulated compared to TV or print ads, where the names of the organization paying for them have to be disclosed.

  • Future, Imperfect: Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, gave a powerful keynote at the Black Hat 2015 conference earlier this month. She’s posted a modified version of her talk on Medium, entitled “The end of the Internet dream.” She warns: “For better or for worse, we’ve prioritized things like security, online civility, user interface, and intellectual property interests above freedom and openness. The Internet is less open and more centralized. It’s more regulated. And increasingly it’s less global, and more divided. These trends: centralization, regulation, and globalization are accelerating. And they will define the future of our communications network, unless something dramatic changes.” (h/t David Isenberg)

  • Hackers who stole user information from the adult cheating site AshleyMadison.com have now posted the data on the dark web, Kim Zetter reports for Wired.com.

  • This is civic tech: Congrats to Civic Hall member company Citymart, which has been hired by New York City to help make its procurement processes more flexible and open to smaller vendors and new technologies, as Miranda Neubauer reports for Capital New York.

  • The FCC has fined Smart City $750,000 for blocking people attending conventions from using their personal mobile WiFi hotspots and forcing them to pay for Smart City’s Wi-Fi, Sarah Lawson reports for Fast Company.

Categories
Civic Tech elections First Post

FIRST POST: SUBVERSIONS

FIRST POST: SUBVERSIONS

Is it really a “social media election”? How #BlackLiveMatters is engaging Hillary Clinton; and the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program grows up.

  • Tech and the Presidentials: Welcome to the social media election,” writes David McCabe for The Hill. Really? Does anyone have any evidence that shows that the presidential campaigns putting a lot of effort into their candidate’s social media postings are doing better than their less-savvy peers? McCabe’s examples include both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are doing better than expected in the polls, and Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker, who are all doing as predicted or worse, despite their social media prowess.

  • Here’s the video of Hillary Clinton’s August 11 meeting with five #BlackLivesMatter activists in New Hampshire last week, posted by GOOD Magazine’s Gabriel Reilich. The activists press Clinton on her support for the massive increase in “tough on crime” measures in the 1990s, championed by her husband while he was President. Interestingly, Clinton appears to admit that she is a “sinner” in the context of the rise of mass incarceration of black people. As MSNBC’s Ari Melber tweeted, “Candor & tension in Clinton-‪#BlackLivesMatter‬ mtg shows why citizen Qs for pols are powerful.”

  • Spending on online political ads is projected to top the $1 billion mark in the 2016 cycle, Jon Lafayette of Broadcasting & Cable reports. That would be a first, but at the same time most political dollars, $8.5 billion, will go to broadcast TV ads.

  • Opening Government: A new executive order from President Obama has made the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, which pulls technologists from the private sector into government for one-year stints, a permanent federal government program, as this post on Medium explains.

  • The winner of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back” civic hacking competition is a mobile app appropriately called RoboKiller, which uses audio-fingerprint technology to identify and block likely robocalls. As they explain on their Kickstarter page, “Before a user’s phone rings, we trick robocallers to start playing their recorded messages so that we can start our analysis. Live callers hear traditional ringing during this process. If RAE [their “rob analytics engine”] determines that a call is from a robot, it never rings through; we send it straight to the user’s SpamBox in the RoboKiller app. Humans, on the other hand, ring through to the user as soon as their legitimacy is confirmed.” (h/t Consumerist)

  • This is civic tech: Google engineer Carl Elkin used his 20% time to build Project Sunroof, which uses Google Earth mapping to help people figure out their home’s solar energy potential. It’s available in the San Francisco, Fresno and Boston areas now. As Elkin explains, the tool “first figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop throughout the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns. You can also enter your typical electric bill amount to customize the results. The tool then combines all this information to estimate the amount you could potentially save with solar panels, and it can help connect you with local solar providers.”

  • New on Civicist: Contributing editor Mark Headd notes the increasingly cozy relationship between civic hackers and government, and argues that “a little subversion is still necessary.”

Categories
Civic Tech elections First Post

FIRST POST: FEEDBACK

FIRST POST: FEEDBACK

Is Amazon’s grueling workplace the future? Can Lawrence Lessig fire up the Internet? How tech can help Asian language speakers navigate the voting process.

  • The Future of Work? In case you missed it, Amazon is a pretty hyper-competitive place to work, according to Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld’s long investigative piece for Sunday’s New York Times. Perhaps the creepiest revelation in their story is the “Anytime Feedback Tool,” an internal communications widget that “allows employees to send praise or criticism about colleagues to management” which “many workers” call “a river of intrigue and scheming.”

  • Amazon employee Nick Ciubotariu offers his rebuttal on LinkedIn. I found his faith in the company kind of charming. As he writes, “We’ve got our hands full with reinventing the world.”

  • And company CEO Jeff Bezos says, in an email to his employees first reported by John Cook of GeekWire, “I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.”

  • Tech and the Presidentials: BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray reports on how Republican front-runner Donald Trump is renting conservative email lists to fundraise for his campaign. She notes that Trump has said he doesn’t need to fundraise, but it’s just as likely that the billionnaire’s rental of lists from PJ Media, Newsmax and the Daily Caller may also be a way for him to buy favor with their owner’s.

  • Brigade is hosting a forum this Thursday in San Francisco with Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley and several civic tech leaders, focusing on “how public and private sector stakeholders can adapt digital tools to improve the impact of government, elevate marginalized communities, and tackle our country’s most pressing shared challenges.”

  • Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia, explains on Medium why he is chairing Lawrence Lessig’s exploratory presidential campaign committee.

  • In my humble opinion, Lessig’s plan for getting elected president and serving only long enough to pass fundamental pro-democracy reform through Congress (a laudable goal) reminds me a lot of the South Park gnomes episode–Step 1: Collect underpants. Step 2: ???? Step 3: PROFIT.

  • This is civic tech: Code for Africa has just received a grant of $4.7 million for the next three years from the Gates Foundation to extend its work supporting data journalism, focusing on three hub nations: Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, the organization’s chief strategist Justin Arenstein writes on Medium.

  • Asian-American e-activist group 18 Million Rising is raising money on Indiegogo for VoterVOX, an app that will connect multilingual Asian Americans with voters needing language assistance to navigate the voting process. According to a 2012 exit poll from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, nearly 1 in 4 Asian Americans prefer to vote with help from an interpreter or translated materials.