Behind the Scenes:
Information Flows in Networks
Karine Nahon, University of Washington
Among Nahon’s research interests are information flows, natural gate keeping and inequalities in cultural technologies. She is also co-author of the book „Going Viral“ and on several boards striving to make information more transparency.
Information flows are a way for us to have traces, which can help us understanding the interrelations between technologies and social structures. How can viral information flows impact social structures? Information flow is also a mechanism to both reproduce social norms, but also to transform them. One example of viral movies is the Gangnam Style music video, which reproduces the values we already know. On the other hand, we find a subtle criticism of the capitalist system in Korea.
Information flows challenge institutions and fundamentally transform the structures of institutions and power relations among stakeholders. While technology changes all the time, but real change is happening when collective patterns are concerned. A very viral meme in the protest context was the pepperspray video, where a police officer peppersprayed protesters sitting on the ground. New codexes and guidelines can arise of such viral media. Another example is the boston marathon bombing, where people uploaded pictures on Flickr to identify terrorists in the crowds.
Another more controversial example is Oakland crimespotting – data on crime areas can easily influence people’s behaviour. Nahon presented six different inequalities of behaviour that are going to exist forever, no matter what we’ll do. The only question is how we deal with them. Some examples: Power law: a few capture the intention or opinion of many; Homophily: we tend to gather together with the ones that are similar; Network gatekeeping (including communal gatekeeping, e.g. related to gender)
Some democratic illusions include the problem of the individual voice lost or the demand for total transparency (when do we stop?). Whe should thus enable and increase inclusive participation as opposed to just addressing experts.
Successful eGovernment Takes a Village: Inclusion and the Role of Community Anchors
John Carlo Bertot, University of Maryland
Inclusiveness was also the focus of Bertot’s presentation, who started with some trends and concerns in the US. Since 1950 a tremendous amount of growth was experienced, most of it from immigration. Another fact is that we’re getting older, but there is also a growing trend of the „eldest of the elderly“ – because people are living longer, there is a group of older people who want to be more engaged. America is also moving towards a majority minority country, meaning that the white majority will be in the minority in a couple of years. The country is also increasingly impowerished.
Turning to the techology side, the US are not only in the phase of adopting broadband. Around 7 Billion $ was spent on broadband as part of the Stimulus bill. Broadband (home) penetration is around 65 %, however, mobile access is not the answer to the access problem. Accoring to Bertot there are problems related to the non-adopters, so in particular the older, less educated and less wealthy. There are also serious problems related to a disfunctional government, so the burden of governance is shifting to local governments or communities. At the same time, trust in government shows an amazing downward trend since the 60ies.
What is the goal? Is the goal participation in democratic processes or the reinvention of government? Or is it about getting back to the local level? Assumptions of eParticipation are broad – e.g. that participation is broad or will be broad (or, as has been discussed widely, will happen trough technology).
Engagement projects need to build on already existing structures, e.g. already existing access points in public library, like the „engagement at the library“ project. The challenge in eParticipation as seen by Bertot is about building inclusive communities and to work with those communities to solve social issues.
Summing up in one sentence: The best participatory and engagement „platform“ may be down the street, and integrated into a blended concept.