Civic Engagement

Placing a visible hand on the digital revolution

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century—the digital century—it is time for the public interest to reassert itself. Thus far, the digital entrepreneurs have been making the rules about the digital economy. Early in this decade, We the People must reassert a visible hand on the tiller of digital activity. Will public policy intervene to protect personal privacy? Can our leaders act to preserve the idea of a competition-based economy?

How Your Phone Betrays Democracy

Granular surveillance is still new. But some experts argue the window to define our cultural values around tracking citizens may be closing. In the United States, and across the world, any protester who brings a phone to a public demonstration is tracked and that person’s presence at the event is duly recorded in commercial datasets. At the same time, political parties are beginning to collect and purchase phone location for voter persuasion.

10 tech-related trends that shaped the decade

  1. Social media sites have emerged as a go-to platform for connecting with others, finding news and engaging politically. 
  2. Around the world and in the US, social media has become a key tool for activists, as well as those aligned against them.
  3. Smartphones have altered the way many Americans go online. 
  4. Growth in mobile and social media use has sparked debates about the impact of screen time on America’s youth – and others.
  5. Data privacy and surveillance have become major concerns in the post-Snowden era.

Next Century Cities’ 2020 Census Kiosk Toolkit

How will 2020 – the first online census – offer new challenges? Historically, the census has always been completed using paper forms. But in 2020, the census will be conducted primarily online for the first time. While there will still be options to respond with a paper form or via phone, most homes will receive an invitation to complete the census online.

Can social media “targetcasting” and democracy coexist?

Since the time of the early advertising-supported newspapers, economic incentive has worked to bring people together around a common set of shared information. Maximizing ad revenue meant offending as few readers as possible by at least attempting a balanced presentation of the facts. The search for balance began to retreat with the arrival of cable television, but the economic model of maximizing revenue by maximizing reach still governed. The targeting capability of social media algorithms, however, has extinguished the traditional economic model.

The Sum of All 2020 Census Fears

With the next census, for the first time ever, respondents will be able to fill out their questionnaires online. This marks a major transition for the count, which guides the apportionment of seats in Congress and the disbursement of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds. Giving Americans the option to fill out the 2020 census by laptop or smartphone means dragging Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution into the 21st century.

Knight Foundation Invests $3.5 Million in Research to Inform the National Debate on Internet Governance and Policy

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced more than $3.5 million in funding to support new, independent research into issues at the forefront of national tech policy debates.

What happened in the comments section of the FCC’s net neutrality hearing?

A Q&A with BuzzFeed data editor Jeremy Singer-Vine, who published a story recently regarding the fake comments on the Federal Communications Commission's online net neutrality debate. 

Could the 2020 Census Help Bridge the Digital Divide?

The 2020 US Census will be the nation’s first high-tech count, with residents encouraged to primarily respond online. While this has the potential to foster a more efficient Census, advocates and officials say many hard-to-count populations are not comfortable using computers. Or lack access to high-speed Internet at home. Or have cybersecurity concerns. Or don’t know how to find and fill out the Census online.

GSA, FCC Exploring New Ways to Combat Comment Bots and Abusers

The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chaired by Sen Rob Portman (R-OH) held a hearing the same day it released a bipartisan report that shows regular misuse of the systems that 14 federal agencies use to collect comments from the public on proposed rules. Agency officials told lawmakers they are exploring modern technologies like CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA (which prompt humans to prove that they are humans) and developing new approaches to reform Americans’ ability to leave digital feedback—and trust that their comments are seen and voices are heard—using federal comment platforms.