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'Big Data' and Government Decision-Making

The next speaker at "Compromised Data" is Joanna Redden, whose interest is in government uses of 'big data', especially in Canada. There's a great deal of hype surrounding 'big data' in government at the moment, which needs to be explored from a critical perspective; the data rush has been compared to the gold rush, with similarly utopian claims - here especially around the ability for 'big data' to support decision-making and democratic engagement, and the contribution 'big data'-enabled industries can make to the GDP.

But how are 'big data' actually being used in government contexts? New tools and techniques for the analysis of 'big data' are of course being used in government, but how these affect policy decisions remains unclear. Social media analysis is similarly being used for public policy and service delivery; sentiment analysis is used for some decisions around law enforcement and service delivery, but adoption to date is slow.

Social Media in the Mexican Drug Wars

The next speaker in our AoIR 2013 panel on crisis communication is Andres Monroy-Hernandes, who focusses on emergency responses in the current Mexican drug war. Traditionally, emergency information has been disseminated by government officials and the media, but this is not necessarily the case in Mexico, due to the scale of civil disorder in the country: journalists and government organisations in northern Mexico are essentially operating under a self-imposed news blackout due to the pressure they feel from the druglords.

Instead, social media are increasingly adopted for information: citizens in lawless areas are warning each other of "risky situations" (shootings, bombs, etc.), with hashtags like #mtyfollow emerging as the mechanisms to collate such warnings. A kind of "narco language" is also emerging - for example for kidnappings, dead bodies, etc. - and the occurrence of such language is correlated with the murder rate in specific areas, and with the magnitude of specific events.

Making Sense of Anonymous's Hacker Trickery

Back from my visit to Project EPIC in Boulder, and right to the opening keynote of the 2013 Association of Internet Researchers conference. The keynote speaker is Gabriella Coleman, whose focus is on cyberactivism. Computer hacking has taken an increasingly prominent role in society in recent years - hackers have engaged in disrupting communication through DDoS attacks as well as in increasing transparency through leaking information.

But what are hackers? Some programme software, some develop hardware; some promote transparency (e.g. through the free software movement), some operate from the anonymous underground. Put simply, hacking is where craft and craftiness converge, Gabriella says - often with a great deal of humour and subversion. Hackers are quintessential craftsmen (men, most often); they enjoy the performance of circumventing the rules by using the weapons of the geek.

Rethinking Democracy in the Current Political Context

From the excitement of a thoroughly inspiring AoIR 2012 conference, I've now made my way to Istanbul for this year's European Communications Conference, ECREA 2012. We open the conference with a keynote on e-democracy by Donatella dells Porta, considering the types of democracy which new social movements are envisaging.

Political Self-Interest as a Barrier to e-Government

Canberra.
The final speaker in this DHA 2012 session is Julie Freeman, whose interest is also in online political participation; her focus is on the City of Casey local government authority in Victoria, comprising a population of 256,000 citizens served by 11 councillors. How are online tools and platforms used in local government in this case?

Casey has its own council Website, of course, as well as a Twitter and Facebook presence (which is mainly used to disseminate media releases), the civic networking site Casey Connect (a council-provided platform for local clubs and associations to present themselves, at arms’ length from council) and the civic consultation facility Casey Conversations (a PhD project which offers discussion boards on key advocacy issues, without direct council involvement in the discussions).

Understanding Flows of Information and Power in Open Data

Berlin.
I’m chairing the next workshop at the Berlin Symposium, which features a paper by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Zarino Zappia. Zarino starts us off by highlighting the Obama administration’s statement that government should be transparent, participative, and collaborative – and a number of open data sites by governments and non-government have now been set up.

But where is the research into how this material has been used, by whom, why, and with what results? Will such re-routing of information flows bring about a democratic renaissance, or will we see the rise of intermediaries who wield new forms of power? To address some of these issues, Zarino and Viktor have begun to map the new field.

Towards Open Statecraft

Berlin.
The second keynote at the Berlin Symposium this morning is by Philipp Müller, who will argue for the idea of ‘open statecraft’ in a networked world. He suggests that our world has become ‘unfiltered’ through the move from mass to networked and social media; the appropriate description for this is not simply many-to-many or few-to-few media, but n-to-n media, where all sorts of power games in pursuit of communicative impact, visibility, and success take place.

There are also some cognitive lags here – we’re missing a framework that allows each of us to work in these worlds, much as we once learnt, slowly and with difficulty, to live in the industrialised and mass media worlds. Historical analogies are 1386 – where lances as a military technology were first used to undermine warfare based on mediaeval knights, and in the process undermined the knighthood system overall; 1518, when Martin Luther became the first blogger, using the new technology of the printing press, and a church door, to initiate some 150 years of governance crisis; and 1927, when Bertolt Brecht pursued ‘radio theory’ and considered the development of audience-driven backchannels to radio as well as theatre plays.

Pushing Back against State and Corporate Internet Surveillance and Censorship

Berlin.
The second day of the Berlin Symposium begins with a keynote by Rebecca MacKinnon, who begins with the story of an arts installation, the Berlin Twitter Wall, which reflected on the fall of the Wall in 1989 through the medium of Twitter. As it happened, though, the hashtag #fotw (fall of the wall) was taken over by Chinese Twitter users, protesting against the continuing censorship in China; this cold war view of state censorship as an ‘information curtain’, and of digital media as the samizdat of the day, continues to permeate today.

But this ‘iron curtain 2.0’ view of the Internet has also been criticised – there are more complicated problems that mere barriers to access, and more complex divisions than those commonly perceived to exist between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘democratic’ countries. We may be succumbing to historicism, even to technological determinism, blinding us to what’s actually going on. Where, in fact, are we going, then?

The Historical Trajectory of Social Innovation

Vienna.
The second plenary speaker in this session at Challenge Social Innovation 2011 is Frank Moulaert. He begins by suggesting that much of the interdisciplinary work on social innovation has not been properly recognised, or has even been gently censored. But why is this the case?

We must work towards a shared analytical framework, but this can only happen through an open and wide-ranging discussion of where social innovation research should be going. Research on social innovation goes back to the early days of social science (Weber, Durkheim, Schumpeter, …); such work was synthesised in France (and in French) during the 1970s and 80s, but does not seem to have crossed over into anglophone research. Only at the end of the 1980s, international social science renewed its interest in social innovation – but international work, especially by the Young Foundation, takes too much of a business- and enterprise-oriented approach to the study of social innovation.

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