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Towards Distributed Citizen Participation: Lessons from WikiLeaks and the Queensland Floods
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Towards Distributed Citizen Participation: Lessons from WikiLeaks and the Queensland Floods


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Keynote presented at the Conference on e-Democracy, Krems, 5-6 May 2011.

Keynote presented at the Conference on e-Democracy, Krems, 5-6 May 2011.

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  • Communities aren’t simply some amorphous mass – they have their own, sometimes complex, internal structures.They are usually arranged in a concentric fashion – for one, in terms of their values.At the centre are a set of core values and beliefs: you can’t be a football fan without liking football; you can’t be religious without believing in a god of some form.Derived from these are a range of key principles, which you should adhere to but may be able to ignore from time to time.Yet further out is a larger collection of shared, communal knowledge – the better versed in it you are, the better a community member will you be seen to be, but you don’t have to know all of this to be accepted.
  • What follows from this is that there are more central and more marginal community members, too:Community leaders will embody the values and principles of the community almost perfectly, and will be well versed in its shared knowledge.More general members will subscribe to the core values, but may not always follow all the rules, and may have a more limited understanding of community knowledge.Marginal members are marginal because they have limited knowledge (or dispute agreed facts), break the rules more often, and may not even subscribe to the community’s core beliefs.
  • That’s just a very quick introduction to social media communities, of course. We provide more information – and strategies for how to engage with communities through social media – in our two reports for the CRC.More information, and contact details, are here…
  • Transcript

    • 1. Towards Distributed Citizen Participation: Lessons from WikiLeaks and the Queensland Floods
      Assoc. Prof. Axel Bruns
      Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia – –@snurb_dot_info
    • 2. e-Democracy?
      Active participation of citizens in
      the public discussion and deliberation of matters of public concern and policy
      the organisation of communal activities and initiatives to address such matters through the use of online media
      Depends on the sustained presence of a substantial community of users
    • 3. How Communities Work
      Communities are concentric – in values:
      Shared knowledge
      Key principles
      Core values and beliefs
    • 4. How Communities Work
      Communities are concentric – in membership:
      Marginal members
      General members
      Community leaders
    • 5. Strong e-Democracy Communities?
      What models?
      Civic Commons, Civic Commons 2.0?
      ‘Roll your own’ vs. pre-existing platforms and communities
      Coleman & Blumler (2009):
      a space of intersecting networks, pulled together through the agency of a democratically connecting institution
    • 6. e-Democracy during Acute Events
      Online responses to acute events:
      Bypassing administrative hurdles
      Fasttracking community development and structuration
      Self-organisation around shared concerns
      Rapid prototyping, testing of tools and platforms
      Can we learn from this? Can we tap into it?
      What principles of citizen participation can we observe?
    • 7. The 2011 Queensland Floods
      December 2010 to January 2011: unprecedented rainfall
      Emergency declared for more than 50% of Queensland
      Wivenhoe dam reaches 180% capacity
      December 2010: Flooding in northern Queensland
      January 2011: Floods in southeast Queensland
      10 January 2011: flash flooding in Toowoomba
      10 January 2011: ‘inland tsunami’ in the Lockyer Valley
      11 January 2011: flooding begins in Ipswich
      12-16 January 2011: major flooding in Brisbane
    • 8. (Google Maps)
    • 9. (Google Maps)
    • 10. (ABC News)
    • 11. (ABC News)
    • 12. (
    • 13. (ABC News)
    • 14. (ABC News)
    • 15. (ABC News)
    • 16. Social Media during the Floods
      Various platforms:
      Facebook, Twitter – updates and information
      YouTube, Flickr, Twitpic – first-hand video and photos
      Google Maps, Ushahidi – map-based information mashups
      • Different tools for different purposes
      Various levels of maturity:
      Uses and use practices still developing
      Different demographic reach
      Technological differences:
      e.g. Facebook: built around personal networks; semi-private; discussion threads
      e.g. Twitter: open, flat network; public #hashtag conversations; update stream
    • 17. #qldfloodsTweets
      10 Jan 2011 11 Jan 2011 12 Jan 2011 13 Jan 2011 14 Jan 2011 15 Jan 2011
    • 18. 10 Jan 2011 11 Jan 2011 12 Jan 2011 13 Jan 2011 14 Jan 2011 15 Jan 2011
      #qldfloods from Toowoomba to Brisbane
    • 19. #qldfloods @replies
      mainstream media
    • 20. #qldfloods Network Map – Most Active Accounts Only(Degree >= 15 / Node size: indegree / node colour: outdegree)
    • 21. The Queensland Floods Community
      Rapid establishment of #qldfloodshashtag
      Ad hoc development of community structures
      Highlighting of leading accounts, vigilant against disruption
      Suspension of petty squabbles (e.g. state politics)
      Innovation and rapid prototyping:
      Adjunct hashtags (#Mythbuster, #bakedrelief)
      Sharing and gathering of online resources
      Additional tools (Google Maps, Ushahidi Maps)
      Emergency services rapidly adopting social media tools (despite lack of established strategies)
       ‘Go where they are’ rather than ‘build it and they will come’
    • 22. Image by Maproom Systems
    • 23. WikiLeaks as Acute Event
      Leaked US diplomatic cables published from late 2010
      Collaborations with The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El País
      Allegations against Julian Assange:
      Arrest and extradition hearings since 8 Dec. 2010
      WikiLeaks controversy:
      Withdrawal of services by EasyDNS, Paypal, Visa, Mastercard, Amazon Web Services, ...
      DDoS attacks against perceived ‘enemies’ of WikiLeaks
      Involvement of ‘Anonymous’ hacker group
       A continuing (orchestrated?) series of acute events
    • 24. #wikileaks Tweets
    • 25. A WikiLeaks Community?
      Various communal efforts:
      #wikileaks community on Twitter, Facebook groups
      Support and protest groups, loosely affiliated
      Political support – e.g. Pirate Parties
      Activist and hacker groups
      Celebrity supporters (Geoffrey Robertson, Michael Moore)
      Media organisations collaborating with WikiLeaks
      Developers of additional tools building on WikiLeaks data
    • 26. (Drew Conway)
    • 27. Distributed Citizen Participation
      WikiLeaks as c2c:
      Successful mobilisation of broad coalition of supporters
      Sustained engagement with political questions
      Parallels with filesharing networks:
      Forced into increasingly sophisticated sharing mechanisms
      Gradual decentralisation of activities
      Assange and WikiLeaks HQ becoming less central
      Disconnect between government responses and popular opinion
      Taps into overall disenchantment with established politics and media
      • WikiLeaks as a distributed community:
      “the world’s first stateless news organization” (Jay Rosen)
      But is it out of control? How can the enthusiasm of its supporters be harnessed for e-democracy?
    • 28. Lessons from WikiLeaks and the Floods
      Key observations for e-democracy initiatives:
      Low hurdles to participation
      Make it as easy as possible for people to participate meaningfully
      Distribute across multiple platforms
      Find people where they are, harness the specific strengths of different platforms
      Generate a sense of community
      Let people define for themselves what they are working towards (or against)
      Allow community development
      Follow and aid the structures developed by the community, don’t impose structures on them
      Earn social capital
      Be useful, and engage in good spirit – and the community will reward you
      Conceptualise community engagement as a series of acute events, to focus and encourage participation?
    • 29. More Information
      Social Media Reports:
      1 – State of the Art
      2 – User Engagement Strategies
      Axel Bruns
      Associate Professor
      ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
      Creative Industries Faculty
      Queensland University of Technology
      Brisbane, Australia
      Twitter: @snurb_dot_info
      Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond:From Production to Produsage(Peter Lang, 2008)