rayogram attends the National Conference for Media Reform - Day 2 recap
I had to skip the first set of sessions on Saturday morning because of a personal emergency: I couldn't find coffee.
We're spoiled by great coffee over at rayogram HQ, and I couldn't seem to find coffee anywhere within the World Trade Center on Saturday morning. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I braved unchartered waters and walked over to an unnamed (though perhaps nationally recognized) doughnut confectioner next door. After being told that yes, they did in fact serve espresso, I reluctantly ordered two shots and hoped for the best. (I won't be doing that again.) After an hour of catching up on my RSS feeds and recharging my iPad in the main lobby (I'm now a well-trained outlet-finding sleuth), it was time to the first session of the day.
Pop Culture Warriors: How Online Fan Communities Are Organizing to Save the World
Panelists this morning included moderator Elana Levin, Eddie Geller of The Open Source Democracy Foundation, Erik Martin from reddit, Andrew Slack of The Harry Potter Alliance, and Crissy Spivey of Breakthrough.
Full disclosure: I'm kind of a Harry Potter nerd. So much so, in fact, that I spent almost a year serving as one of several moderators at the now-defunct HarryPotter-boards.com. Taking that nerd-dom a step further, I used my experience as a moderator to act as the foundation of my undergraduate thesis about computer-mediated communication and online community building. That said, a panel about online fan communities organizing for social justice was right up my alley, even without being properly caffeinated.
Slack kicked off the panel by talking about his work with The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) and how he and his staff rallied together over 100,000 Harry Potter fans to contribute to the greater good. Previous campaigns include a collaborative fundraising effort with other fandoms (Heroes, LOST, True Blood, The Wire, and Firefly) that brought in over $123,000 for Partners in Health, which was then used to charter five cargo planes to full of medical supplies to Haiti.
Spivey continued by talking about Breakthrough's various projects and their recent foray into Facebook apps such as "America 2049," where users act as agents for the Council on American Heritage and run into familiar faces (Harold Perrineau of LOST, Victor Garber of Alias, Cherry Jones of 24, Anthony Rapp of Rent, and Margaret Cho) as they go on missions to change the future and restore democracy. Spivey emphasized that several of Breakthrough's projects were actually produced by local mediamakers - including high school students - where Breakthrough's role was simply to provide guidance and a platform for the creation of civic media meant to engage users in raising awareness on a variety of social and political issues.
Martin, a community manager at Reddit, talked about how Reddit's user-generated content distinguishes itself from other similar sites. He noted that in tracking community behavior and its response to posts, it's the story that's important, not the individual idea. Geller took this one step further and talked about how he was able to use Reddit to launch the Open Source Democracy Foundation, a non-partisan political organization advocating for the use of the Internet as a tool for education and advocacy to move towards an improved government. His portion of the panel is available here. One of the biggest takeaways from both Martin and Geller is what many of us who've worked in social media know so well to be true: respect the community that you're entering, and realize early on that you can't control everything.
Hacks and Hackers: Online Organizing and Disaster Response
The Hacks and Hackers panel was originally conceived about a year ago, long before the uprisings and revolutions that we're seeing around the world. After January 25th, however, the panel organizers realized that they needed to reconceptualize what their presentation at NCMR would look like. Andy Carvin of NPR Social Media, Thom Goodsell of CrisisCommons, Georgia Popplewell of Global Voices, Oscar Salazar of CitiVox, and writer and activist Nasser Weddady convened on Saturday afternoon to talk about the role of social media and other technology in justice work and disaster response.
Much of the panel discussion and audience questions revolved around Twitter, however. Carvin (@acarvin), who served as the panel moderator, tweets anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 messages per day in an attempt to verify information circulating around the Twitterverse about uprisings in the Middle East. He explained that he has essentially stopped doing the work that NPR pays him to do, but his bosses seem to like it, so he keeps up with it. He provided us with a quick history of how he became so engrossed in his work, and even said that when the #jan25 hashtag first began to pop up, the first thing he did was mark the date on his Outlook calendar.
"When you say 'Twitter Revolution' or 'Facebook Revolution' or 'Google Revolution', you're putting democracy on the shoulders of one guy in Palo Alto," says Weddady. There's been a tendency to brush off the idea of social media for social change. Critics focus on the technology itself and its various frivolous uses, forgetting that it's the perfect platform to quickly disseminate information to a large audience. This was critical in the Egyptian uprisings, but again, credit must be given where credit is due, and the responsibility here belongs the hands of the people.
Given its prevalence in the activist world, there was also much discussion about panic buttons for mobile users. Those with sensitive data stored on their mobile devices, or anyone who needs to encrypt any of their mobile transactions have a number of open source tools at their disposal that can be used to protect their data or act as remote kill switches. For these purposes, Salazar recommends both The Guardian Project and Open Mesh Project.