Journalism, storytelling, and other forms of interactive media are critical to civic engagement in democracies. Here we track those media and journalism tech projects that directly relate to citizens working to shift power in society.
Engagement journalism treats its readers and viewers as citizens, and as active participants rather than passive audiences.
- Solutions journalism is focused on highlighting solutions to the world’s problems, rather than just reporting on them.
- News to action tools and platforms connect news audiences to constructive actions they can take based on a story. These projects sometimes struggle to gain traction in newsrooms due to their editorial concerns about objectivity, or what some observers have noted as a bias toward reporting on problems rather than solutions.
- Nonprofit newsrooms are a response to the news industry’s financial difficulties transitioning to the digital economy. Foundations and other civic-minded investors fund investigative and socially important journalism that democracies depend on, but that can no longer be cross-subsidized by control of advertising channels like classified ads. Nieman Lab found that journalism philanthropy has nearly quadrupled between 2009 and 2019, and the Institute for Nonprofit News found its members receive an average of 43% of their revenue from foundations. (Entries coming soon – help us populate this section by submitting a project).
- Hyperlocal news and citizen media platforms represent an early dream that the internet’s limitless capacity as a medium would lead to the emergence of extremely local (and thereby relevant) news coverage. This dream hasn’t played out as expected. While we all report, in a sense, about our hyperlocal experiences on social media platforms, the venerated “citizen journalist” of the early 2000s wasn’t able to sustainably produce quality journalism to the degree many industry experts predicted.
Disinformation campaigns by states, economic opportunists, and the misinformed themselves threaten to erode the common understandings, shared identities, and empirical bedrock that underlies our collective decisionmaking. While disinformation campaigns have used mass media to spread for many years, social media platforms have proven an exceptionally hospitable environment for the proliferation of falsehoods. Those looking to limit disinformation’s effect on society and bolster truth in media have likewise turned to technology to help keep up with the volume and precision of constantly evolving disinformation campaigns.
- Factchecking efforts predate the internet, but have been upgraded to detect evolutions of misinformation, analyze patterns, and share the verification workload between organizations. Factchecking has been accused of focusing on individual mistruths while losing sight of the broader campaign. For example, factcheckers often re-state a disinformation campaign’s core narrative and in doing so, help spread it further. Some also treat repeat offenders credulously, and attempt to appear objective by employing false equivalence between dramatically varying actors. Further research to understand how to effectively root out a misinformed belief is still needed.
- Trustmarks – As the world migrated from analog to digital, we lost some of the signals we used to rely on as proxies for trustworthiness. For multiple decades now, educators and others have considered how to teach youth, if not all of us, what to look for in a reliable source of information. Technology rapidly shifts the ground from underneath us, so that new sources gain prominence on each new social media platform, often at the expense of attention to time-tested sources. This isn’t always a bad thing, but still, some groups are considering how we might bring trustmarks like the USDA’s Organic label into the digital realm. The theory is that a certifying board could approve or reject certain actors, allowing citizens to know at a single glance whether if they can trust a product or service with the mark.
Narrative Technology encompasses the tools, platforms, and infrastructure that can be used to assist and accelerate the shifting and/or maintenance of dominant narratives. These include, but aren’t limited to, technologies that can baseline, listen to, test, and respond to media and online discourse at scale.” This page is curated by the Narrative Initiative.
- Big listening – There are tools that monitor public digital conversations. Those that we classify as “big listening” technologies also help us separate signal from noise, identify themes, and better understand how conversations respond to events, influencers and communications strategies. These tools give us insight into the “why” of a conversation. They can also model the networks in which narratives operate.
- Listening – Listening is something people have always done (see every focus group ever). Today, most groups deploy tech to help listen to and monitor online conversations. Listening can include things like traditional and/or social media tracking. Approaches can be low-fi (hashtag analysis) and low or medium cost (Google Analytics and Google Trends). Basic listening doesn’t employ data scraping, machine learning, or network visualization and analysis.
- Story tech – Stories are the mosaic tiles that make up deep narratives. The key role stories play in disseminating deep narratives give story tech a place in the narrative tech spectrum. When we talk about “story tech” we’re thinking of storybanks, audio and podcasting tools to share and tell immersive stories.
Tools and datasets that allow us to quantify and study how an idea, meme, or campaign moves through the media ecosystem. This work is important to understanding why we’re talking about certain stories, considering how news events are framed by competing actors, and thinking about our news blindspots that leave us uninformed on entire topics or parts of the world.
Tools that insert diverse viewpoints to disrupt echo chambers on social media platforms or help people find common ground in person. These tools are often predicated on the beliefs that society has become more polarized, that social media has accelerated this trend, and that “both sides” should “meet in the middle”, like by restoring some degree of collective media consumption.
Tools and processes that connect people to other people and/or electoral candidates based on their views.
Digital or analog games and activities designed to promote civic engagement and awareness through play. Many of the digital games are one-off projects, and aren’t maintained over long periods of time (for example, when browsers remove support for Adobe Flash). Gamification seeks to bring elements and mechanics of gameplay to more arduous tasks, like registering to vote.
Innovative approaches to advertising that drive awareness to underpromoted causes, or, alternatively, investigations into the power behind advertising money and platforms.
Media Tech Readings
- Nieman Lab, the pre-eminent source for journalism innovation news
- Creating a metric for news apps, Brian Abelson (2013)
- Eye On Results: Publishers Rethink How To Measure Impact, Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation (2013)
- Digital Disinformation and Vote Suppression, The Brennan Center for Justice (2020)
- Virus Experts Aren’t Getting the Message Out Renée DiResta in The Atlantic (2020)
- Safeguarding Democracy Against Disinformation Report by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (2020)
- Browser Plug-ins That Spot Fake News Show The Difficulty Of Tackling The ‘Information Apocalypse’ Can software that spots Photoshopped images help stem the tide of misinformation? The Verge (2018)
- Can an AI Fact-Checker Solve India’s Fake News Problem? An Indian startup is using an AI tool to curb misinformation. But India poses unique challenges for the technology. Undark (2019)
- Factchecking, a Quartz Daily Obsession media collage (2019)
- Fake news and fact-checking: 7 studies you should know about, a roundup from Journalist’s Resource (2020)
- The children’s storyteller helping Taiwan sort fact from fiction, a helpful deep dive into disinfo-fighting tech (and misappropriation through national ‘fake news laws’) in Asia. Al Jazeera (2020).
- So you want to build a tech tool which bridges political divides… rounds up research and resources from the Center for Civic Media, by Willow Brugh (2017)
Games and gamification
- Progress in Play: Board Games and the Meaning of History – A history of board games and the powerful ideologies embedded within them, by Alex Andriesse, Public Domain Review (2019)