Crowdsourcing: A Democratic Means of Tackling Climate Change

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s rampage through the Northeast has, like many recent extreme storms, brought to further attention the devastating effects of global climate change. With the Model T and the advent of industrial mass production came mass pollution and deforestation. Our dependence on the burning of fossil fuels, like coal and petroleum, in powering our energy use has led to growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a rapid, exponential increase in global warming since the turn of the twentieth century. As a result, Earth’s average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees over the past century and is projected to increase by another 2 to 11.5 degrees over the next one. This shift in climate is causing sea levels to steadily rise, as the polar ice packs, glaciers, and sea ice have melted at levels that have genuinely frightened scientists. Heat waves and droughts are becoming continual occurrences. Tornadoes tore down Joplin, Missouri, last year. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Vital ecosystems and habitats are critically threatened, not to mention all of humanity.

Even assuming we approach society like the Koch Brothers or Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and disregard the almost 400,000 people who die annually due to climate change, the economic cost of climate change remains just as real as its massive human and environmental ones–it costs the world $1.6 trillion and 1.6% from global GDP every year. At the same time, we shower the fossil fuel industry with over $4 billion in tax breaks each year, even as they’ve solidified their positions as the most profitable corporations in the world. They’ve cemented this domination mainly by spending millions of dollars on lobbying our legislators to vote against commonsense regulations that will curb greenhouse gas emissions and against crucial investments in the expansion of clean, sustainable energy technologies. In turn, average consumers are awarded skyrocketing gasoline prices, caused by egregious Wall Street speculation on oil futures, and the knowledge that billions of their tax dollars are going to making oil companies richer than they already are rather than to education, health care, research, public services, job creation, or green energy.

One of the keys to combating this disastrous trend is through expanding awareness of global climate change, promoting political knowledge, and facilitating active political participation. For these purposes, new media are immensely promising, as they present perfect means of engaging large groups of diverse people into collectively contributing to a common goal. According to Brabham (2012), Page (2007) “found that problem-solving processes benefit from cognitively diverse communities, even communities of nonexperts”; and Terwiesch and Xu (2008) “found that ‘ideation problems’ dealing with the generation of unique, creative ideas are well suited to broadcasting to an online community for solving.” This research is reflected by the advent of crowdsourcing, through which large, diverse groups of public users employ digital technologies to work toward a solution or common goal of some kind.

An effective way of harnessing the crowdsourcing movement in addressing climate change would be to develop a Website and application that utilize an exciting new technology, visibility monitoring. Through visibility monitoring, air quality and pollution levels are measured using photographs of the sky. Users can take photos of the sky using their cellphone, which are then tagged with the date/time, location and orientation, and then submit them to a central database, from which they can be analyzed to record air particulate and pollution levels for that location. This relatively simple of method of crowdsourcing data on air pollution levels has been so far found to be generally accurate and reliable, and it provides people an extremely promising opportunity to increase awareness and knowledge of how their respective communities are affected by climate change.

In the vein of the very popular Foursquare, which allows users to “check in” to places using their mobile phones and awards users “badges” or “mayor” status based on number of check-ins, the smartphone app will allow users to take photos of the sky with their phones and then very easily send them to a backend server. Like Foursquare, the app rewards users with “badges” based on their frequency of visibility recording. The first photo submitted will result in an introductory badge, ten photos result in a “citizen” badge, fifty photos in an “activist” badge, etc. The ranking of users by frequency of recording can also be optionally displayed in a sort of “leaders board.” This competitive, game-like model will attract numerous users by addressing at least five of the seven motivational categories examined by Brabham in his study of a crowdsourcing experiment in the context of transit planning: the extrinstic, rational and norm-based motivator of peer recognition; the intrinsic, extrinsic and norm-based motivator of contributing to a collaborative effort; the intrinsic and affective motivator of simply having fun; and the intrinsic, extrinsic and rational motivator of learning new knowledge and skills. In addition, ensuring an appealing design will address the extrinsic, rational motivator of low barriers to entry and ease of use.

The Website and app should also allow users to sign online petitions calling for solutions to the climate crisis; developers could partner with CREDO Action, which allows users to sign pre-written petitions quickly and conveniently with saved signature data online and through their smartphone app. The app can also provide links to news reports relating to clean energy and the environment, which can be taken from the Huffington Post-Green website. Finally, the app can offer an easy way to make donations to organizations devoted to environmental protection and sustainability, such as Greenpeace or the Sierra Club. All of these things would work toward enhancing both political knowledge and participation, which were emphasized as necessary to successful mobilization in last week’s readings, and which are exemplified in the case of the Guardian‘s MP expenses project.

 

Elections and Citizen Journalism: Embracing New Media in the Enhancement of Democracy

After having read this week’s articles, I’ve learned a great deal about citizen journalism as a form of journalism that greatly complements and enhances traditional professional journalism. Despite being relegated to a category of amateurish, haphazard reportage (which, obviously, it often can be), participatory journalism can indeed play an important role in painting the most comprehensive and lucid picture of a story or event.

For instance, as detailed in Akoh & Ahiabenu’s dissection of the African Elections Project, mobile user-generated content played an integral role during the 2007 Kenyan election crisis, when e-mails and text messages/SMSs were “mashed up” into online maps that pinpointed violent incidents after the 2007 Kenyan general election. In this respect, average citizens’ communications provided a unique, significant glimpse into an event that traditional professional journalism could not offer.

This example is reflected in another event mentioned by Kaufhold et. al. in their article: “In some cases, such as the 2003 anti-war protests and the Iran election protests of 2009, citizen journalism on blogs or public contributor sites like YouTube offered better access than was afforded professional journalists” (517). The authors go on to explain how this surge in popularity of user-generated news has led to traditional, mainstream media outlets embracing this trend, such as with sites like CNN’s iReport. iReport, along with the BBC’s “Have Your Say,” is also mentioned by Akoh & Ahiabenu as tangible examples of this embrace of citizen journalism by major news outlets.

Interestingly, a major factor in the effectiveness or lack thereof in the way citizen journalism operates, according the articles, is trust.

According to Kaufhold et. al., trust in the news media is at a practical all-time low. They explain that trust in the media is beneficial for democracy, as media trust is positively correlated with political trust and negatively correlated with political cynicism. This idea is reflected in Akoh & Ahiabenu’s article when they state that during the African Elections Project, trust relations between national electoral commissions and the news media were “extremely important and useful.” It’s clear that the legitimacy of these relations are exponentially more important in the face of the “shaky” state of African democracy, which Akoh & Ahiabenu clarify has often been marred by political violence and gridlock, disenchantment and disillusionment among citizens, autocracy, etc.

In reflecting on how citizen journalism has played a role in our nation’s political process, it’s clear that the practice definitely has a role to play in augmenting the scope of traditional journalism. In other words, while it by no means provides a legitimate substitute for mainstream news, it offers differing perspectives from the typical citizen’s viewpoint, which in many cases is extremely beneficial. Facebook and Twitter, for example, provide outlets for average citizens to post their own “reports” of events, and many people who may not be interested in politics may participate in this form of “reporting.” Of course, this provides an interesting dilemma, which Kaufhold et. al. explain occurs from the negative relation between online user-generated journalism and political knowledge and positive relation with political involvement.

Viral Online Media: A Presidential Candidate’s Nightmare

As I just used it as inspiration last week for the column I write for the Alligator, I figured a great case to use for this week’s assignment was Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment from last week’s second presidential debate.

During the town hall debate, a woman in the audience asked the candidates what they would do to solve the income disparity between men and women, citing the fact that women earn about 3/4 of what men earn for the same work.

After Obama’s answer, Romney discussed his experience forming his state cabinet when he was governor of Massachusetts: “… We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And I brought us whole binders full of — of women …”

Within sheer minutes, “binders full of women,” which at best was a clumsy gaffe and at worse was sexist objectification, went viral online and spawned a Tumblr page, with what must be hundreds of hilarious memes; a Twitter account, @Romneys_Binder, which has almost 15,000 followers now; and a Facebook fan page, “Binders Full of Women,” which has over 350,000 likes now. Also, according to the Daily Beast, “[t]he #bindersfullofwomen became a trending topic on Twitter and the phrase also was the third-fastest rising search on Google during the televised debate.” In addition, Merriam-Webster is currently displaying “meme” as a trending word search on their homepage in the wake of the debate.

Romney’s inadvertent viral fame also hit the news. The day after the debate, the Daily Beast published “Mitt Romney’s ‘Binders Full of Women’ Comment Sets Internet Ablaze” and the Washington Post Style Blog published “‘Binders Full of Women’ Romney Quip Goes Viral.”

As it relates to Berger & Milkman’s article, this case would appear to support their finding that content is more likely to go viral the more positive it is. Now, in the case of Romney’s comment, “positivity” is a very subjective element, as the viral surge began as a channel for satire in response to what was perceived to be a very negative and insensitive comment on the part of Romney. However, what made this particular incident arguably “positive” was how humorous it was. The phrase, “binders full of women,” was silly almost to the point of absurdity, and the comment became yet another example of how Romney is often perceived as “out of touch.” And as anyone who follows politics, or even just this particular election, knows, Romney has often trailed President Obama in polls among women, and this incident provided Romney’s critics with another prime example of why this is the case.

Then again, the phenomenon can also be attributed to the authors’ results in their second study on the effect of high-arousal emotions on transmission, which reveal that survey participants were more likely to share advertising campaigns the more amusing they were. And again, in the same study (2b), the authors reveal that survey participants were more likely to share customer service experiences if they induced anger. Clearly, these findings would support how popular the “binders full of women” comment” became online, as the incident sparked outrage among Romney’s critics, which, in turn, birthed the viral phenomenon. In this respect, the case does not appear to contradict any of the major points brought forth by Berger & Milkman.

Media Diary Day 7: Self-Reflection Via Microchips

Yesterday morning, I inadvertently slept in, and I woke up at around 12:30. I immediately made myself some coffee and put on one of my favorite records, Sung Tongs, by my favorite band, Animal Collective, on my Crosley turntable. Animal Collective is a psychedelic experimental band that dabbles in rock, pop, folk and, more recently, electronic music. I began packing to leave town for Orlando for the night, as I was going to audition at a casting call at Full Sail University for a very promising independent feature film called Haima, about a young woman who goes on a revenge mission after being brutally beaten. I had to print out a few of my acting résumés using my Canon printer.

I finished getting ready and packing around 2, and then I left. For about the first hour of the trip, I listened to NPR on 90.7 WMFE-FM, which was playing Marketplace Money, which is by far the best business program on the radio. The day’s topic was interesting, as it focused on the idea of how we present ourselves publicly and how it affects our behavior as it relates to business and the economy. One segment, for instance, explored the taboo-status of tattoos in the workplace, while another profiled a Portland barbershop that provides unemployed residents with free haircuts and shaves.

After the show was over, the Growing Bolder Radio Show came on, which is a show geared toward seniors. At this time, I plugged in my iPod and listened to of Montreal for a while. of Montreal is another psychedelic band, but they’re poppier than Animal Collective. I also listened to the Black Angels and the Black Keys before I arrived in Orlando, around 3:45. Once I got to  Full Sail, I walked in and immediately signed up to read for Haima. Even though Saturday casting calls always begin at 1 PM, there were still many people waiting in the lobby to read. And even though there were 6 or 7 movies casting, you could tell most were there to read for Haima, which is a paid gig for the lead actors. This was evident, as I was waiting to get in to read for almost 4 hours. My only media use during this time was looking over my sides for the reading and checking my phone periodically to check the time.

I finally left Full Sail around 8, and I called Summer on the phone, as I was going to drive over to her place in Downtown Orlando to spend the night. When I got there, around 8:15, we had dinner together while we watched a Swedish film called Patrick, Age 15 for a little while from her Netflix instant viewer. We stopped watching around 9:30. Afterward, we went out for a walk, during which time my only media use was checking my phone once or twice for the time.

When we got back, we finished watching the movie, and then we went to sleep.

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After having completed my media diary for the week, I would say most of my media use includes going on the computer/Internet, watching TV and movies, and listening to music or the radio. Of course, it would probably be fair to say this is the bulk of most everyone’s media use nowadays. Since I’ve started school in August, most of the time I spend on the computer is spent reading scholarly journal articles and reading or writing blog posts on WordPress, as two of my courses require regularly reading/analyzing journal articles and two require reading/posting blogs on WordPress. I also usually spend quite a bit of time reading and grading my students’ assignments, although I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I should’ve doing that this past week.

I tend to like having the TV on in my room, even if it’s just as background noise while I work on the computer. I generally watch CNN and Comedy Central. I also really enjoy watching my favorite sitcoms, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and South Park, and I also very frequently watch movies, as I am a huge film buff.

Since I got my iPhone for the first time last weekend, I’ve enjoyed spending time on it, learning how to use it and searching for cool apps to install. At the same time, my iPhone has been having various issues, and it’s been the source of a great deal of frustration. From what I hear, I’m not the first person in the world to have experienced this, though.

I also listen to music rather frequently. I usually listen to my iPod, as I always take it with me to school or in the car, but I also love to listen to my vinyl records in my room once in a while. Some of my favorite bands/artists are Animal Collective, Elliott Smith, of Montreal, the Black Angels, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House, and the Black Keys. Although I love dozens upon dozens of different bands and artists, these are my go-to’s.

All in all, I would say I can sometimes get easily distracted by media. I can waste time that I should be spending reading or working as a result of the TV being on or mindlessly surfing the Web. At the same time, I definitely wouldn’t say I inundate myself in media, and I make a point to find time to shut things off and enjoy the natural world. I think this is extremely important.

Media Diary Day 6: A Day of Sloth

Yesterday morning, I awoke early again, at around 7:00. I usually try to sleep in a bit on Fridays, since I don’t have any classes, but I didn’t sleep particularly well and needed to try to catch up with coursework before the weekend hit. I turned on the TV and watched several different shows and movies on Netflix instant player. I started with the very first two or three episodes of Louie, stand-up comedian Louis C.K.’s FX sitcom, which I hadn’t seen for a very long time but which I find brilliant.

I began my work by writing my media diary post and finished at around 7:30. Then I began checking e-mail for a while. I had to e-mail the professor I T.A. for about the progress of one my students who is on a low-income scholarship, so I wrote her, explaining that the student is doing very well, hasn’t been absent yet, etc. On Netflix, I changed Louie to a movie, Brick, which has become one of my all-time favorites. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a hardboiled film-noir detective story set among modern-day suburban high school students. Very original.

At the same time I watched it, I began searching again for a journal article I could use for my Research Methods assignment. After again installing the UF VPN client, I finally found a good article after searching for 10 minutes, which I wish would’ve happened the day before. I read the first 5 pages of the articles, which took me about half an hour. A little later, I wrote my second blog post comment for our class on Luting’s blog, which I finished just before 10 AM. After that, I got ready for the day and went out for a walk. When I got back, I ate and switched watching Brick for The Rum Diary. At around a quarter to 2, I wrote my third and last comment for this class. Around this time, I was feeling very sleepy and lazy, so I ended up lying down and inadvertently taking a nap. Unfortunately, I ended up sleeping for much longer than I would’ve liked, and I woke up at 4 PM.

After fifteen or so minutes of waking myself up, I got back on my computer and checked my e-mail again. Around 5, I got dressed and went out to catch the bus to go to campus. On my way, I listened to Beach House on my iPod.

Once I got to the library, I got on a computer on the third floor and kept reading the journal article for Research Methods and finally finished it at around 7. Afterward, I got hungry and went to get some dinner at the Reitz. I then decided to go back home, and so I rode the bus back.

I got to my apartment shortly after 8, and turned on my TV to Comedy Central. I then lied down and watched til around 9. At that time, I got back on my laptop and spent the rest of the night on a 4-hour driver improvement course, which I’ve been forced to take as a result of a car accident in which I was found to be at fault shortly before starting school in August. Shortly after 11:30, I was getting very sleepy and so I went to bed while I watched episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia til I fell asleep around 1.

Media Diary Day 5: iPhone is Frustrating

I woke up this Thursday morning at about 8:30 after hitting the snooze buttons on both my iPod dock and phone several times. For my iPod music this morning, I chose the Apples in Stereo, who are a very cheery, upbeat psychedelic pop-rock band.

As soon as I woke up, I turned on the my TV to CNN to catch some headlines. I also opened up my laptop and got online to e-mail a copy job request to the College of Business copy center in Matherly Hall.

At about 10:50, I left to catch the bus. At the bus stop, I picked up a copy of the Alligator and turned to the Opinions page. I read the column for the day, which was an excellent comment on the rise in atheism in this country and how it “isn’t a bad thing.” The columnist, Brandon, just started at the paper, and I’m very much enjoying his columns so far, as we appear to share many of the same positions.

Once I got to school, I walked to Matherly Hall to pick up my copies and teach my class. Again, as we’ve been doing and will continue to do for the next several weeks, we began the class with two student presentations, whose PowerPoints were displayed on our room’s projector. After the presentations, we had a long discussion about a take-home textbook assignment they had and then I passed out the handouts I had made copies of at the end of class.

After class, I had a long conversation with friends of mine from Students for a Democratic Society, who were tabling in the Plaza of the Americas, during which I read some of the literature they had on the table related to the “NO on 6!” campaign we are conducting and held up related fliers–reading “NO on 6!” and “This is what a feminist looks like!”–for photographs they took of me. I left them after about an hour.

After leaving them, I walked over to the computing help desk at the HUB, as my iPhone was still experiencing issues with remaining signed on to the “uf” wireless network. After trying to troubleshoot the problem for about half an hour, the gentleman assisting me told me I had to contact Apple.

I then grabbed some lunch at the Reitz and caught the bus back home, which took forever. I finally got home a little after 4:30. I turned my TV on to Comedy Central, which was replaying the prior night’s episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, both of which are favorite shows of mine. At the same time, I opened my laptop to put in a request for a support call from Apple. Once I was speaking to a support technician, I explained the issues with wi-fi connectivity I was having to the support technician, Amanda. She had to coordinate with her senior adviser, Alex, who ended up taking over the call with me. Alex explained to me that we needed to find out if the issue was software- or hardware-related, and so he e-mailed me the directions to restore my phone back to factory settings.

After getting off the call with him, I called my parents and spoke to them for about 10 minutes. I then checked my Gmail account right away, where he sent me the directions, and I restored the phone according to the steps, which was a very simple procedure using iTunes. However, the initial step of downloading the software onto iTunes for the backup took about two hours, so during this time, I graded a few of my students’ papers and attempted to find a journal article for an assignment for my Research Methods class. I had to install the UF VPN client in order to access the UF Library’s online journal database.

I was able to restore my phone back to factory settings and used iCloud to backup my contact list. I spoke to my roommate, Samuel, and asked him if he had a router through which he uses wi-fi in the complex. He told me he does and allowed me to connect to it, which made me ecstatic. I was connected and everything appeared to be working just fine. I was also able to text again, as I was still experiencing issues with that.

I texted with Summer for about 20 minutes afterward while I continued to search for a good journal article I could use for the assignment. When I finally stumbled upon one, I got off the phone and bookmarked it so that I could begin working on it the next day.

By this time, it was about 9 PM. I wrote one of my weekly comments for my class, which was to Jeff’s post. This took me about 15 minutes. Then, I decided to begin reading the weekly selections for Dr. Rodgers’ class from The Art of Fact, which is a very excellent compilation of what is commonly considered the greatest narrative nonfiction writing.

Surprisingly, I began shutting my eyes and passing out at around 11 PM. Knowing I would be falling asleep soon, I set my alarms for the next morning, turned off my TV, put my book away, and went to sleep.