tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN May 16, 2016 9:16pm-10:36pm EDT
this sunday night on q&a "vanity fair" columnist and slate magazine founder michael kensly talks about his new book old age, a beginner's guide on living with parkinson's disease. >> parkparkinson's is a brain disease. i obviously meant obviously thinking, is it going to affect my thinking, how i earn a living. so that became pretty important and i asked this neurologist what's going to happen? and he says -- he was trying to tell me it wasn't such a big deal. he said you may lose your edge, as if that was just nothing. i thought, gee, my edge is how i
earn a living, it's why i have my friends, maybe why i have my wife. >> sunday night on c-span's q&a. now internet activist and blogger ethan zuckerman talks about civic participation and the role technology has in shaping social norms. he spoke to students at rice university in houston, this is an hour and 20 minutes. so for the past few months now we have been looking at online mnts, digital platforms such as facebook, google maps, which our social lives have grown increasingly familiar but are also invading our academic lives. we can public widely, collaborate across time and space, teach thousands at once and so on.
but it has become clear that the same machines can take advantage of us. they make us work without us knowing, judge us in directions we don't necessarily want to go, et cetera. tonight we get the chance to hear about these machines from someone who knows a great deal about them and has written a digital book about this world we live in. ethan zuckerman is director of the center for civic media at m. m.i.t. and research scientist at m.i.t. media. if i'm not mistaken ethan worked for one of the first dot-com enterprises where, among other things, he invented the pop-up ads. something he seems to have since regretted. ethan is also a founding member of global voices online, a popular nonprofit network of bloggers, translators and citizen journalists in over 150 countries and in more than 30
languages. in 2007 he joined the advisory board and in 2011 foreign policy magazine add ed him to its list of top global and i am honored to present our speaker ethan zuckerman who presents civics in the age of mistrust. please join me in welcoming him to rice. well, thanks so much and thanks for coming out. it's wonderful to be here in this beautiful space and this gorgeous campus. i want to tell you a little bit about where i'm coming from and how that information some of the work that i'm doing at the moment. i teach at the m.i.t. media lab which is one of the stranger academic institutions in the world. one of the rules is you have to work on inventing the future and you have to be studying
something no one else is studying. so my colleague at the top of the screen used to be one of the top rock climbers in the world. ended up losing both of his legs below the knee in a climbing accident, and went on to become an amazing researcher in biomechanical limbs. a designer who looks for inspiration in natural patterns and builds materials out of what looks like cells and organisms. my work isn't nearly this pretty and is a lot more global and colorful. i study civic media. we can actually make change in the world. the work i've done is with global voices which basically looks for people in developing nations who are writing about their country in it a way the
rest of the world tends to not know about. there are pakistanis who are talk iing about their country n in terms of islamic fundamentalism and people talking about west africa not in terms of poverty but economic opportunity and because this is the work that i do, i get to meet with people in amazing places. this is a photo from september of last year. i was hanging out in akra, ghana, the capital of that beautiful country. i was hanging out with a bunch of ghanan bloggers because that's what you do. i was particularly interested to meet this group of people mostly because i really wanted to meet the funny looking guy in the red hat. i'd been reading him because he's a comedian and essayist and one of the most successful political organizers in ghana. more to the point, he had been very involved with organizing an
up-and-coming social movement in ghana. ghana is a country in west africa that's been independent since 1957, quite impoverished for about 40 years and recently has turned things around. it's a middle income country. it's a lovely place to go and visit. there are lots and lots of people working in high tech, working in management, which is to say a lot of people who have cars, air conditioners, te television, this is not a nation of african huts. this is a modern urban nation and as a result it really stinks when they don't have electric power and that's happening a lot right now both because the nation has gotten wealthy and also because of climate change. the river is very low because the rain cycle has changed. this leads to something that is
in the tree language on/off because that's what happens to the power. it goes on and off all the time. this is driving you nuts. and so this has become the political movement. people are now getting together driving to protests holding up kerosene lanterns because this is what they need to read with. if you look at their t-shirts it says hash tag, because they're all on twitter, that guy in the red hat has been helping organize marches where 5,000 to 10,000 people are getting together on the outskirts of akra, marching in on the road to say to the government, look, you need to get your act together. we can't live without electric power. so i'm watching this, i'm really interested in it.
i say, hey, what's the best tool for political organizing in ghana? when you're organizing these things, getting people out into the streets, when you're doing politics, are you doing it through facebook, through twitter? is it what's app, networking people one-on-one? and he looks at me, whoa, i'm not political. what? you just organized 5,000 people to march through the center of the city to protest electricity and you're going to tell me you're not political? in a lot of countries where i work, when you say i'm not political, it means i don't want to end up in prison. i don't want to end up being arrested but that's not ghana. ghana is an open society. in fact, according to reporters without borders, they have a much more free and open press than we do in the united states, which is a little bit embarrassing. so that's not the reason why. the reason he wanted to tell me
he was not political was he didn't want everyone else in the room to think he was an idiot. that's what happens happening in politics in ghana. people affiliated with the two basic parties are seen, at least by the younger generation, as wasting their time. and so for efo, a guy in his late 20s, he literally will not allow himself to be photographed near someone strongly associated with a political party for fear he will lose his credibility, "a," someone will think he represents nbc or that he is involved with organized politics which is seen in ghana as being so ineffective, such a dirty game, and so far removed from what's actually happening on the ground like the electricity shortage that he simply doesn't want to be associated with it.
so i came back from ghana and i was thinking about this because i hear this all over the world. i go to india and i talk to anti-corruption activists who are trying to track people taking bribes online and they say i'm not political. i talk to people in russia who are organizing community support networks, lending cars, medicine, providing child care to each other. not political. come back to the united states, you start hearing some of the same stuff. to the extent that these two gentlemen have anything in common, one of the things that senator sanders and mr. trump have in common is that they're both very attached to the idea that they are removed from po politics as usual, that they are somehow separate from the institution of politics as we know it. let me say it's a little harder for bernie to make the case than donald, right?
he's been a representative, a senator, he's been in washington for an awfully long time but he's been an unusual figure as the one socialist within the houses of assembly. donald trump probably has legitimate claim to being an outsider at least from institutional politics. institutional politics, institutions more generally are what i think we are now moving a away from and moving to a culture of sharp and extreme mistrust. so one simple example is just looking at how we think about politicians in the united states. this is a is yosurvey that comem gallup that asks people do you expect people to behave honestly and ethically. nurses do very well. police officers less well. we start getting into lower territory as we move our way
down. once we get down to 8%, we have car salespeople, members of congress and telemarketers. the only people who come out lower at 7% are lobbyists. once you start getting into money and politics, we start getting to the point we simply do not expect very much from people going into these businesses. this has been happening for a long time. this is a very long, slow change in how american strategy is. this has been done but the pugh research center asking americans the question, do you trust the government in washington to do the right thing most or all of the time? this number peaks in 1964 at 77%. this number now runs between 12% and 19% routinely. and you can see it's been a long, gradual slide. had a comeback around the
year -- just before we invaded iraq, which just goes to show what we know as a populace but, for the most part, what we've seen is a shift away from assuming that our government is going to be acting in our interests to a moment where we simply don't expect that to happen. now if this were just about government, it would be disturbing, but it's actually much more disturbing than that. when you poll americans and ask them about trust in large institutions of all sorts, that level of trust is falling sharply over time. when you look at high trust institutions in our society, the two that really come up that most people say they trust all or most of the time are the military and small business. and this is very, very strange when you think of a nation like
egypt after throwing out essentially every other institution ended up with the military, this is a bit of a chilling statistic. what's interesting, i've done the calculations on the side, the only institutions where we've increased in trust. we trust the military now more than we did during vietnam, for instance. everybody else has fallen and often quite far. we might understand the church and organized religion falling from the catholic church scandal, but we've seen the medical system fall very, very sharply in trust. we've seen banks. we've seen public schools, organized labor. we've seen newspapers in the press, the criminal justice system all the way through. we trust these institutions less and less. the simple rule of thumb is if we can't see an individual human being, if we see a structure, an entity rather than a person, for the most part as americans, we
are shift iing to the point whe we don't trust it anymore. and it's not just us. adelman, a global pr company, has been running a similar survey around the world. and what they're finding is these levels of institutional trust are dropping year and year, and the places that are not dropping are somewhat concerning places, they're china, they're singapore, the united arab emirates. it's not falling in the very best governed open societies like scandinavia, and is falling in the most economically successful closed societies. so if it's working really well for you open society and democracy, you probably have a decent institutional trust. if you're in a closed you a tok's that's working well, you probably have high institutional trust. if you're anywhere in the middle, it's falling apart from one extent to another. now it's worth asking the
question, why is this? what happened? i have some guesses. it's possible that having the impeachment of a sitting president had a lot to do with this. i think it also had a lot to do with a systemic attack both in the u.s. and the uk on the idea that government could do good. we had a real shift in the 1980s when a lot of people refer to as near liberalism suggesting that generally speaking governments are going to be significantly less effective than private sector. and what's interesting is when you have government officials standing up and telling you government can do no good and, therefore, you shouldn't fund it, eventually you end up at a point where government can do no good. it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. you can also argue we've had public officials who have embarrassed themselves, who have damaged the dignity of the
office. i'm doing my best to be bipartisan and fair and there are arguments the clinton administration caused as much harm to the institution of the presidency as some of the others here. i actually think more than anything else it has to do with actual systemic failure. i think for a lot of the people that i know watching the wuz uz government, this wealthy and powerful nation fail to take care of our own during the aftermath of hurricane katrina was a moment of realization that this system wasn't working and that the safety nets we thought we could trust simply aren't ones we can trust anymore. i think for people who might be closer to the right, that the 2007-2008 banking crisis was another moment that sort of shook people to the core. a realization that the systems we thought were too big to fail, that we thought had safeguards and different ways of counteracting negative effects, in fact, were surprisingly fragile and needed a lot of help
to recover from systemic fraud and abuse. i'm a media scholar so i end up thinking that the press has a lot to do with this and that ending up with sort of an unshackled press in the era of watergate looks to be the start of the shift. the shift really starts in the 1970s. and certainly the shift on taking this very close look at the nixon administration has part to do with it. right now the fact figures like edward snowden are capable of putting incredible revelations out in the press and having widespread effect probably also has a way of undermining some of the opacity of institutions. so what does this mean? i think one of the first things that is means is it's a real uphill battle for people who are strongly associated with existing institutions of government. it was amazing to watch all the
good and the great of the gop stand up and support marco rubio to absolutely no effect. and if you start thinking about it, if you accept my theory that we're at an anti-institutional moment, an insurrectionist moment, a moment at which people are incredibly suspicious of any existing institution, there's really nothing worse than having mitt romney show up and say what you really ought to do right now is work for marco rubio. and this probably represents a really tough uphill path for hillary clinton who is someone who has built her career through the institutions of the senate, the institutions of the state department, working her way up to a position of incredible prominence and experience but at a moment where we seem extremely mistrustful of the very institutions that's brought her to the fore. but i'm not really concerned about their problems. i'm really concerned about our
problems. and here's the problem that i'm concerned with. if you have deep, abiding mistrust of institutions, almost everything we do as civic actors doesn't work anymore. the main two things we know how to do in conventional civics are to elect good and wise leaders, to pass laws, to carry them out and to enforce them, or, when we feel those people aren't listening to us to show up, to march, to make our presence known in physical space and to demand change in one fashion or another. so here's the problem. when you have a 9% approval rating in congress, when you have a branch of government essentially saying we're not planning on doing our job for the next year until we have an election, when you have successive congresses setting new records for being the least productive of all time, it's very, very challenging to
convince people that they're going to be able to make change in the world by passing laws and having them carried out. and if you don't believe that washington right now is capable of making major change in the world, it takes out this other route of protest which has been so powerful. this is the march on washington. but the challenge when you end up at a level of very high mistrust is that it's a march on washington. it's designed to persuade washington to do something and behave differently than it currently is. if you're at a point where it's very, very difficult for washington to act at all, both these end up failing. so i have good news because there's other ways people are finding ways to do civics. and i want to talk about two of them. they're not the only two ways but they're the two that i feel
like i understand the best at this point. i'm doing a lot of research on it, a lot of interviews and reading, and these are two where i feel like i can give you a little bit of a glimpse of what people are doing going forward. so this guy on the screen is larry lessig, probably the single least successful presidential candidate in 2016. he had briefly decided he was going to make a run based on campaign finance reform before bernie sanders made a run on campaign finance reform. but what lessig is really known for is for being probably the deepest theorist of the internet any of us have run into. he wrote a book that's incredibly important for those of us interested in technology and social change called code. and what this book "code" does is basically says there are multiple ways we as a society regulate behavior. we're used to thinking about regulating behavior through law. we pass a law and we say you
can't do that anymore or you're going to do this instead. we're all pretty good at that. we know how laws get made. we understand why we might argue over a law getting passed or not. but lessig's big observation in this book is that laws are only four of -- one of four major ways. none of you have jumped up and started arguing. maybe it's that you are following a social script. the norms of behavior when someone is giving a talk at a lecturn is you sit and wait. norms are amazingly powerful. they constrain us from doing huge numbers of things in life because we fear social sanction, that if we break them, other people will shun us, make fun of us. they end up being extremely powerful ways of shaping change over time and, in fact, major
changes that happen, major societal changes, are normative changes. suddenly it's okay for people of different races to be married, suddenly it's okay for gays and lesbians to be out in public and to marry one another. we also make things expensive. we make them cheap. if anyone has the misfortune of being a smoker, you've noticed that gets much more expensive year on year on year. that's a way of regulating behavior out of existence, making it so expensive that it's harder and harder and harder for people to do it. for lessig the most subtle point in this was the code and he meant computer code, but he really meant technologies and arc tech tours of all sorts. most of you when you walked into this building, you walked on paths and those paths were designed to have you walk in a particular way.
and that's a form of regulation through code. there are things that are easy to do with your computer and hard to do with your computer. it's remarkably easy to rip a cd and have these digital mp3 files you can share all over the place. it's actually really hard to rip a movie. it requires all sorts of custom software and secret dark corners of the net. there's not enforced in law. that's enforced in code. there's code that makes some of that behavior easy and some of that behavior hard. so this is what lessig puts forward in this book and what i'm trying to do and understanding right now what i call the inverted lessig. i envision it as a gymnastics move. each of these ways that we regulate society also turn out to be ways we can make civic change. so we know that we can make change through law. we know when the supreme court decides that recognition of equal marriage is the law of the land, that's a powerful social change that affects everybody. but it turns out that you can
also make change by changing norms, by changing markets, by changing code. so let me give you a couple of examples. of all the things in the world that i'm pissed off about right now, widespread government surveillance is pretty high on my list. as far as explaining to you i help run a network of 1,400 journalists and translators in 120 countries. all of that communication between me and the people that i work with is subject to surveillance by the nsa, and we've decided that being willing to surveil those communication networks is a price that we are okay with paying in exchange for preventing ourselves from terror. and as much as i would hope that the obama administration might take a stand on this, so far there's been very little evidence of that. i don't think a clinton administration would take a stand on it either. trying to make a change through law is not going to happen. the good news is there are lots of geeks out there running
software companies like tour that are trying very, very hard to make encryption standard. and so when i talk to people right now, i do it through a little application on my phone called signal. and signal looks just like an sms, like i'm sending text messages, except they're incredibly difficult for anyone to read and intercept. when i'm surfing on the internet i'm often using the tour browser which is disguising me, making it harder for websites, for governments to see where i'm coming from. i don't think change will happen through law but fortunately friends of mine are trying to change a culture of surveillance through code. and i would argue that those people writing and putting that code out in the world are just as much activists as the people with the human rights campaign who were working on equal marriage. i would argue the same for figures like elan musk who is
trying to figure out how to make the electric car not the compromised vehicle that we end up doing because it's the equivalent of eating our broccoli but the sexiest thing out there on the road, and this is a way of trying to take advantage of market mechanisms to make social change, to look at something like the difficulty of passing a widespread carbon tax in the united states right now and saying maybe we don't need that if it we can make things so appealing like having an electric car or putting solar panels on your house, maybe there's an alternative way of making change around this. possibly the most important and the most subtle form of change around this is around changing norms. and this is a place where the folks behind black lives matter have an enormous amount to teach us about the power of change through norms. so here's the thing about social norms. when we look at the epidemic of
people of color being shot by police this is not a problem we're going to fix with law. it's already illegal to shoot an unarmed human being unless that person is directly threatening your life. what's happening when someone like michael brown gets shot is that a police officer in the course of doing his or her duty is interpreting a threat to his or her life from a person of color because we tend to associate young black men with violence. and that's enormative change we have to make over time. we're not going to get our way out of it just by putting body cameras on police. over time it has to be a change about how we think about each other within society. that's how you end up with campaigns like this. that image to the very far side of the screen is an image of michael brown taken from his
facebook page not very long after his death. what happens these days is if you get killed by the police, the first thing the media does is goes on facebook and tries to find images of you to illustrate the story. and the image on the left showed up to illustrate who michael brown was for about the first 48 hours after his death. activists looked at that image and said, you know, that's interesting because the truth is michael brown posted a lot of photos on facebook including that one right next to it. if you look at the first image, michael is being shot the from below. he looks tall. he looks intimidating. he's scowling. he's throwing a peace sign, which most newspapers report as a gang sign. he looks old. he looks tall. he looks potentially dangerous. is probably trying to look a little dangerous in the shot. the other shot is head on. he's budgie. he's a high school kid.
and the difference between those two images is how we think about this young man killed in ferguson, missouri. and so what you saw were activists starting this campaign asking the question if they gunned me down what photo would they use? and they would go on their own and pick a photo of themselves that would be the most negative for trail the media could put forward and they would pick the photo of an upstanding citizen. an active marine put up these two images coming out of the facebook feed and it gets shared thousands of times. this campaign went viral really, really quickly. in fact, one of the things that was so interesting about it is that lots of young white kids didn't get the political message behind it, just got the structure of it.
they looked drunk or disorderly be a then graduating from college and you see the young woman saying, please, get out of the conversation. this is a much more serious conversation than you're giving it credit of being. within three days you see "the new york times" putting the story on the front page. it's very hard to find that image of michael brown, the threatening image, after this "new york times" story runs. they were shamed into realizing the way we portray people has real implications how we feel about a whole category over time. so this is an approach to civics that i refer to as the ef kaes approach. it basically says, look, we all learned that civics was about law, that it was about electing people to government. we all learned that it was about passing and enforcing the laws
and now the rules are different. the rules now are that you should do whatever allows you to feel most effective as a citizen. if you feel like you're going to be able to make change by going on to facebook and changing how we perceive african-american males, you do that. if you think you're going to do it by starting a social venture, go ahead. you do that. here's the down side about this approach. the downsize is equity, this idea that's quite different from equality. equality is that we all get an equal chance, that we might need accommodations to get that equal chance, that we would actually have to work very hard for people who have different life experience, different circumstances to get the equal chance, in this case the apple. so here's the problem with this effective version of civics. it's deeply inequitable.
if you want to change social norms we can all go on to twitter and can all start a campaign. but i have an advantage that you don't. i have 42,000 twitter followers. you probably and you know what? there's a lot of people out there, celebrities, who have 2 million, and they're in a much better position than i am. and when a columnist for the "new york times" wants to do something he's got a great advantage over me. fame is strongly correlated to your ability to be effective when you're trying to make norms-based change. and it's inequitably distributed. if you want to start a car company that's going to change the world and conquer climate change, it helps to be elon musk and to have founded paypal and to have several billion dollars that you can start with. if you want to change the world with code, it helps to be one of my students at m.i.t. who has a great engineering background or a student here at rice who has the chance of building technology that's going to go out and change the world. so the thing that's so amazing
about these legal-based theories of change is that at the end of the day we all have one vote. and under things like the voting rights act, now sadly suspended, we actually work very, very hard to make sure that people have equal opportunity to get to the polls, equal opportunity to cast that vote. that's something that took years. it took a very, very long time to realize that we had to build equity into these systems. these forms of change are so new that we haven't thought about equity yet. we haven't thought about what it means that some people have a much better chance of using these tools than others. so i want to talk to you about another way that people are trying to make change, and here i've got to start talking about some books that have been very influential on my work. there's a book by a guy named michael schutzen. he teaches at columbia. he's one of the better journalism historians out there. he wrote a book about 15 years
ago called "the good citizen." and the point of "the good citizen" is we have in our heads a model of citizenship that we think citizens should follow. and the good citizen more or less is someone who gets up, reads a bunch of newspapers, gets different points of view, stays up to date on all sorts of different issues, goes out and votes, when he or she is sufficiently incensed or worried writes to an elected representative. the good citizen works really hard at being a good citizen. and one of michael's observations is that the good citizen might not exist. the good citizen turns out to be a creation of the progressives. in the 1920s. and it's a reaction to an earlier model of what it meant to be a good citizen. before the progressives come along, to be a good citizen is to be a loyal party member. it's to show up and represent your social class, your tribe of
people by showing up in the election holding up your ballot to the public, filling it out, fighting your way to the polls because the polls are often drunken brawls at that point, and going and casting your vote in solidarity with your brothers, who had the same background that you do. and that changes. that changes with the progressive movement. suddenly we have muckraking journalism. we have the secret ballot. we have ballot initiatives. we put an enormous amount of responsibility on the citizens to be hugely informed. what happens? vogt rates plummet. they drop from 70% down to about 35% in off-cycle elections when people are just electing representatives rather than electing the presidents. so one of the things that michael says is we may be asking too much. this may not be a realistic picture of what citizens really do. what michael thinks citizens
really do is that they monitor, they scan the horizon for issues that they care about where they can they can be effective and they think they can make change of one sort or another. i have an example from my hometown. i live in a town of 3,500 people. my local politics are not usually all that interesting. i general will i don't spend a ton of time thinking about them. but i have a 6-year-old child that is in public school. and in six more years he'll be heading to the high school, and the high school is falling down because it hasn't been fixed since the 1960s. and there's a bill on the ground to try to figure out how we fix it. yes, sir. >> [ inaudible ]. >> lanesboro, massachusetts. our high school is up the road in williamstown, massachusetts, and we've had a giant controversy on whether we should increase our tax rate to pay for our high school. and while i hant paid attention to local politics for three or
four years, this came on my radar screen and i got excited and i got involved and i put up a lawn sxien my wife and i both went and voted. i had been monitoring for the issue that i cared about, and when it came on the horizon i figured out a way to jump in. so michael puts this idea forward. an australian political scientist whose name is john kean says wait, actually this explains a lot of how we do politics now. because it's not just individuals who monitor, it's whole organizations. we have groups like the sunlight foundation that do nothing but try to monitor the performance of government. are people showing up for votes? where are they getting their campaign contributions from? are they living up to their campaign promises in one fashion or another? now, this feels like in some ways a very passive, a very washington-centered form of citizenship. but it doesn't have to be. there's a wonderful documentary going on right now, pbs put it out a couple weeks ago, about
the black panthers. and when you go back to the history of the emergence of the black panthers at the heights of the civil rights movement, the first thing the panthers actually did was start following the oakland police around, driving behind police cars, four men to a car, and when the oakland police would stop someone and try to make an arrest four members of the black panthers, armed, would get out, guns in hand, and monitor the police arrest. this sounds crazy. it's kind of amazing that no one got shot and got killed on this. but this was a way of standing forward and saying police brutality is a problem in oakland, we are watching. and part of our job as citizens is to be monitors of power. and you see this right now with groups like cop watch that are actively going out and teaching people how to be monitors of police who are going out and making arrests. it's also why we know about the death of people like walter scott, because fabian santana picked up a camera and was able
to monitor what was going on. it turns out this is a very, very old way of thinking about citizenship. it goes back to the french revolution. this remarkable french thinker, pierre rosevelont who has a book called "counter democracy." and what he argues in "counter democracy" is that for all that makes democratic systems work, what may be most powerful is people watching those democratic systems. putting under surveillance the people in power. that if we look at people, if we are vigilant, if we denounce when we see wrongdoing being done, if we evaluate the performance within this, we are not doing surveillance in the way we normally think about it, we are doing something much closer to sueveillance. it's watching from below rather than watching from above. and he makes the argument that this really emerges during the
french revolution, that once you get new forms of political power the citizenry see themselves as empowered to hold responsible their new leaders. monarchs never had to be responsible. but when you have leaders coming from the people, there is this need to be constantly watchful, to be constantly trying to ensure that that power doesn't get abused. so for him this idea of counter democracy is not that this watching is against democracy but that it's a tension that is structural. it's a buttress. it's a way in which this counterpower keeps that wall from falling down. so what's interesting so think about is that there's two ways that watchfulness can go wrong. one is that it can be too weak. and that may be the situation that we have right now. we have the great and good groups like the sunlight foundation going out and saying
yes, we can document how much money is in politics. we can document how likely it is that this vote is paid for. the danger is that it also gets too strong because of course where the french revolution ends up is with dr. guillotine's invention. and that's where the guillotine comes in. it's literally people who came under surveillance and were found wanting in the eyes of the public, including robespierre. so what do we do? so i'm offering two ideas to try to find a way out of what looks like an otherwise very difficult mess with civics. and i don't have an answer for what you should do. so i'm going to tell you what i'm doing. i'm spending a lot of time in place hike this. this is the fa vela of santa lucia. it's in bela horizon. it's the third largest city in brazil. quite a poor community in the middle of a fairly wealthy city.
built on reclaims land on a steep hillside. it's a neighborhood that has a lot of problems but it's also a neighborhood that has a lot of social capital. and a lot of what i'm doing these days is going out and meeting with community organizations like this and saying what's wrong with your community? what are things that you would like to document and try to figure out how to fix? and we do this with the highest of high technology. we only use the very best post-it notes, the finest magic markers, and we brainstorm what's wrong. what are the things that you'd like to fix within santa lucia? and we start niengz, and we identify things that you would never think about. when i was in santa lucia, i found myself documenting staircases. why staircases? it's a fa vela. favelas are built on steep hillsides. there are no roads. and so staircases are how you get around. and staircases are also a big problem in your life. because they're really badly maintained. they're falling apart.
people slip and fall on them. so when you come through one of these brainstorms like this people say i want to document what's wrong with the staircases. i want railings. i want handrailings on the staircases. so we now have a software problem, [ speaking foreign language ] it's a lafplatform that lets a community group identify an issue they care about. they design a survey, they go out with mobile phones, and believe me, even in the poorest neighborhoods of bella horizon people have smartphones. and they go out and they have this survey instrument that says okay, take a photo of the pavement. is pavement missing? is this a hazard to someone? this turns into a point that can show up on a map. and this map becomes a really interesting and powerful tool. you can use these maps to hold the government responsible. you go to the mayor and you say, hey, mr. mayor, you promised
that you would be taking care of our favela better in your administration. here are the issues we care about and we can document and map for you the problems that we have. and sometimes that works. we've actually had really great success in the city of belem where there have been huge problems with sanitation in the main market, and now the city's our partner, and we're working together to put this application out to have people document what's going on on the market and clean it up. sometimes the city doesn't care. and then you go to the press and you say, hey, we've got a story ready made for you. let me tell you about my uncle who fell down the stairs and broke his hip. he's one of dozens of people in our community who had the same experience because our neighborhood is filled with these dangerous staircases. and by the way, we've collected thousands of data points on a map that you can simply run in the newspaper if you just wanted to come and verify our work. so you've got multiple theories of change, but it's all based around this idea that people
want to monitor. they want to look at the communities and say here's what's going wrong and here's what we want to fix. and if you can give them tools to do it better, you can make people more powerful. here's another thing we're doing. you've heard me talk about social change through shaping norms. and one of the best ways we shape norms is by making media. we make images. we make stories. and we try to persuade people that their values need to change. that we need to think of young black men not as violent but as victims, for instance. we've been trying to figure out how do you measure this change? how do you figure out whether a campaign to change norms is going to have an effect? and so we look at media in three ways. we look in terms of reach, influence, and impact. when we make a piece of media and put it out in the world, who gets to see it? does it end up changing the
media dialogue? do the ideas we put forward, do they end up being adopted by other people? do they change how we talk about things? when the occupy movement goes out and starts talking about the 99% and 1%, do other people pick up that language? and then eventually we end up with impact. do we pass a law? do we change our attitudes? it's hard to measure impact. it's a long run change. but measuring that middle layer, measuring influence turns out to be something we can do. so one of the big things my p lab does is we read newspapers. roughly 100,000 of them a day. we read them sow don't have to. we go out and we subscribe to pretty much every newspaper in the united states. a lot of the ones in brazil. a lot of the ones in israel. we collect electronic media from around the world, and we turn it into a search engine and the search engine lets us ask questions like what are we paying attention to? at the beginning of last year we asked the question who's paying
attention to the attacks on "charlie hebdo" in paris? the answer was everyone. as we should be. brutal, horrific attacks, attacks on the freedom of the press. but these were attacks that ultimately killed fewer than 20 people. and in the same week of the "charlie hebdo" attacks more than 2,000 people were slaughtered in the village of baga in northern nigeria by boko haram. and if you look at our grap up there, that orange line that has ha big steep peak is the number of people talking about "charlie hebdo" and the blue line behind it is how many people were talking about baga. so that was stunning enough because that's a line of u.s. media. we did the same study in nigerian media. and even in nigerian newspapers more people were talking about 20 dead in paris than about 2,000 dead in their own country. so we were able to put this out there, and very quickly "the new york times" grabbed this. and the public editor quoted us as a way of saying we blew it, this is wrong, we need to be
figuring out how we change our attention. and i'm happy to say "the new york times" is actually doing a lot more coverage of nigeria than they had been previously. by being able to watch this, by being able to look at where we pay our attention, we may be able to change and shape media. we can also ask questions about how we talk about things. this is work that we did for the world health organization trying to figure out how the world was talking about ebola. so ebola's the biggest issue in the world in november 2014. it's the biggest thing everybody's talking about. and we gathered tens of thousands of articles on ebola and we clustered them together when they used the same language. when you look at the top of the graph you'll see words like fever and infections and hemorrhagic. those are words that occur in the same articles. and they occur in scientific journals. they occur in publications like nature. you'll see other clusters over
there over time. if you look at the upper left you see people talking about nigeria or liberia or children. those are people talking about this as an african crisis. but these aren't the only ways that people end up talking about it. we see people talking about relief. and right there that's the group in pink. we see africa. we also see a conversation going on about dallas because you guys may remember that one of the people who was exposed to ebola ended up in presbyterian hospital in dallas and suddenly there was an enormous amount of coverage about this idea that ebola's in the united states and we're all going to die. and then there's this really big conversation going on here with obama and crisis and washington and american. and this is a conversation that basically says ebola has come to the united states under the obama administration, this is a lasting legacy of the obama presidency, put it together, people, obama, ebola, five letters in each, both from africa, and this is an agenda that shows up. and it actually in some ways
turns out to be the dominant agenda of what's going on in media. so remember, you're the world health organization. three of these ways of talking about ebola are really good for you. you want people talking about relief. you want people talking about this as a curable disease. you're happy when people talk about africa because this is what we really care about. talki ining about panic in texat helpful at all. and talking about this as a political crisis utterly not helpful. you can use this essentially as a scorecard. it's a way to look at how an issue is being framed. and that's how we do this work over time. we're now doing this work for social change organizations all over the u.s., helping them get a sense for how an issue like police violence is being talked about, what frames are winning, what frames are losing, and doing it analytically so we can figure out what are the
publications involved with this? well, it turns out that the publications it that are doing well talking about this as an african issue are british and irish. none of them from the u.s. and the publications that are talking all about this being obama's problem they're the mainstream of american media. "new york times," bloomberg. they're all of these folks. so we are looking at ways to use this as a way of keeping score and a way of helping people figure out how would you intervene if you wanted to change the dialogue? what the w.h.o. probably missed was that this point, what everyone was talking about in media, was whether we should be quarantining ebola patients. and the w.h.o. never used the word quarantine because they thought it was such a terrible idea they didn't even want to legitimatemate it. and in the process they ended up being completely marginal to the conversation. so we're using this method right now to try to help groups like black lives matter figure out how to organize their media, how
to change social norms around this. we're studying how much attention gets paid to individual unarmed deaths of people of color at the hands of police. and we're able to document that month after month we seem to be paying more attention to these deaths. and this is a trend that obviously if you're supporting that movement you want to try to support and a way to work with. and we're doing this all with tools that are open source that other researchers can use. so we have people using this for everything from teen pregnancy all the way through racial justice issues. and we're sort of encouraging people to jump on it and work with us. so these are the questions that i'm asking. how do we help people feel more powerful? how do we help people feel effective in making civic changes? or in monitoring power that's out there in the world. when we are making change, how do we know if we're succeeding? how do we know if we're working
in the right direction? how do we know if progress is being made? this is what i want to leave you with. i think civics is changing because i think civics has to change. i think a lot of these old models around change through voting and change through mobilization are not working anymore. and i think these views of civics while they're incomplete, inequitable, while they don't work as well as we would hope, i think it's fine to be trying them out and pushing in new directions. what's not fine is to look at this moment in time and react with disengagement. this feeling of mistrust that many of us have when we look at the world today is either a powerfully corrosive force or a force that we can harness and sort of send in the direction of positive change. and that's what i'm hoping for. so thank you very much for listening. [ applause ]
>> thank you, ethan. i have a question for you. >> please. >> which -- so is the binarity of platforms, the fact that they are designed to be seller and buyer or user, somewhat coincidentally compatible with the mistrust of government? meaning that if they are designed to get rid of tertiary positions, aren't they designed to get rid of government or to get rid of auctioneers or to get rid of travel agents or to get rid of architects, bankers, et cetera? and along the same line is insurrection somewhat coincidentally compatible with instant communication? so if yesterday or today 5 million people were going down the street in sao paolo, it's because they could do that. >> so let me answer the second
one first. i do think that instant communication has a great deal to do with insurrectionist movement. and there's a huge history behind this. a lot of what we know about technology and mobilization actually comes from the philippines. and mobilization through sms. and this stuff has been wonderfully documented by howard reingold in his book "smart mobs." where people were able to simply say we're all going to edsa square, wear black, show up, pass it on. and it turns out that that text message was enough to pull down a government. it was enough to put people out into the street. so it's much, much easier through some of these technologies to mobilize people and bring them out than it ever was before. the flip side is that governments are getting much smarter about it.
and they're starting to understand that this sort of instant mobilization means less than it used to. so when you saw the march on washington, when you saw 40,000 people with placards, you know, coming into the capital, at a moment when it was very difficult to organize, what that march basically sig nooid was months and months of work ahead of time to mobilize everybody. what 40,000 people out in the public square might mean right now is someone had a really well-crafted tweet. and what's interesting is the best autocrats are learning how to ignore this. so my friend zaineb tufeshi is probably the best scholar of what's ended up happening around political mobilization in turkey. and she points out that all this mobilization in gezi park has led to very little. you saw erdogan get elected with an incredible majority of voters. and erdogan basically belittled and made fun of the people who
came out in gezi park. and what he realized was that years ago 50,000 people in the streets meant you were in trouble and you were about to be overthrown, but 50,000 people in the streets right now might just mean that someone did a really good job working their networks. so mobilization's easier, but i think it's also a lot less meaningful. your other question is really subtle. i like it. and it's this notion that these commercial platforms somehow are leading to this increased level of mistrust. and one of the things i would say about them is that we have been watching the collapse of professions in the united states. we've been losing this notion that i'm an architect or i'm an accountant and therefore a set of values i'm going to live up to independent of the specific job that i hold. it tends to be much more personal loyalty or loyalty
toward a corporation, less of that loyalty to the profession. and i would argue that there's a way in which a lot of these disintermediary platforms might well be further eroding those sorts of roles. and so to the extent you that end up saying, well, maybe i don't need a bank anymore, maybe i just use bitcoin, or man i use my mobile phone company and mobile money, as do i in kenya, and so at that point that instituti institution, which had a raison d'etre, which had a reason to be there and charge you money, certainly looks like we can start getting rid of it over time. and maybe that's another place where mistrust starts eating away. the thing i would point out, though, is when you look back at the graphs that i was showing, this rise of mistrust in institutions is really starting around 1970. and a lot of this disintermediation i think is more result rather than cause. i think once you realize that
there's nothing particularly special about the bank or about the travel ath agent or about the lawyer, it's just someone who puts words together, and maybe i could do it if i just had the right information on the internet. but i think that's more result than cause. hard to say at a certain point. what else have we got? >> well, in terms of mistrust of institutions i'm wondering how you feel about m.i.t. and your working within the structure of a very powerful institution. >> it's a great question. i'll make the question even more complicated by admitting that i was friends with aaron swartz, the young man who committed suicide after being prosecuted by the commonwealth of massachuset massachusetts, and m.i.t. not only didn't fight that prosecution but in many ways
sort of actively encouraged it. i think what's tricky about finding yourself within an institution, particularly if you are like me a professional insurrectionist, is that you're sort of left with this question of is it my job to fix this institution or is it my job to work around the institution? for people who find themselves within powerful and flawed institutions, and i would say almost all institutions are both flawed and powerful, the question at a certain point becomes can i be more effective trying to make the institution better at what it is and what it does well? or can i do a better job by saying maybe we don't need this institution anymore, let's do something else instead of this institution? recently, our dean of graduate education at m.i.t. left m.i.t. and she left to start a new kind
of university. it's a university that is mostly virtual. it's a university that doesn't have tenure. it's a university that doesn't have a lot of trappings that a place like m.i.t. does. that's a great insurrectionist approach looking at this and saying i see what the limits of the institution are and it's time for me to step out and try something new. at this point i find myself saying there's a lot that i could do to help this institution become better. so one of my students, a year and a half after aaron's death, found himself in quite serious legal trouble based on experiments he was doing with bitcoin, and i was very concerned that m.i.t. wasn't representing him and wasn't taking care of him. and with a couple other professors we ended up writing open letters to the president of the university which ended up in the "boston globe" which ended up with a commission that i was then slated to serve on. to try to figure out how we would defend students who got
into legal trouble while innovating. and now 2 1/2 years further down the road we now have a new institution. we have an office that actually provides legal defense services to students who get in trouble when innovating in the course of their academic work. so it's a very institutionalist solution ton an insurrectionist problem but i felt it was something i could actually do and take advantage of the fact that m.i.t. is absolutely the sort of institution that can and should stand up for that freedom to innovate. so i think everyone's got to wrestle with it. i think all of us who are blessed to be working within strong and powerful institutions have to ask that question, can we make change for the better or is it time to step out and try to behave differently and try to make the change from the outside? >> relative to civics and mistrust of government i was
wonder field goal you'd comment on both the sanders campaign and the trump campaign and the use of twitter and the fact that they're both appealing to groups that either feel disenfranchised or powerless and just the whole relationship. >> so some of the better analysis that i've seen looking at the trump and sanders phenomenon, looks at groups of americans who feel like the world has changed for the worst. so we've seen a lot of reporting that low and middle income white men are living shorter lives, dying sooner, that people who in the past have been involved with factory jobs are now not finding gainful employment, that there's really a whole class of people for whom things are getting worse than getting better. and what's very interesting is a lot of these people are people
who in the past would have been represented by organized labor, though we have less and less organized labor. and these are people who in many cases are turning either to the trump or to the sanders camp. and i think the common ground on this is a sense that the system just isn't working. and that iterated over the course of 10 or 20 years things are simply not getting better for some groups of people. and at that point someone who says look, i agree, the system's broken, it's messed up, i am, a, outside that system and, b, i'm going to find a way to fix it. now, whether those prescriptions to make america great again or to make america sweden again, whether any of them are realistic is sort of besides the point. what you're really seeing is a pattern of voters essentially saying i can't trust anyone who believes that the institutions we have are basically sound, i
need someone who understands how frustrated, how angry, how alienated i am and is willing to say we need a completely different system, we need to get rid of some of these institutions and we need to start from scratch. >> now, they're really different. i don't want to lump trump and sanders too closely together. i also don't want to predict whether we're at a moment where insurrectionism is so much more powerful than institutionalism. there are a lot of institutionalists out there. at the end of the day as our friend points out i do teach at m.i.t., and at the end of the day a lot of people are working very, very hard to make institutions work. and i think if you want a great example of someone who's tried incredibly hard to make institutions work i think hillary clinton's a nice example of who that is. >> the question may be for people who feel systemically let down by the structures that were
supposed to give them opportunity, are they going to be able to sign off on someone who's proven herself as very effective within that institution or are they going to demand someone who basically says nope, we've got to get rid of those? they're just not working anymore. >> thank you. two questions about the very end of your lecture. one was related to the example in brazil, the bella hornizonte favela example. you're talking about the citizens monitoring. but they're producing maps to take to the government, which is an institution they don't trust. so how effective is that strategy if your premise is there's no trust in institutions, why are you going back to the government? so and the second question -- well, i'll let you answer that first. >> no, it's a great question, and thank you for calling me on
that. what i'm really trying to do in my work right now is more descriptive than prescriptive. and what i'm seeing around monitoring is that this is a lot of the way that people are trying to make change at the moment. i'm not convinced that it's necessarily the way that i want to make change. i think that it's a way that you can make change when you still have hope that the ips toougss can be reformed. it's a way of essentially saying this is a way of making my voice heard with those institutions. one of the things that's been interesting in brazil is we've had a couple of cases where we have evidence that it works. we've had the government show up and do the right thing in response to it. we also have a lot of cases where it just hasn't worked at all. we started working in sao paolo, in part because there's a progressive mayor, fernando hadaj, who did all the right
things, promised here are the 108 concrete things i'm going to do to change the city, and then almost immediately after taking office faced a strike from the left, a trans-its strike of people essentially saying we're not going to pay for any more for local buses and local subways because we just don't trust the government to do anything anymore. i think monitorial power is this much more active stance than saying we'll pass the laws, we'll elect the right people. i think it's a way of essentially say we're going to be deeply involved with institutional politics. i think the sort of effective civics that i'm arguing is really when you sort of cross that line and say yeah, you know, what i don't even think monitorial power's going to help me out, i'm going to try to figure out how to step out of that even further. so i think what i'm trying to do is sort of look at this line. frankly i'm -- i'm not sure this is a point at which the institutions are simply
unsalvageable or whether it's a point at which if we can simply find a much better way to channel our frustration and channel our power into reshaping this institution we'd be more powerful. but you're absolutely right to call me out structurally on the talk. >> my second question was on your beautiful landscaper graphic. could you put it up for a second? >> yeah. absolutely. >> and by the way,et me say it's my student sanz fish who's doing this beautiful work. >> i think it's beautiful. i think it's gorgeous. but i don't see how this is a purely utilitarian question. i don't see how the world health organization uses this to change their strategy. so could you unpack that a little bit for us? >> sure. >> we ended up talking with the w.h.o. about was trying to figure out first of all who they would want to reach. and essentially saying right now the w.h.o., which ends up at the very top of this graph, is using
language that's common with the cdc, the "new england journal of medicine," the n.i.h. they're basically writing in a way where their dialogue and their way of framing the issue is getting picked up in scientific publications and it's not getting picked up by anybody else. they're actually quite distant from organizations that have a much greater reach. that it's probably quite hard for the w.h.o. to start talking in the same language that the "new york times" is talking. they're simply framing these issues so very differently. but it might be a time where the w.h.o. spends a lot of time talking to the bbc or talking to "guardian" and trying to figure out whether the bbc or the "guardian" can carry some of their water and help make some of their points. it's also a way of trying to define the land skascape that pe are really talking about here. that when you say what are the topics that end up being in common between a lot of these
different dialogues they're the ones at the center of the map. the ones around quarantine. they're the ones around hospital and symptoms. they're really looking at this idea that people are dooply worried about this as something personally affecting them. and the w.h.o. really elected not to engage in that dialogue at all. and we ultimately suggested that we thought that was a mistake. we thought that was probably the wrong way to do it. we've been doing these landscapes on other issues as well. we ended up doing one for the ford foundation around teen pregnancy. and we ended up discovering that there's a cluster of what you might call the shame-based organizations. team teen pregnancy is the worst thing that can happen to society. there's a cluster of what you might think of as healthy pregnancy at any age. don't worry about teen pregnancy, worry about healthy mothers. and then there's mtv. and mtv with "16 and pregnant"
actually turns out to be a completely dominant player in the landscape. and their reaction to that map was to start talking to mtv and essentially saying hey, mtv, we know you think "16 and pregnant" is destigmatizing but actually when you start looking at the language it's not. you're actually much closer to the sort of shame-based language than to language that our organizations are trying to do around healthy pregnancy. can we talk with you about how we're framing this issue because you have an undue amount of cultural weight? this whole world of norms-based change. so the public health sector is ahead of everybody else within this. they've been working on norms-based change for 30 or 40 years. it really started with the harvard alcohol project that was trying to normalize this idea of the designated driver. so there's an enormous amount of research around this. what there aren't are very good tools for sort of looking at the whole broad media landscape.
and so we're definitely early in and eyre still iterating and still figuring out how to get there. but this is what people have been telling us is useful about being able to look at the media landscape this way. >> i'm wondering what role openness might be in addressing mistrust, whether that be openness on the part of government, open data initiatives, or openness from the citizen sferkt. >> so i have been disappointed with openness. and i will say that i've been working for the last 15 years or so on questions of how technology can change participation. and in many ways you can think of sort of the last great wave that happened as a wave that said let's open this government data and remarkable things will
happen from it. so you saw data.gov in the u.s. data data.uk in the u.k. you saw all these attempts at making information more open to the public. and the hope was that people would build new tools and services around this. the hope was that journalists would find ways to review it and make sense out of it. and the hope more than anything else would be that just by sort of opening up these secrets everyone would realize that government had nothing to hide. and i would say that there have been sort of two disappointments that have come from it. the first disappointment is that it turns out that data by itself just isn't all that helpful. it actually requires an enormous amount of work to turn data into a tool or into a narrative or into anything that's sort of logical or sensible. so what you see right now are american newspapers sort of scrambling to figure out how to
do data journalism, to figure out how do we take these data sets and actually bring stories and narratives out of them. and it's possible that when we get better at storytelling with data, when we get possible at pulling things out of the data, we will be richer and smarter and more open and so on and so forth. but it's been surprisingly hard. and i think in many cases part of it is that the story that data tells is ambiguous or it's complicated, it's not simple. the second is that as richard hoffstater reminds us, you can never underestimate the role of the paranoid in american politics. and the incredible openness that's starting to happen provides this amazing fodder for conspiracy theorists on both the left and the right. one of the projects that i love to teach is this visualization called they rule. and it looks at the interlocking directorships ever different
fortune 500 corporations and different non-profit organizations and the whole rhetoric of this is if you just look you can find the secret people who actually rule the world. and you see this journalism all the time. you know, sort of extreme sources like breitbart. when i teach this of course i then swing over and show where i show up on the map as a board member of a large foundation, the open society foundation and essentially say great, guilt by association, i am now part of the ruling elite. anyone want to go for a ride in my car? it's not a ferrari. this is not -- the transparency of sort of showing who's involved with this doesn't actually help when our paranoid theory is that a small number of people actually rule and control the world. so for me a lot of the best efforts in this space, a lot of the things that come out of things like the sunlight foundation, an organization i enormously respect, unfortunately end up contributing more to mistrust
because what we get are these stories of how huge amounts of money are pouring into politics, of the sense that the politicians that we elect are bought and paid for, and that we end up with this sort of corrosive mistrust when we look at the data rather than the sort of disinfecting sunlight that we would hope for. well, fantastic. thank you all so much. i really appreciate you being here. and thank you for listening. congratulations to the class of 2016. today is your day of celebration, and you've earned it. >> the voices crying for peace and light because your choices