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Page history last edited by Patrick Meier 14 years, 9 months ago

Digital Democracy in the 21st Century


Greetings! This wiki was part of Tufts University's new course on Digital Democracy taught by us (Joshua Goldstein and Patrick Meier) in the Spring of 2009. We hope you find this wiki helpful. Feel free to get in touch with us at any time.


Course Description


How does the Internet affect politics? In the last five years, text message campaigns, online social networks, and citizen media have played a major role in world events including a democratic revolution in the Ukraine, a humanitarian emergency in Kenya, a terrorism attack in Mumbai and the election of the first African American President of the United States. This course explores how digital technology changes both the mode and the meaning of democratic participation. We will conduct this inquiry through the exploration of case studies and readings and put an experimental social networking application to the test by exploring its use in a variety of civic projects throughout Boston.


See also the Course Blog and follow us on Twitter: @digidemocracy


Link to YouthMap projects.



Syllabus Outline


Session 1: Introduction and Overview                                                                                              


In this session we discuss the course and syllabus. Students are invited to introduce themselves and discuss their interests in the subject of digital democracy. We then discuss different concepts of democracy as a preview to the following session.


  • Blog Post: The Prospects for Cyberocracy (2009)
  • Article: Jacob Groshek, "The Democratic Effects of the Internet - A Cross National Study of 152 Countries" (International Communication Gazette, 2009)
  • Chapter: Yochai Benkler (2006), “The Wealth of Networks (Yale University Press, New Haven), Chapter 1
  • Talk: Yochai Benkler on social production (2008)
  • Video: Digital Technology and Social Change (2009)


Session 2: American Democracy                                                                                                      


The Obama campaign is widely known as the most successful online political campaign. We will examine how the campaign used interactive tools to connect supporters with similar interests, organize volunteers and raise millions of dollars. How much of Obama’s success was the result of these tools, and how much would have happened without them?


  • Article: How Obama's Internet Campaign Changed Politics (NYT, 11/7/08)
  • Blog Post: The New Organizers (2008)
  • Blog Post: The Internet’s Effect on Politics (2008)
  • Article: Cass Sunstein, “The Daily We,” (Boston Review, 2001)
  • Video: How Tech has Changed Politics (2009) 
  • Video: Inside the Transition: Technology, Innovation, and Government Reform (2008)
  • Video: Introducing the Citizen's Briefing Book (2008)
  • Conference: Exploring Obama’s Attitude Towards New Media (Lift 2009) 


Students share the ideas for YouthMap projects, refine them, and settle on three or four projects to do during the semester. In class, they develop plans and timetables. Homework includes putting the plans and timetables on the map—at least three nodes per student.



Session 3: Global Democracy                                                                                                           


Citizen journalism, mass-SMS messaging and online organizing forums certainly played a role in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, while next door in Belarus a similar revolutionary attempt was brutally crushed. To what extent does access to digital technology lead to democracy?


  • Report: Joshua Goldstein (2007): “Digital Networked Technology in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (Internet & Democracy Case Study Series, Berkman Center for Internet and Society Paper, Cambridge: MA).
  • Report: Joshua Goldstein (2008): "Digital Networked Technology in Kenya's 2007-08 President Election Crisis (Internet & Democracy Case Study Series, Berkman Center for Internet and Society Paper, Cambridge: MA).
  • Article: Rioters of the World United (Economist, 2008)


In class, students review the data they have collected and put on the map and refine their plans and timelines. Homework includes adding at least 3-5 more nodes per student.



Session 4: Media and Democracy                                                                                                   


Foreign reporting is on the retreat. Some of the world’s largest news outlets such as the Associated Press (AP) are closing down their overseas bureaus. At the same time, the world is witnessing the rise of citizen journalism as evidenced by the recent coverage of the riots in Greece, terrorist attacks in Mumbai and protests in Iran, Tibet and Morocco. What does this mean for the future of media and democracy?  


  • Report: Public Media 2.0 - Dynamic, Engaged Publics (Center for Social Media, American University, 2009).
  • Short Report: Wilson, Ernest (2008). “Digital Media, Democracy and Diversity.” (Media Re:public, Berkman Center for Internet and Society Paper, Cambridge: MA).
  • Short Article: Why News Agencies are Thriving (The Economist, 2008).
  • Blog Post: The Final World on the Death of Newspapers? (Ethan Zuckerman, 2009).
  • Blog Post: Why the Economist Got it Wrong (response to "Rioters of the World Unite")
  • Video: The Future of the News (MIT Center for Future of Civic Media, 2008).
  • Video: How Participatory Media Has and Hasn't Revolutionized the News. (USC Annenberg, 2008).
  • Video: Panel Discussion on Decline of Foreign Reporting and Rise of Citizen Journalism (Board of Broadcasting Governors, 2008). [Watch introduction & opening remarks].
  • Video: New Media in Authoritarian Societies (Open Society Institute, 2008). [Watch talks by Evgeny Morozov and Ethan Zuckerman].


Students interact in an appropriate way with peers at UMass Boston who are also doing YouthMap projects. Mode of interaction might be videoconference, f2f meeting, wiki, or other online tools. Homework includes communication with the UMass-Boston team.



Session 5: Guest Speakers - Digital Democracy (D 2.0)


How is technology being harnessed as a tool by democratic movements in closed societies? Mark Belinski and Emily Jacobi of Digital Democracy will present a case study based on their work in Burma. We will use class time to crowdsource solutions for oppressed communities. Taking the test case of Burma, we will look at the obstacles that the society faces and explore apportunities for affordable, efficient and secure locations. 


  • Report: Overcomming Obstacles, Creating Opportunities: Youth Perspectives from the Thai-Burma Border. [Read sections 1, 3 and 5.2]
  • Article: Belinski, Mark and Emily Jacobi (2008). "Year of the Rats." (Nuvo Newsweekly).
  • Article: Packer, George (2008). "Letter from Rangoon ... Drowning: Can the Burmese People Rescue Themselves?" (The New Yorker). 


*Please note this public lecture is scheduled for a Wednesday, not Tuesday in room C205*

Students will be expected to Tweet ideas for solutions to the problems as they are discussed. These ideas will be discussed during the second half of class.



Session 6: Blogger Rights


In regimes with a tight grip on traditional media, bloggers often present a unique venue for speaking truth to power. However, increasingly, regimes are imprisoning bloggers who speak out. In fact, more bloggers than journalists are currently in prison across the globe.


  • Blog Post: Yahoo! Helps Imprison Chinese Dissidents
  • Blog Post: Iran- A Long and Painful Story of Jailed Bloggers


Class time is devoted to reviewing the emerging map and refining plans for more interviews & data collection. Focus now on using the map for analytical purposes.



Session 7:  Human Rights 2.0 and Democracy


Respect for human rights tends to be an important feature of democracies. How does digital technology change the field of human rights and by consequence the nature of democracies? In this session we first consider the relationship between access to digital technologies and government respect for human rights. We then assess the potential of crowdsourcing platforms and geospatial technologies for documenting and monitoring human rights abuses.


  • Blog Post: Operation Vula - ICT versus Apartheid (2008)
  • Blog Post: Human Rights and Technology - A Roundtable (2008)
  • Blog Post: Why Human Rights 2.0 Matters (2009)
  • Blog Post: Geospatial Technologies for Genocide Prevention (2009)
  • Conference: The New Challenges of Human Rights Communication (2009)
  • Conference: Human Rights, Technology and New Media (2009)


Students continue to add nodes to map. Spend class time discussing progress and plans. Homework includes checking in with community partner organizations about the value and direction of their work.



Session 8:  Digital Activism and Democracy


In this session, we present the work of DigiActive, one of the leading non-profit initiatives dedicated to helping grassroots activists around the world use the Internet and mobile phones to increase their political impact. DigiActive’s goal is a world of activists made more powerful and more effective through the use of digital technology.


  • Video:  What is Digital Activism? (2008)
  • Blog Post: Zimbabweans Turn to Blogs and SMS (2008)
  • Blog Post: Digital Activists and Nonviolent Tactics in Burma (2008)
  • Guide: Schultz, Dan (2008). “A DigiActive Introduction to Facebook Activism.” (DigiActive Strategy Guide).


Homework is to begin working on final projects.



Session 9:  Digital Resistance and Democracy


In this session we look at the intersection between digital technology and civil resistance within the context of pro-democracy movements. The session provides an introduction to the theory and practice of nonviolent civil resistance. We discuss a real world case study: the Otpor student movement against Milosevic. The session will include the screening of the award-winning documentary, “Bringing Down a Dictator”.


  • Blog Post: Digital Resistance - Between Digital Activism and Civil Resistance (2008)
  • Blog Post: Impact of ICTs on Repressive Regimes - Findings (2009)
  • Article: Revolution, Facebook Style (NYT, Jan 27, 2009)
  • Report: Martin, Brian (2001). Technology for Nonviolent Struggle (War Resisters International, London). [Chapters 1 & 3]


Around this time there should be a second check-in with the UMass Boston students.



Session 10:  Digital Censorship and Democracy 


Does the impact of the information revolution empower coercive regimes at the expense of pro-democracy movements or vice versa? The answer to this question largely depends on how effective government censorship efforts are in contrast to circumvention efforts by civil society groups. We'll explore censorship tactics and circumvention tools.


  • Report: Faris, Robert and Nart Villeneuve (2008). “Measuring Global Internet Filtering,” Chapter 1 in Diebert, Ronald et.  al (Eds), Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering (MIT Press: Cambridge).  
  • Blog Post: Digital Media and Repressive Regimes - Media Tactics (2008)
  • Blog Post: Beating the Chinese Censors - da Vinci Redux (2008)
  • Video: China and the Future of the Internet (2009)



Session 11: Digital Technology in the Developing World


Perhaps surprisingly, African technologists are world leaders in mobile phone application development. In this class, we explore Africa’s new competitive advantage in the digital technology industry, and what it means for reaching economic development, poverty alleviation and other social goals.


  • Blog Post: If It Works In Africa, It Will Work Anywhere (2008)
  • Blog Post: Project Cybersyn - Chile and Development in the 1970s (2009)
  • Video: George Ayittey- Cheetahs vs. Hippos for Africa’s Future
  • Conference: Web4Dev at the United Nations, 2009
  • Conference: ICT for Development, 2009



Session 12: Cyber Security and National Security


From cyber-attacks in Estonia to Chinese spying, the world of cyber security and national security are converging.  Ben Mazzotta, Fletcher PhD candidate and consultant to US Cyber Consequences Unit, will join us to discuss these issues


  • Article: Recent Events Suggest Cyber Warfare Can Become New Threat (2009)


Session 13:  Final Presentations


In-class presentations and wrap-up of the Digital Democracy course.



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