The Internet will ask (some of) the questions in the Fox News/Google Republican debate

On September 22, the Republican candidates for president will be in Orlando, Florida for the next debate. Unlike the last debate, where moderators from NBC and Politico chose the questions, Google-Fox News debate will use Google Moderator and YouTube to bubble up questions from the Internet. Questions can be submitted as text or video through the Fox News YouTube channel. The deadline is September 21st. The video embedded below introduces the concept:

Fox News anchor Brett Baer explains the process below and encourages people to submit questions “creatively” — which means that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could potentially be confronted by a YouTube snowman of the sort he didn’t care much for in 2007.

For good or ill, that kind of question in that kind of costume is likely to be part of the warp and weft of presidential politics in the 21st century. President Obama’s Twitter townhall” featured several questions from people with quirky account names or avatars. Bringing YouTube into the discussion will allow even more self expression and, while Fox News has the ability not to broadcast a video, millions of connected Americans can go watch the videos themselves if they choose. At the moment, the top-rated questions are substantive ones:

  • How do you intend to shift some of the power and influence of large corporations in Washington DC back to the average American and small business owner?
  • Would you support term limits for Congress?
  • As president, would you support the elimination of government agencies or departments as a means to reduce our government’s size and spending? If so, which agencies or departments would you eliminate or substantially downsize?
  • We’ll see if the question about marijuana legalization that has so frequently bubbled up to the top of Moderator instances for the president ends up in this one.

    Designing digital democracy is hard. The structures and conventions that have evolved for deliberative democracy, as messy as it can be offline, don’t transfer perfectly into machine code. Many different companies, civic entrepreneurs, nonprofits and public servants are working to create better online forums for discussion that make better use of technology. Last week, ASU journalism professor and author Dan Gillmor commented in the Guardian that is was past time for “presidential primary debate 2.0, where the Internet would a much bigger role in the structure, format and substance of these events. As Gillmor observes, “truly using the web would mean creating a much more ambitious project.”

    Imagine, for example, a debate that unfolds online over the course of days, or even weeks and months. While they’d include audio, video and other media, these debates would necessarily exist, for the most part, in the more traditional form of text, which is still by far the best for exploring serious issues in serious ways. Questions would be posed by candidates to each other, as well as by journalists and the public. But an answer would not be the end of that round; in fact, it would only be the beginning.

    We’re not there yet. In less than two weeks, however, we’ll see if the hybrid Fox News-Google Moderator approach comes any closer to bringing the Internet into the debate in any sort of meaningful way than it has in the past.

    You can learn more about how Google Moderator is being used for civic discourse in this article on #AskObama on YouTube.

Pew: Search and email are nearly universal among adult Internet users

The results of a new survey from the Pew Internet and Life Project will come as no surprise to most: Internet users: search and email top the list of the things people do online. These two activities have been the most popular since Pew first started tracking online behavior over the last decade. The advent of broadband, mobile devices and social media has not changed that dynamic, though it’s a safe bet that adults under 30 are sending quite a lot of Facemail, IMs and tweets these days too.

That said, Pew did identify a difference. “The most significant change over that time is that both activities have become more habitual,” writes Kristen Purcell. “Today, roughly six in ten online adults engage in each of these activities on a typical day; in 2002, 49% of online adults used email each day, while just 29% used a search engine daily.”

Search and email demographics

According to Pew’s numbers, search is most popular among adult internet users aged age 18-29, 96% of whom use search engines to find information online.

There’s also some evidence of a continuing digital divide based upon education and race. According to Pew, online adults, college-educated, and those in the highest income categories are more likely than others to use email.

“These demographic differences are considerably more pronounced when one looks at email use on a typical day,” writes Purcell. “Moreover, while overall email use is comparable across white, African-American and Hispanic online adults, internet use on any given day is not. White online adults are significantly more likely than both African-American and Hispanic online adults to be email users on a typical day (63% v. 48% v. 53%, respectively).”

This new survey and its findings should be read in the context of last year’s report that citizens are turning to Internet for government data, policy and services and considering in the context of the ongoing federal .gov website review.

If open government is to be citizen-centric, it will clearly need to be search-centric. That means ensuring that government websites are available in search and evaluating how search-centric redesigns at Utah.gov perform over time.

These results also suggest that as exciting as the integration of social media into government may be, officials tasked with public engagement and consultation shouldn’t neglect using email to communicate with citizens, along with Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and the other apps available to them. The difference in demographics usage of social media and email, however, does highlight that social media offers an important complementary channel to reach mobile citizens that access the Internet primarily through their mobile phones.

UN: Disconnecting Internet users is a breach of human rights [REPORT]

As the role of the Internet as a platform for collective actions grows, access to the rest of wired humanity becomes more important. Today, United Nations special rapporteur Frank La Rue released a report on freedom of expression and the Internet that described cutting off Internet access as a breach of human rights. The report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, is an important data point as governments around the globe decide how to legislate, regulate or moderate the disruptive impact of the Internet.

The UN report comes at an important time. As Mathew Ingram wrote at GigaOm, reporting on the recently released UNESCO report on freedom of expression online, governments are still trying to kill, replace or undo the Internet.

“The report provides initial guidance for countries that are grappling with how to address complex Internet policy challenges while upholding their obligations to human rights,” said Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a statement released to the media.

“As Rapporteur La Rue affirms, the Internet’s unique ability to provide ample space for individual free expression can lead to the strengthening of other human rights, including political, economic and social rights,” said Cynthia Wong, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Global Internet Freedom. “In order for these rights to be realized, governments, civil society and industry must all continue to build on the work begun by the Special Rapporteur.”

Both reports and the recent eg8 Summit shows online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. “The primary reason we need to support the Net is because it is a foundational part of how we have our democracy,” said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, speaking in Paris.

What’s at stake today has been what’s at stake for more than 15 years, said Benkler: The possibility that a coalition of forces who are afraid of the internet will shut it down.”There is still a very powerful counter argument, one that says both for innovation and for freedom, we need an open Net.”

If an open Internet is the basis for democracy flourishing around the world, billions of people will be counting upon our leaders to keep it open and accessible.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and exp…

[Hat Tip: TorrentFreak and Mathew Ingram]

G8: the Internet has become the public arena for our time

President Barack Obama and other world leaders walk to the first working session at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, May 26, 2011. Pictured, from left are: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso; President Obama; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and British Prime Minister David Cameron. May 26, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama and other world leaders walk to the first working session at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, May 26, 2011. Pictured, from left are: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso; President Obama; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and British Prime Minister David Cameron. May 26, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

At this year’s meeting of the “Group of 8” (G8) nations in France, a declaration about the Arab Spring included a “Deauville Partnership” with the people of the Middle East to support the growth of “democratic, open societies and inclusive economic modernisation.”

For the first time, the 2011 G-8 Summit included discussion of the Internet as a top-level issue, alongside the ongoing conflict in Libya, economic growth, nuclear safety, climate change, foreign aid and national security.

The G8 released an official communique that pledging renewed commitment for freedom and democracy that included a substantial section on the Internet. The communique included this summary of the principles discussed:

We discussed new issues such as the Internet which are essential to our societies, economies and growth. For citizens, the Internet is a unique information and education tool, and thus helps to promote freedom, democracy and human rights. The Internet facilitates new forms of business and promotes efficiency, competitiveness, and economic growth. Governments, the private sector, users, and other stakeholders all have a role to play in creating an environment in which the Internet can flourish in a balanced manner. In Deauville in 2011, for the first time at Leaders’ level, we agreed, in the presence of some leaders of the Internet economy, on a number of key principles, including freedom, respect for privacy and intellectual property, multi-stakeholder governance, cyber-security, and protection from crime, that underpin a strong and flourishing Internet. The “e-G8” event held in Paris on 24 and 25 May was a useful contribution to these debates.

That eG8 showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. Some of the concerns will be assuaged in this communique.

While the body of the communique is comprised of high level principles and does not contain specific prescriptions, it does not specifically reference to international human rights laws or a “freedom to connect,” an exception that supporters of free expression like Article 19 have criticized as unsufficient. In addition, paragraph 15, below, renews a “commitment to ensuring effective action against violations of intellectual property rights in the digital arena, including action that addresses present and future infringements” that may obliquely refer to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or “ACTA,” that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others have expressed concerns about as it has moved through drafting stages.

That said, there is much in the official communique about the Internet that celebrates its power and choices that have driven its growth, including:

  • “The openness, transparency and freedom of the Internet have been key to its development and success. These principles, together with those of non-discrimination and fair competition, must continue to be an essential force behind its development.”
  • “The Internet has become the public arena for our time, a lever of economic development and an instrument for political liberty and emancipation. Freedom of opinion, expression, information, assembly and association must be safeguarded on the Internet as elsewhere. Arbitrary or indiscriminate censorship or restrictions on access to the Internet are inconsistent with States’ international obligations and are clearly unacceptable. Furthermore, they impede economic and social growth.

Coming on a week when Iran vowed to unplug the Internet, disconnecting Iranian citizens from the rest of the world, holding up those principles is both timely and notable. The full section of the communique regarding the Internet follows.

II. INTERNET

4. All over the world, the Internet has become essential to our societies, economies and their growth.

5. For citizens, the Internet is a unique information and education resource and thus can be a helpful tool to promote freedom, democracy and human rights.

6. For business, the Internet has become an essential and irreplaceable tool for the conduct of commerce and development of relations with consumers. The Internet is a driver of innovation, improves efficiency, and thus contributes to growth and employment.

7. For governments, the Internet is a tool for a more efficient administration, for the provision of services to the public and businesses, and for enhancing their relations with citizens and ensuring respect for and promotion of human rights.

8. The Internet has become a major driver for the global economy, its growth and innovation.

9. The openness, transparency and freedom of the Internet have been key to its development and success. These principles, together with those of non-discrimination and fair competition, must continue to be an essential force behind its development.

10. Their implementation must be included in a broader framework: that of respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the protection of intellectual property rights, which inspire life in every democratic society for the benefit of all citizens. We strongly believe that freedom and security, transparency and respect for confidentiality, as well as the exercise of individual rights and responsibility have to be achieved simultaneously. Both the framework and principles must receive the same protection, with the same guarantees, on the Internet as everywhere else.

11. The Internet has become the public arena for our time, a lever of economic development and an instrument for political liberty and emancipation. Freedom of opinion, expression, information, assembly and association must be safeguarded on the Internet as elsewhere. Arbitrary or indiscriminate censorship or restrictions on access to the Internet are inconsistent with States’ international obligations and are clearly unacceptable. Furthermore, they impede economic and social growth.

12. The Internet and its future development, fostered by private sector initiatives and investments, require a favourable, transparent, stable and predictable environment, based on the framework and principles referred to above. In this respect, action from all governments is needed through national policies, but also through the promotion of international cooperation.

13. We commit to encourage the use of the Internet as a tool to advance human rights and democratic participation throughout the world.

14. The global digital economy has served as a powerful economic driver and engine of growth and innovation. Broadband Internet access is an essential infrastructure for participation in today’s economy. In order for our countries to benefit fully from the digital economy, we need to seize emerging opportunities, such as cloud computing, social networking and citizen publications, which are driving innovation and enabling growth in our societies. As we adopt more innovative Internet-based services, we face challenges in promoting interoperability and convergence among our public policies on issues such as the protection of personal data, net neutrality, transborder data flow, ICT security, and intellectual property.

15. With regard to the protection of intellectual property, in particular copyright, trademarks, trade secrets and patents, we recognize the need to have national laws and frameworks for improved enforcement. We are thus renewing our commitment to ensuring effective action against violations of intellectual property rights in the digital arena, including action that addresses present and future infringements. We recognize that the effective implementation of intellectual property rules requires suitable international cooperation of relevant stakeholders, including with the private sector. We are committed to identifying ways of facilitating greater access and openness to knowledge, education and culture, including by encouraging continued innovation in legal on line trade in goods and content, that are respectful of intellectual property rights.

16. The effective protection of personal data and individual privacy on the Internet is essential to earn users’ trust. It is a matter for all stakeholders: the users who need to be better aware of their responsibility when placing personal data on the Internet, the service providers who store and process this data, and governments and regulators who must ensure the effectiveness of this protection. We encourage the development of common approaches taking into account national legal frameworks, based on fundamental rights and that protect personal data, whilst allowing the legal transfer of data.

17. The security of networks and services on the Internet is a multi-stakeholder issue. It requires coordination between governments, regional and international organizations, the private sector, civil society and the G8’s own work in the Roma-Lyon group, to prevent, deter and punish the use of ICTs for terrorist and criminal purposes. Special attention must be paid to all forms of attacks against the integrity of infrastructure, networks and services, including attacks caused by the proliferation of malware and the activities of botnets through the Internet. In this regard, we recognize that promoting users’ awareness is of crucial importance and that enhanced international cooperation is needed in order to protect critical resources, ICTs and other related infrastructure. The fact that the Internet can potentially be used for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of peace and security, and may adversely affect the integrity of critical systems, remains a matter of concern. Governments have a role to play, informed by a full range of stakeholders, in helping to develop norms of behaviour and common approaches in the use of cyberspace. On all these issues, we are determined to provide the appropriate follow-up in all relevant fora.

18. We call upon all stakeholders to combat the use of Internet for trafficking in children and for their sexual exploitation. We will also work towards developing an environment in which children can safely use the Internet by improving children’s Internet literacy including risk awareness, and encouraging adequate parental controls consistent with the freedom of expression.

19. We recognize the importance of enhanced access to the Internet for developing countries. Important progress has been achieved since the Okinawa Summit and we pay tribute to the efforts made by developing countries in this regard as well as the various stakeholders, governments, the private sector and NGOs, which provide resources, expertise and innovation. We encourage initiatives, in partnership with the private sector, on the use of the Internet with a development purpose, particularly for education and healthcare.

20. As we support the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance, we call upon all stakeholders to contribute to enhanced cooperation within and between all international fora dealing with the governance of the Internet. In this regard, flexibility and transparency have to be maintained in order to adapt to the fast pace of technological and business developments and uses. Governments have a key role to play in this model.

21. We welcome the meeting of the e-G8 Forum which took place in Paris on 24 and 25 May, on the eve of our Summit and reaffirm our commitment to the kinds of multi-stakeholder efforts that have been essential to the evolution of the Internet economy to date. The innovative format of the e-G8 Forum allowed participation of a number of stakeholders of the Internet in a discussion on fundamental goals and issues for citizens, business, and governments. Its free and fruitful debate is a contribution for all relevant fora on current and future challenges.

22. We look forward to the forthcoming opportunities to strengthen international cooperation in all these areas, including the Internet Governance Forum scheduled next September in Nairobi and other relevant UN events, the OECD High Level Meeting on “The Internet Economy: Generating Innovation and Growth” scheduled next June in Paris, the London International Cyber Conference scheduled next November, and the Avignon Conference on Copyright scheduled next November, as positive steps in taking this important issue forward.

Jérémie Zimmermann on the Internet and civil society in France [VIDEO]

When it comes to the Internet, France has followed its own path in making policies, particularly with respect to intellectual property. Those choice were highlighted at the eG8 forum, where 20th century ideas clashed with the 21st century economy. The forum, held before the G-8 summit of global leaders, showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders.

As Nancy Scola reported at techPresident, at the eG8, civil society groups restaked their claim to the ‘Net. Looking for more answers, I spoke with Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson for citizen advocacy group LaQuadrature du Net, about the Internet in France. For American Internet users, this interview should be by turns illuminating, provocative and a reminder of the freedoms we enjoy here.

Crawford: The open Internet is the basis for democracy flourishing around the world

“Access to the Internet is fundamental,” said Susan Crawford, an American law professor and former White House official, speaking at the The inaugural eG8 forum, held in Paris. These are the most important policies that government should be embracing. We want to make sure that other voices are heard.”

At the eG8, 20th century ideas clashed with the 21st century economy. The forum, held before the G-8 summit of global leaders, showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders.

As Nancy Scola reported at techPresident, at the at the eG8, civil society groups restaked their claim to the ‘Net. I spoke with Crawford about what’s at stake following an impromptu press conference held to highlight their concerns. Our interview is below:

“What’s at risk is the future of the Internet,” she said. It’s “whether it continues to be a distributed, open, platform for innovation, economic growth, democratic discourse, participation by all peoples of the world or whether it becomes a balkanized, taxed, blocked, controlled broadcast medium, which is what many incumbents would like to see.”

How close are we to that happening? “Luckily, we have a long way to go,” said Crawford, “because the people who use the Internet will continue to fight back with everything they’ve got.”

Watch the whole thing to hear what her take on why this matters to citizens, educators, children, and entrepreneurs.

Pew: More than half of US adults went online to get election news in 2010

The Pew Internet and Life Project released new research today on the Internet and Campaign 2010 that 73% of adult internet users went online to get news, information or otherwise be involved in last year’s elections. That represents some 54% of all US adults, or a majority of the population, now are turning to the Internet when election season comes around. Expect that to grow further in the presidential season next year.

“As the Internet has developed as a tool for political engagement and information-seeking, the audience for online political content has also changed,” said Aaron Smith, Pew Internet senior research specialist in a prepared statement. Smith authored the report. “These online spaces are a meeting place where politically engaged Americans of all stripes—young and old, conservative and liberal—can come to catch up on the latest events, share their thoughts on the political news of the day, and see what their friends have to say about the issues that are important to them.”

Online

Mainstream media websites occupy the top 5 spots in the list of the main sources of news cited by respondents, next to Yahoo and Google. Only 2% of those surveyed said that they visited a candidate’s website, setting a low bar for that number to explode in the 2012 cycle as both incumbents and those wishing to oust them turn to the Web to “go direct” to citizens.

For some, where they’re visiting is a little less clear. 29% of those surveyed chose “other” for their main sources of news, which could mean any number of sources in the blogosphere or the rest of the Internet.

Chart: Pew_Internet and Campaign 2010_Source

Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, November 3-24, 2010 Post-Election Tracking Survey. n=2,257 national adults ages 18 and older, including 755 cell phone interviews. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Note: totals may exceed 100% due to multiple responses. This chart is based on data from “22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign,” a report on politics and social media by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This report is available in full on our website at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/The-Internet-and-Campaign-2010.aspx. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. For more information about the Project, please visit http://pewinternet.org/About-Us.aspx.
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Social

Social networking is an increasingly important factor in American consumption of political news. According to eMarketer, in 2011 half of all US Internet users log in monthly to Facebook.

There are now well over than tens of million American Twitter users, though a small percentage of those users account for the bulk of the tweets. According to Pew, one in five online adults (22%) used Twitter or a social networking site for political purposes in 2010. Twitter has some 200 million users worldwide, approximately 60 million of them of which are in the United States.

Video

With more broadband access, Internet-connected flatscreen televisions, set-top boxes and an explosion of video-capable smartphones and tablets, people are also watching in more places, spaces and times than ever before. Timeshifting stopped being a science fiction phenomenon years ago with the introduction of digital video recorders, familiar now as “DVRs”, but on-demand video from Apple, Amazon, YouTube, Netflix and a host of other sites are available to those able to pay the toll for broadband Internet access.

Chart: Pew_Internet and Campaign 2010_Online Video

Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, November 3-24, 2010 Post-Election Tracking Survey. n=2,257 adult internet users ages 18 and older, including 755 cell phone interviews; interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. n=1,628 based on internet users. This chart is based on data from “22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign,” a report on politics and social media by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This report is available in full on our website at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/The-Internet-and-Campaign-2010.aspx. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. For more information about the Project, please visit http://pewinternet.org/About-Us.aspx.
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Polarized?

According to the report, some “55% of all internet users feel that the internet increases the influence of those with extreme political views, compared with 30% who say that the internet reduces the influence of those with extreme views by giving ordinary citizens a chance to be heard.”

Is the Internet polarizing? Micah Sifry of techPresident wasn’t so sure.

This could be true, or it could be a false positive. What if people are conflating things? Arguably politics in America is more polarized, but cable TV and talk radio and paid negative political advertising are driving that shift, while the Internet is just an overall disruptive force that is enabling lots of more people to speak up and connect with the like-minded and unlike-minded alike.

Groups

Polarization can express itself in how people group online and offline. As with so many activities online, political information gathering online requires news consumers to be more digitally literate.

In 2011, that may mean recognizing the potential for digital echo chambers, where unaware citizens become trapped in a filter bubble created by rapidly increasing personalization in search, commercial and social utilities like Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Pew’s research found that some of the people surveyed at least recognized the complexity of the political landscape online. With a few clicks of the mouse, keystrokes or finger taps, a news consumer can find the best and worst of humanity is mirrored online. The open platform of the Internet allows extremist views to co-exists alongside moderate perspectives. It also provides means for like-minded citizens to find one another, using the Internet as a platform for collective action.

Chart: Pew Internet_Internet and Campaign 2010_Point of View

Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, November 3-24, 2010 Post-Election Tracking Survey. N=2,257 adult internet users ages 18 and older, including 755 cell phone interviews; Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. n=1,167 based on online political users. This chart is based on data from “22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign,” a report on politics and social media by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This report is available in full on our website at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/The-Internet-and-Campaign-2010.aspx. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. For more information about the Project, please visit http://pewinternet.org/About-Us.aspx.
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While the diversity of sources may have radically expanded and the delivery systems for them may have multiplied, finding and establishing the truth of what’s out there can be be challenging.

Caveat lector.

You can download the full report as a PDF here. For digital politicos, it’s a must read.

Pew: Open government is tied to higher levels of community satisfaction

The results from a new study from Pew Internet and Life Project found that when citizens believe their governments are sharing more information, they are more likely to feel satisfied with civic life. The study will offer some evidence for elected officials who run on open government platforms or who work for more transparency. Broadband users are more critical of their communities and local institutions.

The study, released by the Pew Research Center, Monitor Institute and Knight Foundation found that citizens who believe that their city hall is more transparency are more likely to have positive feelings about:

  • the overall quality of their community
  • the ability of their community, including media and neighbors, to provide them with information that matters;
  • the overall performance of their local government
  • the performance of civic and journalistic institutions, including public safety, libraries, and media outlets.

The Pew study also found that government transparency was associated with how empowered residents feel. Specifically, those who think government shares information well “are more likely to say that average citizens can have an impact on government.” That said, the authors of the report made sure to caution not to draw too broad a conclusion from these findings:

We did not establish causality here – for instance, that greater government transparency provides benefits to a host of civic organizations or that broadband-adoption initiatives will heighten citizens’ critical thinking about their community or that higher-quality journalism will encourage more people to turn out for town meetings. Yet these possibilities emerge in the answers citizens and their leaders gave.

The degree of open government in a given community isn’t just about how citizens feel about it, however, as transparency advocates have emphasized: it’s  about how well government is actually sharing information, versus how well citizens feel they are. One interesting finding from the survey was that with increased broadband use, citizens become more critical of their communities and institutions.

“This result suggests that those citizens with broadband expect – but don’t always find – information from their governments, schools and other local civic organizations there where they want it when they want it,” noted report author Tony Siesfeld, head of research for the Monitor Institute, in a prepared statement. “It may be that broadband is raising ‘the bar’ on information transparency.”

The Internet is playing a role in the new information ecosystem. According to the survey:

  • 32% of the residents of the towns surved now get local news from social networking sites like Facebook
  • 19% get local news from blogs
  • 12% get it on smartphones and mobile devices like smartphones
  • 7% get local news from Twitter.

“There have been vast changes in the local news and information landscape in recent years,” noted Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project and an author of a report on the findings, in a prepared statement.  “One of the key insights here is that citizens have new ways to assess the performance of city hall. They are paying attention to how transparent their government is. If they feel public agencies are forthcoming, they also feel better about other parts of town. There might be a real civic payoff if governments shared more. ”

There’s much more to dig through in the survey (both the OhMyGov.com and techPresident analyses are worth reading) but one findings is worth highlighting for local government leaders making policy decisions this year:

Each of the 3 communities surveyed (San Jose, CA, Macon, GA, and Philadelphia, PA) have what the report calls an “online portal” for government and civic information. Even so, only a little more than a third of their residents were fully aware of the local government website.. From the report:

Moreover, in the opinion surveys, we found that many who tried to use the internet to get local civic information could not always find what they were seeking. Only a quarter of these residents said that when they did searches for local civic information they always found what they were seeking. Yet even when they found what they were seeking, only 37% said the information presented to them was very clear and easy to understand.

There’s clearly some room for local governments to improve here. The survey results suggested what could be done: “one strong yearning residents expressed was for a central location for civic information that is maintained by the government. More than three-quarters of the respondents in these three communities (78%) said it was ‘very important’ that a government website be set up for this and another 17% said it was ‘somewhat important.'”

Throughout United States and elsewere in the world, there are more examples of technology-fueled open government, where citizensourcing is part of the set of tools officials deploy. If local governments keep using technology to deliver smarter government, there’s reason to be hopeful that new online hubs fueled by open government data will play an important role in the information needs of citizens.

Knight Commission to release recommendations on open government and online hubs

Tomorrow, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will release two new white papers that focus on implementing the recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

The two new white papers—“Government Transparency: Six Strategies for More Open and Participatory Government” by Jon Gant and Nicol Turner-Lee, and “Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action” by Adam Thierer, recommend steps that government and community leaders should take to increase government transparency and put more information hubs online.

To Aspen Institute will convene a roundtable of public officials, advocates, and watchdogs from national, state and local levels of government (along with this correspondent) tomorrow morning from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EST. See the list of attendees below for specific details.

There will be a live webcast of the event. The Knight Commission is encouraging people to participate online at #knightcomm hashtag. According to the event organizers, a livestream will begin at 9:00 a.m. (EST) and will be archived. These white papers will be available to read and download Friday morning. Look for links here when they become available.


Featured Roundtable Speakers

Dr. Jon Gant, Fellow, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and Associate Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a leading scholar in the field of information systems and public administration.

Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President and Director of the Media and Technology Institute for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. She has produced path breaking research on broadband adoption among minority and disadvantaged populations and engages city, state and federal legislators on issues in telecommunications, open government and the emerging technology innovation sectors.

Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow, Technology Policy Program, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, having previously served as President of the Progress & Freedom Foundation. His work spans technology, media, and Internet and free speech with a focus in online child safety and digital privacy policy issues.

Roundtable participants include:

Gary Bass, Executive Director, OMB Watch
Ben Berkowitz, Founder, SeeClickFix
John Bracken, Directory of Digital Media, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Jerry Brito, Senior Research Fellow, George Mason University
Kevin Curry, Co-Founder, CityCamp.com
Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Charlie Firestone, Executive Director, Communications and Society Program, Aspen Institute
Feather Houstoun, President, William Penn Foundation
Alexander Howarder, Government 2.0 Washington Correspondent, O’Reilly Media
William Kellibrew, IV, Deputy Director, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
Alex Kreilein, Legislative Assistant, Office of Congresswoman Jane Harman
Ngoan Le, Vice President of Programs, The Chicago Community Trust
Blair Levin, Communications and Society Fellow, Aspen Institute
Philip Neustrom, Founder, Davis Wiki
Steve Pearson, Publisher and Chief Technologist, Project Virginia
Lee Rainie, Director, PEW Internet and American Life Project
Rachel Sterne, Chief Digital Officer, Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment, New York City
Daniel Schuman, Policy Counsel, Sunlight Foundation
Nancy Tate, Executive Director, League of Women Voters
Tracy Viselli, Community Manager, ACTion Alexandria
Marijke Visser, Assistant Director, OITP, American Library Association
Eric Wenger, Policy Counsel, US-Legal-Government Affairs, Microsoft Corporation
Harry Wingo, Senior Policy Counsel, Google, Inc.