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In response to Anthony Zacharzewski

2. September 2012 – 12:34 by gabor

A couple of weeks ago, Anthony Zacharzewski, social activist of The Democratic Society wrote a review on our association’s project that had the working title ‘webvotr’ and has since been named Civilzone.

We very much appreciate any feedback regarding the site and any comments would be greatly appreciated. Besides highlighting the elements of the initiative that he found most appealing and wishing us success, Anthony also raised a few interesting questions and pointed out some risky areas where we might not reach our original goals.

He suggested three possible problems.

Civilzone openly aims to mobilize society on international, national and at local government levels – Anthony thinks that in small local communities the so-called “Empty Restaurant Syndrome” might occur; due to the lack of users and interaction, the number of people joining smaller governmental units will not be enough to form a community able to make real changes and decisions. As an example, he quoted iCan, BBC’s similar project from ten years ago.

Although his worries are reasonable, I think this does not represent a real danger for us: there are two reasons why.

One of them is that while BBC forcefully tried to organise every single parish’s government from above, our scenario is completely different; we’ll try to begin organising the groups of administrators running the application on national level in as many countries as possible.

The administrators will post the parliamentary initiatives, then first the opponents are expected to demonstrate their dislike, and the ones in favour of the initiative will then show their support in reply to the negative arguments. Subsequently, there will hopefully be individual initiatives and perhaps success stories too, similarly to Hamburg’s Transparency Law.

Smaller communities will only be formed after this, as need for them emerges. As soon as we have at least one or two people willing to organise a community, they will be granted the opportunity from the administrators moderating the particular administrative area. By this time, results achieved on national and EU-levels will be the inspiration for many.

The other reason is that internet today is very different from what it used to be 10 years ago: not only regarding the number of users but also in terms of the transmission speed of information.

BBC’s iCan drew attention to the application but failed to generate activity. Even if a few individuals were determined to convince their friends and acquaintances of joining they could only attempt to do this through email and in person. Today the social network is a very active place where using the network of connections, clearly demonstrating the principle of 6-7 steps, the right information can spread on a global scale in seconds. Every comment left and every vote cast on civilzone will appear on the user’s Facebook wall, visible to all his friends, allowing societal participation to go viral.

I find the second query to be the most interesting: Anthony says that online experience so far has shown that only people from “the same side” can effectively cooperate on political matters. Besides many great examples, I can also point out current Hungarian ones: on Facebook, pages having around a hundred thousand likes, like One Million Strong for the Freedom of Press in Hungary or Viktor Orbán’s, it is clear that only people belonging to the same side can get along well. If every once in a while someone from “the other side” comes over, they either only want to disrupt the community, or if they’re actually trying to reason together or make a consensus, some keen users from the original community will make it clear with their atrocious comments that there’s no room for them here.

The difference for us lies in the fact that on civilzone we’ll have specific issues and initiatives that affect the lives of the people who live in the civil parishes rather than pages of organisations, parties and movements. So I hope that instead of supporting parties and taking sides, the discussion will focus on how much passing or rejecting a particular initiative can serve the interest of the community.

In order to promote this, we incorporated two features into the application: firstly, displaying the most popular pro and con arguments; secondly, the possibility of sending in articles or blog posts.

The third argument to be considered is the following: “How can it represent those offline, and how can it avoid just giving a stronger voice to those who (through education, wealth or position) already have a strong voice?”

Perhaps this is the area where we have the biggest cultural difference: in Hungary, besides online newspapers and weekly prints, there is only one radio station and one television channel that clearly voice the left wing’s standpoint – in opposition since 2010 – but even these are experiencing various difficulties. The internet on the other hand is widely known as a source of objective information and a means of taking a clear look at both sides of the coin. With regard to the above, the application would actually amplify the voice of those who are now in minority besides the crowds who voted the present government into constitutional supermajority.

Freedom of press is of course a separate issue; the parallelism here is not entirely correct.

I think that Anthony’s following query is the most relevant: it is true that those without internet access will not have a chance to effectively represent their interest through the application. Even though the growth is unstoppable and 92.9% of Sweden’s, 84.1% of the UK’s and 82.7% of Germany’s population are already able to access the World Wide Web, the figures quoted still do not make up 100%.

One possible solution is to use the application to demonstrate even more clearly that in an information society, internet access should be a universal human right – numerous countries (Estonia, Finland, France, Spain and Greece) have succeeded in implementing this. Civilzone could provide a way to start a petition in the European Union and it could be a useful, influential tool in shaping politics and the public opinion even for those wanting to help people living on the edge of the society.

In my personal opinion, the most challenging part of the project is building an international network. Even though I don’t have years of experience in this field I can see that in the case of e-participation or at least in organising activism through the internet, civilians – especially the younger members of the Y and the almost grown-up members of the Z-generation – are more successful than civil activists and also that thinking and keeping in touch on European or global level is quite rare.

It is very fortunate that organizations like PEP-NET and Participedia exist and improve the situation greatly, allowing us to write to you here, but I think more activity, discussions, statements, petitions and demonstrations, all in all, more participation is required to achieve our common goals.

Because of this, I’d like to ask everyone to write if they feel like they have something to comment about the present or the previous article; let’s ease the burden on John Heaven’s shoulders a little!

If you prefer paying attention from the background, I’d like to recommend Anthony’s organization and also our organization.

Let’s do some networking.

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Nexthamburg: Crowd-sourcing and participation in urban development

21. March 2012 – 12:46 by cynthiawagner

The growth of movements like the Right to the City Movement and protests like Stuttgart21, Gängeviertel, or NO BNQ show the continuously increasing demand for more public participation in urban development. The pilot project Nexthamburg experiments with new ways of public participation in the urban development of Hamburg. The concept of the open and independent crowd-sourcing project will be presented at the PEP-NET Summit on 14th May.

Nexthamburg gathers solutions and challenges for the city of Hamburg in crowd-
sourcing processes. Citizens can post their own solutions for the big challenges on the webpage or other Nexthamburg social media channels, discuss, comment or follow others, create their own vision for Hamburg. They can also participate in one of the Nexthamburg events, for example Nexthamburg Sessions, Salon, Zukunftscafés, or the Zukunftscamp.

The long-term goal of the project is to organize a crowd-funding channel for promising ideas for Hamburg’s urban development to finance feasibility studies and realization efforts.

Nexthamburg is active since April 2009 and has been promoted as a pilot project of national politics of urban development by the federal ministry for traffic, building, and urban development until 2011. It is supposed to become a non-profit association in 2012.

Nexthamburg on nexthamburg.defacebook, twitter, google, flickr, youtube, issuu

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Facebook: Game-over in Han-over

2. December 2011 – 15:02 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Protecting citizens' data (photo by jaime.silva, Flickr)

The Region of Hanover (yes, that’s the correct English spelling) has dropped its Facebook page due to data protection concerns. Kommune21, an E-Government magazine, reports that recent statements from some of Germany’s regional Data Protection Commissioners (the best known example coming from Schleswig-Holstein) led the region to take drastic steps, despite the advantages of the Facebook page in reaching younger users.

As Berlin celebrates its millionth Facebook fan, this will continue to keep concerns about data protection protection high on the agenda. The Schleswig-Holstein Data Protection Commissioner’s controversial findings earlier this year ordered all organisations in his state to drop their Facebook pages and cease to use the Facebook ‘like’ button on their websites. This is because data about users is sent to servers in the US and, according to the Commissioner, not enough is done to inform users about what data are collected and what happens to them.

The Commissioner also raised concerns about the use of the Facebook “Like” plugin, which allows users to recommend a page to their Facebook friends by clicking on a button on the website concerned instead of pasting a link onto Facebook. It would appear that information about users, even those who do not have Facebook accounts, are sent to Facebook and logged-in users of the social networking site can be tracked across websites.

At the start of September, Heise, a German publisher, got itself into trouble with Facebook for developing a ‘Like’ plugin that first has to be activated by the user, in order to avoid sending any data to Facebook without the user’s consent. The dispute appears to have been resolved since Heise developed an alternative logo and only shows the Facebook logo once the user has clicked on it to activate the sharing function. You can see it in action on (the ‘Empfehlen’ button at the end of each article).

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Open social networking: The Facebook privacy debacle and the dawn of alternatives

19. May 2010 – 10:33 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

by HubSpot on

by HubSpot on

Over the course of the last weeks and months the discussion about privacy on Facebook and other social networks has become ever more intense and heated. A quick look on Google news for example reveals more than 4.000 news articles about this issue. One of the initiators for this debate was decision by Facebook to (again) change its approach to privacy by making more information about its users public by default. If you would like to get a feeling about the level of publicity Facebook profiles have reached just take a quick look at (a search engine for all public status updates) or (a tool that allows you to scan your privacy settings and show you what is public).

In this climate of rising distrust towards Facebook many digerati and web users have stated the need for an alternative social networking infrastructure that allows for more control by the user without making the management of your online privacy to complicated.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Member project: TalkIssues by the Democratic Society

15. April 2010 – 00:41 by Anthony Zacharzewski

As the election campaign in the UK gets up to speed, PEP-NET member the Democratic Society is working with well-known blogger Kevin Anderson and social media consultancy FutureGov to focus discussion on political issues rather than personalities.

Through a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter hashtag, the TalkIssues campaign provides information on the different parties’ policy announcements, and a space for discussion and debate.

Discussions on blog and Facebook are linked through a simple Facebook app, and Twitter updates also appear on the blog site.

The first televised debate between the party leaders is tonight (Thursday), and TalkIssues will be covering it live on Twitter and on the blog. Closer to election night (6 May), we will also be trying to arrange election meetups in various locations around the UK.

Any PEP-NET members who are interested in keeping in touch would be welcome to sign up for the Facebook page or follow the hashtag. Anthony at the Democratic Society is the person to speak to if you would like to discuss what’s happening.

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Building your European identity on Facebook

18. March 2010 – 16:24 by Simone Gerdesmeier

Social Networks are not only a place to meet and greet your friends online. They are becoming more and more ubiquitous and especially – but not only – for the young generation they are an alternative tool for sharing information and news. Some Social Networks promote the exchange about political topics with special tools. Let’s take Facebook for example: Facebook members can not only write on their friend’s walls, share personal messages, and follow their friend’s timeline; users can also create or become members of groups and feature so called causes. In this way they express their political views, take part in political discussion or simply show their support for certain causes on their profile.

Facebook members use group feature to discuss about the European Union

Facebook does not provide concrete figures about how many groups deal with political topics. But there are a lot of them, creating a buzz about current political events as well as about long-term processes. Given the mass of users located in the European Union, it’s hardly surprising that a number of groups are also concerned with specific European topics. If searching for the term “European Union”, you get far more than 500 results, including groups like FOR A “EUROPEAN UNION” NETWORK, At least 400 million EU citizens don ‘t want Turkey in European Union !!!!, Females In Front – EU or anti-European groups like I Declare Myself Not a Citizen of the European Union.

Looking at this lively group culture, the questions pops up: Can social media like Facebook help to create a European Identity?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Vienna combines on- and offline democracy

4. February 2010 – 16:22 by Centre for E-Government

Recently, the Austrian capital Vienna launched an extensively advertised eParticipation and discussion platform called Wien will’s wissen (Vienna wants to know) for the referendum in February. By now most of the citizens have already received their ballot papers by mail, but they can also participate in online discussions.

Vienna’s government wonders about citizen’s opinions with an online platform going along with the referendum (Volksbegehren). The selection of the topics of the referendum was based on the orientation on factual issues as opposed to ideological ones.

The online platform is to be seen as an additional information and discussion service for the exchange of ideas between citizens and experts. Online contributions and comments can be made on the topics of the referendum. (Citizens will be asked five questions about prospective decisions of the Viennese government.) Plus, contrary statements of two experts – amongst them bloggers and media experts – referring to one of these questions are published.

By registering on the platform with an username and e-mail address everyone is offered the opportunity to submit questions and statements or to comment on the postings of other users. Before going online, all comments are reviewed by editors in order to ensure that people stick to the netiquette.

Implementation of Facebook and Blog

The platform is joining the trend of implementating social networks by including the possibility to use an existing Facebook account for comments. Users can use their accounts for uploading videos or pictures related to the five topics. In doing so, people should be persuaded to voice their concerns without having to go through an additional registration process.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Social separation very real in the online realm

8. July 2009 – 10:31 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

“Many of us believe that technologies can be these great equalizers”. This statement by Danah Boyd at the Personal Democracy Forum 2009 holds true. Many of us do believe that technology can be an equalizer but it seems that this believe may not be true for popular social networks such as Myspace and Facebook.

According to Ms. Boyd Myspace can be called the “ghetto of the digital landscape” while Facebook is frequented by the “white, educated and privileged”. Besides the fact that there are very different demographics on these two social networks it has also been found that the divide between these user groups is very hard to overcome. Ms. Boyd goes so far as to state that: “There’s a cultural wall between users” and “If there’s no way for people to communicate across the divide, you can never expect them to do so.” This shortened result is based on a four year dissertation study called “Taken Out of Context – American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics” and is summarized in her paper for the PDF “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Technology use in the 2009 South African elections

20. April 2009 – 13:44 by Danish Technological Institute

by Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, Danish Technological Institute

Much has been reported about the successful campaigning, fund raising and support canvassing by the 2008 Obama election campaign. Still the use of ICT to increase electoral participation, campaigning, consultation and voting is not a uniquely US phenomena. A multitude of eParticipation and eDemocracy initiatives exist. Ranging from eVoting in Estonia’s and Geneva’s national and regional elections, gender budgeting in Freiburg, consultation on local issues in Malmö to the political influence of bloggers in China or in the 2008 election crisis in Kenya. Information communication technology (ICT) in other words plays an increasingly important role in society.

As South Africans go to the polling stations on 22 April 2009, campaigning is being played out in traditional media (TV, radio, print), on the internet, on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, in text messages/sms’s with street banners and in rallies across the country.

A full 173 parties – 134 at national level plus 39 purely provincial parties – are officially registered for the 2009 elections. Of these the four main ones are (alphabetic order):

  • ANC – African National Congress and currently in power with the support, in a tripartite alliance, of the smaller South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
  • COPE – Congress of the People in 2008 by formed members of the ANC
  • DA – Democratic Alliance and currently the official opposition
  • IFP – Inkatha Freedom Party a mainly regional party centered on the province of KwaZulu-Natal

Each of the main parties makes use of ICT in some form and in variety of ways and degrees. The table below outlines the use of websites and social networks (or Web2.0 technologies). Read the rest of this entry »

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Unsocial Networks

12. April 2009 – 10:49 by Fraser Henderson - ICELE

Freddi Fraudster FrogWe all know about the benefits of social networking but what about the pitfalls? The obvious one is distraction – it is estimated that social networks cost UK businesses £6.5 billion a year in lost productivity. That doesn’t mean I’m in favour of blacklisting such sites; instead I would encourage corporations and public bodies to update their IT ‘acceptable use’ policies accordingly.

However, there are more sinister forces at work. The idea of being ‘friends’ with somebody you haven’t met might be good for kudos but can you be confident of their identity? Trust is an old online problem with worryingly few checks and balances in the social networking field.

I’ve observed that people are generally less alert in these environments too – for example, more likely to click a link in a Twitter feed than in an email. I don’t think people realise that social networking accounts are increasingly attractive to scammers and hackers. For example, when Obama’s Twitter account was hacked at the start of the year it offered the perfect springboard for spam.

The nature of the beast is also the problem. Twitter is a prime example – it has an upper character limit so people tend to use short URL generators like TinyURL. This makes it easier to cloak your final destination. Facebook, on the other hand, allows ‘non-certified’ applications to be installed and as a result many have fallen foul to malicious widgets. [Firefox users’ note: there is an excellent add-on called LongURL mobile expander which can be used to reveal the final destination of web redirectors].

An experiment by IT security firm Sophos tested the integrity of Facebook users back in 2007. After setting up a profile in the name of “Freddi Staur” (an anagram of ‘Fraudster’, pictured here), they sent out 200 friend requests and waited to see what would happen. A total of 87 people responded and of these 82 leaked ‘personal’ information such as full dates of birth.

In addition to these findings, Sophos ‘poked’ a further 100 random Facebook users to see if this form of communication would elicit the same response and encourage people to let Freddi access their details. However, just eight people responded, with only five revealing personal information.

With increasing scope for security lapses in eParticipation land, PEP-NET should take note.