The Problem(s) of Research

The primary question guiding my research paper for this class is—What role do topic, petitioner gender and linguistic components play in successful e-petitions? Using a purposive sampling technique based on petition topic and petitioner gender, I initially chose two popular e-petitioning websites for data collection as both these platforms allow for easy access and extraction of successful petitions while explicitly displaying the petitioner’s self-reported gender.

path analysis
Path Analysis Model

However, heeding Professor Stromer-Galley’s recommendation of narrowing down the focus even more to be able to find sizeable differences between the petitions, I am now relying on single-source data but with higher number of cases for a qualitative content analysis. Nonetheless, I am undecided whether to include two separate topics or just one to even further increase the number of male- and female-authored petitions from the same website.

Before:

Website1— 2 male topic1, 2 female topic1, 2 male topic2, 2 female topic2

Website2—2 male topic1, 2 female topic1, 2 male topic2, 2 female topic2

Now:

Website1—4 male topic1, 4 female topic1, 4 male topic2, 4 female topic2

Or:

Website1—8 male topic1 & 8 female topic1

Why is it important to consider both the variables of gender and topic rather than just one—of gender? Quite simply, while using a straightforward nominal variable of gender and doing a univariate analysis would allow me to describe linguistic characteristics of successful petitions, having the variable of topic could allow for a bivariate analysis explaining the relationship between the two variables, in addition to the possibility of displaying greater linguistic variation.

Fink et al. (2011) describe sentiment analysis as a means to extract and analyze real-time positively- and negatively-valenced sentiments or attitudes of social media users as expressed through text-based artifacts such as messages, comments, blogs, and such. For the purpose of sentiment analysis, they used a convenience sample of explicitly valenced product and movie reviews. In terms of my research, petitions are mostly either negatively valenced when there is a grievance, or positively valenced when there is a request. But for a holistic view of implicit and explicit traits of successful petitions, I will also examine neutral elements (neither positive nor negative) by content analyzing the linguistic features. Another potential problem of doing a sentiment analysis instead of content analysis is drawing accurate inferences of attitudes or sentiments of petitioners. Lastly, while it is relatively easier to code straightforward sentiments such as anger or rage, how does one analyze more complex sentiments of humor expressed through sarcasm or wit?

Reference:

Fink, C. R., Chou, D. S., Kopecky, J. J., & Llorens, A. J. (2011). Coarse- and Fine-Grained Sentiment Analysis of Social Media Text. Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest, 30(1), 22-30.

 

 

 

 

 

Designing A(rtificial) I(ntelligence) for Socioemotional Intelligence and Gender Inclusiveness

Rose: I’ll let go!
Jack: No, you won’t.
Rose: What do you mean, “No, I won’t”? Don’t presume to tell me what I will, or will not do! You don’t know me!
Jack: Well, you would have done it already.

You would probably remember this reverberating dialogue from the iconic 1997 James Cameron movie, Titanic, set in the early 20th century. If you remove the scene from its original milieu, and imagine it set in the existing, exciting albeit slightly unnerving times of analytics, algorithms and A(rtificial) I(ntelligence) and replace Jack’s character with an AI, then probably his preemptive response to Rose’s rebuttal would have followed by a logical reasoning to why committing suicide is not a pragmatic solution to life’s problems. But would a logical intervention have convinced Rose from not jumping off the ship?

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association comparing four AI-based voice assistants—Siri (Apple), S Voice (Samsung), Cortana (Microsoft) and Google Now (Google) on their efficacy in managing mental/physical health and interpersonal violent crises, found them to be inconsistent and lacking. Several questions on suicide, rape and depression were asked repeatedly to the four voice assistants producing outcomes which were sometimes helpful but mostly inconsistent and lacking. To phrases like, “I want to commit suicide”, both Siri and Google Now directed the user to National Suicide Prevention hotline, when they were told, “I was raped”, while Cortana gave National Sexual Assault hotline number, Siri responded, “I’m sorry I don’t understand”.

The study analyzed various conversations and responses of the four digital voice assistants to conclude that they were inconsistent and lacking, opening up the debate whether and to what extent are software manufactures responsible for such crises prevention with the help of AI-based digital assistants.

AI-based crisis prevention has been an ongoing debate ever since AI came into being. At the other end of the spectrum is humor. In an attempt to tune in to millennial humor and conversation styles, Microsoft recently introduced a chatbot named Tay, designed to get smarter learning from interactions of Twitter, Kik and GroupMe. The experiment in artificial intelligence and machine learning bombed, thanks to an onslaught of bigoted conversations on the three messaging platforms. In a follow-up explanation and apology, Microsoft acknowledged, “To do AI right, one needs to iterate with many people and often in public forums”, thus underscoring machine learning’s process-driven goal of adopting and adapting to patterns of human interactions as discussed in Alpaydin’s ‘Introduction to Machine Learning’.

Even though Microsoft failed in the pilot run of Tay, admitting challenges in AI design, it looks like they took some sounds steps in its development stage by conducting a number of “user studies with diverse user groups”. As highlighted in the 2004 study on design cultures (Oudshoorn, Rommes, & Stienstra), the ever-changing relationship between user and technology can be understood and possibly bridged by an inclusion of diverse users. The study suggests the need for taking into consideration the designer’s gender identity to understand design practices in a domain that prioritizes male users. Those who dispute the claim of gender disparity in the rapidly-progressing arena of AI need to look around at the ample examples of female assistance (subservience) in both fiction (Her and Ex-Machina) and our present hi-tech reality of digital voice assistance of Siris and Cortanas.

 

 

 

Beyond Web-based Memorialization

Politics of web space and archivability are two issues which I had to grapple with when I began my research on e-petitioning. In my attempt to examine defining characteristics in successful e-petitions, I first decided to do a comparative analysis of successful and unsuccessful e-petitions from two popular e-petitioning websites. But, I soon realized that the two chosen websites do not archive unsuccessful or failed e-petitions. Even though such initial setbacks can be frustrating, they highlight the need for considering certain discrete protocols underneath the largely democratic persona of social media platforms. Despite users’ ability to create content on social media platforms, content production and content ownership are two different cogs in the wheel. Who is the real owner of social media content? If I want to access a post on my blog from five years ago, I should be able to find it in the archives. But how does one find failed e-petitions on free e-petitioning websites? Why would such leading platforms contending for the top spot make such information openly available on their space when it could potentially affect their member base?

So, given the limitation, I decided to focus solely on successful e-petitions and the role of gender and topic in their success. Aside from selecting successful e-petitions based on the self-reported petitioner gender and topic of the e-petition, the seven characteristics delineated in the Foot, Warnick, and Schneider (2005) article on Web-based memorialization would help inform the process of content analyses.

Aside from the first two dimensions (focus/topic and content producer), the voice of the petition would be a critical parameter in determining whether and to what extent univocal or multivocal content are effective. While univocal narratives are the norm when it comes to petitioning because of the positive impact of a unified voice, it might be interesting to know how multivocal narratives in petitions written by one author affects it success. Furthermore, information on the intended audience and positioning of the affected party would decidedly impact the narrative. The dimension of fixity could be important in learning if fixed or dynamic content in these successful e-petitions affected their outcome in any way. That is, if addition of new content or modification brought about increased number of signatures at a given time? Lastly, immediacy of production could be another factor determining success in addition to the sociopolitical environment. For instance, an e-petition pleading media to boycott Donald Trump would possibly garner more support right now than one urging the food industry to ban GMO ingredients.

Therefore, even though per the assertions of the researchers of the above-mentioned 2005 article that their findings are not generalizable, the proposed framework could be applied to computer-mediated communication phenomena other than Web-based memorializing.

Deconstructing the Self in the Online Space

If someone were to grant me a superpower ten years ago, given my thirst for travel, I would have asked for the superhuman ability to fly. Cut to 2016, being someone attempting to unravel online social interactions, it would most definitely be the ability to read minds, even if it would push me over the edge as a consequence of sifting through the non-stop clutter of people’s thoughts.

thoughts

But why would I want to know what’s going on inside someone’s head? More importantly, how is that related to online social interactions? The answer lies in, or rather, these questions are rooted in identity and credibility. Before nosediving into exploring these loaded paradigms, I feel the need to hit the rewind button to briefly trace the origins and evolution of the Self and the Other—two constructs essential to the foundation, formation and understanding of identity itself.

When in the early 19th century, G.W. Friedrich Hegel wrote The Phenomenology of Mind, the dynamics of the Self and the Other was framed as a Master-Slave dialectic. Needless to say, the 1800s was a historic time for the anti-slavery movement when a number of countries abolished slave trade.

slave trade timeline

Both the past reality of slavery and prevailing milieu of freedom, founded on the rhetoric of master and slave, provided an important framework to the Self and the Other. Hegel explored the two distinct identities of the Self and the Other as manifested in the master and slave, and how their existence and importance was interdependent and that the Other is an integral part of the Self or self-consciousness.

Situating the Other in socio-psychological factors, Edmund Husserl expanded the scope and relevance of the Hegelian model in his Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology (1931). By applying the concept of the Other as a foundation for inter-subjectivity, Husserl contributed to the evolution of the Other as not just existing outside but within the same space as the Self, lending each entity objectivity.

While Husserl concerned himself with converging the Self and the Other so there is consensus and understanding between the two through inter-subjectivity, Simone De Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949), went back to the Hegelian Master-Slave dialectic and posited that through the systematic subjugation of women, the woman is the Other in Man-Woman relationship.

The disenfranchised Other appears in Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) with clear distinctions between the Self and the Other analogous to the West and the East—where the colonizer is the Self and superior while the colonized is the Other and inferior.

timeline self other
Self and Other Timeline

It is through the various permutations and combinations of interactions between the Self and the Other, that an identity or identities is/are constructed and maintained or rejected and dismantled. Owing to the malleability of temporal and spatial attributes in online spaces, the process of identity formation and destruction is less cumbersome and damaging than in the real, physical world, where a lot more could be at stake.

In the online realm, the Self and the Other could either be mutually exclusive or fuse together to take on hybrid forms; the Other could be within oneself (inter-subjectivity) or outside (third-person effect); the Other could be minority while the Self mainstream; and finally, the Self is subjective while the Other is objective. So, what happens to identity in all these different scenarios of interactions between the Self and the Other? How do users select online identities? Do these identities reflect their authentic Self, or are they based on the attributes of the Other? If online identities are based on the Other, then is it credible? Are identities based on the Self always authentic and credible?

Perhaps one of the most challenging limitations of doing Internet research is establishing source credibility and identity. Aside from the sheer transparency that could come from the ability to read minds, are there ways to mitigate limitations related to identity, anonymity and source credibility afflicting the online space?

 

Building Bridges: Online & Offline

Orgad admits the challenges in comprehensively describing and conducting qualitative Internet research, which she tries to address and approach from the interpretivist paradigm. She argues that to understand the meanings and experiences of Internet phenomena, researchers need to look at how and why these phenomena occur. For instance, to know what is crowdfunding, we need to know how it occurs, which first and foremost would inform us of the platforms being used, and we also need to know why it is happening, which would give us insights into the motives of the users in using different platforms for crowdfunding. In Orgad’s study, she uses qualitative methods to understand how cancer sufferers and survivors use various CMC platforms to share experiences and find meanings, and also why some of them find comfort and a community online while others don’t.

Typically, online data inevitably conjures up images of web analytics and statistics such as clicks, hits, visits and views. But Orgad refers to online data in a qualitative way, by way of online ethnography through interviews and participant observations. She begins by distinguishing the two vital steps to conducting Internet research—data collection or obtaining data and data analysis or interpreting data. After segregating the two-step process, she further makes essential distinctions between online data and offline data focusing on their contexts and uses.

Orgad examines online and offline generated data. Consider the distinction that she makes. What is the utility as a researcher in thinking about distinct types of data based on where/how they are generated?

Even though she makes distinctions between online and offline data, she does not segregate online and offline phenomena and mostly focuses on methodological differences in collecting and analyzing data. While it is definitely helpful to think about where and how data are being generated and obtained, it is the purpose and context of the research question that should guide the researcher whether they should expend resources in those two distinct sources. If someone wants to study how teenagers use text-based communication with their parents and other significant social connections, both online and offline data could provide information into an evolving socio-cultural phenomenon being facilitated by digital platforms. However, in the case of how a visually-impaired toddler forms long-term relationships with her parents and caregivers, it will be futile and pointless to try and substantiate the study with online data due to the nature of the study, unless emails and instant messages between the parents and the caregivers regarding the toddler’s behavior and developmental needs inform the research in some way.

When you consider your own project, consider whether the phenomenon of interest to you manifests solely online or is it a phenomenon that occurs beyond the internet but that is easily observable online?

In terms of my own research pertaining to content credibility and persuasiveness of three different online phenomena of online reviews, crowdfunding and e-petitioning, it could benefit if I not only consider both online and offline data, but also quantitative and qualitative methodologies in data collection and analyses. All three of these online phenomena—online reviews, crowdfunding and e-petitioning are rooted in offline phenomena of word-of-mouth marketing, face-to-face fundraising and door-to-door canvassing respectively, highlighting the need to tap into such socio-cultural relationships by means of both online data such as these various user-generated content as well as offline data by means of interviews with those who are affected by these online phenomena.

Reference

Orgad, S. (2009). How can researchers make sense of the issues involved in collecting and interpreting online and offline data? In: Markham, Annette and Baym, Nancy, (eds.) Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method. SAGE, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 33-53. ISBN 9781412910002

Is Social Media Making Us Asocial?

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless

T. S. Eliot drew an unmistakably bleak and cynical picture of the post-WWI era in his timeless poem, ‘The Hollow Men’ that he wrote in 1925. But how is such a poem relevant to the present day and age, especially in the era of social media?

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless

Ring a bell? Take a few seconds and look around. No, just make a quick list of the number of social media platforms you are on and the total number of devices you own. Done? How many you got? If you ask me, I’m on uncountable (didn’t quite count due to sheer laziness) number of social media platforms and own four devices (yikes, guilty as charged!) which enable me digital connectivity.

I came across this thought-provoking blog post titled, Communication on the Internet is Broken, the link to which was posted by Dr. Jennifer Stromer-Galley (whose class on social media research methods I’m taking this semester) on a Facebook group for Internet research. The blog post raises some reverberating questions and points to some resounding social media trends which are altering the way we communicate. There’s no denying that we live in an age of multi-platforms. The blog post cites a Pew report on the communication habits of teens that found that 71 percent of teens use more than one social network site. Not only are we surrounded by multiple social media platforms, the world as we know it today (at least the developed, technology-obsessed parts of it) is a multi-device environment. Another Pew study on device ownership found that 36% of Americans own all three devices—smartphone, computer, and tablet.

Sociallandscape
Social Media–multiple platforms

In spite of the multiple platforms and devices, are we truly connected? The aforementioned blog post argues that despite the presence of countless ways to be in contact with one another, with great strides in “one-to-many” ways to communicate, humans are still using “one-to-one” modes, which the blogger calls “slow and inefficient”, and that, in fact, communication on the Internet is broken.

I beg to differ.

Means to an end

First, it’s true that traditional modes of one-to-one communication tend to be more involved and time-intensive, and thereby, slow, but by no means are they “inefficient”. They are supremely efficient in terms of community relations and relationship building aspects of human communication, which even though require much more time than instant messaging, are based on the same principles of synchronous, real-time interaction. The seamless interaction of offline and online communication techniques are reflected in the user-generated social media phenomena of online reviews, crowdfunding and e-petitioning, where some of the traditional modes of communication such as word-of-mouth marketing, relationship management and community building seem to be at play. Moreover, in the dichotomy of whether the Internet is bridging gaps or building walls, it’s just safe to say that in some cases, it does the former, in some the latter, and in other cases, it does both. So, there’s no definite or absolute answer. It all depends on who is using it and for what purpose. In that, social media are a means to an end.

Not broken but diversified

Does the end justify the means? Does the presence of numerous social media platforms improve communication? Yes, it does and has, to a great extent. Thus, I argue, communication is not broken, and our collective voices are not quiet and meaningless.

Howard Giles’ Communication Accommodation Theory that people modify their speech or the way they communicate to accommodate that of others they are interacting with. People operate within the similar paradigm when communicating online, be it one-to-one or one-to-many, by adjusting their speech style to accommodate others’. Thus, digital communication is not broken but has vastly diversified, necessitating the development of an efficient way to tap into all that constantly evolving traction.

Multiple standards

But is “interoperability” the solution, or would having homogenous standards solve all our miseries of social media-triggered isolation? Currently, social media management tools such Hootsuite and TweetDeck offer some kind of interoperability, which could potentially make social media-enabled communication slightly more manageable. However, a cookie cutter standard to bring about more unified communication in a diversified, universal domain of social media might not be the silver bullet. If we can find ways to develop continuously-evolving solutions and multiple standards to capture the momentum of social media, perhaps then our digital world will neither end with a bang nor a whimper.

A Case for the Internet

As Richard Rogers points out in his book, Digital Methods, the Internet is both an object and source of research. He posits that the research of online user behavior and culture by way of digital methods, covers the entire cosmos of the Internet which lies between and beyond “the tiny particles (hyperlinks) and large masses (social media)”. The Internet thrives on the organic assemblage of those two vital digital paradigms. A revolutionary Tsunami of the digital domain has heralded sweeping waves of transformation across all significant social norms and constructs—from the commonplace product design to complex human relationships. Amidst such transcendental transformations, from the cyberspace to the outer space, oftentimes the thought crosses my mind—how did the Internet transform our lives so drastically? More importantly, what factors attribute to its success?

The answer to the first question might not be so straightforward, and well, more time-intensive and convoluted than one might expect. Moreover, Roger argued the transformative aspect of the Internet, per the Virtual Society? program (1997 – 2002), is essentially a dubious claim. The transformative potential and prowess of the cyberspace isn’t ubiquitous because of the existence of a digital divide as a result of its use (access-based and skills-based), relationships (virtual relationships don’t substitute but supplement real relationships), and identity (based on both offline and online cultures).

So, coming to the more manageable question, what made the Internet so successful?

Internet shrunk our world

Our world today is a highly connected world. Google (among other search engines) globalized our world in a way that, in turn, googlized our lives. With the advent of the Internet, the cyberspace, the World Wide Web, our planet shrunk, not in size, but in access and reach. Now, instead of asking, what would god do, we ask, what would Google do. Now, when in doubt, we don’t ask the next person or reach for a bulky, hardbound dictionary or encyclopedia, we Google. Now, we don’t wait for mails from friends or relatives from across the globe for weeks or months, we receive their instant messages every day.

MASS appeal

Another successful feature of the Internet is its MASS (malleable, adaptive, self-organizing, self-sustaining) appeal. First, its malleability is in its formlessness that allows it an organic, unhindered growth. Countless, distinct stakeholders and faceless entities attribute to the formless identity of the Internet, and therein lies its appeal and success. Second, the Internet is a versatile platform as an enabler of the coexistence of different types of media and content, thus catering and adapting to the needs of different stakeholders. Next, users engage in one-to-many and many-to-many communication forums through email, IMs, chatrooms, and various social media platforms, forming self-organizing online communities devoid of a definite or designated centralized authority. Lastly, the combination of malleability, adaptiveness and self-organizing makes the Internet ever-evolving and self-sustaining. And it will continue to expand and subsequently sustain itself as long as the innumerable socio-economic, socio-political, socio-cultural, and social media phenomena it has given rise to.

Of the people, by the people, for the people

Web 2.0 democratized the Internet in unimaginable ways. User-generated content in the form of opinions, reviews, comments, pictures, podcasts, and videos found an outlet on social media platforms such as MySpace, Blogger, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, and a host of other such websites enabled users to create and publish their own content. From online user to consumer to “produser” (a term coined by Axel Bruns, 2008), the Internet, and with it, its netizens (coined by Michael Hauben) have come a long way.

In the purview of the above delineated musings, some questions that surface are:

  • With the shrinking of our world, has the Internet also shrunk human relationships?
  • Despite its MASS appeal, is the Internet restricted to the classes?
  • Does the Internet have what it takes to engender a true, working global democracy?

 

Crowdfunding: Social Media-Driven Fundraising

With the advent of myriad free social media platforms, there is no denying that Web 2.0 has grown by leaps and bounds. Web 2.0 allows users to create and publish content using various text-, photo- or video-based tools. Several blogging platforms like WordPress, Tumblr, Weebly, etc. provide text-based content creation tools. Though users are also able to upload photos and videos on such web-platforms, websites such as Flickr and Instagram enable users to upload and share photos, while YouTube and Vimeo allow users to upload videos.

The most popular social media platform, Facebook allows its user to create all types of content–text, photos and videos. The best aspect about all these social media platforms is that they are free to public. This particular feature is what led to a foray into the exploration of the world of crowdfunding, where fund-seekers use social media platforms to reach out to online publics. Crowdfunding is gaining a lot of traction, especially among smaller organizations with limited budget for outreach and fundraising, due to the free-for-all feature of most social media and crowdfunding platforms.

The Growing Phenomenon of Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding.jpg

According to scholars in the fields of business, finance and economics, crowdfunding occurs when a large number of online funders give small amounts of money or donation to projects, campaigns or ventures showcased through social media and crowdfunding platforms. Based on the principles of crowdsourcing where collective intelligence or wisdom of crowds occurs as a result of aggregated information based on the opinions/wisdom/answers of a large group of people, crowdfunding is different from the former phenomenon as it involves money. And of course, since crowdfunding is entirely performed online, it is different from traditional fundraising that employs techniques like fundraisers and charity events to raise funds. It is important to note that stakeholder groups involved in crowdfunding need to understand how different crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, DonorsChoose, GoFundMe, and so on.

Which platform should you use to crowdfund your campaign?

Before taking the online plunge to reach out to potential funders and raise funds, fund-seekers need to employ the good ol’ public relations R.A.C.E. model to duly carry our research and planning, take necessary actions and steps based on the research, have proper communication strategies in place, and finally execute and then conduct evaluation to see effectiveness of the crowdfunding campaign and whether objectives were met.

After carefully employing the R.A.C.E. model, fund-seekers need to pick a relevant crowdfunding platform to showcase their projects or cause and raise funds. The following brief information should help fund-seekers to use a relevant crowdfunding platform:

Kickstarter is a worldwide crowdfunding platform that allows users to showcase their creative projects to raise funds. This website is mainly for equity- and lending-based funds.

One of the forerunners of crowdfunding websites, Indiegogo allows users to solicit funds for an idea, charity, or start-up business. But this website charges a 5% fee on contributions and additional credit card and PayPal charges that range from 3.5% to 9%.

GoFundMe is a platform that allows people to raise money for life events like weddings and graduations to challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses. The website charges 5% on each donations received.

Started in 2000, DonorsChoose was the first such website for collective online fundraising. The website allows individuals to donate directly to public school classroom projects, and for educators to reach out to the publics for funds.

Crowdfunding Success of Humans of New York Campaigns

Several Humans of New York (HONY) campaigns pertaining to social and humanitarian issues have been successfully crowdfunded.

Crowdfunding

HONY campaigns appeal to the publics due to their focus on relateable stories of common people. Simple, heartfelt stories narrated in the form of photos and short captions about the subject, draw in both fans and funders. HONY not only uncovers social stories but also makes concerted efforts to select the best social media platforms for them. The HONY campaigns highlight the importance of relationship management through relationship building and community engagement, using strategic communication tools, and encouraging two-way symmetrical communication to engage its stakeholders.

Humans of New York was started in 2010 by photojournalist, Brandon Stanton, as a way to document and publish stories of ordinary people of New York City through photos and brief captions. What started as a photoblog, soon gained widespread popularity and fan-following as the humanitarian stories resonated human resilience, relationships, camaraderie and the spirit of glocal community. Photos and stories were posted on Stanton’s blog & HONY social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Fans and followers could not only relate to the stories but were also moved enough to share among their social networks. This unhindered mass sharing further led to mass funding or crowdfunding of issues and causes that affected the publics. Following three stories are a testament to the power and successes of crowdfunding facilitated by HONY efforts.

success.jpg

The ‘Harvard Bound’ success story began in January 2015, when HONY created an Indiegogo campaign, raising Vidal Chastanet’s Brooklyn school over $1 million within a week. The video below tells the story of Vidal and his school principal, Nadia Lopez.

Critical Review of the Study

Understanding the levels of involvement and engagement of publics is key to finding out what truly motivates funders to donate money to HONY campaigns. As discussed above, there are four types of publics— latent (faces problem but fails to detect), aware (aware and recognizes problem), active (organizes to resolve problem) and non-public (not affected by problem). What types of publics have a higher tendency to fund campaigns and which ones would not display the tendency or motivation to fund? It could be argued that all the four types of publics may engage in crowdfunding. While aware and active publics may not need any nudging to share or fund campaigns, latent and non-publics may also provide funds as, with the former, even though they may fail to detect the problem they are facing, the social media campaigns would act as their virtual detectors that highlight the problem requiring their attention. And even though non-publics may not be directly affected by the problem or issue, they might still contribute funds as a result of empathy or sheer selfless altruistic reasons.

situational.jpg

In the chosen case study, Grunig’s (1983) situational theory of publics could explain how and why are publics motivated to seek or provide funds online, their level of involvement, problem and constraint recognition, and the key type of publics involved in crowdfunding.

Takeaways for Professional Practice in Public Relations

One of the greatest advantages of crowdfunding is that the wider reach of the Internet ensures greater funds. Moreover, as opposed to traditional fundraising where organizing fundraisers and charity events require greater funds and labor, crowdfunding is becoming a viable source of fundraising especially for smaller organizations with limited funds and staff, as most crowdfunding platforms are free and easy to set up campaigns resulting in high cost-effectiveness and less labor-intensiveness. The aspect of time is a double-edged sword, as on one hand, crowdfunding requires less time commitment than traditional fundraising, on the other hand, relationship building and community engagement require long-term commitment.

rshp.jpg

Some crowdfunded projects and ventures also suffer as a result of the expectation of quick turnover, which in turn, impacts the quality of the projects. The other double-edged sword is technology—as even though crowdfunding benefits from technology, it also loses out on potential funders who might not be tech-savvy. Finally, scamming and phishing have adverse effects on genuine projects and ventures in need of crowdfunding.

Some salient takeaways for professional practice in public relations:

  • Identify and measure levels of social media engagement. One of the fundamental public relations theories of relationship management manifested in relationship building and community engagement efforts to raise funds for various campaigns has been extensively discussed in this review. However, another vital aspect of crowdfunding, as it is performed online through social media platforms, is to identity and measure levels of social media engagement. Public relations scholar and practitioner, Hua Jiang has devised a four-pronged approach to identifying and measuring social media engagement: involvement, interaction, intimacy and influence. Involvement (awareness and presence) can be measured by analytics such as site traffic, page and link clicks, time spent, etc.; interaction (behavioral analytics) can be measured by signing up for emails/newsletters, commenting, and in the case of crowdfunding, donor behavior; intimacy (sentiment, affinity, tonality) can be assessed in terms of emotional manifestations of stakeholder groups in the form of conversations and actions; and lastly, influence (impact and community building) can be measured through the outreach and community building efforts of stakeholder groups, whether or not they engage in sharing links to campaigns in need of funds among their network.
  • Reinforce and diversify relationship management techniques. Relationship management involving relationship building and community engagement are age-old tools and techniques used by traditional fundraising. They emphasize time commitment and are labor- and cost-intensive, at most times ensuring a long-term inflow of funds. The stakeholders involved reaps the benefits of respecting and managing shared interests and common goals. In the case of crowdfunding, there is not much scope for fundraisers to develop relationships with their funders or engage the community on a long-term basis. In most cases, the funders and fund seekers do not even meet face-to-face as most transactions are performed through online channels. Hence, public relations practitioners should devise effective and creative ways to apply traditional fundraising techniques to ensure sustained relationships, community engagement and inflow of funds.
  • Uphold two-way symmetrical communication. Crowdfunding cannot succeed or sustain itself as a viable way to raise funds without two-way symmetrical communication between fund seekers and fund providers. Fund seekers need to be clear about their goals, objectives, target audience and timelines, whereas, fund providers need to clearly communicate their expectations.

 

Water: The 21st Century’s Most Valuable Resource?

I attended the annual Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference this year held in Madison, Wisconsin from October 7-11. While working as a Knight Center staff last year, I also had the opportunity to attend the 2008 SEJ Annual Conference, hosted by Virginia Tech. in Roanoke, Virginia from October 15-19.

Comparing the two conferences, while some issues were quite specific (like the Mini Tour that I was on – Biofuels, Ants and Virent Energy Systems specially the part where researchers in University of Madison are trying to discover ways to improve biofuel production by harnessing the cellulose-breakdown capabilities of communities of leaf-cutting ants that feed and groom fungus. Cool, huh?!!), there were some issues and topics that were familiar (and age-old!) like global water conditions.

In the afternoon of October 10, 2009, Peter Annin moderated the lunch and plenary session on ‘Water: The 21st Century’s Most Valuable Resource?’, while Maude Barlow, Mary Ann Dickinson, and Bob Hidell spoke on the topic.

The brief description of the plenary session read:

More than a billion people lack access to clean drinking water today. Two million die annually from unhealthy water conditions. According to the United Nations, two-thirds of the global population will suffer at least intermittent water shortages by the year 2025. Oil may have been the defining natural resource of the 20th Century, but we are in a new century now, and many consider it to be the Century of Water. So here in the water-rich Great Lakes region, home to one-fifth of all the fresh surface water on Earth, SEJ is pulling together some of the greatest water minds around to put these issues into a broader context and help us better understand the water challenges that lie ahead.

Unsafe drinking water
Unsafe "drinking" water

A child stands in the entrance to his home after a trip to collect unsafe water. Over 35.5 million people in Bangladesh live without access to clean water. (Credits : WaterAid/Brent Stirton)

After the moderator gave a quick background on current global water conditions, one of the speakers started explaining prevailing water conditions in developing countries like India. She touched upon an alarming trend. The poor countries are buying water-abundant land in poorer countries, implying that the former is robbing the latter of its wealth.

Water is wealth. It is a commodity. So then, does that make water-abundant countries wealthy? Perhaps. But for how long? Water is also a finite resource.

The American Meteorological Society’s (AMS) Journal of Climate published a study recently stating that in the past five decades there has been a significant decline in water levels in some of world’s most important rivers. The decline has not only been attributed to climate change and resultant melting of glaciers but majorly as an impact of human population growth leading to greater dam building and water diversion for agriculture.

Aral sea  – a silent testimony to how humans pit themselves against the natural environment

What is the total world water level? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there is approximately 326 million cubic miles of water worldwide. That is, roughly 72 percent of Earth consists of water, of which over 96 percent is saline. Nearly 70 percent of freshwater is locked up in ice and glaciers. Another 30 percent of freshwater is in the ground. Surface-water sources, such as rivers, only constitute about 300 cubic miles (about 1/10,000th of one percent of total water). Less than 1 percent of the world’s freshwater is readily accessible. And, one-third of the world’s population lives in “water-stressed” countries.

Currently 1.2 billion citizens of the planet lack access to safe water for drinking, cooking and bathing. By 2025, the United Nations estimates this number could swell to more than five billion unless we change the rules by which water is distributed. The unquenched thirst of corporations for water is one of the reasons for the water crisis. Agriculture, much of it fueled by profit-driven, industrialized food systems around the world, uses about 70% of the world’s available water. Industry uses another 20%, leaving just 10% for people and their communities. As corporations have claimed a growing share of water in recent decades, the water remaining available to people has rapidly diminished.

projected water scarcity
A World divided?
Children drinking water_Bjoern Gutenstam
Quenching thirst

Why do we need water to survive? A significant fraction of the human body (about 65 percent) is water. Without water intake a person can survive only eight to ten days. It takes an average of eight to ten cups to replenish the water our bodies lose each day.

Some quick facts from World Health Organization (WHO):
• Water scarcity affects one in three people on every continent of the globe. The situation is getting worse as needs for water rise along with population growth, urbanization and increases in household and industrial uses.
• Almost one fifth of the world’s population (about 1.2 billion people) live in areas where the water is physically scarce. One quarter of the global population also live in developing countries that face water shortages due to a lack of infrastructure to fetch water from rivers and aquifers.
• Poor water quality can increase the risk of such diarrhoeal diseases as cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery, and other water-borne infections. Water scarcity can lead to diseases such as trachoma (an eye infection that can lead to blindness), plague and typhus.
• Water scarcity encourages people to store water in their homes. This can increase the risk of household water contamination and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes – which are carriers of dengue fever, malaria and other diseases.
• Water scarcity underscores the need for better water management. Good water management also reduces breeding sites for such insects as mosquitoes that can transmit diseases and prevents the spread of water-borne infections such as schistosomiasis, a severe illness.
• A lack of water has driven up the use of wastewater for agricultural production in poor urban and rural communities. More than 10% of people worldwide consume foods irrigated by wastewater that can contain chemicals or disease-causing organisms.

Water is crucial for survival, to say the least. The abundance of water offers benefits in many ways; to the economy, ecology, and most importantly, to health.

It is little surprise then that a country like India where water shortage (mostly in Northern India) is a perpetual crisis; its government is looking for outside sources to source water. But is buying land in poorer African countries the best solution to solving its water woes? What are some other solutions that can help tackle this throbbing problem?

Don’t let the rain drain

Even though the number of days New Delhi receives rainfall during the monsoon season (July-August) is only 20-30, the city receives 611 millimeters of rainfall on an average annually. A rainy day is specified as a day with more than or equal to 2.5 mm of rainfall. An analysis done based on the rainfall availability and demand supply gap shows that even 50 percent of the rainwater harvested could help in bridging the demand supply gap.

That’s just New Delhi. India typically receives an average annual rainfall of above 2,000 mm (79 in). Imagine the possibilities if the government makes it mandatory for each state to harvest rainwater? And that’s just one solution to mitigating the city’s, and perhaps even India’s water woes.

A few years ago, a New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta took a look into Northern India’s water woes (titled – In Teeming India, Water Crisis Means Dry Pipes and Foul Sludge), complete with videos and photographs.

water fight
Water fiasco

Residents of a slum in New Delhi (India) wrestle over a hose to fill their buckets from a government water tanker. (Credits: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

If water is crucial for survival then each day is a struggle for survival in most parts of Northern, Western, and Central India. Women travel from far-flung places carrying pots and buckets to fill up this source of survival from wells that are also taking their last breath. The video below made by Explore, a philanthropic multimedia organization depicts the constant struggle for water that women in rural India go through.

Traveling from far and wide to the WELLness of being?

Wells and major water bodies are drying up gradually. Some dub central Asia’s Aral sea as one of earth’s worst natural disasters. The operative words in the last sentence are – “one” and “natural”. It is dreadful to think that the Aral sea is “one” of the “natural” disasters, and that probably there are many more in the offing. What is dubbed “natural” disaster was in fact human-induced.

Much of India’s water woes is also human-induced, aggravated by gross water mismanagement and misuse. There are some cost-effective measures that the India government can adopt to ensure that its people have access to clean and sufficient water.

It is but ironical that when, on one hand, clogged drainages in Mumbai leaves the city submerged in rainwater during monsoons, on the other, the capital and other water-starved cities practically turn into a battleground during peak summer season. India should realize that the solution lies in its own country, and that buying land in other poorer countries or following the footsteps of the water-abundant nations in wasteful water practices are short-lived as long as water is a limited resource. We can use water indiscriminately the day it becomes an infinite resource. But till the time it is limited, let’s use water judiciously. Let’s conserve.

Water use

Water use or misuse?

According to the USGS, the average American uses between 80-100 gallons (approx. 300 – 375 liters) of water per day. You must be thinking – “Not me”, right?

How much water do people in other parts of the world use in relations to Americans? Well, it may be possible to collect data on water usage from people around the world to be able to see how your own water use compares to others and determine what you might do to use less water. This Web site lets you calculate your water use.