Regardless of political views, most Americans can agree that there is plenty of room for improvement in our system of democracy. In these challenging times, it can be hard to prioritize which emergency to tackle first. Healthcare? Climate change? Fake news? Net neutrality?
Reboot Democracy is building an ecosystem of support for early stage startups that are leveraging technology to strengthen democracy. We hold events and work to help innovators sort through the noise, collaborate, and move the best new ideas forward. This event’s theme was “informing the electorate,” which includes combating fake news, reducing polarization, and increasing civil discourse.
On Tuesday, November 28th, at the Columbia School of Journalism’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation, an impressive mix of new startups and seasoned professionals came together to pitch and share. We kicked off the event with a look at the history of Reboot Democracy, an organization built to foster the democracy tech ecosystem. Since hosting our first event, a hackathon in San Francisco a year ago, we’ve continued to bring innovators and experts together to learn from one another at events like this across the country.
Before launching into the project showcase, our managing director provided an overview of other projects from innovators across the country that fit the night’s theme: how to improve the spread of information and better inform the electorate. The list (posted in full below) ranged from Facebook’s roll out of “Related Articles” to Fiskkit, a platform for in-line news commenting that turns discourse into data and helps people identify what is true, false, well-reasoned or logically unsound in every news article or opinion piece.
Nascent start-ups were up next, with 3 minutes to deliver their well-crafted elevator pitches, and 2 minutes for audience questions.
David Rothschild spoke about his work on Project Ratio, an effort to redesign our info ecosystem to improve political discourse, as well as his work on PredictWise. He discussed the importance of viewing a holistic picture of media — looking at the full cycle — what content is produced, what is consumed, and ultimately what is absorbed.
DC Vito of The LAMP, an organization in existence since 2010, presented the fact of the night — 22 million new young voters will be eligible to vote in 2020 who were too young to participate in 2016. Win them and you can win an election. They are working on the 20x20 campaign with Turbo Vote to figure out how.
Elizabeth Haynes of Open Progress is working to fight voter suppression that prevents legitimate voters from casting their votes — identifying over 130,000 voters in the Alabama Senate race who have changed addresses or names due to marriage who could have been denied at the polls if they had not properly notified election officials about the changes. After a national election in 2016 that was decided by less than 100,000 votes spread out over three rust-belt states, these efforts could be the difference between victory and defeat in upcoming elections in 2018 and 2020.
An insightful panel of experts followed, featuring James Slezak, Alexis Wichowski, Peter Koechley, and Mark Hansen.
James Slezak, the former COO of the New York Times Global and Founding Partner of social change consultancy Purpose, spoke about how his new company is using cutting-edge data science and experiment design to measure the persuasive impact of content. With Swayable, he hopes to enable advocacy organizations to better allocate resources, marketing and media efforts.
Alexis Wichowski, a career public servant, provided practical pointers on how to get the attention of government officials and achieve goals. Hers were the most optimistic and practical suggestions — emphasizing old-school efforts like a mention in a local newspaper, a small protest or attending and befriending local officials at monthly public meetings can go a long way.
Peter Koechley, who previously held key roles at Move-On, Upworthy and The Onion, talked about Upworthy’s journey and lessons learned about creating “authentic content” to persuade. He suggested creating content that reaches a wide range of audiences, pointing out an opportunity for more targeted efforts to reach underserved groups.
The panel ended with a short presentation by Mark Hansen from the Brown Institute, the venue host of the event, describing some of the projects their grant program was supporting, reminding the audience that the next grant period is open until April. A quick question and answer session followed.
After a Q&A with the panel, we welcomed our attendees to the stage to share.
During the open mic, Harry Waisbren pitched Act.TV, a progressive media company specializing in Facebook videos. They are seeking clients with video production needs. Sam Gross pitched his company Stacker which builds data-driven content reaching 100M+ PVs/month. They are looking for analysts, journalists, and data partners who are passionate about creating authoritative, objective stories.
We are already at work planning the next Reboot Democracy event and we would love to involve you in the process as we continue bringing the democracy tech community together. If you are working on something you would like to present, or know of an expert we should invite to our next event, please let us know! Thanks to Rick Gell for his help on this event write-up. To see more images from the evening, we invite you to check out the album of additional photos taken by Adam Abel and Diane Bezucha.
And finally, we have to say a big thank you to Harmony Labs and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation for being fantastic partners on this event.
Reboot Democracy is a fiscally sponsored project of Harmony Labs and your tax deductible donations are what allow us to operate. Please consider making a donation here.
Overview of additional projects from innovators across the country:
- Scout.ai — a social platform where technologists, professionals and power nerds map the future implications of technology by submitting ideas and voting on predictions of what will happen next.
- Fiskkit — a site that promotes logic and civility from commenters and uses instantaneous reader feedback to help people identify what is true, false, well-reasoned or logically unsound in every news article or opinion piece.
- Grow Progress — an easy-to-use toolkit that helps partners strengthen their messages with the same persuasion science that turned the tide in the fight for marriage equality.
- Newsvoice — a site that moves the power over the news to its readers. By upvoting a story on Newsvoice, the story will appear higher up and more people will see it.
- CallPower.org — a tool to record a message, choose targets, and make a campaign instantly live. Callers can take action via web form, email, or text to phone. No dialing required.
- Poligraph.com — a daily newsletter, as well as a place on the internet where constructive political discourse can thrive. Their advanced moderation tools help elevate the good and root out the bad. Founded by Kevin Avery, formerly of Google, Nest, and Dropcam.
- Spaceship Media — co-designs dialogue journalism engagements, what they call “Conversation Experiences,” that start with listening and lead to content that reflects the rich experience of tackling tough issues and getting to know others as whole people. Spaceship Media is building community through audience engagement.
- BallotReady.org — a site that makes it easy for voters to research and understand every candidate and referendum up for election.
- Issue Voter — a tool that sends alerts about new bills related to issues users care about, allows them to send opinions to their Representative before Congress votes, and track how often s/he represents them. We summarize bills in plain language, along with what both sides are saying. We are the only site that provides users with a personalized scorecard of how their rep voted.
- First Draft— an organization dedicated to improving skills and standards in the reporting and sharing of information that emerges online. They provide practical and ethical guidance in how to find, verify, and publish content sourced from the social web.
- Facebook Related Articles — a feature Facebook rolled out to fight fake news by providing links to other angles on a topic.
- Hearken — a unique model called public-powered journalism. They offer consulting services and a custom platform for their partner newsrooms to help them cultivate deep audience engagement, create original, high-performing content, collect valuable data, emails and insights, and generate new revenue streams through user-acquisition, advertising and underwriting.