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Notes on project AJI (part 3)

This is the third and final part of a post about AJI, a self-commissioned research project about public protests. Read the first and second post or continue reading below.

The most important idea is that a protest is a performance of civic resistance and solidarity and as such it has a broad swath of spectators who may themselves turn into protesters. As the second part of piazza plus social media implies, the digital reach of a protest is a big part of the event and carries with it several asymmetries that are interesting to explore.

The first asymmetry is one of information quantity and quality. People on the ground know for a fact what is happening in front of their eyes. Those following the protests from behind their computers get an overview of all the messages in their Twitter stream but do not know how reliable they are. In the Diren Gezi protests this was visible with for instance the tweeted picture of the masses crossing the Bosporus bridge which turned out to be taken from a previous marathon.

We questioned how messages are verified and if it is possible to structure information and help groups of people verify it in a networked fashion. Building trust and sifting through information is already being done by journalists and others informally and opaquely. We didn’t believe there was a lot to be won by making these processes more explicit.

We wondered whether we could provide a useful real-time information display to the people on the street protesting but that turned quickly into a terribly hard cryptography problem which would benefit only a small group of people (though it’s definitely one worth solving).

We questioned what turns people from spectators into participants. What kind of protests would or wouldn’t you join and what would that depend upon? This is an issue that many physical games also struggle with and is the one we chose to work on.

The performative aspects provide spectators with a base understanding of what the framework and its intentions are. They are then free to vary upon it in whichever way they want. Besides that, real or ad hoc social ties can serve as an easy way to get on board. We wanted to focus on lowering the barriers to entry a lot without trivializing the act itself.

That is a problem with virtual protest movements if you can even call them that (and by extension online petitions as well): they don’t cost anything and therefore they don’t have any consequences either. So with project AJI we will be using a real world protest mechanic and augmenting it with game elements to create a hybrid with—hopefully—the best qualities of both. We’ll reveal in a future post what it is going to be exactly.

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