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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).

Incitement by Splash & Ripple, a public game about surveillance and civic resistance

Incite­ment by Splash & Rip­ple, a pub­lic game about sur­veil­lance and civic resistance

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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