Author Archives: Dima

My slides on the digital divide and online civic engagement (#ica14, attn @kegill)

Following a prompt from @kegill, here my materials from a recent talk at ICA pre-conference on digital divide.

Digital divide in context: A case study in complex policymaking through online civic engagement

Dmitry Epstein, Mary J. Newhart, Cynthia R. Farina, and Cheryl L. Blake
CeRI Cornell eRulemaking Initiative

When examining the digital divide through the lens of online civic engagement, research tends to focus on the agency of citizens as they participate (with varying degrees of effectiveness) in mass political activities such as voting, petitioning, or mobilization for physical demonstrations (Norris, 2001). Earlier scholarship focused mainly on citizens’ material access to technology, whereas contemporary research is more concerned with their (primarily technical) skills (e.g. Min, 2010). Overall, few researchers have looked in depth at the contextual factors of the digital divide, and even then it is done in relation to citizens as primary actors and with context drawn from factors exogenous to the participatory situation itself, such as socioeconomic status, culture, etc. (e.g. van Dijk, 2005). Drawing on our experience with RegRoom – a platform for online civic engagement in complex policymaking – we want to call attention to additional factors, some of which can be viewed as contextual to citizens’ individual experiences or endogenous when examining the system as a whole. First, we will expand the notion of online civic engagement by discussing public participation in complex policymaking processes. Second, we will unpack the “digital dividedness” among policymakers and the limitations imposed on the use of technology by existing administrative processes. Finally, we will address potential implications of technology design for enabling effective civic engagement that goes beyond petition signing and sentiment expression.


Min, S.-J. (2010). From the digital divide to the democratic divide: Internet skills, political interest, and the second-level digital divide in political Internet use. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 7(1), 22–35. doi:10.1080/19331680903109402

Norris, P. (2001). Digital divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and internet worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Van Dijk, J. A. G. M. (2005). The deepening divide: Inequality in the information society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

You can find my slides here, but I am afraid they will not be particularly informative on their own. @kegill, please let me know what you think.

Draft thoughts about regional and national IGFs (Attn #IGF2013)

Following my dissertation work on the global Internet Governance Forum, I got really fascinated by the growing phenomenon of regional and national IGF initiatives. Particularly, thinking about the possible impacts of the IGF project, this phenomenon to me is the most tangible outcome. I’ve been talking about conducting a review of the regional and national IGFs with a number of people active in the Internet governance space and actually started interviewing some of the organizers of the regional and national IGFs. Recently I learned that Brandie Martin Nonnecke wrote an excellent dissertation looking at some of the African initiatives, which suggests that there is “meat” to this subject.

Thanks to a grant from the Freedom House, I was able to put together a brief draft thought document with initial observations about the regional and national IGFs as a phenomenon. I think it is timely to offer it now, as the global IGF meets in Bali.

This is indeed a draft, so feedback is most welcome.

Can we account for politicization of data?

I am currently at TPRC, where I presented a paper Merrill Roth, Eric Baumer, and I are still working on. This post is not about that (though I think we did well and overall it was a good session).

The best exchanges at conferences, as we know, happen in the corridors. And I just had one of those with Jeff Gulati and Brandie Martin. Jeff is known for his work on cross-national comparisons and Brandie did some work around indexes of telecom adoption and development. We got into talking about how politicized the self-reported data that is used in various global indexes can be. After all, a corrupt bureaucrat has no motivation criticizing his or her own performance or that of an office he or she is running. So, we wondered if it is possible to correct for corruption. Perhaps by using, surprise, surprise, an index of corruption (such as Corruption Perception Index). I wonder whether anyone has done that and whether such correction would change anything in how these indexes correlate with other factors. Only today, I heard at least a couple of talks that rely on global indexes. Someone must have looked into that.


Call for papers for the annual GigaNet symposium

It is that time of the year again when GigaNet is soliciting proposals for presentations at its 8th annual symposium. This time it will take place in Bali, Indonesia and the main focus of the event will be on cyber-security and state control of the Internet. But don’t get discourage if you are not working in one of these areas, the program committee welcomes submissions on other topics as well.

More details here:

Important dates:

  • Abstract submission – July 1
  • Initial decisions – July 29
  • Full papers due – September 30
  • Symposium – October 21

Making social media work for you – notes from a workshop

About a week and a half ago I was part of a panel on social media for Cornell graduate students. The goal of the panel was to respond to inquiries from students about how to use blogging, tweeting and other means of social media to talk about their research and how to use it to their advantage in creating an online professional identity. The panel was organized by Natalie Bazarova (also @nataliebazarova) for the Graduate School Office of Professional Development. There were just three panelists – Natalie, Dan Cosley (also @cosleydr), and me – and I found the panel to be pretty interactive and conversational. Since it was about social media, I thought it could actually be nice to post a brief summary of what was said. Maybe someone will find it useful.

We spoke mostly about our personal experiences and practices we have noticed by observing our colleagues. Dan made a point that using social media shouldn’t be thought of merely in terms of self promotion, but as another way of finding and engaging with your community. Natalie, focusing on opportunities offered by social media, emphasized them as another way to network and do outreach. I talked about the costs of participating and not participating.

It is worthwhile to note that we all agreed that today it may not be practical to distinguish between social media and other kinds of online presence. Everything is linked. So, we all talked more generally about online presence, rather than specifically about social media. The main takeaway points from my point of view were:

Below the fold you will find more detailed accounts of each point. You can also use the links above to navigate to the section that interests you.

The bottom line is that there are benefits and costs associated with maintaining your online presence, particularly through social media. It is important to be thoughtful about what you do and why you do it. There are many tools out there and it takes time and effort to figure out what works for you and how to integrate it in your mundane professional activities.

Hope some people will find this useful.

As always, you are welcome to add your thoughts and suggestions.

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Hacked and relaunched

ThinkMacro got hacked. On the face of it, you wouldn’t see anything. But in Google search results the site appeared with weird meta-data that promoted some sort of medicine and if you were to access the site on a mobile device, you would get redirected to a variety of adult entertainment sites.

As it turns out, whoever hacked the site has edited .htaccess, so that it would perform the redirect only on mobile devices. Veronica and I removed the infected files, which did resolve the redirect issue. But we couldn’t figure out how to clean the meta data infection. So, at the end, there is now a relaunched ThinkMacro. Luckily, WordPress is really great with making export/import of your content easy.

Fresh start actually feels rather nice.

Help with Veronica’s study

Veronica is recruiting participants for a study. For now she is recruiting at Syracuse University only, but soon she will also start recruiting at Cornell as well. So, if you are in one of those institutions and meet her criteria, feel free to drop her a line!

Here is her announcement:

Are you?

  • A Syracuse University Student
  • A native speaker of English
  • At least 18 years old
  • Able to use Google’s search engine

Sign up for the study and influence future search engine design!

  • We will schedule the session at your convenience. Overall anticipated time commitment is 1.5-2 hours.
  • You will be asked to search with Google, your search will be recorded, and then you will be interviewed about your decision-making.
  • You will be paid $15 for your participation and you will enter a raffle to win a $50 Amazon gift card.

To sign up email Veronica:

CFP: 7th Annual GigaNet Global Internet Governance Symposium

This year I am going to be again on the program committee of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet). This is a great community for those interested in the international aspects of information policy and the political economy of Internet governance.

GigaNet is interested in receiving abstracts related to Internet Governance themes, especially those containing innovative approaches and/or emerging research areas. We encourage submissions on the following topics:Internet policies on freedom of expression (censorship, kill-switches, filtering, policies that promote free expression, corporate social responsibility)

  • Internet freedom and governance in regions in transition (Arab region, Caucasus etc.)
  • From PIPA to ACTA: National and international agreements on online copyright enforcement
  • Cyber-security, the state and international relations
  • Dataveillance and privacy – the economic perspective
  • Global Internet infrastructure policy (net neutrality, peering and interconnection, ASN assignment, routing infrastructure security, etc.)
  • Innovative methods for Internet Governance research
  • The role of the UN and intergovernmental institutions in global Internet Governance
  • Policy issues surrounding ICANN’s new gTLD program
  • IP addressing: economic and technical challenges of scarcity and governance
  • Internet governance and development

Other proposals on questions of global Internet governance will also be considered.

The deadline for submitting abstracts is May 20th (if accepted, you’ll have to submit the full paper by September 30th).

You can find the full CFP here.

Digital divide and civic engagement

With the dissertation defended I plan on bringing this blog back to life.

I started a post-doc position with the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI), based in Cornell Law School. The project runs a very interesting operation called Regulation Room. It offers a platform and, even more importantly, a process for online public participation in the federal government rule-making process (if you don’t know what rule-making is, you are with the majority of people out there and should definitely go to the Regulation Room, because it has all the explanations). I will be working on collaborative drafting of policy input and consensus building around policy issues; aspects that currently are absent from the platform and frankly not sure will be necessarily a standard part of it. I hope to write about this work as I move along.

Yet, even before I started working on my own piece of CeRI research, just learning about the Regulation Room prompted interesting conversations that easily linked to my interest in the digital divide. The result is a paper I co-authored with one of my new colleagues, Rebecca Vernon, which will be presented later this week at the “New ICTs + New Media = New Democracy? Communications policy and public life in the age of broadband” (CFP) – a workshop organized by the Institute for Information Policy at Penn State University and the New America Foundation.

I am not sure what the policy of the workshop is about publishing the papers, so in the meantime I’ll post the extended abstract. Hope you’ll find the premise interesting. If you are interested in the rest, please email me or just leave a comment.

Between Twitter revolutions and Facebook elections, there is a growing belief that information and communication technologies are changing the way democracy is practiced. But how universal are those effects? In this paper we look into what van Dijk labels “motivational access” in digital divide as an impediment for citizens to actively utilize information and communication technologies for civic engagement. We focus on the Cornell University eRulemaking Initiative as our case and conduct an in-depth investigation into its recent efforts to get the public involved in the Department of Transportation rulemaking process using online tools. Recommendations based on this analysis address both national policy frameworks and agency specific regulations.

The digital divide is viewed as major impediment to information-technology-enhanced democratic processes. But if you build it, will they come? Will making broadband more readily available necessarily increase participation in democratic processes? Will making government information available online motivate citizens to engage with government institutions? Will opening up communication channels necessarily yield productive feedback from people? Are the barriers for meaningful civic participation online primarily technological?

Regulation Room ( is a project of Cornell University eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI). It is an online platform developed to engage the public in the federal agency rulemaking processes. In addition to its technological platform, Regulation Room has developed a set of moderation and outreach techniques to make both the procedures of rulemaking and the content of the rules more accessible to the general public. CeRI works with the Department of Transportation on actual rules the agency is seeking public comment on. As such, it serves as a real-life laboratory to explore uses of technology in democratic processes.

Over the past 15 months, Regulation Room worked on 3 rules that resulted in formal comments submitted to the Department of Transportation. In this paper we unpack what it takes to engage citizens in democratic processes and help them make their participation count. Our analysis suggests that while digital divide defined in terms of physical access and technological literacy may play a role in impeding civic engagement, they may not be the only important factors. In effect, while ensuring that all citizens have broadband access and well-developed technical skills go a long way toward ensuring public participation in democratic governance, it will not result in the desired breadth and depth of participation without further policy changes and investments in new technologies. Practices that evolved around the use of technology on the one hand and the engagement with government processes on the other, play an important role affecting civic online participation.

The paper presents an assortment of lessons and observations from “Regulation Room” and offers policy recommendations that suggest viewing civic online engagement through the lens of socio-technical practice, wherein the technology requirements for citizens to engage effectively in democratic processes are examined in conjunction with the normative assumptions of individuals as they interact with their government through online media.