U.S. nonprofits under attack

Are you still trying to make sense of how digital tools facilitate efforts to shut down civil society? Read this for my quick primer on how this works. There will be a lot more in the Blueprint 2018 - coming on December 14.

And here's a story from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that adds to the list of how and who (tl:dr - email spear phishing)

 (Photo from EFF: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/09/phish-future)

Racism, white supremacy, and civil society

This letter, titled White People Show Us, from Angela Glover Blackwell and Michael McAfee of PolicyLink makes central what many would prefer to push aside. Racism is a problem created by white people. People of color suffer, but white people are the ones who created it, benefit from it, perpetuate it, and, I believe, also suffer from it. None of us are free when some are not. It's not enough to say this, we need to act to change it, persistently and continuously.

Civil society - associational spaces where we voluntarily come together to do things for others - is home to some of the most powerful forces for equity and anti-racism work. Historically, it is here, in civil society, that political power is built, change is crafted, protest and alternatives are envisioned, and pressure on dominant governing systems - which in the U.S. have always been tools for advancing white interests - builds until those systems change. It is long, arduous, daily work and power never cedes without pressure.

Systems change is particularly hard when the same rules that protect the rights of people to focus on building an equitable society and fighting racism protect the rights of people doing the opposite. Free speech and assembly - two universal human rights (and Constitutionally protected rights in the U.S.) - apply to groups with a range of views. This is by design. As is often noted, freedom of speech only means something if it protects the "speech you hate," not just the things that are easy to say. The right to peaceable assembly applies to groups on both sides of an issue. And a right to due process to determine what is protected and what is not sits alongside these rights, to make sure that lines can be drawn and limits set. Violence and the intent to harm are not protected. Not all speech is protected, and when it is, it's protected from government interference, not private counter speech, or action by non-government actors to determine that certain speech is not to be supported. The right to association is for peaceable assembly - it is not a right to gather to cause harm.

Civil society depends on these rights. It is strengthened by the intentional divisiveness that these rights encompass. In majority run democracies there are, and always will be, many minorities. It is the right of these minority opinions to be expressed - safely and peaceable - that buttress and support and legitimize the actions of the majority-run systems. When any powerful actor (elected, appointed, or market-driven) limits the right of minorities to organize and speak, we fast track out of democracy.

One of the biggest challenges today is that the Internet is an underlying space for civil society but we haven't figured out how to enforce our nation-bound, values-shaped analog norms and rules in this global, hybrid commercial/public space. Internet intermediaries (at many levels) host our discourse, our efforts at organizing, and our protests. They are not democratically elected governments, not signatories to human rights declarations, not publicly accountable as agents of the people.

They may not have chosen this role, but they have it - they intermediate free speech and assembly for people around the globe. In order to exist, civil society's fight for these fundamental rights now takes place on two fronts, facing both governments and Internet intermediaries. While this recognition will be new to some, there are people and associations that have been working on these issues for years, have developed procedures and policies for dealing with these issues, and can help the rest of think this through.

It's painful and ugly to want those with whom we passionately disagree to have the same rights as we do. Passionate disagreement is one thing. Violence and intent to harm are different, and due process is required for determining when this is the case. The intention to exclude, harm, dominate, reject, subjugate, or abridge the rights of others matters. When speech or assembly prepares for, expects, and provokes violence, violence often happens, and lots of people pay attention.

That momentary attention is important, but this is not the only way that racism subverts our society, nor is it the most frequent or possibly even the most damaging. Systems and rules built on racist assumptions and designed to perpetuate inequity are all around us, all the time, doing damage and needing to be undone.  Groups that gather armed and shielded, those that violently beat or murder people with whom they disagree, and actions taken to limit other people's rights to vote - these are all racist acts of violence. The first three are not acts of civil speech or assembly. The last one is not legal.

These are not easy issues. They are not limited to - or even fully exemplified by - horrific, public, violent acts of terror and physical harm. Civil society is home to many groups that know this best; thoughtful, informed experts who've worked to protect civil rights and liberties and those that work to fight racism and other hateful acts in digital spaces. It's time we recognized how much civil society writ large needs these groups, their work, and these rights.

Aligning your tech with your mission (graphic)

Yesterday I wrote about aligning your organization's tech with your mission and values. This has to do with making sure that your organizational approaches to privacy, consent, sharing, data use, etc. carry through from your board through to your software licenses.

Here's the "back of the napkin" from a conversation about this with some funders and nonprofits.

And here's yesterday's post. Here's a related post on digital literacy.

The tools and policies on digitalimpact.io are designed to help.

Aligning organizational technology with mission

The liminal space where two or more culturescollide is often painfully obvious to those who are not part of the mainstream group and an invisible, unfelt line for those on the side with power. The edges where the two meet, or the quickness with which the dominant group’s demands, norms and laws slice into others is painfully familiar to those on the sharp side of the razor. Some of those holding the safety edge knowingly wield it for harm, some of them actively  seek to dull its sharp edge or hand it over altogether, and some fool themselves into thinking that, because it’s not pointing at them it is no longer sharp.

In other words, those who experience hate, marginalization, and discrimination on a daily basis know it when they see it. It’s not surprising that groups like this are well aware of new forms of old exclusions, know how to look beyond a shiny wrapper to see what’s really in the box, and are well attuned to – and have adapted to – the pervasive ways that digital tools replicate the same power dynamics of the analog world. 

Mainstream nonprofits struggling to understand how and why they must investigate the technology on which they depend for its “values fit” would do well to turn to such groups for guidance. Aboriginal archivists who’ve built customized, affordable, controllable digital systems that align with their communities “access controls” and information management systems know how to align software, hardware, and purpose. Political activists who live on the knife’s edge between mass organizing, community cohesion, and digital surveillance know how to pick, choose, use, and abandon off the shelf software to maximize their impact and mitigate the risks.  Journalists trying to hold both governments and corporations accountable, even as their own livelihoods are being undermined by their digital policies and practices, find ways to network expertise, protect sources, share insights, and get their work paid for (sort of). We heard from several of these groups at Digital Impact: Brisbane, and learned that (some) are finding (some) ways to pay for it, mixing volunteer time, donated space and software and community donations. But none of those are structural or sustainable.

 All of us who use off-the-shelf digital tools operating in these liminal space where our values and cultures intersect with and are persistently shaped by the value choices embedded in our software and hardware. Think of it this way - nothing that comes out of a tech company hasn't been designed within an inch of its life. Usually to persuade you to do something. Your software is shaping you

This is as true for organizations as it is for us as people. Our nonprofits, foundations and associations extend from the board room to the software licenses we run on. Aligning the organizational mission with its tech stack and alleviating these internal values conflicts is in our own best interest.

Eight years of #blueprints

Hey, check this out - The full #blueprint series to-date - all eight years - all in one place - free for downloading.

And yes, it's time to start thinking about number 9. 

I'll be working on #blueprint18 starting now. Please send buzzwords, trends, predictions etc. to me via twitter (@p2173) or in the comments.