Civic Media
Creating technology for social change.

Communities need information to make decisions and take action: to provide aid to neighbors in need, to purchase an environmentally sustainable product and shun a wasteful one, to choose leaders on local and global scales. Communities are also rich repositories of information and knowledge, and often develop their own innovative tools and practices for information sharing. Existing systems to inform communities are changing rapidly, and new ecosystems are emerging where old distinctions like writer/audience and journalist/amateur have collapsed. The Civic Media group is a partnership between the MIT Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies at MIT. Together, we work to understand these new ecosystems and to build tools and systems that help communities collect and share information and connect that information to action. We work closely with communities to understand their needs and strengths, and to develop useful tools together using collaborative design principles. We particularly focus on tools that can help amplify the voices of communities often excluded from the digital public sphere and connect them with new audiences, as well as on systems that help us understand media ecologies, augment civic participation, and foster digital inclusion.

Research Projects

  • "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck!" Hackathon

    Tal Achituv, Catherine D'Ignazio, Alexis Hope, Taylor Levy, Alexandra Metral, Che-Wei Wang

    In September 2014, 150 parents, engineers, designers, and healthcare practitioners gathered at the MIT Media Lab for the "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck!" Hackathon. As one of the midwives at our first hackathon said, "Maternal health lags behind other sectors for innovation." This project brought together people from diverse fields, sectors, and backgrounds to take a crack at making life better for moms, babies, and new families.

  • Action Path

    Erhardt Graeff, Rahul Bhargava, Emilie Reiser and Ethan Zuckerman

    Action Path is a mobile app to help citizens provide meaningful feedback about everyday spaces in their cities by inviting engagement when near current issues. Existing platforms for civic engagement, whether online or offline, are inconvenient and disconnected from the source of issues they are meant to address. Action Path addresses barriers to effective civic engagement in community matters by ensuring more citizens have their voices heard on how to improve their local communities--converting individual actions into collective action and providing context and a sense of efficacy, which can help citizens become more effective through regular practice and feedback.

  • Civic Crowdfunding Research Project

    Ethan Zuckerman and Rodrigo Davies

    The Civic Crowdfunding project is an initiative to collect data and advance social research into the emerging field of civic crowdfunding, the use of online crowdfunding platforms to provide services to communities. The project aims to bring together folks from across disciplines and professions--from research and government to the tech sector and community organizations--to talk about civic crowdfunding and its benefits, challenges, and opportunities. It combines qualitative and quantitative research methods, from analysis of the theory and history of crowdfunding to fieldwork-based case studies and geographic analysis of the field.

  • Code4Rights

    Joy Buolamwini

    Code4Rights promotes human rights through technology education. By facilitating the development of rights-focused mobile applications in workshops and an online course, Code4Rights enables participants to create meaningful technology for their communities in partnership with local organizations. For example, Code4Rights, in collaboration with It Happens Here, a grassroots organization focused on addressing sexual violence, created the First Response Oxford App to address sexual violence at Oxford University. Over 30 young women contributed to the creation of the app, which provides survivors of sexual violence and friends of survivors with information about optional ways to respond, essential knowledge about support resources, critical contact details, and answers to frequently asked questions.

  • Codesign Toolkit

    Sasha Costanza-Chock and Becky Hurwitz

    Involving communities in the design process results in products that are more responsive to a community's needs, more suited to accessibility and usability concerns, and easier to adopt. Civic media tools, platforms, and research work best when practitioners involve target communities at all stages of the process: iterative ideation, prototyping, testing, and evaluation. In the codesign process, communities act as codesigners and participants, rather than mere consumers, end-users, test subjects, or objects of study. In the Codesign Studio, students practice these methods in a service learning project-based studio, focusing on collaborative design of civic media with local partners. The Toolkit will enable more designers and researchers to utilize the co-design process in their work by presenting current theory and practices in a comprehensive, accessible manner.

  • Data Therapy

    Ethan Zuckerman and Rahul Bhargava

    As part of our larger effort to build out a suite of tools for community organizers, we are helping to build their capacity to do their own creative data visualization and presentation. New computer-based tools are lowering the barriers of entry for making engaging and creative presentations of data. Rather than encouraging partnerships with epidemiologists, statisticians, or programmers, we see an opportunity to build capacity within small community organizations by using these new tools. This work involves workshops, webinars, and writing about how to pick more creative ways to present their data stories.

  • DataBasic

    Ethan Zuckerman, Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio

    DataBasic is a suite of web-based tools that give people fun and relevant ways learn how to work with data. Existing tools focus on operating on data quickly to create some output, rather than focusing on helping learners understand how to work with data. This fails the huge population of data literacy learners, who are trying to build their capacity in various ways. Our tools focus on the user as learner. They provide introductory activities, connect to people with fun sample datasets, and connect to other tools and techniques for working with data. We strongly believe in building tools focused on learners, and are putting those ideas into practice on these tools and activities.

  • DeepStream

    Ethan Zuckerman, Gordon Mangum, David Anderton and Vivian Diep

    From Ukraine to the US, citizens and journalists are increasingly choosing to livestream civic events. But livestreams are currently hard to find and lack in-depth information about the events being documented. DeepStream seeks to expand participation in this emergent form of media by creating a platform for livestream curation. By searching across streaming platforms and adding relevant blog posts, news stories, images, tweets, and other media to livestreaming video, individuals or newsrooms can create immersive and interactive viewing experiences. Our goal is to design a platform that lets people re-imagine the livestream viewing experience so that it connects viewers to global events in a way that emphasizes local perspectives and deeper engagement, while maintaining the experience of immediacy and authenticity that is an essential part of livestreaming.

  • Digital Humanitarian Marketplace

    Matthew Stempeck

    The Internet has disrupted the aid sector like so many other industries before it. In times of crisis, donors are increasingly connecting directly with affected populations to provide participatory aid. The Digital Humanitarian Marketplace aggregates these digital volunteering projects, organizing them by crisis and skills required to help coordinate this promising new space.

  • Erase the Border

    Catherine D'Ignazio

    Erase the Border is a web campaign and voice petition platform. It tells the story of the Tohono O'odham people, whose community has been divided along 75 miles of the US-Mexico border by a fence. The border fence divides the community, prevents tribe members from receiving critical health services, and subjects O'odham to racism and discrimination. This platform is a pilot that we are using to research the potential of voice and media petitions for civic discourse.

  • First Upload

    Ethan Zuckerman, Matthew Carroll, Cynthia Fang and Joe Goldbeck

    First Upload is a tool for verifying the authenticity of news imagery. It helps find the first upload of imagery, particularly videos. Finding the person who uploaded a video is a key to determining authenticity, because often it is necessary to contact that person directly. It is being developed with input from YouTube and Bloomberg. Currently we have a working prototype, built for the YouTube site.

  • FOLD

    Alexis Hope, Kevin Hu, Joe Goldbeck, Nathalie Huynh, Matthew Carroll, Cesar A. Hidalgo, Ethan Zuckerman

    FOLD is an authoring and publishing platform for creating modular, multimedia stories. Some readers require greater context to understand complex stories. Using FOLD, authors can search for and add "context cards" to their stories. Context cards can contain videos, maps, tweets, music, interactive visualizations, and more. FOLD also allows authors to link stories together by remixing context cards created by other writers.

  • Framework for Consent Policies

    Willow Brugh

    This checklist is designed to help projects that include an element of data collection to develop appropriate consent policies and practices. The checklist can be especially useful for projects that use digital or mobile tools to collect, store, or publish data, yet understand the importance of seeking the informed consent of individuals involved (the data subjects). This checklist does not address the additional considerations necessary when obtaining the consent of groups or communities, nor how to approach consent in situations where there is no connection to the data subject. This checklist is intended for use by project coordinators, and can ground conversations with management and project staff in order to identify risks and mitigation strategies during project design or implementation. It should ideally be used with the input of data subjects.

  • Global Brands

    Anurag Gupta, Erhardt Graeff, Huan Sun, Yu Wang and Ethan Zuckerman

    Every country has a brand, negative or positive, and that brand is mediated in part by its global press coverage. We are measuring and ranking the perceptions of the 20 most populous countries by crowdsourcing those perceptions through a "World News Quiz." Quiz-takers match geographically vague news stories to the countries they think they occurred in, revealing how they positively or negatively perceive them. By illustrating the way these biases manifest among English and Chinese speakers, we hope to help news consumers and producers be more aware of the incomplete portrayals they have internalized and propagated.

  • Going Dark: Collective Action in the reddit Blackout

    J. Nathan Matias

    How do people who lead communities on online platforms join together in mass collective action to influence platform operators? Going Dark analyzes a protest against the social news platform reddit by moderators of 2,278 communities in July of 2015. These moderators collectively disabled their communities, preventing millions of readers from accessing major parts of reddit and convincing the company to negotiate over their demands. This study reveals social factors--including the work of moderators, relations among moderators, relations with platform operators, factors within communities, and the isolation of a community--that can lead to participation in mass collective action against a platform.

  • Mapping the Globe

    Catherine D'Ignazio, Ethan Zuckerman and Ali Hashmi

    Mapping the Globe is an interactive tool and map that helps us understand where the Boston Globe directs its attention. Media attention matters–in quantity and quality. It helps determine what we talk about as a public and how we talk about it. Mapping the Globe tracks where the paper's attention goes and what that attention looks like across different regional geographies in combination with diverse data sets like population and income. Produced in partnership with the Boston Globe.

  • Media Cloud

    Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman and David LaRochelle

    Media Cloud is a platform for studying media ecosystems--the relationships between professional and citizen media, between online and offline sources. By tracking millions of stories published online or broadcast via television, the system allows researchers to track the spread of memes, media framings, and the tone of coverage of different stories. The platform is open source and open data, designed to be a substrate for a wide range of communications research efforts. Media Cloud is a collaboration between Civic Media and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

  • Media Cloud Brazil

    Ethan Zuckerman, Alexandre Gonçalves, Ronaldo Lemos, Carlos Affonso Pereira de Souza, Hal Roberts, David Larochelle, Renato Souza, and Flavio Coelho

    Media Cloud is a system that facilitates massive content analysis of news on the Web. Developed by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, Media Cloud already analyzes content in English and Russian. During the last months, we have been working on support for Portuguese content. We intend to analyze the online debate on the most controversial and politically hot topics of the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, namely network neutrality and copyright reform. At the same time, we are writing a step-by-step guide to Media Cloud localization. In the near future, we will be able to compare different media ecosystems around the world.

  • Media Meter

    Ethan Zuckerman, J. Nathan Matias, Matt Stempeck, Rahul Bhargava and Dan Schultz

    What have you seen in the news this week? And what did you miss? Are you getting the blend of local, international, political, and sports stories you desire? We're building a media-tracking platform to empower you, the individual, and news providers themselves, to see what you're getting and what you're missing in your daily consumption and production of media. The first round of modules developed for the platform allow you to compare the breakdown of news topics and byline by gender across multiple news sources.

  • Media Meter Focus

    Muhammad Ali Hashmi

    Media Meter Focus shows focus mapping of global media attention. What was covered in the news this week? Did the issues you care about get the attention you think they deserved? Did the media talk about these topics in the way you want them to? The tool-set also shows news topics mapped against country locations.

  • Media Perspective

    Edward L. Platt

    Media Perspective brings a data visualization into 3D space. This data sculpture represents mainstream media coverage of Net Neutrality over 15 months, during the debate over the FCC's classification of broadband services. Each transparent pane shows a slice in time, allowing users to physically move and look through the timeline. The topics cutting through the panes show how attention shifted between aspects of the debate over time.

  • Mission Wildlife

    Poseidon Hai-Chi Ho, Ethan Zuckerman and San Diego Zoo Global

    Mission Wildlife is an AR game (like Pokémon Go) to increase visitor’s awareness and actions about endangered species in the wild, which was deployed on the 100th anniversary of San Diego Zoo. The mobile application allows visitors to trigger 3D animations from the animal signs, get a better understanding of the threats that a specific endangered species is facing, and upload to their social media with specific hashtag to increase public's awareness on certain issues. We hope to solve the problems in the nature by using technologies to create social change.

  • Mixed-Mode Systems in Disaster Response

    Ethan Zuckerman and Willow Brugh

    Pure networks and pure hierarchies both have distinct strengths and weaknesses. These become glaringly apparent during disaster response. By combining these modes, their strengths (predictability, accountability, appropriateness, adaptability) can be optimized, and their weaknesses (fragility, inadequate resources) can be compensated for. Bridging these two worlds is not merely a technical challenge, but also a social issue.

  • MoboWater

    Ethan Zuckerman, Poseidon Hai-Chi Ho and Nickolaos Savidis.

    MoboWater is a crowd-sensing platform that combines three components allowing anyone to conduct instantaneous water sensing anytime, anywhere. The hardware kit, attachable to mobile devices, includes a 200x micro lens to make water turbidity and bacteria visible. We are also developing modules for conductivity, PH, and heavy metals. The mobile application embeds custom training models to perform image processing for analyzing water purity and recognizing specific objects. The web application visualizes water properties into location-based open datasets, and is designed for citizens and communities to create data-driven campaigns. MoboWater is expanding water-sensing technologies beyond research laboratories and transforming the way citizens evaluate and interact with their water supplies.

  • NetStories

    Ethan Zuckerman, Heather Craig, Adrienne Debigare and Dalia Othman

    Recent years have witnessed a surge in online digital storytelling tools, enabling users to more easily create engaging multimedia narratives. Increasing Internet access and powerful in-browser functionality have laid the foundation for the proliferation of new online storytelling technologies, ranging from tools for creating interactive online videos to tools for data visualization. While these tools may contribute to diversification of online storytelling capacity, sifting through tools and understanding their respective limitations and affordances poses a challenge to storytellers. The NetStories research initiative explores emergent online storytelling tools and strategies through a combination of analyzing tools, facilitating story-hack days, and creating an online database of storytelling tools.

  • NewsPix

    Catherine D'Ignazio, Ethan Zuckerman, Matthew Carroll, Emerson College Engagement Lab and Jay Vachon

    NewsPix is a simple news-engagement application that helps users encounter breaking news in the form of high-impact photos. It is currently a Chrome browser extension (mobile app to come) that is customizable for small and large news organizations. Currently, when users open a new, blank page in Chrome, they get a new tab with tiles that show recently visited pages. NewsPix replaces that view with a high-quality picture from a news site. Users interested in more information about the photo can click through to the news site. News organizations can upload photos ranging from breaking news to historic sporting events, with photos changing every time a new tab is clicked.

  • NGO2.0

    Jing Wang, Wang Yu

    NGO2.0 is a project grown out of the work of MIT's New Media Action Lab. The goal of NGO2.0 is to strengthen the digital and social media literacy of Chinese grassroots NGOs. Since 2009, the project has established collaborative relationships with IT corporations, universities, and city-based software developers' communities to advocate the development of a new brand of public interest sector that utilizes new media and nonprofit technology to build a better society. NGO2.0 addresses three major need categories of grassroots NGOs: communication, resources, and technology. Within each category, NGO2.0 developed and implemented online and offline projects. These include: Web 2.0 training workshops, Web 2.0 toolbox, a crowdsourced philanthropy map, news stories and videos for NGOs, crowd funding project design, NGO-CSR Partnership Forum, database of Chinese NGOs, and online survey of Chinese NGOs' Internet usage.

  • Open Gender Tracker

    Irene Ros, Adam Hyland, J. Nathan Matias and Ethan Zuckerman

    Open Gender Tracker is a suite of open source tools and APIs that make it easy for newsrooms and media monitors to collect metrics and gain a better understanding of gender diversity in their publications and audiences. This project has been created in partnership with Irene Ros of Bocoup, with funding from the Knight Foundation.

  • Open Water Project

    Adrienne Debigare, Ethan Zuckerman, Heather Craig, Catherine D'Ignazio, Don Blair and Public Lab Community

    The Open Water Project aims to develop and curate a set of low-cost, open source tools enabling communities everywhere to collect, interpret, and share their water quality data. Traditional water monitoring uses expensive, proprietary technology, severely limiting the scope and accessibility of water quality data. Homeowners interested in testing well water, watershed managers concerned about fish migration and health, and other groups could benefit from an open source, inexpensive, accessible approach to water quality monitoring. We're developing low-cost, open source hardware devices that will measure some of the most common water quality parameters, using designs that makes it possible for anyone to build, modify, and deploy water quality sensors in their own neighborhood.

  • Out for Change: Transformative Media Organizing Project

    Sasha Costanza-Chock, Becky Hurwitz, Heather Craig, Royal Morris, with support from Rahul Bhargava, Ed Platt, Yu Wang

    The Out for Change Transformative Media Organizing Project (OCTOP) links LGBTQ, Two-Spirit, and allied media makers, online organizers, and tech-activists across the United States. In 2013-2014, we are conducting a strengths/needs assessment of the media and organizing capacity of the movement, as well as offering a series of workshops and skillshares around transmedia organizing. The project is guided by a core group of project partners and advisers who work with LGBTQ and Two-Spirit folks. The project is supported by faculty and staff at the MIT Center for Civic Media, Research Action Design and by the Ford Foundation's Advancing LGBT Rights Initiative.

  • PageOneX

    Ethan Zuckerman, Edward Platt, Rahul Bhargava and Pablo Rey Mazon

    Newspaper front pages are a key source of data about our media ecology. Newsrooms spend massive time and effort deciding what stories make it to the front page. PageOneX makes coding and visualizing newspaper front page content much easier, democratizing access to newspaper attention data. Communication researchers have analyzed newspaper front pages for decades, using slow, laborious methods. PageOneX simplifies, digitizes, and distributes the process across the net and makes it available for researchers, citizens, and activists.

  • Peer Appreciation in the Workplace

    Emma Spiro, J. Nathan Matias, Andrés Monroy Hernández

    Organizations are deploying gratitude-tracking systems to encourage appreciation, promote pro-sociality, and monitor employee wellbeing. We present the case study of one such system, called Gratia, adopted by a Fortune 500 company for over four years. We analyzed 422,209 messages of thanks and examined temporal patterns of appreciation, reciprocity, and repeated interactions. We also compared the formal organizational chart to the informal network expressed through the system. We found that gratitude is strongly reciprocated, that time between thanks is relatively long, and that it is predominantly given to peers outside one's immediate team.

  • Promise Tracker

    Ethan Zuckerman, Rahul Bhargava, Joy Buolamwini and Emilie Reiser

    After an election, how can citizens hold leaders accountable for promises made during the campaign season? Promise Tracker is a mobile phone-based data collection system that enables communities to collect information on issues they consider priorities and monitor the performance of their local governments. Through an easy-to-use web platform, citizens can visualize aggregated data and use it to advocate for change with local government, institutions, the press, and fellow community members. We are currently piloting the project in Brazil and the United States, and prototyping sensor integration to allow citizens to collect a range of environmental data.

  • Readersourcing

    Ethan Zuckerman, Rahul Bhargava, Nathan Matias and Sophie Diehl

    The Passing On project uses data from 20 years of New York Times stories about society's heroes, leaders, and visionaries to "Reader-source" improvements to Wikipedia. As readers explore compelling stories about notable women, content is generated to create new content and inspire the public to contribute those stories to Wikipedia.

  • Scanner Grabber

    Tal Achituv

    Scanner Grabber is a digital police scanner that enables reporters to record, playback, and export audio, as well as archive public safety radio (scanner) conversations. Like a TiVo for scanners, it's an update on technology that has been stuck in the last century. It's a great tool for newsrooms. For instance, a problem for reporters is missing the beginning of an important police incident because they have stepped away from their desk at the wrong time. Scanner Grabber solves this because conversations can be played back. Also, snippets of exciting audio, for instance a police chase, can be exported and embedded online. Reporters can listen to files while writing stories, or listen to older conversations to get a more nuanced grasp of police practices or long-term trouble spots. Editors and reporters can use the tool for collaborating, or crowdsourcing/public collaboration.

  • Slap Snap Tap

    Joy Buolamwini

    Slap Snap Tap combines wearable sensors with physical block programming to enable enhanced expression through movement. By slapping on a set of sensor straps, snapping in code that links movement triggers to sound actions, and tapping the sensors to activate a play experience, users can combine motion and sound in creative ways. A dancer can create music through movement; an athlete can add emphasis to her performance; demonstrators can synchronize and amplify a chant; and anyone can create sound effects for life moments. Slap Snap Tap is a method of the Slay Play endeavor which aims to broaden participation in computational creation by using movement as a pathway into computational thinking.

  • Student Legal Services for Innovation

    Ethan Zuckerman and J. Nathan Matias

    Should students be prosecuted for innovative projects? In December 2014, four undergraduates associated with the Media Lab were subpoenaed by the New Jersey Attorney General after winning a programming competition with a bitcoin-related proof of concept. We worked with MIT administration and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to support the students and establish legal support for informal innovation. In September 2015, MIT announced the creation of a new clinic for business and cyberlaw.

  • Terra Incognita: 1000 Cities of the World

    Catherine D'Ignazio, Ethan Zuckerman and Rahul Bhargava

    Terra Incognita is a global news game and recommendation system. Terra Incognita helps you discover interesting news and personal connections to cities that you haven't read about. Whereas many recommendation systems connect you on the basis of "similarity," Terra Incognita connects you to information on the basis of "serendipity." Each time you open the application, Terra Incognita shows you a city that you have not yet read about and gives you options for reading about it. Chelyabinsk (Russia), Hiroshima (Japan), Hagåtña (Guam), and Dhaka (Bangladesh) are a few of the places where you might end up.

  • The Babbling Brook

    Catherine D'Ignazio and Ethan Zuckerman

    The Babbling Brook is an unnamed neighborhood creek in Waltham, MA, that winds its way to the Charles River. With the help of networked sensors and real-time processing, the brook constantly tweets about the status of its water quality, including thoughts and bad jokes about its own environmental and ontological condition. Currently, the Babbling Brook senses temperature and depth and cross-references that information with real-time weather data to come up with extremely bad comedy. Thanks to Brian Mayton, the Responsive Environments group, and Tidmarsh Farms Living Observatory for their support.

  • VoIP Drupal

    Leo Burd

    VoIP Drupal is an innovative framework that brings the power of voice and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites. It can be used to build hybrid applications that combine regular touchtone phones, web, SMS, Twitter, IM, and other communication tools in a variety of ways, facilitating community outreach and providing an online presence to those who are illiterate or do not have regular access to computers. VoIP Drupal will change the way you interact with Drupal, your phone, and the web.


    Alex Goncalves, Denise Cheng, Ethan Zuckerman, Rahul Bhargava, Sasha Costanza-Chock, Rebecca Hurwitz, Edward Platt, Rodrigo Davies and Rogelio Lopez is a hosted mobile blogging platform that makes it easy for people to share content to the web from mobile phones via voice calls, SMS, or MMS. Our goal is to make it easier for people in low-income communities to participate in the digital public sphere. You don't need a smart phone or an app to post blog entries or digital stories to Vojo; any phone will do. You don't even need Internet access: Vojo lets you create an account via SMS and start posting right away. Vojo is powered by the VozMob Drupal Distribution, a customized version of the popular free and open-source content management system that is being developed through an ongoing codesign process by day laborers, household workers, and a diverse team from the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA).

  • What We Watch

    Ethan Zuckerman, Rahul Bhargava and Edward Platt

    More than a billion people a month visit YouTube to watch videos. Sometimes, those billion people watch the same video. What We Watch is a browser for trending YouTube videos. Some videos trend in a single country, and some find regional audiences. Others spread across borders of language, culture, and nation to reach a global audience. What We We watch lets us visualize and explore the connections between countries based on their video viewing habits.

  • ZL Vortice

    Daniel Paz de Araujo (UNICAMP), Ethan Zuckerman, Adeline Gabriela Silva Gil, Hermes Renato Hildebrand (PUC-SP/UNICAMP) and Nelson Brissac Peixoto (PUC-SP)

    This project is currently promoting a survey of data from the East Side (Zona Leste) of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The aim is to detect the landscape dynamics: infrastructure and urban planning, critical landscapes, housing, productive territory, recycling, and public space. The material will be made available on a digital platform, accessible by computers and mobile devices: a tool specially developed to enable local communities to disseminate productive and creative practices that occur in the area, as well as to enable a greater participation in the formulation of public policies. ZL Vortice is an instrument that will serve to strengthen social, productive, and cultural networks of the region.