How one group of ‘fellas’ is winning the meme war in support of Ukraine

Article by Suzanne Smalley: “The North Atlantic Fella Organization, or NAFO, has arrived.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry celebrated the group on Twitter for waging a “fierce fight” against Kremlin trolls. And Rep. Adam Kinzinger, D-Ill., tweeted that he was “self-declaring as a proud member of #NAFO” and “the #fellas shall prevail.”

The brainchild of former Marine Matt Moores, NAFO launched in May and quickly blew up on Twitter. It’s become something of a movement, drawing support in military and cybersecurity circles who circulate its meme backing Ukraine in its war against Russia.

“The power of what we’re doing is that instead of trying to come in and point-by-point refute, and argue about what’s true and what isn’t, it’s coming and saying, ‘Hey, that’s dumb,’” Moores said during a panel on Wednesday at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington. “And the moment somebody’s replying to a cartoon dog online, you’ve lost if you work for the government of Russia.”

Memes have figured heavily in the information war following the Russian invasion. The Ukrainian government has proven eager to highlight memes on agency websites and officials have been known to personally thank online communities that spread anti-Russian memes. The NAFO meme shared by the defense ministry in August showed a Shiba Inu dog in a military uniform appearing to celebrate a missile launch.

The Shiba Inu has long been a motif in internet culture. According to Vice’s Motherboard, the use of Shiba Inu to represent a “fella” waging online war against the Russians dates to at least May when an artist started rewarding fellas who donated money to the Georgian Legion by creating customized fella art for online use…(More)”.

Policy Choice and the Wisdom of Crowds

Paper by Nicholas Otis: “Using data from seven large-scale randomized experiments, I test whether crowds of academic experts can forecast the relative effectiveness of policy interventions. Eight-hundred and sixty-three academic experts provided 9,295 forecasts of the causal effects from these experiments, which span a diverse set of interventions (e.g., information provision, psychotherapy, soft-skills training), outcomes (e.g., consumption, COVID-19 vaccination, employment), and locations (Jordan, Kenya, Sweden, the United States). For each policy comparisons (a pair of policies and an outcome), I calculate the percent of crowd forecasts that correctly rank policies by their experimentally estimated treatment effects. While only 65% of individual experts identify which of two competing policies will have a larger causal effect, the average forecast from bootstrapped crowds of 30 experts identifies the better policy 86% of the time, or 92% when restricting analysis to pairs of policies who effects differ at the p < 0.10 level. Only 10 experts are needed to produce an 18-percentage point (27%) improvement in policy choice…(More)”.

Crowdsourced Politics

Book by Ariadne Vromen, Darren Halpin, Michael Vaughan: “This book focuses on online petitioning and crowdfunding platforms to demonstrate the everyday impact that digital communications have had on contemporary citizen participation. It argues that crowdsourced participation has become normalised and institutionalised into the repertoires of citizens and their organisations. 

To illustrate their arguments the authors use an original survey on acts of political engagement, undertaken with Australian citizens. Through detailed interviews and online analysis they show how advocacy organisations now use online petitions for strategic interventions and mobilisation. They also analyse the policy issues that mobilise citizens on crowdsourcing platforms, including a unique dataset of 17,000 petitions from the popular non-government platform, Contrasting mass public concerns with the policy agenda of the government of the day shows there is a disjuncture and lack of responsiveness to crowdsourced citizen expression. Ultimately the book explores the long-term implications of citizen-led change for democracy. ..(More)”.

Mapping community resources for disaster preparedness: humanitarian data capability and automated futures

Report by Anthony McCosker et al: “This report details the rationale, background research and design for a platform to help local communities map resources for disaster preparedness. It sets out a first step in improving community data capability through resource mapping to enhance humanitarian action before disaster events occur.The project seeks to enable local community disaster preparedness and thus build community resilience by improving the quality of data about community strengths, resources and assets.

In this report, the authors define a gap in existing humanitarian mapping approaches and the uses of open, public and social media data in humanitarian contexts. The report surveys current knowledge and present a selection of case studies delivering data and humanitarian mapping in local communities.

Drawing on this knowledge and practice review and stakeholder workshops throughout 2021, the authors also define a method and toolkit for the effective use of community assets data…(More)”

Toward a Demand-Driven, Collaborative Data Agenda for Adolescent Mental Health

Paper by Stefaan Verhulst et al: “Existing datasets and research in the field of adolescent mental health do not always meet the needs of practitioners, policymakers, and program implementers, particularly in the context of vulnerable populations. Here, we introduce a collaborative, demand-driven methodology for the development of a strategic adolescent mental health research agenda. Ultimately, this agenda aims to guide future data sharing and collection efforts that meet the most pressing data needs of key stakeholders…

We conducted a rapid literature search to summarize common themes in adolescent mental health research into a “topic map”. We then hosted two virtual workshops with a range of international experts to discuss the topic map and identify shared priorities for future collaboration and research…

Our topic map identifies 10 major themes in adolescent mental health, organized into system-level, community-level, and individual-level categories. The engagement of cross-sectoral experts resulted in the validation of the mapping exercise, critical insights for refining the topic map, and a collaborative list of priorities for future research…

This innovative agile methodology enables a focused deliberation with diverse stakeholders and can serve as the starting point for data generation and collaboration practices, both in the field of adolescent mental health and other topics…(More)”.

How crowdfunding is shaping the war in Ukraine

The Economist: “This month Aerorozvidka, a Ukrainian drone unit, celebrated the acquisition of four Chinese-made DJI Phantom 3 drones, provided by a German donor. The group, founded in 2014 after the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, is led by civilians. The gift is just one example of crowdfunding in Russia’s latest war against Ukraine. Citizens from both sides are supplying much-needed equipment to the front lines. What is the impact of these donations, and how do the two countries differ in their approach?

Private citizens have chipped in to help in times of war for centuries. A writing tablet found near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England mentions a gift of sandals, socks and underwear for Roman soldiers. During the first world war America’s government asked civilians to knit warm clothing for troops. But besides such small morale-boosting efforts, some schemes to rally civilians have proved strikingly productive. During the second world war Britain introduced a “Spitfire Fund”, encouraging civilian groups to raise the £12,600 (£490,000, or $590,000, in today’s money) needed to build the top-of-the-range fighter. Individual contributors could buy wings, machineguns or even a rivet, for six old pence (two and a half modern ones) apiece. The scheme raised around £13m in total—enough for more than 1,000 aircraft (of a total of 20,000 built)…(More)”.

On the Power of Networks

Essay by Jay Lloyd: “A mosquito net made from lemons, a workout shirt that feeds sweat to cyanobacteria to generate electricity, a water filter using moss from the Andes—and a slime mold that produces eerie electronic music. For a few days in late June, I logged on to help judge the Biodesign Challenge, a seven-year-old competition where high school and college students showcase designs that use biotechnology to address real problems. Fifty-six teams from 18 countries presented their creations—some practical, others purely speculative.

The competition is, by design, cautiously optimistic about the potential for technology to solve problems such as plastic pollution or malaria or sexually transmitted diseases. This caution manifests in an emphasis on ethics as a first principle in design: many problems the students seek to solve are the results of previous “solutions” gone wrong. Underlying this is a conviction that technology can help build a world that not only works better but is also more just. The biodesign worldview starts with research to understand problems in context, then imagines a design for a biology-based solution, and often envisions how that technology could transform today’s power dynamics. Two projects this year speculated about using mRNA to reduce systemic racism and global inequality. 

The Biodesign Challenge is a profoundly hopeful exercise in future-building, but the tensions inherent in this theory of change became clear at the awards ceremony, which coincided with the Supreme Court’s announcement of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, ending the right to abortion at the national level. The ceremony took place under a cloud, and these entrancing proposals for an imagined biofuture sharply juxtaposed with the results of the blunt exercise of political power. 

Clearly, networks of people devoted to a cause can be formidable forces for change—and it’s possible that Biodesign Challenge itself could become such a network in the future. The group consists of more than 100 teachers and judges—artists, scientists, social scientists, and people from the biotech industry—and the challengers themselves, who Zoom in from Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Savannah, Cincinnati, Turkey, and elsewhere. As biotechnology matures around the world, it will be applied by networks of people who have determined which problems need to be addressed…(More)”.

Crowdsourcing Initiatives in City Management: The Perspective of Polish Local Governments

Paper by Ewa Glińska, Halina Kiryluk and Karolina Ilczuk: “The past decade has seen a rise in the significance of the Internet facilitating the communication between local governments and local stakeholders. A growing role in this dialog has been played by crowdsourcing. The paper aims to identify areas, forms, and tools for the implementation of crowdsourcing in managing cities in Poland as well as the assessment of benefits provided by the use of crowdsourcing initiatives by representatives of municipal governments. The article utilized a quantitative study method of the survey realized on a sample of 176 city governments from Poland. Conducted studies have shown that crowdsourcing initiatives of cities concern such areas as culture, city image, spatial management, environmental protection, security, recreation and tourism as well as relations between entrepreneurs and city hall, transport and innovations. Forms of stakeholder engagement via crowdsourcing involve civic budgets, “voting/polls/surveys and interviews” as well as “debate/discussion/meeting, workshop, postulates and comments”. The larger the city the more often its representatives employ the forms of crowdsourcing listed above. Local governments most frequently carry out crowdsourcing initiatives by utilizing cities’ official web pages, social media, and special platforms dedicated to public consultations. The larger the city the greater the value placed on the utility of crowdsourcing…(More)”.

Smartphone apps in the COVID-19 pandemic

Paper by Jay A. Pandit, Jennifer M. Radin, Giorgio Quer & Eric J. Topol: “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, analog tools such as nasopharyngeal swabs for PCR tests were center stage and the major prevention tactics of masking and physical distancing were a throwback to the 1918 influenza pandemic. Overall, there has been scant regard for digital tools, particularly those based on smartphone apps, which is surprising given the ubiquity of smartphones across the globe. Smartphone apps, given accessibility in the time of physical distancing, were widely used for tracking, tracing and educating the public about COVID-19. Despite limitations, such as concerns around data privacy, data security, digital health illiteracy and structural inequities, there is ample evidence that apps are beneficial for understanding outbreak epidemiology, individual screening and contact tracing. While there were successes and failures in each category, outbreak epidemiology and individual screening were substantially enhanced by the reach of smartphone apps and accessory wearables. Continued use of apps within the digital infrastructure promises to provide an important tool for rigorous investigation of outcomes both in the ongoing outbreak and in future epidemics…(More)”.

Meet the fact-checkers decoding Sri Lanka’s meltdown

Article by Nilesh Christopher: “On the evening of May 3, the atmosphere at Galle Face Green, an esplanade along the coastline of Sri Lanka’s capital city of Colombo, was carnivalesque. Parents strolled on sidewalks with toddlers hoisted on their shoulders. Teenagers wearing bandanas played the flute and blew plastic horns. People climbed atop makeshift podiums to address the crowds, greeted by scattered applause. 

The crowd of a few hundred was part of a series of protests that had been underway since mid-March, demanding the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. For months, the country has been trapped in a brutal economic crisis: Sri Lanka is currently unable to pay for imports of essentials, such as food, medicines, and fuel. Populist tax cuts, an abrupt ban on fertilizer imports, decimated crop yields, and the collapse of tourism during the pandemic all helped to push the country into the worst economic crisis it has faced since gaining independence in 1948.

The island nation owes nearly $7 billion this year and has next to no foreign reserves left. “We don’t have any gas. We don’t have fuel and some food items. We lose power for three to four hours daily now,” Nalin Chamara, 42, a hotelier protesting with his family and children, told Rest of World. Meanwhile, the presidential family at one point controlled around 70% of the nation’s budget and ran it as a family business, spending billions of dollars of borrowed money on vanity projects, such as an extravagant airport and cricket stadium that now sit almost entirely unused.

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne walked among the Galle Face Green crowds, surveying the scene. He pointed out where demonstrators had jury-rigged their own electricity supply by welding solar panels atop an open truck and connecting them to a battery. The power generated was being used to charge over two dozen smartphones inside a big blue tent, which also contained a library housing 15,000 books. “This is what Sri Lankans will do if you let them build stuff. Fucking build infrastructure from scratch,” Wijeratne said. The protest featured a giant middle finger monument made of plastic bottles, directed at the Rajapaksas. “Our real educational export should be B.Sc. in protest,” Wijeratne said.

Wijeratne, 29 years old, is best known as the author of Numbercaste, a science fiction novel about a near-future world where people’s importance in society is decided based on the all-powerful Number, a credit score determined by their social circle and social network data. But he is also the chief executive of Watchdog, a research collective based in Colombo that uses fact-checking and open source intelligence (OSINT) methods to investigate Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis. As part of its work, he and his 12-member team of coders, journalists, economists, and students track, time stamp, geolocate, and document videos of protests shared online.

Watchdog’s protest tracker has emerged as the most comprehensive online archive of the historic events unfolding in Sri Lanka. Its data set, which comprises 597 different protests and 49 conflicts, has been used by global news organizations to demonstrate the extent of public pushback.

“[Our] core mission is simple,” Wijeratne told Rest of World. “We want to help people understand the infrastructure they use. The concrete, the laws, the policies, and the social contracts that they live under. We want to help people understand the causality of how they came to be and how they operate.”…(More)”.