A new culture of social and political expression has emerged online. And it often begins with a spark of humor and creativity. Like never before, netizens are amplifying and remixing each other’s messages. From talking goats in Uganda to dancing llamas in China; from photo mashups of the king in the Netherlands to logo remixes supporting marriage equality in the United States, netizens are engaging with one another on issues of civic interest. And what’s more, they’re developing new art forms, tools and avenues to express their views, and these internet-based practices are spilling over into the physical world.
We believe that these creative practices – starting with hashtag trends and image memes that break pluralistic ignorance and sometimes grow into larger movements – have tremendous impact in a variety of global contexts. We wish to document their development, their successes, their failures, and add to the public discourse around online expression and the underlying social issues. We are interested in how these dynamics are reflected in the silly–yes, cat videos break pluralistic ignorance too–and the serious, in the helpful and the hateful, in supporting power and in challenging it.
The Civic Beat is a global research collective that looks at the creative side of civic technology. That includes memes and other viral, creative content on the web in the context of civic engagement. We do this in three key ways:
Above all, we take a cultural approach to these emergent forms of creative expression. On top of looking at the data, we focus on the stories, social context, and communities around social and political issues that unfold online. We want to bring value and depth to this space.
We believe that the building blocks of social change often start through creative expression. We think memes and other internet content are meaningful and come out of a larger social and political context. We work hard to maintain respect for diversity, and we’re committed to a truly global outlook. We believe in laughing with, not at, and we want to be corrected when we get it wrong.
We do have a bias and a point of view. More often than not, we side with underrepresented people and groups rather than with those who have access to structures of power. We’re proponents of internet freedom and open source, Creative Commons initiatives. We support gay marriage and women’s rights but think there’s a great deal more to be done to promote social, economic and political equality. Our writers and researchers come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we strive as much as possible to represent all sides equally, so long as those sides are backed by research and not hate or misrepresentation.
But most of all, we believe that humor, joy and creativity are a valid and necessary form of civic expression. The world can be a serious place, but we shouldn’t overlook the power of humor and creative expression in igniting a discussion or changing a person’s mind or simply helping us get through a difficult situation.
We believe in testing early and often with real content and a real reader base. As we quietly get our site out the door, we hope to begin active development and promotion in the coming months. In the meme time, you can expect high quality content on this site and an active presence on social media.
During this phase you can expect act coverage of East Asia, East Africa and parts of Western Europe and North America.
The Civic Beat follows a distributed team model, with members in multiple cities and continents. We use the internetz to stay in touch and work together.
Jason Li, Co-Founder
Jason Li is a Hong Kong-based cartoonist and designer. He is the author of The House on Horse Mountain, an upcoming graphic novel about a young girl growing up in a bygone Hong Kong of the 1960s. In addition to that, he runs a freelance business offering design, consulting and illustration services to clients all over the world. His works have been featured at the Asian Art Museum, on the BBC, and on the radio in Spain.
An Xiao Mina, Co-Founder
Dubbing memes the “street art of the internet”, An looks at the role of internet culture and humor in addressing social and political issues around the world. She first began writing about this topic on Hyperallergic, the Brooklyn-based art blogazine, and she has contributed to publications such as The Atlantic, Design Observer and Wired. She has spoken at fora like ROFLCon, the Personal Democracy Forum and Harvard Law School, and she also works as director of product at Meedan. She travels a lot and thinks chickens are pretty funny. Her book, “Memes to Movements”, explores the intersection of internet memes and social movements, and will be published in fall 2018 by Beacon Press.
Contributors and Guest Reblogs
Our contributors come from all walks of life to tell the best stories of the web. We believe in a collaborative approach to writing, allowing for multiple writers to contribute to an article. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, many writers use pseudonyms. The list below includes individuals who have appeared as guests thanks to generous reblogs; their names are marked with an asterisk*.
Want to join our team or contribute writing? Learn more about open volunteer positions or propose your own role.
The Civic Beat is a collective of researchers, writers and artists exploring the intersection of creativity, geopolitics and the internet. We support each other in our goals to engage the public through writing, talks, workshops and exhibitions.
We have led workshops and exhibitions in spaces such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Mozilla Festival Open Artist Studio (curated by the V&A Museum and Tate Modern), the Asian Art Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, the ACLU and RightsCon, and we've been producing what Net Monitor called "the cutest map of the internet" – a world map of animal memes in collaboration with over a dozen internet culture researchers.