Planet Webmaker

Be More Careful on Facebook

Erin Kissane

Wed Feb 15 2017 17:46:58 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Here’s the short version of what I’m about to say: Immigrants and visitors to the US—along with anyone participating in protests or visible resistance to the current administration—are the targets of intrusive governmental surveillance, including surveillance of their social networks. Both immigrants and political dissidents are being vilified by the administration and targeted for draconian and unconstitutional attacks. If your “friends”—or friends of friends—network includes people vulnerable to these attacks, you should assume that your constitutionally protected political speech may be used in bad faith to characterize your contacts as terrorists or criminals, and act accordingly.

Note: If this seems obvious to you, perhaps because you’ve already experienced some flavor of it, know that I wrote this post for your friends and family members and colleagues who haven’t thought about it yet.

So here’s the long version.

Loose lips sink ships

Using social networks to normalize behaviors like calling representatives and generally participating more fully in civic life is a great way to stay motivated—“look at me and my admirable behavior!” totally works—and anything that heartens us in this deeply weird historical moment is a gift.

That said, it’s impossible to tell what information you post on any social network—under any privacy setting—will be viewable by enforcement agencies and other members of the government at any given point. Therefore, you should assume that anything you post can potentially be used not only against you, but against your more vulnerable contacts. If you care about that possibility, you may wish to think carefully about posting things like:

  • exaggerated political speech, including humor, that could be characterized as threatening or dangerous by government workers acting in bad faith
  • protest photos of other people—especially from unpermitted actions—which can be processed using facial recognition systems whether or not you name/tag the people in the image
  • your membership in groups that hold unpermitted protests or other actions that deviate from the blandest possible interpretation of political speech

Methods of civic participation favored by white middle-class Americans are less likely to be criminalized or regarded as especially radical, so postcard-writing parties and entreaties to call political representatives likely fall within safe bounds.

The major exception is if you’re planning to participate in high-risk protests or actions that make it likely that you’ll be arrested for civil disobedience. If that’s the case, you should probably straight-up delete your social network presence or at the very least unfriend/break connections with anyone who shares your views or may encounter immigration agencies, because law enforcement will absolutely go after your social networking data if you’re arrested, and that information could easily be used not only against you, but others. If you’re arrested for political dissent, and especially if you’re charged, vulnerable people could be penalized for a connection to you, so don’t let yourself be used as a means of repression.

But self-censorship is cowardly and aids fascism

Eh. I’m all for people taking informed risks when they’re risking their own safety. But until we know for sure that the administration’s trajectory doesn’t lead to mass internments and deportations, my protected speech on social networks may do harm to others who aren’t as shielded as I am, so being careful with it seems increasingly worthwhile to me. Maybe you feel the same way.

So I should just never say anything political again?

Nah. If Facebook (or Twitter) is your main source of political news, conversation, and encouragement, this will be hard and feel weird. But a lot of things are hard and feel weird right now. Some of this discomfort is good: it can keep us alert, and remind us that most of us are noobs when it comes to activism that brushes up against danger—and that if we’ve never had to censor our political speech out of concern for the risks to others, we’ve been unusually lucky and naive.

Some easy-to-use options that are less easily tracked and abused by intrusive agencies than the major social networks:

  • Signal, an encrypted messaging app from Open Whisper Systems that runs on smartphones and laptops and is very very easy to install and use instead of Messenger, SMS, Messages, or DMs. You can send photos and do group messages, too.
  • In-person meetings, workshops, services, vigils, and so on.
  • Email—even regular unencrypted email—avoids the trap of offering intelligence and enforcement agencies a ready-made graph of personal relationships tied to political allegiances.
  • Writing online outside of social networks. Remember blogs? Still pretty easy to set up, if lacking the rush of posting something where you can be sure your one annoying ex-colleague will see it and feel irritated.

This is not a call to go into hiding, but to question a technical and social system that channels our need for connection into corporate surveillance platforms that become weapons for an authoritarian state. That begins by getting smarter about what we say, and where. Be a danger to your opponents, not your friends.

This is all just alarmist speculation!

It’s totally speculation, though it’s based on a bunch of research and my longstanding suspicion of agencies of control. But I have no interest in trying to make you scared, or to sell you on some kind of super-smart insidery narrative.

So let’s go through the four major points behind my concerns. I’m going to focus on the potential harm to two groups of people: immigrants and visitors to the US, and political dissidents within the US. (A lot of people fall into both groups, which makes them doubly vulnerable.) If you don’t feel like a guided tour, skip to the end.

1. Border control is intrusive and often lawless

The agencies overseeing US border control and immigration are frighteningly powerful and very interested in the political views—and social networking data—of those within its remit. They’re also part of the executive branch of government.

The Department of Homeland Security last year received permission to request social media accounts from all non-citizens at the US border. And when Trump’s executive order barring entry to citizens of many Muslim countries went into effect, US border control immediately began scrutinizing the Facebook pages and demanding that travelers from the affected countries unlock their phones and allow unlimited access by border control agents.

Since I started drafting this post a couple of weeks ago, border control agents have begun demanding that people entering the US unlock their phones so that agents can look through their emails and review private social media feeds and messages. As with so many other border control procedures, it’s not clear that this procedure is legal, but at least one journalist (from Canada, even) has previously been denied entry to the US after refusing to turn over his phone and potentially endanger his confidential sources. (In his case, border patrol agents demanded to see his phone to look for pictures of him “posing with dead bodies.” Imagine the same people finding photos from protests critical of the current administration and how they might elect to respond.)

In an excellent roundup on the whole situation, The Atlantic notes that Israel already profiles visitors and demands access to their email and social media messages to determine whether they’ll be allowed into the country. This is what that looks like when it’s applied to a US citizen at the Israeli border:

Okay, we are going to do something very interesting now!” Her face transformed from a harsh stare to a slight smirk. She proceeded to type “” on her computer and then turned the keyboard toward me. “Log in,” she demanded.

“What? Really?” I was shocked.

“Log in.”

I typed in my username and password in complete disbelief. She began her invasive search: “Israel,” “Palestine,” “West Bank,” “International Solidarity Movement.”

Looking back, I realize I shouldn’t have logged in. I should have known that nothing I did at this point would change my circumstances, and that this was an invasion of my privacy. Yet all the questions, the feeling that I had to defend myself for simply wanting to enter the country, and the unwavering eye contact of the security officers left me feeling like I had no choice.

And now it’s happening to US citizens at the US border as well:

“I travel all the time, and I was never asked to unlock my phone,” said Mr. Elsharkawi, an electronics salesman from Anaheim, Calif. “I have personal photos there, which I think is normal for anyone. It’s my right. It’s my phone.”

Eventually, he relented, and a Homeland Security agent looked through his phone for about 15 minutes, he said.

A NASA scientist, Sidd Bikkannavar, said he had a similar experience to Mr. Elsharkawi’s in January, when he was detained at the Houston airport until he handed over a NASA-issued phone for inspection, he told The Verge.

More broadly, it’s important to remember that US border control is extraordinarily powerful, extraordinarily corrupt, and regularly commits human rights abuses like six hours of illegal, abusive, physician-assisted searches.

In an interview I found quite affecting, WNYC radio producer Sarah Abdurrahman explains what it’s like to be detained by border control with your family, all US citizens. An excerpt from the interview details a record of casual cruelties, even to toddlers:

SARAH ABDURRAHMAN: James Lyle is an attorney at the ACLU of Arizona. He says […] people have reported physical and verbal abuse, as well as denial of food, water or medical care by Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, which is under the Department of Homeland Security.

JAMES LYLE: The accounts are so widespread and so consistent, that it’s very hard to see this as anything other than a systemic problem and not just a couple of bad apples here or there.

SARAH ABDURRAHMAN: Lyle told me the story of four-year-old Emily Ruiz who was detained for 20 hours at Dulles Airport.

JAMES LYLE: She was crying hysterically, and agents refused to let her speak with her parents for over 14 hours. They kept her in a cold room, with no bed, blanket or pillow and didn’t give her anything to eat, other than a cookie and some soda.

SARAH ABDURRAHMAN: Even though she was a US citizen, CBP ultimately deported the little girl. She returned to the US three weeks later and was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

JAMES LYLE: The fact is it’s not necessary to abuse citizens and permanent residents or anyone to do the work of a Customs and Border Protection official. And yet, there aren’t any meaningful mechanisms holding Customs and Border Protection officials in check, and so there’s a real sense of impunity.

These stories are shocking, but they’re not scattered incidents—they represent a well-documented pattern of abuses of power.

If this stuff is news to you, as it is to many US citizens, it may be hard to come to terms with. A quick Google search will produce hundreds of personal narratives and media stories about abuses by our border control, or you could check the ACLU’s extensive documentation linked from any of their stories on the subject. You might want to take a moment and get a sense of the scope of the problem, and let it sink in.

If, after that, you accept these statements about border control’s tendency to overreach and current use of social media searches, you should be concerned that social networking data can be used to punish and exclude immigrants and visitors to the US whose contacts post political speech.

A reminder: all of this took place during previous administrations, so this is where we were before the current president was sworn in.

2. The US suppresses political protest, often violently

US law enforcement and governmental agencies have a history of violence toward political dissidents—and of pervasive domestic surveillance.

Consider the state of political protest in the US before this administration. Under the Obama and G.W. Bush adminstrations, peaceful protestors in the US were gassed, beaten, maimed, and jailed without cause. Legal observers and journalists covering protests have been brutalized and charged with rioting.

And our broader history is particularly brutal. Popular culture remembers that police beat and firehosed peaceful civil rights protestors, and set attack dogs on them. We vaguely recall that the National Guard murdered student protestors at Kent State. Few of us know much about the COINTELPRO program in which the FBI secretly directly and illegally attacked political dissenters and organizations within the US for fifteen years; the program was only exposed when a dissenting group burgled an FBI field office and gave the documents they stole to the media.

This is a good point to note that ten US states are attempting to criminalize or increase existing penalties for peaceful civil disobedience tactics practiced largely by Black and progressive groups as economic terrorism. (Among the tactics officials are attempting to criminalize: persistently shouting at current or former politicians).

It’s wonderful that the Women’s Marches last month were blessed with a protective, relaxed police response. But the day before, DC police used intense violence against Inauguration Day protestors, including the elderly and those clearly marked out as legal observers, then charged protesters and journalists with felony rioting. US News and World Report notes that the felony riot charges were justified with a reference to an event that took place after the arrests themselves:

Curiously, the charging papers for the mass-arrested group state a property damage estimate in excess of $100,000 and describe a big-ticket limo fire that occurred Friday afternoon in a different location and after the mass arrests took place.

Many protesters on January 20th were not peaceful; many were. As is often the case in the US, the presence of the former was used to justify the use of physical violence and unconstitutional legal force on the latter.

If you accept that—contrary to our national view of ourselves as a tolerant nation dedicated to free speech—we have selectively and violently targeted political protestors for abuse, you should probably be concerned for the future of political dissenters if our government happens to take a turn toward greater authoritarianism.

As for the question of surveillance, that’s easy. Thanks to whistleblowers, we know a little bit about some of the US government’s domestic surveillance tactics. We know they pursue social network data, both with warrants and without them. Again, this was all true during previous administrations.

This is the best documented and widely discussed piece of the argument, so I’m going to assume you accept this point. If you do, you should probably accept the idea that it’s very likely that all of your social network data will be available to any sufficiently motivated governmental agency.

3. The current administration is uniquely dangerous

Our current president and his administration have demonstrated their desire to make the US more dangerous for both immigrants and dissidents.

After the recent executive order banning entry for citizens of several majority-Muslim countries, the mass revokation of visas, and the chaos that has ensued, I don’t think I need to make much of a case that our president is willing to crash longstanding political and governmental norms to target immigrants. His campaign was built in part on caricaturing Latino and Muslim residents of the US as dangerous criminals, whether they’re recent immigrants or not, and he shows every sign of continuing to hold these positions as president.

The White House, under the guidance of Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, has even announced that it will publish a list of crimes committed by immigrants, a tactic previous used by…Breitbart. (The SPLC has the actual numbers to counter the “extrapolated” aka largely made-up, figures used by white nationalist and other far-right groups to paint immigrants as a force of special evil.)

The president has also repeatedly claimed that popular opposition to his campaign, and now his presidency, is a hoax—that protestors are paid actors or criminals, which casts them as illegitimate threats to democracy. And he’s been pretty clear about which approaches to protest he considers admirable:

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

When pressed during his campaign to explain his apparent endorsement of the massacre in Tienanmen, he said he was merely noting the strength of the government’s repressive actions—and called the protests a “riot” in the process. For those who remember only the photo of a man standing in front of a tank, a reminder that the Chinese government killed somewhere between 200 and several thousand unarmed citizens in the Tienanmen protests.

And, famously, our president admires Vladimir Putin’s leadership style.

“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.”

Reminded by his interviewer that Putin’s government kills journalists, the president—then candidate—responded “I think our country does plenty of killing also.” Just as a reminder, when Russian citizens criticize their goverment online, they get jailed, sometimes for years.

Our president is a man who wanted a military parade with pavement-crushing tanks through DC for his inauguration/Day of Patriotic Devotion. He’s jovially discussed beating protestors at his rallies. He has targeted organizations and individuals for public shaming and attacks for crossing or displeasing him, including members of the press.

What does this have to do with your online habits? As protests across the US continue to build, and begin to be normalized as a non-extreme activity, the risk that the president and his administration will enact a retaliatory crackdown on protestors and activists continues to grow. And if they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it before the protests achieve critical mass.

I don’t think that this administration will succeed. If they put a lot of middle-class white protestors in jail, I think they will suffer real political damage. But I think the harm they could do in the meantime is considerable.

If you accept that our president has expressed admiration of violent repression of political dissent, and continues to cast both protesters and immigrants (documented or not) as threats to national stability and security, you should probably be concerned that his leadership will endanger both non-citizens and political dissidents.

4. Facebook will sell you for scrap

It’s very easy to forget what we know about Facebook, and to believe that it’s neutral or even generally in favor of liberty. Tech companies are all about openness, after all, and we’re all on Facebook so it must be okay…

Facebook is a machine for turning your emotional responses into money. It has no values. What it does have is a long record of anti-privacy actions, inviting your friends to snitch on you, collusion with governmental surveillance, facial-recognition databanking, and at least one deliberate attempt to secretly influence users’ emotional states. The European Commission has warned EU citizens not to use Facebook if they prefer that their private data not fall into the hands of US intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Facebook changes harmful policies when they’re discovered and when grassroots action threatens its profits, full stop. (Twitter, by contrast, has such strong commitments to transparency and free speech that it refusing to kick Nazis off its platform even when their abuses threaten its profits. Whee.)

If you believe Facebook will keep your data safe and never let it be used against you or your most vulnerable contacts, by governmental or private entities, you’re putting your faith in an entity that has demonstrated bad faith for years.

And remember:

You can also delete your account, but Facebook reserves the right to keep information that others have shared about you. Because to Facebook, that information isn’t yours.

So if you know someone who leaves Facebook to protect themselves against any of the risks I’ve outlined, everything you’ve added to the company’s profile of that person remains available to both Facebook and its partners.

Ferocity trumps despair

still of Beyoncé from the video from Hold Up, in which she destroys a surveillance camera and various other things while wearing the most beautiful yellow dress in the world

This woman is holding a baseball bat.

If controlling your speech feels frustrating, let it remind you that we are living through a moment of unusual danger. Do the things (make the calls, fund the lawsuits, do the work of mutual aid). Know your opponents (they’re probably not your fellow voters). Keep connected to your communities. But don’t despair and don’t withdraw.

We are in dicey times, but we’re not dead yet, and even if things don’t get science-fiction bad, we’re going to require resilience and raw cussedness to destroy the cultural, political, and economic machinery that got us here. Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.

"No more deportations, we shall not be moved"

Erika Owens

Wed Feb 15 2017 01:02:40 GMT+0000 (UTC)

a crowd chanting at Newn Sanctuary Movement Actio

We wont stay quiet, we will fight for our brothers and sisters, we take risks because we know a better world is possible! #sanctuaryforall

— New Sanctuary Mvt (@NSMPhilly) February 14, 2017

Today, on Valentine's Day, the Sanctuary in the Streets network in Philadelphia was activated for the first time. A person called a hotline run by New Sanctuary Movement and reported Immigration and Customs Enforcement was at their door. NSM staff said they could hear ICE pounding on the door in the background and demanding the door be opened while the person calmly explained what was happening. Then the line went silent.

NSM decided to go to the ICE processing office in downtown Philadelphia and contact hundreds of Philadelphians who had signed up and been trained to come together in a situation exactly like this. To come to a location at a moment's notice to gather and peacefully, prayerfully, positively disrupt an ICE raid.

I got the text as I was wrapping up my work day and it took me about half an hour to get there. When I arrived, a couple dozen people were already there singing. A person had been brought to the office just as NSM arrived, so there was no time to interrupt. But they still gathered to sing and pray--loudly so the people inside the unassuming building could hear. A little while later, a van left with several people, presumably bound for a detention center.

When I arrived, I thought things were just going to wind down and everyone would go home within a few minutes. It was NSM's first time trying out a instant response like this, and it all had happened so fast. But the organizers kept trying to get people to share and do chants. It took me a few minutes, but then I realized.

They had called the local news stations.

They were waiting for the journalists to arrive to film and broadcast the fact that dozens of Philadelphians came out on a cold night, a holiday no less, to interrupt an ICE raid. Even as the event didn't have as much drama as in other cities--or as much as we had prepared for in our training--it was still the first time this network had come together.

Two days ago, I gave a talk about networks and journalism. How journalists cannot remain apart from our communities. I talked about it in terms of my day-job network building work and then here I was, stomping and singing and living out what I had just shared in slide form.

Our communities are, and have been, under attack. Nonviolent resistance and community-made media continue to shape what we know and how we think about what is happening around us--pushing us to be more thoughtful, more inclusive, and at the same time, more assertive in creating the world we need. The world our Black, Brown, indigenous, Asian, immigrant, Muslim, disabled, working class, queer, joyful, resilient, creative, indefatigable country of resistors creates every day.

And old-fashioned journalism plays a role here. Especially broadcast with its bright lights and wide reach. Why did it matter that there were TV cameras there? (Coverage from NBC 10, Telemundo,

Those news segments will:

  • Bring attention to these raids. The organizers said there have been six raids in Philadelphia in the past two weeks, and several participants--even people interested in immigrant justice--were unaware of that.
  • Show this happens everywhere. Even an unassuming building downtown, at 1600 Callowhill, is part of a process that is sowing fear, pulling apart families, and doing harm to our communities.
  • Demonstrate people are standing up. Neighbors stand to support one another in response to these raids. This both shows solidarity with people facing raids and shows people who are neutral or even hostile to immigrant justice that there are people from their community who will turn out on a cold evening to stand with their neighbors.
  • Share information. New Sanctuary Movement has a hotline number (267-333-9530) where people can get information and support during these raids. A news segment reaches thousands of people who otherwise may not have known about the number.

I am privileged to be in a position to join an action like this and join a community of faith to support our neighbors and our city. Philly is privileged to have an organization like NSM, which is led by immigrants, to plan ways to support people at an uncertain time and use nonviolent resistance and mass media to shift our narratives about immigration overall. Journalists are privileged to have the trust placed in us to share these stories, share these resources, and ultimately help our communities stay better informed and better able to create the future they want and need.

No justice, no peace.

Community Spotlight: Link Clark

Webmaker Blog

Mon Feb 06 2017 22:32:49 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Code/Interactive (C/I) is a NYC-based non-profit that focuses on inspiring youth to learn, build, and collaborate with technology. In Austin, TX, C/I operates Coding4TX, a computer science education program that serves teachers and students statewide. Coding4TX has partnered with  Mozilla Hive Austin to contribute to allied educational efforts across the city.

Mozilla invited Link Clark, C/I Austin Program Manager, to bring C/I’s expertise to the second annual SPARK! hackathon, a collaboration with St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia. SPARK! will bring together over 65 students from 16 area high schools to imagine how they might address local community needs through the Internet of Things (IoT).

We had the opportunity to chat with Link to learn more about C/I, Coding4TX and their work to spread web literacy through hackathons and code jams. Here is what Link had to say:

Coding4TXhackathon, December 10, 2016

Coding4TXhackathon, December 10, 2016


How did C/I Austin’s Coding4TX program get its start?

Coding4TX is a coding and computer science education program serving teachers and students in the state of Texas. The initiative, organized and initially funded by the KLE Foundation, is operated by C/I, a NYC-based non-profit focused on inspiring the next generation to learn, build, and collaborate with technology.

Coding4TX launched in August 2015 in seven schools across five districts in Central Texas, successfully introducing coding and computer science to 225 students in middle and high school. During the 2016-2017 school year, C/I became its operator. Currently, we serve 16 schools across nine Texas districts, reaching over 1,500 elementary, middle and high school students.



How does this work align with promoting the general health of the Internet?

Our organizational mission of diversifying the tech pipeline will increase participation in the industry that is integral to an Internet open to all, not just for entertainment and consumption.

How are Hive Austin & C/I working together? Any plans for 2017?

Hive Austin and C/I are symbiotic in our organizational missions as we work to bridge the digital divide in Austin and Central Texas through our respective efforts in digital literacy and coding education to shape the web. Hive Austin’s event,  “Empowering Educators to Shape the Web Empowers Learners to Shape Society“, was an excellent way to identify and grow our resources for a new era that will help teachers provide students the tools to shape the internet and society. C/I was fortunate enough to pull from Mozilla’sHack the Newsactivities for a part of our Hour of Code, because the teachers we support understand that learning to code does not happen in a vacuum and digital citizenship is shoulder to shoulder with computer science education. The next step in our plan is to co-host a hackathon based on what we learn at SPARK and Mozilla’s curriculum and expertise in web literacy.

Tell us more about the goal and purpose of the Coding4TX hackathon that happened in December.

The hackathon provides innovative real-world training for a new and necessary generation of tech builders and leaders from low-income communities. Students get a chance to work hand-in-hand with some of Central Texas’ most successful technologists to define, design, develop, and deploy real tech products to solve issues that are negatively impacting the community of our students and their peers.

What is one stand-out project that resulted from the hackathon that has made a positive impact on the local community?

Since the theme of our hackathon is to solve an issue that negatively impacts the community, it’s hard to choose just one! Projects from our December hackathon included: a babysitting app for teen mothers based on grades, crowd funding for low-income students for school uniforms, how to manage stress and mental health and balance school success, and a project by the “Coding Queens” that addressed racial cyber bullying. These girls knew firsthand the pains and danger of cyber bullying and decided to solve the problem themselves by building an educational and actionable tool to counter the increasingly hateful language found online. You can read about the event from one of our judges, Hugh Forrest, here.


What have you found to be the best way to connect learning with preparing for real-world careers and community impact?

The most successful connection tool, by far, has been the tech office visits we set up for the schools we support. Each semester, a school is able to visit a tech office at businesses such as Samsung, Whole Foods, Facebook, RetailMeNot, Oracle, etc,  that includes a tour and a Q&A with a diverse panel of employees, diverse in terms of background and role at the company. One of the most salient examples took place at Whole Foods Market, where the panel included folks from five different positions connected to their digital presence and an in-depth presentation of current work with two students at a time. The teacher told me multiple students said after that, “I can see myself doing that job,” having been given the chance to learn about it in detail by someone from a similar background.

How do you expect next generation networks to support C/I Austin’s efforts?

The more students that can engage computer science/coding education increases the number of citizens that participate in the building of the internet, which the Gigabit will contribute to immensely. Also, internet speed will be the next phase of the digital divide, so increasing fuller participation in all aspects of digital/internet community permits a greater opportunity to tap into potential.  

What are you most excited about in working with Mozilla and bringing web literacy work to Austin?

Web literacy will help students fully utilize gigabit internet and the multitude of opportunities that come with understanding how the internet can change our communities. For example, Coding4TX and Austin Public Library developed a program, Juntos Online, to encourage families to embrace digital tools at the library.

Learn more about C/I and Coding4TX here, follow them on Twitter @weareci.

Open Credentials: Promising Practices

Webmaker Blog

Fri Feb 03 2017 15:13:28 GMT+0000 (UTC)

In 2011, Mozilla created Open Badges with funding from the MacArthur Foundation and a network of partners committed to developing a new way to recognize and connect learning anytime, any place, and any pace. Since then a growing community of contributors has driven the Open Badges movement.

Over the past five years, open credentials or digital badges have gained momentum as a way to capture and demonstrate knowledge and achievement. Through these efforts, badges have gained widespread interest and adoption by policy, technology, and education stakeholders. Open Badges are re-imagining ways to recognize learning beyond formal credentialing systems.

Funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation, Promising Practices of Open Credentials: Five Years of Progress, is a compilation of case studies focused on out-of-school learning, K–12 schools, higher education and workforce badging initiatives and lessons learned about designing and implementing open badging systems.

We want to hear from you — What valuable lessons are you learning? Where would you like to see Open Badges going in the next five years?

In the meantime, next steps for the Open Badges technical specification include widespread market development and adoption. IMS Global Learning Consortium will manage the evolution of the Open Badges technical specification, which defines the technical requirements for what a badge must represent for both issuers and earners. As an open-governance, member-based standards consortium, IMS Global has deep experience with Open Badges and the expertise to lead the evolution of the specification, and also drive the adoption and portability of badges. The aim is to create a global skills currency based on the Open Badges Specification, under the leadership of IMS members with the support of the Open Badges community. More information on how to contribute to the development of Open Badges technical specification can be found here.

In addition, Digitalme has carried out important updates to the Mozilla Backpack to maintain an open source, inter-operable option for individuals to store, share and move their badges between platforms.

How I will Assess…I mean Contribute to a Community of Writers #OpenBadges

Greg McVerry

Fri Feb 03 2017 02:09:45 GMT+0000 (UTC)

There will be no rubrics. Just feedback.

There will be no numbers just criteria and evidence.

The Academic Blogger Pathway

Students accomplish the pathway by earning badges. Students must provide  evidence of their growing capacity as a writer. There are nine badges to earn before a student can earn the academic blogger credential.

New Blogger

A “Hello World” credential with critical importance. It takes quite some time to onboard the entire class and teach them how to share a url to a post. About 50% will share a link to their WordPress profile.

Ideas and Content

This badge I want to get at the organization of thought and the the presenting of thinking. I will award to students as I see their work grow. When students begin to blog I may get one short paragraph and then a few post later one long paragraph. I am okay with this. Focus on the on boarding early. Overtime I will reword this badge when I see greater cohesion of work. Students can nominate each other for this badge,

Providing Attribution

I could care less if you get your commas write in APA. Attribution is the way of writing and not simply an academic task. This badge will be self-nominated.

Finding Voice

I promise to be absolutely subjective in awarding this badge. It is for growth in a writer’s voice. The emergence of a somewhat stable identity. Students can nominate peers for this badge.

Revising for Content

This class fils a Writing Intensive requirement. Therefore revision (as ifit isn’t always important) is critical to your success. This is a self nominated badge after a student makes three substantial revisions.

Writing Conventions

Fix your misteaks. Earn a badge.

Using Blog Affordances

This is a self or peer nominated badge. I am looking for headers, images and video. Keep your paragraphs frequent and short.

Community Commenter

You can’t teach writing without community. I will give this badge out (with scarcity) to those who contribute to meaningful conversation through commenting. This can be on a person’s blog or a class stream.

How Will You Apply?

I want the burden of proving excellence on my students. They should be nominating each other and them selves. The credentialing platform I use doesn’t allow for submissions just the issuing of badges. So in the next few days I will create a Google to nominate people.



Engaging Communities to Inspire Digital Innovation

Webmaker Blog

Thu Feb 02 2017 11:00:47 GMT+0000 (UTC)

A new gigabit network rolling out in Detroit is part of a groundswell of innovation currently taking place in this rapidly changing city. To make sure the incredible resource of this gigabit network is made available to more of the community, several organizations recently came together to launch the Equitable Internet Initiative to bring high speed connectivity to more neighborhoods in Detroit. This effort is a partnership between the Detroit Community Technology Project, Allied Media Projects, Grace in Action Collectives, WNUC Community Radio, and the Church of the Messiah’s Boulevard Harambee Program, and aims to build wireless broadband infrastructure and provide community members with the skills necessary to bring their communities online.

We at Mozilla are really interested in how these super fast networks are shaping the future of the internet and of communities. We were honored to be in Detroit as part of the launch of the Equitable Internet Initiative to explore how the high speed network they’re building can be leveraged for community impact.

We believe a healthy internet demands equal participation from diverse communities – that the future of the web should be built by and for all of us, not just a select few. Emerging high speed networks can create amazing possibilities for new technology like smart sensors to support public health and immersive virtual reality applications to expand the reach of teaching and learning. However, we have also seen how these networks can add layers to digital access within communities – advanced internet networks, and the technologies they enable, can feel even more out of reach for those already lacking connectivity.

As the digital landscape changes, it’s important that we’re inviting everyone to participate in a conversation about the potential of new technology to transform their communities and their lives. That’s why we were thrilled to be in Detroit to explore what story they’d like to be able to tell about high speed internet in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Detroit workshop participants make sticky note art during an activity focused on understanding gigabit connectivity

We facilitated an evening workshop that included a series of activities focused on creating a common understanding and shared language around gigabit internet, and inviting participants to think of new technologies that could create real impact. From applications that address pressing public health issues to ways for leveraging high speed networks to improve education, the workshop participants had great ideas they’ll be able to take forward in their neighborhoods as the new gigabit infrastructure is being built.

As communities in Detroit are working to spread the reach of gigabit internet and use that connectivity to inspire community based innovation, our team will continue developing this workshop as a framework of activities to help make these new technologies more accessible and approachable.

We look forward to sharing more of that framework as it’s developed. In the meantime, we wanted to share an activity around understanding gigabit internet connectivity that was a big hit with the workshop participants in Detroit.

Beyond tabs: visualising 'trails' on the Web

Doug Belshaw

Mon Jan 30 2017 14:26:15 GMT+0000 (UTC)


I’ve been a user of the Web for around 21 years. Although it’s difficult to remember, I’m pretty sure ‘tabbed browsing’ pre-dates my first use of the Web. I can certainly remember in Microsoft Internet Explorer having to open a new window every time I wanted to visit a different website. It was one of the reasons I liked Netscape Navigator, later moving seamlessly to Mozilla Firefox.

While there’s been all kinds of wonderful innovation on the web, there doesn’t seem to have been as much innovation in tabbed browsing. Granted, you can mute certain tabs, pin them, and close all but the one you’re on. But, fundamentally, other than Tree Style Tab and the slightly unintuitive Tab Groups, tabbed browsing doesn’t feel much different than it was 20 years ago.

In a recent blog post I came across via Medium, Patryk Adaś made me aware of a Mozilla project that is focused on “evolving the standard tabbed browser towards a model based on trails”. It’s an interesting concept, shown visually in this 14-second video that demonstrates how it works:

The example used, of someone ‘deciding on a pizza joint’ is trivial, but I’m particularly interested in this from a new literacies point of view. Given that we’re at a time when we can’t necessarily trust information that comes from a particular domain (I’m looking at you, something that shows the trail people took to get to a website they trust would be a valuable tool.

Mozilla has a habit at the moment of shutting things down, in the hunt for ‘scale’. I hope this particular project sees the light of day, and I get to both use this myself and demonstrate it to others.

Comments? Questions? I’m @dajbelshaw on Twitter, or you can email me:

Hit refresh on high school civics

Ben Moskowitz

Mon Jan 23 2017 16:53:32 GMT+0000 (UTC)

I wrote a piece for Quartz Ideas on the need to overhaul high school civics:

To holistically prepare this new generation for life in an open society, what’s needed is a new model for high-school civics; one that integrates American history and government, critical thinking, media literacy, and digital literacy. The goal of such education should not be merely to instill understanding of our online civic landscape, but how to navigate and participate in it in constructive and meaningful ways: Not what to think, but how to think.

Check it out here.

Mozilla Awards $241,000 to Explore the Intersection of Gigabit Technology and Civics, Robotics, Farming, and More

Webmaker Blog

Mon Jan 23 2017 11:00:38 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund will support 19 grantees across Austin, Chattanooga and Kansas City

Mozilla is pleased to announce the nineteen grant award recipients in Austin, Kansas City and Chattanooga that will receive support from the Gigabit Community Fund. Grantees across the three cities will receive a total of $241,000 for a 16-week pilot period beginning January 30. The Gigabit Community Fund, a collaboration with National Science Foundation and US Ignite, is investing in projects that utilize gigabit technology to impact learning.

Grantees will utilize the awarded funds to build, pilot, and scale gigabit-enabled applications and associated curricula that have immediate, measurable effect on classrooms and informal learning organizations. Through these projects, Austin, Chattanooga and Kansas City will continue to study how these next-generation networks can impact education and workforce development.

Cultivating Local Networks of Gigabit Innovators

Grantees of the Gigabit Community Fund this round include technologists, educators, advocates, and even farmers! Each brings a new perspective to shape the future of gigabit technology and of Mozilla’s global network of leaders working together to advance a healthy internet. To share and learn from these different points of view, the local grantee cohort will participate in regular meetups to share their planning, progress, lessons learned, and best practices.

Grantees include:

Cross-city (Austin + Kansas City)

The Gigabots Cross City Connected Robotics — Big Bang
The Gigabots bring real-time internet connectivity to educational robotics platforms between schools in Kansas City and Austin, TX.


Accelerate, Augmented Reality for Workforce Training — Austin Free-Net
Accelerate, Augmented Reality for Workforce Training will leverage gigabit connectivity to design an augmented reality tool that supports entry-level IT learning for adults.
Digital Mock City Council — Austin Monitor
An online, open-source, digital budget debate platform and curriculum designed for middle and high school students to explore civic challenges and priorities.
Gigabit Girls – Austin Public Housing — Latinitas
This VR introductory course will be taught to girls engaged with Latinitas programming and living in Austin Public Housing. The project will also include recruitment of VR professionals to support the program and bridge the century long divide between Austin’s downtown business district and East Austin’s housing projects.
Gigabit VR: MBK Coding WebVR Scenes — Changing Expectations
To foster an inclusive computing culture, Changing Expectations will add WebVR coding projects to the My Brother’s Keeper Coding Makerspace to prepare boys of color for the VR workforce. The MBK students will learn to code WebVR scenes based on their ethnically diverse interests and perspectives and share through mini-workshops with younger youth and their parents visiting the Carver Museum.
Virtual Reality STEM Lessons — University of Texas UTeach Outreach
UTeach will design robust, validated, lessons for gigabit-connected middle school classrooms that support Google Expeditions and Unity game design software to create virtual reality experiences that increase students’ interest in computer science and engineering fields.
World Explorer Virtual Exchange — PenPal Schools
PenPal Schools connects students worldwide through online courses to learn about global challenges while practicing essential technology skills. PenPal Schools will extend their digital content with 360 4K video in a pilot cultural exchange experience linking PenPals in Austin with international locations.


Eduity — Eduity, LLC
The Community Technology Leadership Program takes the technology leadership program model from the corporate setting to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) make greater use of ultra-fast networks and build the technology workforce.
Giving Garden Technology Lab Project — Catoosa County Public School System
The Giving Garden Tech Lab project allows students to experience Life Science in a new, interactive way utilizing innovative technology, like virtual reality and 4K streaming.
Global Kids Chattanooga Haunts — Global Kids
Haunts is a STEM program for youth ages 14-18 that supports historical-based community exploration through geo-locative game development.
Input Genies — Studio MindStride
Input Genies teaches youth how to code or build tools for other youth, who cannot easily use a keyboard or mouse.
LOLA in the Classroom — The Enterprise Center
Hamilton County Department of Education, the Enterprise Center and the Public Education Foundation are using LOw LAtency technology to expand access to arts education across the city of Chattanooga, and beyond.
Next Generation Professional Learning — Hamilton County Department of Education
This project creates a collaborative lab for teacher professional learning by harnessing the gigabit network, utilizing multiple telepresence robots and leveraging the experience across Hamilton County Department of Education schools (and eventually beyond Chattanooga).
ViatoR VR — ViatoR, LLC
ViatoR utilizes VR to submerge users in an immersive environment for an interactive, engaging language learning experience.

Kansas City

CERN+KC Gigabit Challenge — ElevateEDU
A project that leverages citizen science, volunteer computing, and gigabit connectivity to create project based learning opportunities for students to participate in research taking place at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
Housing Smart Cities — University of Kansas, School of Architecture, Design & Planning
Students and professors at the University of Kansas are leading a project looking to deploy Population Health strategies in smart cities through the design of smart, sustainable, and affordable prefabricated housing.
Immersive VR for Local and Remote Medical and Anatomical Education — Trinity Animation
Trinity Animation will use high realism medical VR for anatomical education, both local on HTC VIVE and remote via gigabit monitoring.
Urban Farming Guys Smart Greenhouse — The Urban Farming Guys
Urban Farming Guys IoT Smart Greenhouse and aquaponics will benefit the local community via food production and education through an open source community.
Virtual Realities in Culture: Explorations of the African Diaspora — V Form Alliance
V Form Alliance will work with students to create virtual field trips to landmarks in KS and MO that are important to black history.

How to get involved:

– Join the Mozilla Leadership Network, coming soon
– Attend the US Ignite Smart Cities Summit in Austin, TX June 26-28 to see demonstrations of several of these applications
– Attend our 2017 Education Innovation Showcase co-hosted with EdTech Austin to learn how you can collaborate or submit to our next round of funding

Carrying momentum across locally-partnered events

Webmaker Blog

Tue Jan 17 2017 18:44:20 GMT+0000 (UTC)

About a year ago, the phrase “Internet of Things” kept coming up in conversations I had at Mozilla. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects and services that sense the environment around them and exchange data over the internet. At Mozilla’s Hive Chattanooga, we thought it would be fun to find ways of combining IoT with the high-speed internet we have in town along with education, which is our passion. Once the idea was born, we approached an incredible local partner, The Company Lab (CoLab), about collaborating with them on a local event, and suddenly the 48Hour Launch IoT Edition was born!

48Hour Launch (48HL) is a weekend-long competition that challenges teams of entrepreneurs and specialists to transform a startup concept into a viable business model, prototype, policy proposal, or piece of curriculum. We asked folks across Mozilla if they would mentor these local teams and share their skills with our neighbors in Chattanooga. I had the unique position of representing Mozilla’s work in Chattanooga with our mentor cohort as well as representing Mozilla to our local partner. The Company Lab planned, organized and hosted the event itself while I worked with our Mozilla convenings team to develop our mentor cohort journey.

This was the first time this event had mentors outside of Chattanooga come to join teams and likewise, this was the first time we had developed a mentor journey like this for such a localized event. We wanted to make the most of each mentor’s time and skillsets as well infuse the Mozilla flavor into a local event, so leading up to the weekend, we did things like:

  • Met one on one with each mentor to hear about their vision for joining the cohort.
  • Led a call for group introductions and discussions before the weekend with the cohort.
  • Wrote blogs leading up to the event, sharing Mozilla’s interest and participation in 48HL.
  • Had weekly planning meetings with Co.Lab leading up to the event to keep clear communication between both partners.

We learned a ton in the months leading up to the 48Hour Launch, as well as throughout the weekend itself. Our mentors’ contributions to one another and to the local event were incredible! They came ready to give and dive into the work being done throughout the weekend.

Additionally, balancing so many details on both sides – with the mentors and with Co.Lab, there could have been misfires but they culminated into an incredible collaboration within and outside Mozilla for a fantastic local event.

Here are three of our biggest take-aways for planning events with local partners:

  • Collaboration between partners should be a natural fit between each organization’s mission and vision
  • There should be clearly defined expectations of duties between both partners
  • Partnered events  can amplify and spread local work across a global network of likeminded people working to protect internet health and users’ rights.

Looking ahead, we didn’t want to lose momentum with what we’ve learned as well as what opportunities this new cohort (and others) could add to local events. To that end, we’ve begun co-planning another local event built on the Chattanooga 48HL model. This January, we’ll be sending Mozilla mentors to the SPARK youth hackathon hosted by St. Anne’s-Belfield School (STAB) in Charlottesville, VA.

I’ve teamed up with Chad Sansing, a curriculum developer at Mozilla, and Kim Wilkens, a local school computer science coordinator and SPARK organizer, to pass along the lessons I learned from our 48HL event.  We want to build off what went well and avoid repeating what didn’t go so well.

For example, we’ll continue working with our mentors to make sure the experience is valuable for them and we’ll continue to send mentors from a wide variety of backgrounds to support local hackathon participants in areas like coding, design, and project management. However, we’ll also work with STAB to make SPARK a collaborative event; as we believe that not every hackathon should be a competition or winner-takes-all affair.

As Chad and I anticipate the SPARK weekend, we’re excited to be refining the mentorship and cross-team collaboration process within Mozilla. Later this spring, we hope to iterate on it again at another local IoT event. Let us know if you’re interested in learning more and tell us how you think we might improve the work!