CFP08: trip report

Part 1 of a series

cfp logoComputers, Freedom, and Privacy 2008 ended with me presenting Dear Potus 08 and circulating the letter to the presidential candidates for signatures, and then a closing plenary by Clay Shirky (notes below). It was exhiliarating as always, and I’m now simultaneously exhausting, revved up, and suffering from jet lag. So I figured I’d blog about it.

Even by CFP standards, this year was particularly chaotic — off to a late start, an endless string of challenges for program committee members that continued right up to the conference with a torn Achilles tendon for one person and a severe back injury for another, and appallingly bad wireless from the hotel who for some reason decided to reconfigure their system the Tuesday. And as always, in chaos there is opportunity. Generous sponsorship from LAMP, the Yale Law and Media Project allowed twenty journalists to attend with immediate results (Markus Beckedahl on and Renato Cruz on Estadã joined Kevin Poulsen and Ryan Singel on Wired as places for regular updates); and the timing in an election year was (almost) perfect.

Conference chair Eddan Katz asked Deborah to speak for a few minutes at the opening about CFP’s history, and one of the things she talked about CFP has from the very beginning tried to be a place where people with different viewpoints meet, and the end result is both better understanding and impact on society. The opening plenary, featuring Danny Weitzmann and last-minute replacement Chuck Fish as “surrogates” for the Obama and McCain campaigns respectively*, along with program committee members Ari Schwartz and Susan Crawford proved a great example. Excerpts from the steadily-growing CFP 2008 coverage page tell the story:

Gotta like that. I do feel bad for Chuck, whose was kind enough to fill in at the last moment, and probably didn’t mean to describe those who favor telco immunity as “selling indulgences”, but that said: the McCain spokesman’s clarification in Ryan’s followup article states their case clearly and articulately, and so the end result is to highlight the differences between the campaigns on this issue — one that we’ve been talking about at CFP since the mid-90s. [Back then, the focus was on FISA courts as infringements on civil liberties …] Yay us.

Update, May 27: see McCain vs. Obama on Tech Issues on Slashdot with the framing that “there’s some key differences that just might play at least a small part in your vote.

Eddan was kind enough to let me ask the last question of the opening session, and so I followed up with a lead-in to Dear Potus 08. That’s a big enough deal that it’s worth it’s own thread; please see CFP08 trip report part 2: Dear Potus 08.

Wednesday afternoon, on Andrea Matwyshyn’s Charismatic Content panel, I talked about some of the things we were doing to make Dear Potus 08 charismatic in a textual kind of way. Jacqui Lipton of Case Law school talked about images and video; and Alex Bratman, who’s just finished his first year as an undergraduate at Wharton, stole the show both his discussion of how writing his paper knowing it was going to be on a wiki led him to take a completely different approach. Since one of the points I was making is the importance of experimentation, I also kicked off Get it on Slashdot! … no joy so far, but it’s early days.

Thursday was the all-day social network workshop. Aldon Hynes’ A Human Face and Due Process Online on Orient Lodge is a great summary; I’ll add my perspectives in a separate post.

Thursday evening, I rather embarrassingly missed the announcement of CFP 2009 in DC — chaired by Cindy Southworth of National Network to End Domestic Violence and Jay Stanley of the ACLU, with support from a bunch of people … including me, for online outreach. Oops. Apparently people clapped anyhow when my name came up.

Thursday evening and Friday morning was editing the Dear Potus draft, trying to select the common threads and an overall framework from the various tables. Susy and other program committee members took my initial draft and it steadily got better and better. Have I mentioned how much I love wikis?

Later on Friday morning, I substituted for Jennifer Urban and moderated the panel on Hate Speech and Oppression in Cyberspace. Elizabeth Englander of Bridgewater State College’s Massachusetts Aggression Research Center spoke on cyberbullying; Ann Bartow, of the University of South Carolina Law School and the feministlawprofs blog, talked about her experiences and potential legal approaches. The audience was very engaged, and there was a lot of discussion — including of Lori Drew and Ariel Waldman’s recent blog post about Twitter refusing to uphold its Terms of Service. Another excellent session, and a good chance for me to drop a reference to Owen Fiss’ The Irony of Free Speech.

And then the Dear Potus 08 wrapup and Clay’s talk. When I was describing what I hoped would be the “story arc” of the conference to the program committee, I said that the hoped-for ending is something along the lines of “we kick off this very cool activism and education social computing project, Clay talks about how social computing lets activists and educators change the world, and then everybody gets fired up and goes out and changes the world”. The first two steps went very well indeed. As for part three, we shall see.

There’s a lot more, of course; I’ll be blogging more about this over the next few weeks while I recuperate. It was as always great to see so many old friends and acquaintances — and make new ones. In the past, the energy and connections have dissipated as the conference ends. Hopefully, this year with blog and presence on social networks, we’ll be able to keep the discussions, connections, and impact going all year round


PS: We attempted to record audio for all sessions, and video for a lot as well; despite the student assistants’ best efforts, there were lots of problems with the A/V equipment, and so we’re still not sure what we’ve got … or when we’ll be able to get it up. Others also recorded the sessions, though, so hopefully it’ll be okay. We shall see.

* the Clinton campaign was invited to send somebody as well but alas wasn’t able to schedule it