For the last two weeks I’ve been helping build and launch StopWatching.us with EFF, Free Press, Mozilla, Fight for the Future and others. The site is a response to Snowden’s revelations about the breadth of NSA’s surveillance programs. My main takeaway from the experience is this:
The Internet desperately needs a team of rapid responders to help build effective campaigns on short notice.
Building the StopWatching site was a mad rush: we heard the news break, and 3 days later launched the site, collecting over 80 public advocacy groups as initial signatories. A week later we launched a calling campaign, and over the course of the next two weks the site racked up over 500,000 signatures. As a result, we’ve sent hundreds of thousands of emails to Congress on behalf of users.
As the only developer involved from the start, it was a massive struggle to get things finished. While I love working to a deadline, and the awesome folk from Mozilla were a big help in getting things up and running (thanks Bobby, JP!), we were totally understaffed from a technical standpoint.
We could and should be doing so much more.
StopWatching.us was great for something thrown together in just a few days. But with more resources, we could have tried so much more, and the site might have been much more effective in being a focal point of protest.
But the campaign isn’t over yet. And it won’t be long until there’s something other revelation of government wrong-doing: more news from Snowden’s cache of NSA documents, another strange bill that folks in Congress are intent on passing (see: CISPA, SOPA/PIPA), or progress with an international treaty that would lock down domestic laws, like the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
We need to be ready for action.
There’s a whole suite of tools that are necessary to build and win effective campaigns. We need live-updating, compelling signup pages like the ones Avaaz use (example), mail-your-representative tools (like the semi-abandoned Formageddon), a call-your-representatives tool, mobile apps, and so much more.
Tools like those need to be built and open-sourced for anyone to use. But we also need a rapid-response task force: developers, designers and technologists who are willing to implement them to throw together a compelling, bespoke site for a particular campaign within 24 hours.
What the task force would do:
Create and integrate tools like the ones listed above.
Build a reusbale template campaign site.
React to breaking news with immediate campaigns.
Coordinate closely with groups like EFF, Fight for the Future, Free Press, Mozilla and others to launch coalition sites.