Publications

FROM INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS TO AN INDEPENDENT UNION: BUILDING SOLIDARITY THROUGH RIDESHARE DRIVERS UNITED’S DIGITAL ORGANIZING STRATEGY

This report explores the viability of using social media and app-based organizing tools in building democratic gig worker organizations. The author partnered with Rideshare Drivers United-Los Angeles, a democratic and independent association of US rideshare drivers seeking fair pay, transparency, a voice on the job, and community standards in the rideshare industry. With limited resources and volunteer labor, RDU was able to leverage the low cost of social media advertising, and, through app-based technologies and SMS, develop a hybrid online-offline model of organizing. The success of RDU’s campaign demonstrates that such a model can help overcome the obstacles endemic to building a democratic organization of a massive, unidentified, disaggregated, and fluid workforce that can exercise real power. Based on the outcomes of the campaign, the author makes recommendations for labor unions and policymakers.

FROM PULLMAN TO UBER: TRANSPORTATION RESISTANCE IN THE DIGITAL MILIEU

This piece takes a historical view of labor struggles and the law to shed light on the fight of gig workers from Uber to GrubHub today. Through analysis of the Pullman strike and the broader struggle of railway workers in the 19th century, Francesca Petrucci clarifies what is new and old in the contemporary struggle around workers’ rights in the platform economy and is part of MIC’s series on the future of work.

THE RIGHT TO KNOW OR THE RIGHT TO NO: PUBLIC RECORDS LAWS AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IN PHILADELPHIA

The City of Philadelphia has a transparency problem impacting its newsrooms. Many studies have overlooked the ways in which Pennsylvania’s Freedom of Information (FOI) laws constrain and empower local media practitioners. To fill in this major gap in scholarship, between October 2018 and January 2019, we conducted 17 interviews with Pennsylvania-based journalists in order to highlight their experiences with Pennsylvania’s Right to Know (RTK) law. This report considers the results that their records requests have yielded and includes a comparative assessment of the RTK law as a mechanism of transparency and accountability. With special consideration to the difficulties that journalists face when they encounter resistance from open-records officers, we ask how journalists telling stories in and around Philadelphia can more effectively optimize the resource of public information in service of investigative reporting. We close by recommending a series of industry and policy reforms in order to ensure its future as a powerful investigative tool in Philadelphia’s newsrooms. This research was co-funded by MIC and the Center for Media at Risk as part of a series on the future of journalism. Read the full report.

CELL PHONES, SECURITY AND SOCIAL CAPITAL: EXAMINING HOW PERCEPTIONS OF DATA PRIVACY VIOLATIONS AMONG CELL-MOSTLY INTERNET USERS IMPACT ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR

This research highlights the intersection between emerging forms of digital inequity and long-standing socio-economic injustices. The authors illustrate how low-income Americans who rely on smartphones to access the internet are aware of frequent surveillance by corporations, social media platforms and the government. In an effort to maintain data privacy, they sometimes modify online activities in ways that harm personal relationships and force them to forego professional opportunities. Study participants, generally, seemed resigned to their status as having little power and minimal social capital.

Powerful new digital technologies are remaking our economy and could help the City of Philadelphia (and other cities like it) improve quality of life, effectiveness of services and address critical problems of inequality. None of this will happen, however, without thoughtful policy. This report summarizes the Platform Economy and the Future of the City Convening held at Philadelphia’s City Hall and at the University of Pennsylvania, hosted by the Media, Inequality & Change Center. This convening brought together innovative thinkers from around the US and Europe and local organizers, academics, policymakers and workers in the Platform Economy. During the 2-day event, participants discussed how Philadelphia can maximize the benefits of the Platform Economy for all and the intense, productive conversations identified key challenges and opportunities, and makes recommendations. Read the full report.

 

Philadelphia is regarded popularly as a city of neighborhoods that are defined by their eclectic identities. This guide features a constellation of Philadelphia-based organizations that use media-making as a means to empower marginalized communities, amplify untold stories, and advance social equity.  This living document is meant to be a resource for academics, educators, funders, artists, and community organizers who aspire to forge partnerships and leverage communal assets.  Ultimately, we hope this guide will inspire continued growth in Philadelphia’s thriving public-interest media ecosystem. Download the guide here.

On-demand service platforms (e.g., Uber, Lyft, Postmates and Caviar) recruit workers by promising on-the-job flexibility. Flexibility, however, is equally important to the firm: it justifies their classification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. This designation has obvious financial benefits for companies, but it also introduces new challenges when workers’ decisions run counter to the firm’s needs. On-demand firms thus develop covert strategies to influence workers’ decision-making such that their choices conform to company interests.

The most prominent of these control strategies involve dynamic pricing and dynamic wages. Understanding how such strategies work, however, is quite difficult; on-demand firms are notoriously opaque about their policies. To cut through this opacity, this report provides a critical review of an emergent literature in management science. This research constructs complex mathematical equations and computer simulations to model on-demand marketplaces; it then uses these simulations to evaluate various price and information manipulation strategies to maximize company revenue. The literature thus provides a unique window into companies’ exploitative calculus that has been neglected from critical analyses of the on-demand economy. The report concludes with recommendations for on-demand workers seeking to organize and demand fairer working conditions.

Aaron Shapiro is a postdoctoral research fellow with MIC. He received an M.A. in anthropology and a Ph.D. from the Annenberg School at Penn. His research examines urban technology and inequality in the “smart city,” with a particular focus on public space, labor, and policing. His work has been published in Nature, Media, Culture & Society, New Media & Society, and Surveillance & Society, and his book, Design, Control, Predict: Logistical Governance in the Smart City, is under contract with the University of Minnesota Press.

This paper was produced as part of the MIC Center’s call for research on technology, inequality, and information policy, designed to support new scholarship that explores the connections between inequality and technology with a specific focus on journalism, policy, work, and social movements.

Read the full report…

The first Media, Movements, and the City: A Gathering of Media Activism in Philadelphia was a success! Held at Temple University’s Mitten Hall on September 28, 2018, this one-day convening fulfilled its mission, which was to activate a local hub of media makers, activists, artists, and researchers working towards social justice in Philadelphia. This event was the first step toward achieving a larger goal, which is to develop stronger networks of interaction and collaboration in Philly.

The trailblazing Media, Movements, and the City was organized as a result of media activism scholars and practitioners acknowledging a need for a city-wide convening. They successfully managed to leverage their resources to make Media, Movements, and the City come to fruition, which gave Philadelphians invested in media and social change work an opportunity to do groundwork in a big and meaningful way. Download the full report on the event.