Making civic engagement fun, easy and social.

Do your digital devices make you happy? Your watch can tell you whether you walked 10,000 steps today, your Instagram account can show you pictures of beautiful people in beautiful places, and your Twitter account can show you the news as it happens — but do these things make you happy? Probably not. More likely, after your attention surfs from one channel to the next, you feel distracted by, with no real sense of belonging in, an electronic world. You may even feel depressed (link). Most of your digital devices do not make you happier. 

Why? Digital media gives us information, but what we crave is membership, intimacy, and community. Human beings are happiest when they participate in groups, take actions, and get praise. Researchers call this the “cycle of intimacy.” In the academic literature, “people-centered” activities that build “social support” — activities that communicate to a person that they are part of a network —  improve our quality of life (link). 

Here at Magnify we do more than provide a digital space for your ideas — our work starts by asking you what you think would make the world a better place. Our world needs voices like yours. But we don’t stop there. Our next step is to help you build a community — or to share your idea as part of a community of like-minded changemakers. Then, we support your work by providing a private space for you to collaborate and for us to praise you and your network for taking action. These tools give you what you need to find happiness in the pursuit of your wild idea. 

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, is famous for saying that “the cure for depression is action.” We agree that action is an important step — but it’s the middle step. First you need a community — then action — and then you need praise. Put these three ingredients together and you can not only change the world, but you can find happiness online. 

Below are six stories from Magnifiers who have an idea for how to change the world. Can you help? 

Tom says, “Preserving the environment is very important to me for a few key reasons. On a personal level, I absolutely love spending time in nature so preservation is a matter of ensuring that I will still be able to enjoy nature in the future. In the same vein, I want to preserve the environment so that future generations can also enjoy the wonders of nature in the same way that I have been able to–I don’t want to have to tell my children and grandchildren my experiences, I want them to be able to experience it themselves. And of course, on an existential level, global warming poses a huge threat to all of humanity, but also creates an opportunity for mankind to unite behind a common cause, one in which I hope to contribute.” Link:

Herman says, “I chose to spread awareness about New Jersey’s upcoming primary elections because of how much I value civic engagement in my community. With all the things going on in people’s lives and this not being a presidential election year, it’s easy to forget about upcoming primaries. Being one of the two states that have gubernatorial races as well as other important down ballot races this year, I wanted to remind New Jersey voters that they need to make their voices heard. Through my project, I hope I can remind people to 1) get registered to vote if they are not already and 2) remember to vote whether that be at an in-person polling station or through the mail. Local elections are so crucial, and I hope my project will be able to get that message across to voters across the state.” Link:

Saarah says, “I chose to create a project regarding the upcoming Virginia primaries for a few reasons. Lately, there’s been more push for engagement in local politics, specifically elections, and that’s been really great to witness. Local elections have often been ignored, but individuals and communities are beginning to see the significance of voter engagement at this level. In my eyes, the next step after recognition of primaries is the research of candidates. This year, Virginia’s primaries have a large number of officials running. For Lieutenant Governor alone, there are seven Democrats on the ballot; seven individuals with their own views, priorities, and plans for Virginia. Name-recognition is a highly effective tactic, and in order to break away from that mentality, it’s imperative that voters use the resources that they have and knowledge that they gain to exercise their right, especially in local elections. I hope that with my project, people could understand the importance of educated voting and implement that in real-time!” Link:

Rachel says, “Reaching herd immunity takes a community effort; it cannot be done alone. So, we need to engage our friends, families, and peers and actively fight against misinformation to get everyone informed of the facts and to get as many people vaccinated as possible. This project is very important to me as I, like surely most people, would like to get back to being around others, from being in class with my peers to being able to hang out with my friends. It is of the utmost importance to be able to do these activities safely while protecting the members of our communities. Vaccines are our greatest tool to getting there. So, in order to combat the fear and misinformation holding people back from getting vaccinated, I sought solutions from Magnify users themselves on how they helped their loved ones feel comfortable and confident getting vaccinated. My hope is that their tips and resources will help others encourage their friends and families to get vaccinated.” Link:

Angelina says: “I chose my project because lots of Americans often forget that apart from our Senators and Congresspeople, we also have the option to directly contact the President! In a representative democracy, the government is elected by the people for the people. Our vote is our voice. However, we cannot in good conscience only use our voice every four years when an election rolls around. We should regularly write to the White House and keep our leader accountable for his or her promises.” Link:

Gabby says, “I chose my project as “Supporting Small Businesses” because I believe that we as individuals can all work to support our economy and struggling small business in this difficult time. Although it may seem like one person cannot make a significant difference, individual contributions add up and do positively benefit society. In order to prevent our favorite small businesses from closing as a result of COVID-19, we must all do our part.” Link:

On Oct. 14 Sarah Fenske of St. Louis Public Radio (90.7 KWMU), the St. Louis flagship NPR station,  interviewed Washington University Professor Betsy Sinclair about MAGNIFY, the civic action platform she co-founded in 2018.  In “St. Louis on the Air” Fenske quizzed Sinclair as to why MAGNIFY has taken off recently. Listen here to learn why and how MAGNIFY seeks to plant the seeds of hope in a turbulent political era.  Here are some highlights of what Professor Sinclair had to say:

Why has MAGNIFY taken off? You have 4,000 users. That’s lot for a fledgling  start up.

            MAGNIFY exploded with the pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic has been paired with a loneliness pandemic. Suddenly people couldn’t be physically present to be part of the myriad of organizations that support their lives. They were looking for other ways to be engaged. MAGNIFY provides an antidote to loneliness by giving individuals a way not only to connect with others but also to take meaningful actions.

           The silver lining in the pandemic: it has never been easier to participate on line. That 7 PM evening  City Council meeting that was hard to attend is now virtual. MAGNIFY offers numerous on-line opportunities to become “micro volunteers.”  Those are  supporters who can rarely participate at in-person events but can provide on going digital support.

           For example, six weeks ago the University of Texas at Austin used MAGNIFY to start an on-line “Democracy Squad .” It offers students a variety of non-partisan projects that enable them to engage in positive ways in the upcoming elections.   The UT Austin “Democracy Squad” now has  1,000 members who have already completed over 750 actions. 

What do you mean by “little ‘D’ democracy?

            When we talk about democracy, we’re usually talking about elections, but it encompasses a lot more.  In the U.S. we have a  longstanding, embedded tradition of civic engagement.  “Little ‘D’ democracy” refers to the myriad of ways we connect to build neighborhoods, communities, and local governments. Part of a democracy is writing to your local City Council, donating to a local food bank, taking care of your neighbors, building communities. All these things taken together make great governance.  When people raise their voices at the local level, representative democracy works.

What MAGNIFY projects have succeeded in the St. Louis area?

            My favorite is one of the very first. A group of parents realized that a favorite ash tree in DeMun Park was slated for demolition as part of a park remodel. The parents sent letters, emails, and called their local alderwoman. Government listened, and the tree was saved.

Doesn’t it take a lot of voices to bring about change?

          Political science research suggests that it only takes 22 constituents to get a response from local governments at the level of state legislatures or below. It doesn’t take a lot of voices at the local level to bring about change. For it to work, however,  sincerity matters. Those contacts with representatives have to be genuine, not scripted.

The other thing that matters: it has to be easy for individuals to participate.

How does MAGNIFY differ from other social media platforms?

            MAGNIFY focuses not just on connection but also action. It provides both a vehicle to identify a community concern and a clear path to results. It supports many different types of organizations – schools, non-profits, advocacy groups – by providing safe and secure sites that allow them to keep control of their data.  MAGNIFY is rooted in organizational support.

What do you mean when you say MAGNIFY is a Civic Fitbit?

            We award points to everyone who participates. Little actions count. If you can come and get credit, if you can come and take an action, it’s good for your wellness. It helps you connect to other people….and it gives you a little bit of hope.

            The world exists in a large way with a more positive spin that we get from the national political coverage. To get things started, sometimes you just need to start the conversation.

James Byard/WUSTL Photos

Listen here:

See “Democracy Squad to the Rescue” (LINK), 10/8/2020

             “Democracy Squad,” a nonpartisan volunteer opportunity for the George Mason University community, was started by Jennifer Victor, Schar School of Policy and Government professor. When interviewed for “News at Mason,” Victor said “ I wanted not only to build civic education but also to provide constructive opportunities for students to engage in the election process.”

            The team “Democracy Squad” is hosted by MAGNIFY. We provide a digital platform dedicated to connecting people to civic, political and environmental projects. Members of the “Democracy Squad” can choose between over 20 projects.  Projects range from registering to vote and applying for an absentee ballot, to becoming a Fairfax County election officer to help on Election Day.

            GMU Sophomore Neha Sehgal, , who studies criminology, law, and society, joined because, “I’ve been wanting to get more involved with elections and human rights. This helps me understand what’s going on in my community and help out. “Democracy Squad’ benefits not only me but everyone in the community.”

         Concerns among political scientists about threats to democracy also inspired Professor Victor to start a “Democracy Squad.” She said that, “The one thing I know that can shore up the health of a democracy is an election….I want my students to feel that they are engaged in a collective group activity that everyone is doing to contribute to self-governance.”

According to MAGNIFY co-founder Betsy Sinclair of Washington University, it is not too late for other universities to start their own “Democracy Squads.” Professor Sinclair observed that, “Students are yearning for real civic engagement and actual social impact. Even during a pandemic, a digital platform makes it possible.” Click HERE or email to get started.

Link to NYT article HERE.

        The New York Times explored the relationship between social isolation and civic engagement in “Voting Alone,” by interviewing Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard University professor and author of Bowling Alone.  Dr. Putnam’s research has demonstrated that loneliness diminishes trust and dissolves “social capital”, that is, the people-to-people connections that facilitate civic life. The question Dr. Putnam asks, “If you’re lonely and feel isolated, does that make you more likely not to engage with politics at all?”

            The pandemic has increased people’s sense of social isolation. MAGNIFY seeks both to overcome loneliness and inspire civic engagement.  When interviewed for “Voting Alone,” Dr. Sinclair explained that MAGNIFY was inspired by her interest in the social context that encourages collective action on governmental issues.  She said, “If you can get a small group, you are much more likely to be heard, and these ties build social capital –you’re not bowling alone anymore.”

           MAGNIFY provides a private venue in which individuals can connect with others who share their community concerns. By offering accessible, positive ways for individuals to affect change, it also inspires hope. Dr. Sinclair noted that often MAGNIFY projects impact the quality of everyday life. Through MAGNIFY residents in her local community have succeeded in placing a digital speed sign at a crosswalk, persuaded authorities to save a tree at a park, and encouraged a pizzeria to install a changing table in its men’s restroom.

            The New York Times wrote of Dr. Sinclair in “Voting Alone” that, “She was suggesting that the way out of the pandemic could be a physical path paved by a digital one, proceeding one crosswalk at a time.”

Two universities have taken the lead to encourage positive student engagement in the electoral process through  MAGNIFY.  Both George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin have launched “Democracy Squads.”  These on-line sites challenge students to participate in a variety of non-partisan projects related to the 2020 election.

Students can learn how to register and to vote remotely during a pandemic, or volunteer to address absentee ballots. By organizing virtual “parties” to watch the upcoming  Vice Presidential and Presidential debates, they can encourage their fellow students to participate.  Each project is expected to exemplify a high standard for civil discourse, that is, dialogue marked by respectful listening to the opinions of others.

A core value undergirding the site: democracy is always a work in progress. Each generation brings unique insights  and values to that work. Despite the pandemic limitations, each individual can contribute in some way.

“Democracy Squads” also represents an effort to counter the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness exacerbated by the pandemic.  The need has never been greater  to give students  a sense of belonging by helping them connect with community members with similar interests.  “Democracy Squads”  seek to combat hopelessness by providing provides easily accessible paths to positive action.

With hundreds of students (and more than 50% participation), the “Democracy Squads” at George Mason University and University of Texas at Austin are demonstrating the capacity of students to raise their voices and help all of us run fair elections, cast ballots, and be part of civic life.

Other universities who would like to form their own “Democracy Squads” are welcome to join George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin through MAGNIFY in their effort to establish a positive political climate on campus not only during the next two months but also beyond the 2020 election. Sign up here or send us an email at

UT Democracy Squad: 495 Members, 327 Unique Actions to Improve Democracy