Alarming Frequency

Two-thirds of Americans believe Russia or foreign governments will try to influence midterms; Vox finds vulnerabilities at every level of election security; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Say hello to Case.law, a new free public access portal to more than 6.4 million state and federal court decisions encompassing 360 years of American case law. Harvard Library Innovation Lab’s Adam Ziegler explains more here.

  • Google.org has opened a $25 million pool for AI for Social Good projects.

  • WNYC’s Fred Mogul reports on the efforts of Changing the Conversation Together, an organizing project led by Civic Hall organizer-in-residence Adam Barbanel-Fried, and its efforts to test and refine the practice of deep canvassing.

  • Dealing with digital stormtroopers: A new study by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Technology & Society on “Computational Propaganda, Jewish-Americans and the 2018 Midterms” analyzed 7.5 million tweets posted between August 31 and September 17, 2018 that related to American politics, finding that conservative hashtags were the main conduits of political conversation (58% to 31% for liberal hashtags), with #QAnon, which is a conspiracy hashtag with strong anti-Semitic undertones, the second most popular behind #MAGA (for Make America Great Again). Human users using the protective power of anonymity, rather than bots, make up the majority of derogatory Twitter traffic aimed at Jews, the study argues.

  • The ADL study also notes an earlier analysis of more than 100 million posts on the right-wing “free-speech” platform Gab and 4Chan’s Politically Incorrect message board, finding that between July 2016 and January 2018 the usage of terms like “Jew” and “kike” dramatically increased.

  • This June 2017 article by Eric Ward, a former program officer of the Ford Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies, does a good job of explaining “How Anti-Semitism Animates White Nationalism.” Read it if you want to understand why Robert Bowers‘ attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday was not, as David Shribman of the Pittburgh Post-Gazette opined, “a 21st century event [of] gunfire in a house of worship….caught in the crossfire of the strains of the global village,” but a very serious manifestation of a white nationalist ideology that used to be confined to the far right fringe but now has been effectively mainstreamed.

  • “The hatred, trolling, harassment, and conspiracy theorizing of the internet’s underbelly cannot be dismissed as empty, nihilistic performance,” writes Charlie Warzel for BuzzFeed News, adding, “It may be a game, but it’s a game with consequences. And it’s spilling into the physical world with greater, more alarming frequency.” Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the mail-bombing suspect’s van, which was covered in memes from online message boards.

  • A crowdfunding campaign on LaunchGood, a site that specializes in mobilizing Muslim-Americans, has raised more than $163,000 to help the shooting victims at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Ryan Broderick of BuzzFeed News pivots from the election of far-right authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and argues that global political and social instability is a direct result of Silicon Valley’s domination of how the world uses its phones. Here’s a snippet:

    Chances are, by now, your country has some, if not all, of the following. First off, you probably have some kind of local internet troll problem, like the MAGAsphere in the US, the Netto-uyoku in Japan, Fujitrolls in Peru, or AK-trolls in Turkey. Your trolls will probably have been radicalized online via some kind of community for young men like Gamergate, Jeuxvideo.com (“videogames.com”) in France, ForoCoches (“Cars Forum”) in Spain, Ilbe Storehouse in South Korea, 2chan in Japan, or banter Facebook pages in the UK. Then far-right influencers start appearing, aided by algorithms recommending content that increases user watch time. They will use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to transmit and amplify content and organize harassment and intimidation campaigns. If these influencers become sophisticated enough, they will try to organize protests or rallies. The mini fascist comic cons they organize will be livestreamed and operate as an augmented reality game for the people watching at home. Violence and doxxing will follow them.

  • Back in 2015, Ukraine’s then-president Petro Poroshenko asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg directly for help combating the spread of Russian-fueled political disinformation, but as Dana Priest, James Jacoby and Anya Bourg report for the Washington Post and Frontline PBS, the company failed to follow up. It’s a now-familiar story—the company, pushed by venture capital, valued growth over everything, and paid little attention to its impact in the many countries it was conquering.

  • New from FaceBook’s civic engagement team—”Candidate Info“—a new tool that highlights videos from political candidates on why they are running for office, what policy issues they care about and what they hope to accomplish if elected. More than 25 million people in the US now follow at least one of their elected officials on Facebook.

  • Facebook’s new political ad transparency system has an easy-to-abuse flaw: while you have to say who is paying for the ad, you can fill in anything, as William Turton of Vice News reports.

  • More and more, Silicon Valley techies are deciding to keep their own children away from screens, Nellie Bowles reports for The New York Times. Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired, and CEO of a drone robotics company, says that “on the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s crack cocaine.”

  • Also from Bowles: how wealthier parents are getting their kids’ schools to reduce their reliance on computers, while poorer schools are still promoting heavier use of screens.

  • ICYMI: Daisuke Wakabayashi and Katie Benner‘s in-depth New York Times investigation of how top male Google executives have been protected, even rewarded, after credible claims of sexual harassment and misbehavior, is a must-read.

  • Tech and politics: Two-thirds of Americans say it is very or somewhat likely that Russia or some other foreign government will try to influence next week’s midterm elections, and less than half saying they are very or somewhat confident that election systems are secure from hacking, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

  • Vox’s Benjamin Wofford takes a deep dive into the problem of election security and finds vulnerabilities at every level.

  • The Washington Post’s Tony Romm reports on how tech billionaires like Reid Hoffman are pouring money not just into Democratic campaigns but also Democratic tech tools.

  • Brave new world: This video snippet shows how China’s “social credit” system warns riders on the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train not to misbehave if they don’t want their individual credit rating to go down.