Anti-Normalization

Tech and domestic terror; whither impact investing; silicon snake oil; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Yesterday, in partnership with NYC’s Economic Development Corporation and developer RAL, we helped break ground on Civic Hall @ Union Square, as Sydney Pereira reports for Patch.com. The heart of the project, which should be completed in two years, will be a digital training center on three floors, plus a 400-seat conference center and two floors holding an expanded collaborative community space. (Bonus link: Pics! It did happen!)

  • Food for thought: MIT’s Joi Ito, a member of the MacArthur and Knight Foundation’s boards, writes for Wired that impact investors need more sophisticated ways of measuring impact if they really want to solve hard societal problems. His colleague Ethan Zuckerman, himself a longtime advisor to the Open Society Foundations, responds that philanthropy needs to recognize it can’t solve problems—at best it can support promising experiments that government can then scale. (Ethan’s interested in starting a conversation about this on his…blog…so join in!)

  • MySociety’s Martin Wright shares how he and his colleagues are thinking about designing playbooks as “one proven way to share practical lessons.”

  • Attend: Tonight in Chicago at ChiHackNight’s regular weekly civic tech gathering—”Envisioning Equity: Being Nice Is Not Enough.”

  • Tech and terror: Writing for BellingCat, conflict journalist Robert Evans warns that this weekend’s mass shooting in El Paso signals the “gamification of terror,” pointing to several grim ways that anonymous commenters on 8chan, a hub for extremist activity, are fostering an active competition among shooters to “beat the last killer’s ‘high score.'” He adds, “Until law enforcement, and the media, treat these shooters as part of a terrorist movement no less organized, or deadly, than ISIS or Al Qaeda, the violence will continue.”

  • Related: Frederick Brennan, the original founder of 8chan, told the New York Times’ Kevin Roose Sunday that the site should be shut down. “It’s not doing the world any good,” he added. “It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.”

  • Cloudflare’s Matthew Prince announced yesterday that he had decided to stop providing service to 8chan, writing “The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit.” Without Cloudflare, 8chan will have a great deal of trouble avoiding distributed denial of service attacks aimed to keep it offline.

  • More than 150 tech companies provide web hosting, DNS registration or content delivery network services to groups generally understood as propagating hate, Gizmodo’s Aaron Sankin reports.

  • Since January, President Trump‘s re-election campaign has paid for more than 2,000 ads on Facebook that include the word “invasion,” a theme that the El Paso shooter cited often in a screed he posted to 8chan before his killing spree, Thomas Kaplan reports for The New York Times.

  • Media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan ties all the pieces together for us, in a powerful oped for The Guardian. He writes:

    The fact that so many of Trump’s Facebook advertisements overtly appeal to white nationalism should disgust us. It should also alarm those who run Facebook. How they can go to work each day knowing that they directly profit from the spread of ethnic hatred is beyond me. For violent white nationalists (and other propagandists) this is an ideal media system. Their numbers can grow once their messages don’t seem so jarring and outside the bounds of normal conversation. The most dramatic effect of the complex relationship among Trump’s statements, Trump’s policies, Fox News’ fearmongering, mainstream journalism, 8Chan’s collection of misfit manifestos, Twitter obsessions and Facebook commentary, is that the rhetoric of violent white supremacy has become common – almost normal.
  • Conservative NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat has a different and very interesting take; he argues that Trump, like this weekend’s two mass killers, “is a creature of our late-modern anti-culture, our internet-accelerated dissolution of normal human bonds. Like them, he plainly believes in nothing but his ego, his vanity, his sense of spite and grievance, and the self he sees reflected in the mirror of television, mass media, online.” But, Douthat says, Trump gets the attention he craves by tweeting, while his most unhinged followers take his example of “manhood” as “a constant ratification of the idea that we exist as celebrities or influencers or we don’t exist at all, and that our common life is essentially a form of reality television where it doesn’t matter if you’re the heel or hero so long as you’re the star.”

  • Organizing for democracy: Here’s a must-read piece on how the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters have evolved new tactics to keep their movement alive, written by Anthony Dapiran for The New Statesman. Included in his piece are moves we’ve already seen, like “leaderlessness,” the avoidance of occupations, the use of online forums to vote on tactics and the use of AirDrop to share messages with nearby participants. But check out how protesters have developed the use of hand signals to create supply lines that “have stretched as far as a kilometer in length.” Protesters have also learned how to avoid stampedes that could lead to people being crushed, chanting “one, two, one, two” in unison as they retreat and march in time to the count.

  • Tech and politics: A new report from Vinesight, an AI startup that monitors fake news on social media, finds that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were the Democratic candidates most targeted in and around the most recent presidential debate.

  • Some guy named Sifry has a new piece out in The Nation about the new Netflix film, The Great Hack,” calling it “silicon snake oil” that vastly overstates Cambridge Analytica’s capabilities.

  • Internet of Shit: The new Juul C1, a bluetooth enabled vaping device, not only allows its user to keep track of how many puffs they’ve taken, Catie Keck reports for Gizmodo that it collects a “breathtaking amount of data on users” including a user’s phone number, their national ID number (in Canada) and information on their vaping habits. (Breathtaking indeed. I see what you did there.)

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