Banal Dystopia

How lobbyists can anonymously help White House staffers; the history of Resistbot; and more.


  • Trump watch: The new head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics gave the go ahead for lobbyists to donate anonymously to White House staffers’ legal defense funds, Darren Samuelsohn reports for Politico.

  • Jason Purtorti reflects on the first 180 days of the Resistbot—its meteoric rise in popularity, the addition of new features, and what’s next, including partnerships with Swingleft and Vote.org.

  • 2017 PDF speaker Emily May is featured in the new video announcing the Obama Foundation Summit for her work as the co-founder of The People’s Supper.

  • “The world has become like an eerily banal dystopian novel,” Chelsea Manning warns in a new opinion piece for The New York Times. “Things look the same on the surface, but they are not. With no apparent boundaries on how algorithms can use and abuse the data that’s being collected about us, the potential for it to control our lives is ever-growing.”

    She adds: “Our drivers’ licenses, our keys, our debit and credit cards are all important parts of our lives. Even our social media accounts could soon become crucial components of being fully functional members of society. Now that we live in this world, we must figure out how to maintain our connection with society without surrendering to automated processes that we can neither see nor control.”

  • Access Now’s Deji Bryce Oluktun argues on Tor.com that science fiction thinking should be part of our preparations for the future. “Science fiction thinking could range from positive exercises, such as considering a carbon-free future, to more negative ones, like preparing for the political upheaval expected from killer robots,” he writes. “Science fiction thinking could be especially valuable for vulnerable and marginalized people. For example, a central premise of Afrofuturism is enabling African Americans, and people of African descent, to imagine a better future for themselves in the face of structural racism and inequality. You can’t know where you want to go or how to get there if you’re incapable of imagining it.”

  • Should just a few internet companies have the power to censor speech they don’t like? No—I’m not talking about Facebook or Google. As Kate Klonick points out in a New York Times piece, some of the most powerful players online are lesser known but no less essential security and performance services, like Cloudfare, which recently tanked the white supremacist site The Daily Stormer.

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing the Department of Homeland Security for warrantless searchers of phones and laptops at the U.S. border.

  • The Russian connection: A Facebook group linked to Russia tried to organize a series of anti-Clinton rallies across Texas just three days before the election, Natasha Bertrand reports for Business Insider.

  • Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, accused Facebook of being an “accomplice” to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and asked the company to release the ads, Michael Isikoff reports for Yahoo News.

  • Sam Thielman reports for Talking Points Memo on how a Russian troll farm trashed talked Black Lives Matter and Michelle Obama to court Trump supporters.

  • Must read long read: To understand how this all came to be, check out Jim Rutenberg’s latest for The New York Times Magazine, on RT, Sputnik, and Russia’s new theory of war. “RT might not have amassed an audience that remotely rivals CNN’s in conventional terms, but in the new, “democratized” media landscape, it doesn’t need to,” Rutenberg writes. “Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media. In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics.”

  • Uber has launched an open data platform, but potential users say it needs richer data and greater accessibility before it’s of much use to city government or civic hackers, Jason Shueh reports for StateScoop.
  • Writing for Motherboard, Marcy Wheeler makes the case for hoarding the iPhone 6S.