Benefits

How Code for Poland combats tree-felling & fake news; what would it take for you to leave Facebook?; and more.


  • This is civic tech: A new data analytics dashboard is helping New Yorkers better understand service request data to solve problems at the community board level, Jason Shueh reports for StateScoop. “BetaNYC Executive Director Noel Hidalgo said his team of civic tech and open data volunteers have worked with Microsoft and Manhattan’s community boards for the last 11 months to make sure BoardStat could provide valuable intelligence that could also benefit the public,” Shueh reports.

    “Now, we launch a public beta of BoardStat to provide all New Yorkers with a simple dashboard to look at service request trends, location-specific issues, and how requests are assigned to agencies,” Hidalgo told Shueh. “In the coming months, we’ll be launching a series of public education classes to ensure all New Yorkers can read their own data.”

  • Writing for the Financial Times, Zosia Wasik profiles Code for Poland, which has recently used technology to address problems like tree-felling, fake news, and corruption.

  • But, the emails! James Fallows writes for The Atlantic that he stands by his assertion that The New York Times coverage of Clinton’s emails was a “legitimizing and enabling factor” in Donald Trump’s win, comparing the effect to that of their credulous coverage of weapons of mass destruction in 2002 and 2003.

  • Life in Facebookistan: The idea that Facebook can’t control Facebook is laughable, Erin Griffith writes for Wired. “‘We’re just a platform’ is a convenient way to avoid taking full responsibility for an increasingly serious set of problems,” Griffith writes.

    Here are just a few examples of Facebook firmly steering Facebook: “In 2011, when Facebook decided that games from companies such as Zynga were disrupting the way people used Facebook, it limited how many messages gaming companies could send to Facebook’s users. The dominance of gaming—and Zynga—on Facebook immediately declined. In 2012, when independent content apps like SocialCam and Viddy began annoying users, Facebook began demoting content related to them. Their usage dropped, prompting each company to sell and ultimately shut down. In 2013, when Facebook decided that the curiousity-gap headlines and clickbait articles offered by viral websites like Upworthy (“the fastest growing media site of all time”) and ViralNova were wearing thin, it changed the algorithm for News Feed, the main river of content for Facebook users. Traffic to ViralNova and Upworthy dropped dramatically.”

  • This isn’t the first time Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has argued that fixing a colossal problem that impacts public life is too big a burden for a technology giant. As Chris Castle points out, she testified in 2004 that regulating online pharmaceutical sales would be unduly burdensome. “So–Sheryl Sandberg has a very great deal of experience going back well over a decade with big rich Silicon Valley companies profiting from debased behavior, “Castle writes. “Some might argue profits that she enjoyed herself in the form of stock awards, salaries and cash bonuses…Whether it’s drugs, hate groups, human trafficking or the Russians, Sheryl Sandberg has made lots of money exploiting human misery if you ask me.  I don’t quite see how she couldn’t have.”

  • Feeling icky yet? Icky enough? Our Micah Sifry asked his Facebook friends what it would take for them to leave the platform, and tried to see how many of his contacts he could persuade to sign up for a privacy-forward alternative social network. The real question is, could you do it?

  • One parent discovered while trying to set boundaries to limit a child’s gaming and video addiction that the Chrome browser will not honor blocks of Google-owned properties, such as YouTube. Moreover, choosing another browser and blocking Google properties to prevent the child from re-downloading Chrome isn’t an option, because nearly all schools now use Google classroom for homework. It may not be evil, per se, but it sure ain’t nice.

  • Judith Duportail asked Tinder for her data and got back a bit more than expected, she writes in The Guardian. “As I flicked through page after page of my data I felt guilty. I was amazed by how much information I was voluntarily disclosing: from locations, interests and jobs, to pictures, music tastes and what I liked to eat,” Duportail writes. “Reading through the 1,700 Tinder messages I’ve sent since 2013, I took a trip into my hopes, fears, sexual preferences and deepest secrets. Tinder knows me so well. It knows the real, inglorious version of me who copy-pasted the same joke to match 567, 568, and 569; who exchanged compulsively with 16 different people simultaneously one New Year’s Day, and then ghosted 16 of them.”

  • Twitter is experimenting with doubling the character limit on tweets to 280. “This is a small change, but a big move for us,” said Jack Dorsey. “140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence!”

  • Signal users can now find out whether their contacts are Signal users without revealing the contacts to Signal. Here’s how that works.

  • Democracy Works has announced that Capital One has joined the TurboVote Challenge, which aims to get 80 percent voter turnout in the U.S.

  • Media matters: Publishers that pivoted to video have see at least a 60 percent drop in traffic this August compared to a year before. “Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs while shiny-object-chasing publishers are no closer to creating cohesive video strategies to replace the traffic those writers were producing,” Heidi Moore writes for the Columbia Journalism Review. “Publishers who pivoted to video have forfeited the majority of their hard-won native audiences in only a year of churning out undifferentiated, bland chunks of largely aggregated “snackable” video. That’s no one’s idea of success.”

  • Food for thought: What do we lose when we outsource our thinking to external devices, ask Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach in an essay for Nautilus.

  • Coming up today: The #SwipeItForward campaign has called for a citywide day of action to apply pressure to the MTA, coinciding with an MTA board meeting this morning. Anyone can participate by swiping their fellow New Yorkers into the subway—as the campaign points out, it is entirely legal. Learn more about the campaign in this video.

  • Jobs: SumofUs is looking for a fundraising and campaigns manager. Learn more about the position here.