Bewildered and Rudderless

How Facebook outs sex workers; DoSomething.org gets $4 million; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Catherine Osborn reports for OZY on the ongoing work of Brazilian political scientists Beatriz Pedreira and Rafael Poco, who are mapping the changing forms of political activism across Latin America. Their team has identified five patterns: “peer-to-peer-inspired direct action (for example, high school takeovers to protest poor-quality education); a new activist aesthetic incorporating slang and humor; leaders of protest movements running for office; elected officials soliciting heightened levels of citizen input at town hall–style events; and watchdog groups translating dense public data for lay readers.”

  • The Omidyar Network’s Alissa Black explains why they’re giving DoSomething.org a $4 million grant, “in response to the current political environment.”

  • People in Puerto Rico are trying to get drinking water from wells at hazardous waste sites, the EPA reports.

  • California’s burning, visualized.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Kevin Roose of The New York Times posed 12 good questions about Facebook’s role in the 2016 election to Alex Stamos, its chief security officer, and Joe Osborne, a spokesman. As he reports, he only got 5 answers. Among the questions not answered were inquiries about the company’s new system for handling ads involving politics, religion, ethnicity or social issues; how its willingness to censor speech comports with its statements promising to defend election integrity.

  • So, some Russia-sourced content made it onto Pinterest, reports Elizabeth Dwoskin for The Washington Post. This is probably because socially divisive content got pinned by some Pinterest users, not because Russian actors bothered to create fake accounts. Honestly, the way to wreak havoc on Pinterest would be to create a menu-sharing page and then fill it with flawed recipes. Bad borscht, Boris?

  • Cambridge Analytica is providing information to the House intelligence committee, Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman report for The Daily Beast.

  • Our pal David Karpf, author of the 2016 book Analytic Activism, writes in The Washington Post’s MonkeyCage blog that the concerns about Russian bots reaching millions of Facebook users are overheated. A lot of those “impressions” could be bot-nets sharing with each other to inflate overall numbers.

  • Once Facebook puts a false rating on a story, based on review by one of its fact-checking partners, impressions on the story drop 80 percent, BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman reports.

  • Facebook’s goal of bringing 1 billion people together in virtual reality will require about 50 million servers, Philip Rosedale, the founder of SecondLife, predicts. We’ll let you know when someone figures out the energy and environmental costs.

  • No second life for you: Kashmir Hill reports for Gizmodo on how Facebook outs sex workers.

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s unfinished college education “has left him bewildered and rudderless in a culturally complex and political polarized world,” writes John Naughton for The Guardian. To be honest, lots of people who finished their college education are also bewildered and rudderless.

  • Some dude named Sifry writes for The Nation about why Zuck isn’t running for president, and how he resembles the protagonist from Lawnmower Man.

  • Privacy wars: A federal judge has limited the amount of information the Justice Department may get from the DisruptJ20 website, Cris Morran reports for Consumerist.

  • Media Matters: Ev Williams keeps making big changes in his Medium platform (the latest being opening up to letting anyone use its paywall to charge for content), but as Davey Alba reports for BuzzFeed, he’s running into resistance from colleagues and industry observers.“I understand the desire to be agile and to pivot, and to try new things when things aren’t working,” Choire Sicha of The Awl, comments. “But it’s destructive — you can’t try people and things on, then discard them. It’s not how a media company or a publishing company can work.”

  • On the other hand, Anil Dash, an adviser to Medium, says “Knowing Ev is going to take a swing at the big idea of subscriptions, and is one of the few people who can do so, is a good thing.”

  • Colleges across the US are being hit with lawsuits because their websites are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Vivian Wang reports for The New York Times.

  • Internet of Shit: Some of the new Google Home Mini speakers record sounds 24/7, Engadget’s Mariella Moon reports.

  • Men: Yes, Steve Bannon was a business partner of Hollywood producer predator Harvey Weinstein, the AP’s Erica Werner reports. The now defunct venture was called Genius Products, and it distributed DVDs and home videos.

  • Sign up: On October 19, I’m doing a webinar on “The Future of Democracy” with Malka Older, the author of Infomocracy (one of the best science fiction novels of 2016). It’s sponsored by Futureshift.