Bonfire of the Vanities

How to measure people-power; how deep canvassing works; what money can't buy; and more.


This is civic tech: The Mobilisation Lab is out with a major new report written by on how people-powered organizations can better measure the depth and value of people’s engagement and participation. The report, written by Tom Liacas, Sarah Ali, Michael Silberman, and Colin Holtz, is based on interviews with more than 500 individuals and organizations ranging from grassroots groups to global NGOs. They found that “91% of respondents reported tracking list size and open rates of email sent to membership lists. More than half said they paid ‘enough or too much’ attention to such metrics in their work. The problem is that ‘vanity metrics’ like these measure overall numbers but fail to capture the value of relationships or the more complex value of people’s power.” Many groups are looking at ways to measure the depth of the relationships they have with their supporters and allies, “on the theory that strong networks and deep engagement result in more power,” but no one has found a satisfactory solution for how best to do it. 

Medium’s OneZero publication profiles five activists inside the new wave of tech worker organizing at places like the Mobile Workers Alliance, HCL Technologies in Pittsburgh (where Google contractors just voted to join the United Steelworkers union), the Employee Ethics Alliance at Tableau, and Gig Workers Rising.

Say a proper hello to The Markup, the new nonprofit news-site focused on covering tech with a strong focus on privacy and algorithmic discrimination. Says Julia Angwin, its founding editor in chief, “Tech is the way power manifests itself these days.” The Markup’s first major story, done in partnership with Consumer Reports, reveals how auto insurer Allstate used a complex algorithm to fool state regulators into letting it keep overcharging customers despite their lower risk profiles.

Apply: The Lincoln Network has launched Policy Hackers, a 12-month non-residential fellowship to teach tech professionals how to be effective policy advocates.

Food for thought: What if, instead of trying to persuade undecided voters with factual arguments, we shared stories about people we love? That’s deep canvassing in a nutshell, and a few weeks ago I went to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to try it out first-hand, as I report for The American Prospect.

Information disorder: According to a draft study by a group of Brown University researchers, one-quarter of the Twitter conversation about climate change is made up of tweets from bots, Oliver Milman reports for The Guardian.

Craig Timberg reports for The Washington Post on how Facebook has chosen to avoid taking down false or misleading content or limiting political lying or targeting, out of a fear of being accused of unfairness by conservatives, focusing on the rising internal influence of Joel Kaplan, its DC-based vice president for global policy, who is a former Bush White House staffer.

Tech and politics: Yesterday, Scott Bixby, a national reporter for The Daily Beast, published a story about a Bernie Sander’s regional field director who was using his personal twitter account to attack other Democrats “as well as their family members, surrogates, journalists and political active celebrities in deeply personal terms, mocking their physical appearance, gender, and sexuality, among other things.” The staffer, Ben Mora, was soon fired by the campaign. Within hours, Bixby’s phone was flooded with a mix of abusive messages and thousands of fake sign-ups notifications.

Mike Bloomberg’s campaign is paying more than 500 people at a rate of $2,500 a month to text their friends and post on social media on his behalf, but as the Los Angeles Times’ Suhauna Hussain reports, many of these “deputy field organizers” have tiny audiences and some are openly posting in support of other candidates. Perhaps there are some things that money can’t buy?

Pete Buttigieg, Obama fan.

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