Bot or Not?

Public digital infrastructure; disinfo and 2020; dangerous dating apps; and much more.


This is civic tech: Make time to read and digest Ethan Zuckerman’s new essay in the Columbia Journalism Review on “Building a More Honest Internet.” At a moment when many are questioning the power of Big Tech and offering solutions like breaking up dominant giants, toughening regulations, urging the makers of tech to be more ethical, and increasing the diversity of the tech workforce, Zuckerman argues that it’s time for something more fundamental: “A new movement toward public service digital media maybe what we need to counter the excesses and failures of today’s internet.” Call it the public option, if you want, or public digital infrastructure.
 
While the effort to turn Wework-owned Meetup into a user-owned cooperative appears over, Nathan Schneider, one of its main organizers, has pulled together a terrific webinar for next Wednesday, December 11 on the idea of “Exit to Community: A New Model for Startups.” Among the speakers will be Camille Canon (Purpose Network), Bruno Haid (founder, Roam), Scott Heiferman (founder, Meetup), Arielle Jordan (founder, Curafied),  Jonathan Moore (founder, RowdyOrb.it), Modupe Odele (attorney, Tiphub) and Mara Zepeda (founder, Switchboard and Zebras Unite).
 
It’s Giving Tuesday. But unless you have stopped looking at email, you know that already.
 
Nigeria’s Civic Hive has graduated its second round of class of civic tech fellows, Opeyemi Kehinde reports for the Lagos Daily Trust.
 
A mega-donor-backed effort to turn downtown Detroit into a tech hub is getting pushback, Mike Scutari reports for InsidePhilanthropy.com.
 
Apply: The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard is looking for its 2020-21 research fellows.
 
Tech and politics: Here’s a concise and sharp think piece from Politico writers Alexandra Levine, Nancy Scola, Steven Overly and Cristiano Lima on why the battle against online disinformation isn’t going to get any easier as 2020 unfolds. Why? “Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016.”
 
Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s longshot campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has at least one ace card up its sleeve; it is going to be renting the massive six million member email list built by the nonpartisan Moms Demand Action gun control group that he co-founded and has helped fund, Kara Voght reports for Mother Jones.
 
This story by New York Times reporter Nick Corasaniti about the voting machines in one Pennsylvania county went haywire this past election day is definitely cause for concern, though the fact that the county had paper ballot back-ups saved the day.
 
Life in Facebookistan: Concerned that employees would have trouble dealing with critical questions from ornery relatives during Thanksgiving, Facebook created a company chatbot called Liam Bot to helpfully offer canned answers sourced from the company’s public relations department, Sheera Frankel and Mike Isaac report for The New York Times. (Actually, the internal product has been in development since the spring, they note.)
 
Meanwhile, lots of Amazon Alexa owners reported that yesterday, if they asked Alexa a question, the reply came back with a “by the way, it is Cyber Monday” reminder.

Related: Scott Shane’s report for The New York Times on the many ways that Amazon has penetrated the life of the city of Baltimore is a mind-boggling demonstration of the giant company’s broadening reach.
 
Dating apps like Tinder let registered sex offenders use their platforms, Hillary Flynn, Keith Cousins and Elizabeth Naismith Picciani report for ProPublica, BuzzFeed and Columbia Journalism Investigations.
 
A question for readers: Have you, or someone you know, recently signed up for MeWe?  If so, write to me at micah@civichall.org and tell me why.

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