Buzzer Teams

Unwitting stars of an online reality show; a historian's case for not listening to Holocaust deniers; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Max Slavkin of the Creative Action Network writes about how he and his partners first tried and failed raise venture capital for their social purpose start-up, but then re-organized as a public benefit corporation and, working with Purpose Ventures, developed a steward ownership model that enabled them to raise $380,000 in investment using capped dividends. “Finally, we’d found a way to raise money that actually reflected our goals and our values.”

  • Attend: The folks at Mobilsation Lab are holding a webinar on the “if, how and why of blockchain for social good” on July 26 (you have to register to attend) with Daisy Ozim (Blockchain for Social Justice, Resilient Wellness), Veronica Garcia (Bitlumens) and Lee Brenner (Global Blockchain Business Council).

  • You may also want to consider internet founding father Vint Cerf’s simple flowchart for deciding if you need a blockchain that he recently posted.

  • Susan Fowler, the developer who blew the whistle on Uber’s inbred culture of sexual harassment, is joining the New York Times opinion section as technology editor.

  • Policy long-read: If you want to take a deep dive into the challenges and imperatives we face as we consider how to regulate the big tech platforms, make time for Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld and his series of new posts on the topic.

  • What sharing economy? New York City is suing Airbnb to get it to comply with a subpoena for information about its hosts to the mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, Chris Dolmetsch and Olivia Zaleski report for Bloomberg.

  • Oversharing economy: Until a detailed report by Erin Heffernan in the St Louis Post Dispatch, an Uber/Lyft driver based there named Jason Gargac had made about $3,500 off of visitors to his Twitch.tv channel, where he was live-streaming video of his passengers to its “IRL” (in real life) section. Following the news, Uber and Lyft both suspended him from their services. Gargac told them he was recording them for safety reasons, not that he was live-streaming them. “Passengers have thrown up, kissed, talked trash about relatives and friends and complained about their bosses in Gargac’s truck,” Heffernan writes. “All the while, an unseen online audience watches, evaluating women’s bodies, judging parents and mocking conversations….He typically drove on weekend nights because, he said, the bar crowd made for the most entertaining rides,” she reports. Gargac said he is trying to get a job as a police officer and asked the reporter to only use his first name.

  • Life in Facebookistan: With the controversy over Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s ill-informed response to Holocaust denial continuing to reverberate, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan offers a few sympathetic words for him, saying that discerning between truly dangerous speech and legitimate free speech isn’t easy. But while it may be impossible and unwise for Facebook to try to block all false speech, she does argue that “Facebook could recognize that Holocaust denialism is hate speech, and forbid it on those grounds.”

  • Over on the AskHistorians subreddit, one of the largest history forums online, the volunteer moderators have evolved a clear and strict stance on Holocaust denial: it is banned immediately. Writes one of those moderators, Johannes Breit, in Slate: “Deniers need a public forum to spread their lies and to sow doubt among readers not well-informed about history. By convincing people that they might have a point or two, they open the door for further radicalization in pursuit of their ultimate goal: to rehabilitate Nazism as an ideology in public discourse by distancing it from the key elements that make it so rightfully reviled—the genocide against Jews, Roma, Sinti, and others. Clarifying, as Zuckerberg later did, that Facebook would remove posts for ‘advocating violence’ will never be effective for a simple reason. Any attempt to make Nazism palatable again is a call for violence.”

  • While Facebook (and Twitter) have bent over backwards to meet with rightwing interest groups and policy makers who claim to see anti-conservative bias, Ben Collins reports for NBC News that victims of tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting who spend hours spearheading efforts to pull conspiracy content about that tragedy say “there is no formal way for such families to reach a human being at Facebook.”

  • Hoax news site YourNewsWire has been debunked more than 80 times by fact-checkers, but its still happily publishing on Facebook, Daniel Funke reports for Poynter.

  • WhatsApp is limiting users in India to just five forwarded messages a day, in a new effort to reduce its contribution to rumor-fueled mob violence, but as Paul Sawers writes for VentureBeat, this is highly unlikely to have much impact.

  • Reporting for the Guardian, Kate Lamb exposes the workings of the “buzzer teams” of the Muslim Cyber Army in Indonesia, which “employed hundreds of fake and anonymous accounts to spread racist and hardline Islamic content” on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during a recent gubernatorial election. Team members were paid about $280 a month to post 60 to 120 times a day on Twitter and several times a day on Facebook.

  • The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal gets the last word: “Everyone, Facebook included, wants to find a way out of the mess generated by every voice having a publishing platform. But what if there is no way out of it?”