Cherrypicking

Facebook's impact on 2020; Digital listening--friend or foe?; and much more.


This is civic tech: New on the Civic Tech Field Guide, our “media tech” portal describing the many tools and projects devoted to everything from engaging the public and fighting disinformation to tracking and shifting media narratives.

Also new on Civicist, our own Matt Stempeck with a detailed guide to all the summer 2020 opportunities for young people looking to get started in civic tech.

Related: Amber Macintyre of TacticalTech offers some valuable warnings about how the growing industry of “digital listening” startups are turning public posts on social media into an intelligence-gathering service sold to political campaigns. (For more on how campaigns are collecting data on their supporters, see the Bernie Sanders item below.)

Congrats to Lou Moore and Zeryn Sarpangal, who are stepping into interim co-CEO roles at Code for America as founding director Jen Pahlka steps down after 10 years. As CFA’s just-released 2019 Impact Report details, there’s a lot going on over there!

Listen: Nathaniel Pearlman, host of the Great Battlefield podcast, chats with some guy named Sifry about creating a civic tech ecosystem.

Apply: The Office of the Manhattan Borough President is looking to hire a digital media specialist.

Apply: Seattle’s Citizen University is looking to hire a manager of learning experiences.

Life in Facebookistan: Speaking at Davos, billionaire George Soros says, “I think there is a kind of informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing between Trump and Facebook. Facebook will work together to re-elect Trump, and Trump will work to protect Facebook so that this situation cannot be changed and it makes me very concerned about the outcome for 2020.” Last time he took on Facebook, the company sicced a Republican opposition-research firm on him, which circulated information smearing him and Color of Change, one of the company’s ongoing critics.

Speaking of Davos, don’t miss Tim Wu in The New York Times on the contradictions on display (as usual) at the annual gathering.

And speaking of speaking about Facebook, here’s Hillary Clinton at the Sundance Film Festival, telling the Atlantic’s Adrienne Lafrance that dealing with CEO Mark Zuckerberg was like “you’re negotiating with a foreign power sometimes,” referencing conversations she’s had “at the highest levels” with Facebook. “He’s immensely powerful,” she added. “This is a global company that has a huge influence in ways that we’re only beginning to understand.” Clinton also agreed with Lafrance that Zuckerberg’s attitude toward factuality—something he thinks people should be left to figure out for themselves by “cherrypicking” the opinions that appeal to them, was “Trumpian.” Clinton said, “It’s authoritarian.” She added, “Zuckerberg has been “somehow persuaded,” she said, “that it’s to his and Facebook’s advantage not to cross Trump. That’s what I believe. And it just gives me a pit in my stomach.”

Not worried enough about how Facebook’s corporate attitude toward the truth and its algorithmic impact on accentuating divisiveness is affecting the 2020 election? Read Craig Timberg and Isaac Stanley-Becker’s story in Sunday’s Washington Post and Matt Glegenheimer, Rebecca Ruiz and Nellie Bowles’ story in Monday’s New York Times, both on how Facebook is amplifying the intense online infighting between Bernie Sanders supporters and those of other Democratic candidates. Who knows, maybe now that we live in Facebookistan, the only way to beat a platform strongman (the term that has been coined to describe the whole swath of authoritarians from Trump and Bolsanaro to Duterte and Modi, who have ridden the social media wave machine to power) is with another platform strongman? Ugh.

Tech and politics: Will Elizabeth Warren’s early investment in hyper-local organizing and one-on-one engagement pay off in Iowa? The Washington Post’s Annie Linskey and Holly Bailey have the details.

Meanwhile, the Bernie Sanders campaign has told its supporters to stop phone-banking into Iowa, saying that they have run out of people to call, Ryan Grim reports for The Intercept. People are being told to shift to canvassing in their home states or “friend-to-friend” organizing through the Bern app, which enables users to find friends in the voter file and enter information about their political preferences.

Writing for the American Prospect, Alexander Sammon argues that the rise of small-donor fueled presidential candidates, something that simply wasn’t possible to conceive before the rise of the Internet (and ActBlue), is the primary’s biggest story. (Don’t miss the candidate illustrations.) He notes, “according to a year-end report from ActBlue, the small-dollar donor community raised more than $1 billion for over 13,000 candidates and organizations in 2019. Individual contribution statistics are even more compelling: Over three million of those donors were first-time contributors, as many as in 2017 and 2018 combined. Forty percent of first-time donors gave multiple times in 2019. This happened in an off-year—exceedingly few federal offices were up for election in 2019.”

Food for thought: Author Shoshana Zuboff adds her twenty cents to the New York Times Privacy Project series, coming down hard on the big tech companies that effectively colonized us in the last 20 years. She writes:

It’s not surprising that so many of us rushed to follow the bustling White Rabbit down his tunnel into a promised digital Wonderland where, like Alice, we fell prey to delusion. In Wonderland, we celebrated the new digital services as free, but now we see that the surveillance capitalists behind those services regard us as the free commodity. We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us. We barely questioned why our new TV or mattress had a privacy policy, but we’ve begun to understand that “privacy” policies are actually surveillance policies.

Read the whole thing.

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