Collusion and Occlusion

Why Silicon Valley should learn to move slowly and not break things; which came first: the stress or the smartphones; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Crain’s New York’s Greg David reports on the pending decision by the city council on our Civic Hall @ Union Square project, which is part of a larger “tech hub” proposal backed by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. As he notes, some local community preservationists are trying to tie approval to the downzoning of the East Village, while others are supporting the project in order to expand tech training for disadvantaged communities. The full council will vote on the proposal in August.

  • Alina Ostling reports for the TransparenCEE collective and TechSoup Europe on the challenges that groups in Eastern and Central Europe have had with civic tech tools that didn’t meet expectations. Challenges she identifies include developing tech that was too sophisticated to pick up many end-users, funding to sustain projects, and the lack of non-tech civil society partners.

  • Today in Tbilsi, on the margin of the Open Government Partnership summit now underway, civic tech funders and stakeholders are having a meeting discussing the challenges with scaling civic tech. Follow along here.

  • Code for Australia’s Grace O’Hara offers eight lessons on “making stuff with government” from six months of intensive work in collaboration with the provincial government of Victoria.

  • Psychology professor and friend of Civic Hall Tracy Dennis-Tiwary argues in the Sunday opinion section of The New York Times that smartphones aren’t the cause of troubled teenagers and quite possibly the issue is the reverse: the stresses and anxieties of teen life have increased, and online addictive behaviors like heavy smartphone use are a release.

  • Tech and politics: In the wake of the 2016 election, the national volunteer network Tech for Campaigns has grown to 4,500 volunteers being matched with Democratic campaigns around the country to provide training on digital skills, Kevin Roose and Sheera Frankel report for The New York Times.

  • Next-door, the private social network for neighborhoods, is trying to make itself for civicly useful by working with state election agencies to provide voter registration information to its users, Laura Holson reports for The New York Times. The company’s forums, which are run by local volunteer moderators, are often hotbeds of racial division, so after the election it decided to start testing a new service that offers users a political forum separate from their neighborhood feeds.

  • Technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci offers techno-narcissist Elon Musk (and his peers) some words of advice about the value of “safety culture” over “move fast and break things” disruption.

  • After carefully parsing the new indictment of twelve Russian military officers for hacking the DNC and DCCC computer systems in 2016, the crew at LawFareBlog writes, “The government has now alleged that the social media manipulations by Russian actors constituted a criminal conspiracy. It has alleged as well that the hacking of Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails were crimes conducted by officers of the Russian state. The question remains: Who, if anyone, helped?”

  • Here’s the full indictment.

  • The indictment’s details are causing lots of observers to re-evaluate old events in light of new evidence. For example, the theft of voter file information and DNC data analytics in September 2016 by the Russians may explain why the Trump campaign abruptly changed its online advertising strategy in early October 2016. It also may explain why both the Russians and the Trump campaign used similar voter suppression tactics aimed at the same populations during the final weeks of the campaign. Indeed, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall suggests that the Russians hacked the DNC’s computers a second time, after they were clearly in contact with top Trump campaign operatives, in order to access targeting data.

  • A reminder that Elan Kriegel, the head of data analytics for the Hillary Clinton campaign, has still not been heard from since the fall of 2016, nor has anyone from that campaign explained how it could have failed to see the signs of a Trump wave. Perhaps Kriegel’s operation itself was hacked?

  • Life in Facebookistan: Facebook is standing by its decision to not ban the Infowars hoax site, as Maya Kosoff reports for Vanity Fair. Meanwhile, on July 13 in Columbia, it shut down the page of progressive political candidate Gustavo Petro, who is a leader of the political opposition there, for a full day, with no explanation.

  • Samidh Chakrabarti, the head of the civic engagement product team at Facebook, is looking to hire more product managers “with skills in adversarial problem spaces, complex cross-functional work, and a strong commitment to societal impact.”