Common Property

Call-out culture v. censorship; big data for the people; and more.


  • Facebook has quietly disappeared the page where they used to boast about influencing and tipping elections, Sam Biddle reports for The Intercept. “The “success stories” drop-down menu that once included an entire section for “Government and Politics” is now gone,” Biddle writes. “Pages for the individual case studies, like the Scott campaign and SNP, are still accessible through their URLs, but otherwise seem to have been delisted.”

  • Sally Albright says that an army of bots that follow in her social media footsteps, retweeting and amplifying her pro-Clinton, anti-Trump, and anti-Sanders positions, were “voluntarily handed over by their original users to an unnamed client of hers to be automated in ‘an analytics program,'” Paul Blumenthal reports for The Huffington Post.

  • Writing for The Guardian, Ben Tarnoff imagines what big data for the people might look like. “Data is no less a form of common property than oil or soil or copper,” he writes. “We make data together, and we make it meaningful together, but its value is currently captured by the companies that own it. We find ourselves in the position of a colonized country, our resources extracted to fill faraway pockets. Wealth that belongs to the many – wealth that could help feed, educate, house and heal people – is used to enrich the few.”

    “The solution is to take up the template of resource nationalism, and nationalize our data reserves,” Tarnoff writes. “This isn’t as abstract as it sounds. It would begin with the recognition that all of the data extracted within a country is the common property of everyone who lives in that country.”

  • This is civic tech: Reporters Without Borders Germany has been including sensitive or inflammatory news stories in music uploads to Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music, as a way of circumventing censorship under repressive regimes, according to a Medium post by MediaMonks.

  • Related: Rosa Lyser, a writer in Cape Town, South Africa, addresses the disingenuousness of conservative writers crying censorship by “call-out culture” to actual government censorship. “The cloak of martyrdom can be awfully becoming, and when writers like [Lionel] Shriver and [Katie] Roiphe talk about being victimized, or of being like Alfred Dreyfus, they are helping themselves to the same kind of honor that was afforded to writers like [Nadine] Gordimer and Andre Brink,” Lyser writes. And yet, she adds: “Condemnation of shitty opinions isn’t censorship. Being shouted at lustily in public isn’t censorship. To suggest that they are the same is a betrayal of the victims of actual censorship regimes, in the same way that comparing a “Twitter mob” to a lynch mob is a betrayal.”

  • New York City’s chief technology officer Miguel Gamino is stepping down from government service, but will continue working in the civic tech sector, Colin Wood reports for StateScoop.

  • The Berkeley City Council approved a law that requires the police and other city agencies to publicly disclose and justify the need for new surveillance tools before receiving approval, making Berkeley the first Californian city to mandate civilian oversight of potentially invasive new technologies, Darwin BondGraham reports for East Bay Express.

  • The City of Austin’s first chief equity officer Brion Oaks spoke on a SXSW panel on how biased technology can disproportionately impact immigrants and people of color, Doyin Oyeniyi reports for Texas Monthly. “We really have to recalibrate some of these best practices that we have because as we move forward, more and more data sources may be utilized by ICE,” Oaks said. “I think that’s something that as cities, we really have to learn and catch up [to]. It’s a game changer for us.”

  • “If the last decade of SXSW celebrated the promise of social media, the next years may well be dominated by the reckoning,” writes The Verge’s Casey Newton, reporting on how representatives and leaders of the world’s biggest tech companies have changed their tune at the world’s biggest tech fest.

  • Attend: Virginua Eubanks will be speaking at the Mid-Manhattan Library at 42nd Street on March 28 about her new book, Automating Inequality, which looks at how new data-driven systems police and punish the poor. Learn more and RSVP here.