Content Immoderation

Dangers of normalizing content moderation, a new Civic Tech Immigration Coalition, & more


  • This is civic tech: As cryptocurrency journalism start-up Civil gets close to issuing its initial coin offering, Matthew Ingram of the Columbia Journalism Review profiles its founder Matthew Iles, who outlines his vision for building a new media ecosystem from scratch. Civil has some heavyweight collaborators, including Vivian Schiller (formerly with NPR and Twitter), Tom McGeveran (formerly with Capitol NY and the NY Observer), Emily Bell (Columbia Tow Center) and Sue Gardner (former ED of Wikimedia Foundation). Civic Hall entreprenuer-in-residence David Moore is building his anti-corruption Sludge magazine on Civil.

  • Our friend (and Civic Hall backer) Craig Newmark has made a $1 million matching fund grant for STEM-related needs to the public school crowdfunding platform DonorsChoose, just in time for the start of the school year, Ben Paynter reports for Fast Company. The gift includes $50,000 to help incentivize the sharing of campaigns on Twitter using the hashtag #STEMStories. (In late March, Ripple, the cryptocurrency start-up, gave DonorsChoose $29 million to fund every open campaign on the site. Whoa!)

  • Sorry we missed this when it happened in July, but still worth sharing: Code for America, Codeando Mexico and The GovLab have launched the Civic Tech Immigration Coalition, focused on helping immigrants and their families and supporting front-line service organizations who assist them in the US-Mexico border, as well as the Southern Mexican border. Step one, listening sessions.

  • Born to run…a state: GovLab founder Beth Noveck has been named New Jersey’s first state chief innovation officer. Kudos Beth!

  • The Engagement Lab at Emerson College has released a new game focused on helping immigrants and refugees get informed and engaged, built in partnership with the city of Portland, Maine that is focused on

  • What sharing economy? Faced with the rapid proliferations of electric pay-per-minute scooters from companies like Bird and Lime, residents of some southern Calfornia cities are waging guerrilla war against them, throwing them into the ocean, cramming them into toilets and setting them on fire, Laura Newberry reports for the Los Angeles Times. More than 100 videos and photos of scooters being defaced are submitted to the Instagram account BirdGraveyard every day.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Italy’s upper house of parliament has voted to suspend the mandatory vaccination of children against ten diseases, and as Eileen Drage O’Reilly reports for Axios, social media platforms like Facebook have played a big role in buttressing (and making money from) anti-vaxx pages and so far refuse to police their content.

  • Data scientist Cathy O’Neil writes for Bloomberg Opinion that the rich boys of big tech are all “monumentally screwed, because they have no idea how to tame the monsters they have created,” explaining that algorithms can’t comprehend truth—and hiring humans to moderate content is both expensive and inevitably a form of censorship.

  • Cecilia Kang and Kate Conger report for the New York Times on what an hour long meeting of Twitter’s trust and safety team feels like as it debates how to handle “dehumanizing speech.” They report that a draft will be published soon and opened to the public for comments. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says that while freedom of speech has been Twitter’s longstanding priority, it is now considering “that safety should come first.”

  • Efforts to spot and crackdown on Twitter bots may also be catching human users who tweet a lot, especially folks who participate in Twitter “rooms” (group messaging threads) where highly active users congregate to amplify their messages, Sara Burnett reports for the AP. Among their denizens, a 70-year-old Trump-loving Tennessee grandmother.

  • Tech and politics: Despite their promises to stop servicing white nationalist groups, PayPal and Stripe continue to work with far-right organizations, the Huffington Post’s Jessica Schulberg reports.

  • Newly declassified documents suggest that US Cyber Command is making headway in its efforts to curtail ISIL’s ability to exploit the internet, the National Security Archive’s Michael Martelle reports.

  • Looking at the long history of online content suppression, and not just the banning of Infowars from platforms like iTunes and Facebook, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s civil liberties director David Greene writes in The Washington Post:

    We should be extremely careful before rushing to embrace an Internet that is moderated by a few private companies by default, one where the platforms that control so much public discourse routinely remove posts and deactivate accounts because of objections to the content. Once systems like content moderation become the norm, those in power inevitably exploit them. Time and time again, platforms have capitulated to censorship demands from authoritarian regimes, and powerful actors have manipulated flagging procedures to effectively censor their political opponents. Given this practical reality, and the sad history of political censorship in the United States, let’s not cheer one decision that we might agree with.

  • Blue wave: Tucked into this New York Times story by Farah Stockman on the choice by many new Democratic political candidates to reject contributions from corporate donors is this impressive factoid: “In the last midterm election year, 2014, some 1.5 million small donors contributed a total of $335 million to Democratic campaigns across the country through ActBlue, an online platform that raises money for Democrats. This time around, about 3.8 million small donors have already contributed more than $1 billion, and are on a pace to exceed $1.5 billion before Election Day in November, according to Erin Hill, ActBlue’s Executive director. The average donation is $33.85.”

  • Investigative reporters Ariana Tobin and Justin Elliott of ProPublica are trying to crowdsource more information on who Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh went to Washington Nationals baseball games with. As has been reported, Kavanaugh piled up $200,000 in debt buying tickets to games, which the White House says was because he was paying for tickets for friends, who later reimbursed him.

  • The whistleblower protection group the Courage Foundation is in danger of falling apart because WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange asked trustees aligned with him to cut off support to a WikiLeaks friend-turned-critic, Barrett Brown, and the foundation’s executive director, Naomi Colvin, resigned in protest, Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast. Colvin defended her decision by saying that a foundation designed to protect free speech shouldn’t punish someone for speaking freely.

  • The Obama Foundation has published its first annual report, and its financial disclosure statement includes six and seven figure gifts from tech moguls, including Marc Benioff, John Doerr, Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman, Todd Park, Evan Williams, and Mark Pincus.

  • Privacy, shmivacy: Even with Location History turned off, some Google apps on Android and iPhones are still recording your location data, the AP’s Ryan Nakashima reports. One big reason Google collects the data—to better serve advertisers.