Crap Detection

Facebook's digital sweatshop in Phoenix, Beto's hyperscale campaign and more.

  • This is civic tech: Veteran civic tech organizer Luke Fretwell visited the California Department of Motor Vehicles recently, and the encounter led him to offer this redesign of the whole DMV experience.

  • Akshat Rathi of Quartz talks to Craig Newmark about the goals behind the more than $85 million he has given away to universities, start-ups, nonprofits (including Civic Hall) and foundations since 2017.

  • Participate: Voting on the Code for America national advisory council, which has five at-large seats to representing 71 Brigades around the country) is now open (until March 1). On Medium, Dawn Peterson of the Open Charlotte Brigade explains why it matters to participate.

  • Apply: ActBlue is looking to hire a director of people and culture.

  • Apply: The city of San Rafael, CA, is looking to hire a digital service analyst.

  • Apply: Sidewalk Labs is looking to hire an associate for city operations to join its team working on Sidewalk Toronto.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Casey Newton of The Verge, whose daily Interface newsletter is itself a must-read, reports on what work is like for some of the 1,000 Facebook content moderators based in Phoenix, who are employed by the professional services vendor Cognizant. His story is eye-opening for many reasons—up until now, most FB moderation work has been done by people far from the mothership, in countries like the Philippines. Collectively, the employees Newton talks to describe a workplace “perpetually teetering on the brink of chaos,” where “team leaders micromanage content moderators every bathroom and prayer break,” where “people develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave.” All for the lordly sum of $28,800 a year, about 1/8 what a typical Facebook employee makes.

  • Responding to the Verge story, Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s VP of Global Operations, shares an internal company post explaining that FB has “mechanisms in place with our partners who run these sites to make sure any concerns being reported are the uncommon exception and never the norm.” He adds, “Both Facebook and our partners take wellness and support seriously and approach it holistically and proactively.” I read his post closely and didn’t see the words “pay,” “salary,” “benefits,” “conditions” or “trauma” mentioned anywhere.

  • Tech and politics: “The proven tools of modern electioneering weren’t built for the kind of campaign that [Beto] O’Rourke was trying to run, while those better-suited to his abnormal tactics had never been tested under pressure at such scale.” That’s Sasha Issenberg, author of the seminal book The Victory Lab, writing for Politico with the single best deconstruction of how “hyperscale” voter outreach (aka “Big Organizing”) nearly turned Texas blue in 2018—and what that approach to political organizing might mean for 2020. 

  • Writing for Roll Call, Sasha Moss of R Street Institute laments the elimination of Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment and argues for its revival. Amen to that!

  • Information disorder: YouTube will not longer allow paid advertising on videos that question the value of vaccinations, Caroline O’Donovan reports for BuzzFeed News. The platform, along with Facebook, is facing new pressure from Members of Congress like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) to reduce the spread of medical misinformation in the wake of a measles outbreak.

  • Advances in AI will soon bring “automated messages” to social media, and as Ross Mayfield cogently argues, “when the cost to produce a message that seems authentic falls to zero” … “what Hemingway called Crap Detection is about to become very hard, if not expensive.”

  • Hackers are finding ways to break into blockchain-based currencies, making off with millions in the process, Mike Orcutt reports for MIT Technology Review.