Digital Rabbit Holes

Civic tech's 25-year timeline; tech and the Christchurch massacre; and more


  • This is civic tech: Matt Stempeck, senior researcher at Civic Hall, and I have just released the first fruit of the Civic Tech Field Guide’s Timeline project. The streamgraph, developed with the help of Aliya Bhatia and Sruti Modekurty, visualizes the evolution and expansion of the field from 1994-2019, by mapping the start-dates of nearly 2,000 civic tech projects. Mouse over the image to see new categories arise and spread. We’ll have more to share on this shortly.

  • Speaking of taking the long view, Stacy Donohue, managing director of the Luminate Group, blogs about the foundation’s shift of focus from civic tech to “civic empowerment” after more than ten years of funding the field. Key findings: Tech is in many cases insufficient to effect sustained change without complementary offline, real world organising and campaigning. Voices of under-represented groups do not sufficiently benefit from tech alone. And in places where governments are actively moving to constrain civil society, tech tools are often ineffective. (Luminate is a funder of Civic Hall.)

  • Bloomberg Cities’ Spark newsletter collects the views of a wide range of urban thinkers on where public sector innovation is going. Among the voices featured are several active in the world of civic tech, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, Jen Pahlka, Sascha Haselmayer, Beth Noveck, Nigel Jacob and Geoff Mulgan.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Responding to pressure from civil rights groups, Facebook announced that advertisers of housing, jobs or credit will no longer be allowed to target people of particular races, genders or age groups on the platform, Noam Scheiber and Mike Isaac report for The New York Times.

  • Joshua Geltzer takes a close look at Facebook’s role in the circulation of the Christchurch shooter’s live video.

  • Related: Charlie Warzel opines in The New York Times that tech companies should be pushed to do much more to stop enabling the creation and spread of extremist content. He writes, “Focusing only on moderation means that Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, such as Reddit, don’t have to answer for the ways in which their platforms are meticulously engineered to encourage the creation of incendiary content, rewarding it with eyeballs, likes and, in some cases, ad dollars. Or how that reward system creates a feedback loop that slowly pushes unsuspecting users further down a rabbit hole toward extremist ideas and communities.”

  • BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick and Ellie Hall write that in the same way that tech platforms have “obliterated” ISIS’ ability to spread hateful content, they could also take on white nationalism. (As Quartz’s Hanna Kozlowska reported last year, Facebook’s community stands forbids praise for white supremacy but allows the same for white nationalism and white separatism.)

  • Related: The House Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a hearing on white nationalism, Erin Banco and Sam Stein report for The Daily Beast.

  • Tech and politics: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) has sued Twitter and an array of targets (including our friend Republican media strategist Liz Mair) for $250 million for defamation, and now one of his targets, a Twitter parody account called @DevinCow, has surpassed him in popularity, Laura Holson reports for The New York Times.

  • Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur who is a long shot candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is having his Internet minutes of fame, Kevin Roose reports for The New York Times.

  • What sharing economy? Uber drivers in the UK are demanding that the company release the data that they collect on them, arguing that under European law any “data subject” has the right to access that information, The Economist reports. It writes, “These requests put Uber in a bind. The firm insists that its drivers are independent, self-employed sole traders. But the drivers suspect that full datasets would show that Uber uses information it gleans about drivers to manage them through algorithms, highlighting a lack of independence that weakens Uber’s argument.”

  • Email newsletters are in, says Mike Isaac of The New York Times. But you, dear reader, know that already!

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