Displacement

PDF 2019 livestream; YouTube is broken; Civic makers on the move; and more


  • This is civic tech: Personal Democracy Forum 2019 gets underway at 9am ET and you can watch the livestream here to catch the plenary talks. Here’s the program for the day.

  • The team from CivicMakers were out in force at the Code for America Summit last week in Oakland, and they share their takeaways here.

  • Related: Say hello to Civic Makers Melbourne, a new community event launched by Code for Australia.

  • Apply: the Knight Foundation is seeking applications for “fundamental research that addresses issues of rules, norms and governance of the internet and digital platforms.”

  • Privacy, shmivacy: Google keeps years of your online purchase data, and Charlie Warzel of the New York Times wants to know “why does the internet have to work this way?” (Go here while logged into Google to see your own history.)

  • Some good news on this front: Craig Newmark Philanthropies has given $6 million to Consumer Reports, the largest gift in its 80-year history, to create a new Digital Lab division which will focus on connected products and tech platforms, how they impact consumers, and the implications for consumer rights. In the months ahead, the Digital Lab will test connected home products for security and privacy, and its research will fuel CR’s work to urge companies and government to raise the standards for security and privacy in the marketplace. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Consumer Reports board, Consumer Reports is an organizational member of Civic Hall, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies is a longtime supporter of Civic Hall. You might say we have a community of interest.)

  • Infowar, continued: New research from Symantec, the cybersecurity firm, has found that Russia’s Internet Research Agency ran a much bigger and more coordinated effort to misinform Twitter users in 2016 than was previously known, Tim Starks reports for Politico.

  • Life in YouTubistan: Tuesday, @TeamYouTube declared that anti-gay and racist slurs directed at Vox writer Carlos Maza by conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder do not violate the company’s anti-harassment policies, as Nick Statt reports for The Verge. Just to be clear, YouTube’s own hate speech, harassment and cyber-bullying guidelines state that “Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on any of the following attributes,” including “sexual orientation,” and “Content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others is not allowed on YouTube.”

  • Nilay Patel, the editor-in-chief of The Verge, adds that “YouTube tried to explain this decision on background to us,” but he decided to ignore it because they wouldn’t go on the record.

  • Then, yesterday, YouTube made an abrupt about-face and started blocking “videos that promote discrimination or segregation based on things like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status,” as Ryan Broderick reports for BuzzFeed News. Violators are having their accounts “demonetized,” which means they can’t make money from sharing this kind of content. While numerous far-right figures are now reporting their channels being demonetized, the content crackdown is also hitting independent journalists and educators reporting on fascist and neoNazi groups, as Broderick notes in a follow-up. Live by the algorithm, die by the algorithm?

  • As the evidence increases that YouTube has become a force for societal damage, Dan Sinker offers some important context for what led to this: “So basically Facebook pivoted to video, sold a ton of folks on inflated view numbers, YouTube freaked out and crossed FB’s worst instincts with their own weaponized AI and now the whole world is broken.”

  • Tech and politics: Here’s some more research on the value of relationship organizing, courtesy of Sangeeth Peruri of VoterCircle.

  • Roger McNamee, the longtime tech investor who has recently emerged as one of Facebook’s sharpest critics, has written a pungent letter to the Toronto City Council urging it to abandon its partnership with Google’s Sidewalk Labs. An excerpt: “The waterfront project is the first incarnation of a Google City run by algorithms. This is the next big thing for Google and they expect to makes tens, if not hundreds of billions on it. They hope to displace democracy, to impose efficiency on consumers who would otherwise make decisions for themselves. It is a dystopian vision that has no place in a democratic society.”

  • Here’s McNamee in The New York Times doing an essential service summarizing the work of Shoshana Zuboff on how Google and Facebook created the surveillance capitalism juggernaut. He adds, “To my friends in the tech industry: Please explain why we should allow the status quo to continue, given the increasing evidence of harm. To my friends in government: The time has come to ban third-party exploitation of consumer data and to use antitrust law to promote competing business models. This is not a matter of right or left; it is a matter of right and wrong.”

  • Meanwhile, as the New York Times Cecilia Kang and Kenneth Vogel report, the big four tech giants have built an army of hundreds of lobbyists swarming Washington “as they prepare for what could be an epic fight over their futures,” doubling their spending on lobbying last year compared to 2016. As Travis Moore of TechCongress observes, “there are exactly *ten* policy staff working in Congress– of the 3500 on the Hill– that have any formal technology training. That’s what’s called a power imbalance.”

  • End times: Here’s why you shouldn’t leave your AirDrop settings on your phone open when you’re out in public. Kids these days!

    You are reading First Post, a twice-a-week digest of news and analysis of the world of civic tech, brought to you by Civic Hall, NYC’s community center for civic tech. If you are reading this because someone forwarded it to you, please become a subscriber ($10/m) and support our work.