Emergent Realities

3D modeling and police killings; can mutual aid networks get political?; #flattenthecurve's failure?; and much more.


This is civic tech: New research work by Forensic Architecture, a firm based in London that uses a mix of cutting edge technologies including 3D modeling, data mining, machine learning, pattern analysis, and virtual reality, to conduct independent investigations into human rights abuses and police killings, is raising important questions about the official narrative describing how London police came to kill Mark Duggan, a Black man who died nine years ago and whose murder triggered immense protests at the time.
 
Meedan is out with a new report today on how fact-checking bots that it set up on WhatsApp using its Check platform can “(1) help audiences understand how to interact with the fact-checking team and see commonly-requested content, (2) serve as a bridge between a human editor and someone submitting content to a tipline and (3) cut down on unactionable content.” Working with four partners (AFP, Africa Check, BOOM and India Today) across five countries, Meedan’s process dealt with 5,700 fact-checks that came in from WhatsApp tiplines, mostly about COVID-19 issues.
 
Can mutual aid networks thicken neighborhood bonds and convert social solidarity around COVID-19 into longer-term political action that addresses systemic issues? That’s the question Diana Budds explores in a must-read LongForm article for Curbed.com, focusing on the Astoria Mutual Aid group. The answer she offers: yes, maybe, though as organizers try to intentionally engage relatively privileged people who think that all they are doing is “apolitical” volunteer work to help their neighbors, they may lose people who aren’t willing “to engage the realities of racial inequity and white supremacy.” I hope Budds stays on this beat.
 
Nearly one in five Americans say they’ve participated in a recent protest. That level of sustained engagement—if it stays sustained—is how nonviolent revolutions succeed. In the Atlantic, technosociologist Zeynep Tufecki argues that this generation’s Black Lives Matter protests are “the second civil-rights movement in postwar America” and “they are convincing people of the righteousness of their cause” which, by denying legitimacy to the powers-that-be, will lead to massive change. Amen to that.
 
A question for data visualizers: Did the widespread sharing of the #FlattenTheCurve meme unfortunately convince lots of people that the curve automatically goes down after it crests? Because this is not happening.
 
One last must-read for today: This first-person account from New Yorker Anthony Alojera, as told to the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow, is an urgent reminder that the COVID-19 crisis is far from over, and the people on the front lines—EMTs like Alojera—are bearing the brunt of savage inequalities, along with the mostly poor and working class people they are serving. I would argue that the emerging results from Tuesday’s primary vote in New York, where several newcomers who ran hard against the status quo are upending veteran lawmakers and pushing aside incumbents who thought they had the inside track to election to higher offices, is a sign that a lot of people are fed up and want far more change than is currently on offer.

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