Extremely Dangerous

An experiment in participatory democracy in Bowling Green, KY; tech titans warm up to Trump; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Our Jessica McKenzie traveled to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to report on a pioneering collaboration between the local newspaper, Columbia University’s American Assembly, and the online deliberation platform Polis to see if there might be a new way to hold a community town hall where people discover what they agree about, rather than just yelling at each other.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Here’s Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, upon being asked by Ezra Klein of Vox whether his control of voting shares means that he is insulated from accountability for the company’s massive impact on society: “My goal here is to create a governance structure around the content and the community that reflects more what people in the community want than what short-term-oriented shareholders might want. And if we do that well, then I think that could really break ground on governance for an internet community.”

  • He goes on to refer to Facebook having a “good-functioning democratic system” and imagining “some sort of structure, almost like a Supreme Court, that is made up of independent folks who don’t work for Facebook, who ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world.”

  • Raise your hand if you are a Facebook user and you think it is a “community” or a “democratic system” you belong to. I used to think, after the fall of Communism, that the days of believing in a totalizing ideology that could be perfected for the whole world were over. I guess Zuck missed those classes when he dropped out of Harvard. Zeynep Tufekci comments that this is “yet another one of those interviews where Zuckerberg says “yes, we ignored *that* for a decade, but now we will do better. I don’t understand why people don’t appreciate how good we are. This time we will do better. Sorry about ignoring all that for a decade.”

  • On Friday, the company announced new steps it is taking to protect election security, including using machine learning to spot fake accounts faster, doing more flagging of articles that fact-checkers have rated as false, and verifying the identity of political advertisers before they can place ads.

  • Social networking projects built on blockchain claim to be gaining steam in the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica mess, Nathaniel Popper reports for The New York Times.

  • Here’s how Cambridge Analytica’s targeting algorithm purportedly worked, according to political scientist Matthew Hindman writing for NiemanLab.

  • Tech and politics: Tech titans are warming up to President Trump, Jack Nicas reports for The New York Times. According to Gary Shapiro, who runs the Consumer Technology Association trade group, the president “has been great for business and really, really good for tech.”

  • Media matters: Deadspin made a montage of Sinclair Broadcasting TV reporters across the country all reading the exact same script, one that they have been forced to read by the company’s conservative management, and the effect is downright chilling as David Zurawik reports for The Baltimore Sun. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy, indeed.

  • Recall that Jared Kushner told Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Hadas Gold that the Trump campaign struck a deal with Sinclair during the 2016 election to get better coverage, including broadcasting sit-down interviews with the candidate without adding commentary.

  • Also recall that the FCC inspector general is currently investigating whether chair Ajit Pai timed a policy change allowing a broadcaster to own stations reaching than 39 percent of the public to benefit Sinclair. (The company’s merger with Tribune Media gives its reach to 72 percent.) Pai also repealed a rule requiring stations maintain a physical presence in their coverage area.

    Your moment of “attentive assiduousness.”