Fifteen Candles

Civic tech vs poverty; Facebook at 15; Bloomberg's data monster; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Tina Rosenberg of the Solutions Journalism Network has the first of a two-part series in The New York Times on civic tech tools that are helping poor people better manage their government benefits. Up first, Fresh EBT, a free tool that helps recipients of SNAP food benefits budget better.

  • NYC’s Chief of Data Analytics, Kelly Jin, offers a look back and ahead at her office’s accomplishments and plans for 2019. Among the highlights: 200+ civic engagement commitments made by more than 60 agencies, 1.2 million visitors to NYC Open Data, the city’s data hub.

  • The Foundation Center and Guidestar, two venerable sources of information on the philanthropic sector, have merged and formed a new organization called Candid.

  • Attend: BetaNYC’s annual NYC School of Data conference is coming up March 2.

  • Apply: Here at Civic Hall, we are looking to hire a Measurement and Evaluation Strategy Consultant and a short-term part-time research assistant to work on the Civic Tech Field Guide.

  • Apply: The Open Society Foundation is taking applications for the next round of its “Data and Technology Earned Income Accelerator,” an 8-week online course for data and tech organizations looking to generate new sources of funding.

  • Apply: The Ford Foundation and Mozilla are looking for the next round of organizations interested in hosting a Mozilla Fellow.

  • Apply: The UNDP’s Accelerator Labs is looking to hire lots of people in sixty countries to be heads of exploration, experimentation and solutions mapping.

  • Bid adieu: Seamus Kraft writes that next week the OpenGov Foundation is shutting down Madison, the open source public engagement platform that it launched eight years ago to enable public servants and citizens to develop better public policy together. It was used by thousands of individuals and more than 75 local, state, federal and international government bodies.

  • Tech and politics: Whether or not billionaire Michael Bloomberg runs for president in 2020, his brain trust is planning to spend “hundreds of millions of dollars into a data-centric political operation designed to ensure one goal: crush Donald Trump,” Isaac Dovere-Smith reports for The Atlantic. The goal of the effort, he writes, is “all the data.”

  • If the Bloomberg effort does happen, it will join similar efforts by other Democratic-leaning billionaires Reid Hoffman and Tom Steyer, as well as the i360 effort on the right that has long been financed by the Koch brothers.

  • Writing for The New York Times, Tim Wu asks why the Trump administration isn’t demanding that China open up its internet as part of its efforts to shift the balance of US-China trade.

  • Life in Facebookistan: If you know the actual history of Facebook’s creation, reading founder Mark Zuckerberg‘s new post reminiscing on his creation’s 15th birthday is a positively Orwellian experience. Missing in his origin story is any mention of Facemash, the Facebook precursor which he created by pulling together pictures of Harvard students off the school’s intranet (without their consent) to be rated as “hot or not” and for which he was disciplined and forced to apologize. Instead, he writes, “When I started Facebook, I believed that we all have a deep desire to focus more of what we do around people — not just content, commerce, companies, apps, or politics.” And yet, most of what Facebook actually has become is totally centered on content, commerce, companies and apps.

  • ICYMI: Here’s Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg explaining the company’s plans for creating an oversight board for content decisions, the first concrete step it is taking to flesh out Zuckerberg’s vision of setting up a kind of “Supreme Court” to help adjudicate free speech moderation decisions that he has admitted he is uncomfortable having the power to make.

  • And here’s Randi Zuckerberg, one of Mark’s sisters and a tech entrepreneur herself, telling CNN’s Kaya Yurieff that maybe the problems with Facebook have something to do with, um, capitalism? She says, “We are putting so much pressure on young people to create multi-billion dollar companies that of course, how could they have time to think about the future implications of what they’re building. I think [Facebook] builds things with great intentions, and because of shareholder obligations, [it] didn’t have the time to sit and think, ‘Wait, these tools that we’re building, what could happen with them?'”

  • Fifteen bigwigs answer Vox’s question of whether Facebook has been good for the world, 15 years in. Since it’s a long piece, I’ll save you some time. In order of their appearance–Malcolm Gladwell: Faw, faw, faw, obscure historical reference. Sherry Turtle: It has wrecked privacy and democracy. Jonah Peretti: I’m too busy firing my staff to have an opinion. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA): Yes, they’re in my district after all. Brooke Binkowski of Snopes.com: Nope. Steven Pinker: Ask me in a hundred years when my hair will still be amazing. Jonathan Haidt: It’s amplifying polarization, so nope. Peter Singer: Look into the mirror, that’s the answer. David Axelrod: I’m really busy but my intern’s answer is pretty sharp. Dana Perino: Don’t you like my cute dog pics? Senator Mark Warner (D-VA): The regulators are coming. Meredith Broussard of NYU: Amen to that. Aminatou Sow: First I loved it, now I hate it. Antonio Garcia-Martinez, former Facebook employee: I’m lost in the Middle Ages. Kara Swisher: You have to go to my website to know what I really think. Heh.

  • In the Guardian, Julia Carrie Wong reports that neither Facebook nor Youtube are doing enough to stop helping spread anti-vaccination propaganda.

  • Editorial note: My apologies for being absent the last two weeks—I’ve been helping deal with a family health emergency.