Forward Progress

New York City Council approves Civic Hall @ Union Square, 100 influential people in digital government, & more


  • This is civic tech: The New York City Council voted yesterday to approve the plans for the future home of Civic Hall @ Union Square. We couldn’t be more excited! Here’s the support statement from Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (who represents the district on the vote.) And here are statements from Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, and James Patchett, the president and CEO of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, who have both been backing the tech training center that will be at the heart of the project.

  • The New York City Council also voted to put a one-year halt to the growth of Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies, and also establish a pay floor for drivers, as Emma Fitzsimmons reports for The New York Times. On Streetsblog NYC, Ben Fried explains why this is a good thing.

  • Bianca Wylie and her Tech Reset Canada start-up get a warm profile in The Washington Post by Brain Barth focusing on her ongoing efforts to challenge Sidewalk Labs’ plan to set up a “smart side” on the Toronto waterfront. Some choice quotes from Wylie: “This is a story about governance, not urban innovation. There is nothing innovative about partnering with a monopoly.” And, “A lot of the urban problems that smart-city projects propose to address don’t require a technological solution. Toronto’s affordable housing crisis isn’t going to be solved with more data — it’s political will that’s lacking.”

  • Apolitical has put together a top 100 list of the world’s most influential people in digital government, and while here at Civicist we look at such lists with a lot of skepticism, have a gander—there are a lot of good people (including our own Andrew Rasiej) on it. (And some strange choices, like Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister of Australia and sworn enemy of public broadband.)

  • New from the Omidyar Network and the Institute for the Future: The “Ethical Operating System,” a workbook for helping developers and designers anticipate the unexpected impacts of the technologies they may be working on.

  • Civic Hall member Jess Riegel is crowdfunding support for Motivote, her early stage start-up focused on making voting more social and fun.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Alex Jones of Infowars is just one example of a racist extremist who figured out how to thrive inside Facebook’s algorithmic sorting system; Max Fisher writes for The New York Times that in the developing world there are many similar examples, which the company has failed to deal with for year.

  • Writing for India’s AltNews, Pooja Chaudhuri reports on a secret Facebook group with more than 18,000 members where people get paid for making and spreading sensationalist messages on social media, and offer to boost other sites’ shares and follower counts. Chaudhuri also reports on secret Facebook groups where people buy and sell fake Aadhaar cards, the universal ID in use in India.

  • Some 40,000 Facebook users expressed interest in attending anti-Trump rallies hosted by a group that the company banned last week for its apparent ties to Russian operatives, Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin report for The Washington Post.

  • Information disorder: Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey explains why, alone among the major social network platforms, he hasn’t suspended Alex Jones or Infowars.

  • Here’s more on that issue from Twitter’s VP of Trust and Safety Del Harvey, who explains that part of the reason Jones hasn’t been banned is that while some of the content and statements he has made on other platforms would have violated Twitter’s policies, he hasn’t shared them using his Twitter account. This is a troubling argument, since Jones’ notoriety on the other platforms is part of his public persona and his ability to build a follower pool on Twitter buttresses his overall project. (She does note that Twitter is moving to more strongly address dehumanizing speech and that it is considering what to do about “off-platform” behavior.)

  • Dylan Byers reports that Facebook’s decision to yank four of Jones’ pages only came after Apple CEO Tim Cook took swift action removing his podcasts from iTunes, and questions whether the change in policy “sets a vague precedent” rather than demonstrates clear thinking about how to handle extreme speech.

  • Infowars’ app “Infowars Official” was not banned by Apple or Google, and as Shoshana Wodinsky reports for the Verge, fans are flocking to it. As she notes, Apple’s app guidelines do not ban hate speech, whereas the Google Play Store does.

  • Amanda Marcotte of Salon profiles Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch, one of several key groups dogging the major platforms over their hosting of Alex Jones.

  • Tech and politics: Viral political ads often aren’t very persuasive, according to an intriguing study done by Harmony Labs and Swayable, Issie Lapowsky reports for Wired. (Actually, this is kind of a common-sense finding—content that goes viral is mostly spreading among people who already agree with it.)

  • Lobbyists for telcos are effectively blocking legislation preventing ISPs from selling their users’ data in many states, Motherboard’s Michael Gaynor reports.

  • Speaking of not normal: A Toledo, Ohio city council wants to implant microchips in people awaiting trial, Kira Lerner reports for The Appeal. “This can’t be inhumane because we do it to our pets,” he argued. Someone should ask him how he likes eating dog food.

  • How Wikipedia traffic serves as a proxy for the ebb and flow of a celebrity’s cultural relevance, as explained beautifully by Russell Goldenberg of The Pudding.

  • The Weather Channel has launched a new section called Exodus, offering in-depth stories of the climate migration crisis. The stories and photos of places that aren’t coming back are haunting and powerful. (h/t Jessica McKenzie)

  • End times: XKCD on voting software.