Giant Steps

Remembering Jim Gilliam; Facebook under scrutiny from Civil Rights groups; and more


  • This is civic tech: The tech and politics world lost a giant last Friday when Jim Gilliam, the founder of NationBuilder, passed away at the age of 41. Here’s my appreciation of his life and work.

  • Robert Greenwald, the founder of Brave New Films, where Jim worked from 2003-2006, shares this tribute to his “warrior, brainiac, friend.”

  • Jen Pahlka of Code for America ponders whether California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom ought to create a Digital Service for the state.

  • Digital democracy projects abound across Europe, Elisa Lironi writes in this survey for Carnegie’s Reshaping European Democracy program. Examples she cites include participatory budgeting and e-petitions in Paris, the ManaBalss (My Voice) online legislative platform in Latvia, Finland’s Avoinministerio.fi, Science for You in Greece, Network Democratie in the Netherlands, and the Citizens Foundation in Iceland, which dates back to the crowdsourcing work around the country’s new constitution in 2010.

  • GivingTuesday broke the billion dollar mark, with nearly $400 million raised online in the US alone, making it the most successful year yet in terms of giving.

  • Digital strategist Deanna Zandt (and friend of Civic Hall) rants (her word) on Medium that the drumbeat of #GivingTuesday email solicitations have gotten out of control and reminds us, “The Internet is not an ATM.”

  • Life in Facebookistan: A dozen civil rights groups met with Facebook head of US public policy Kevin Martin the day after the New York Times story on Definers came out, Tonya Riley reports for Mother Jones, but the groups are hardly mollified by the attention. She writes, “At the closed-door meeting, the civil rights advocates—which included representatives from Color of Change and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—expressed their disappointment in discovering that after spending months—and in many cases years —working with Facebook to weed out discriminatory user behavior on the website, the company’s leadership had been privately spreading attacks against those groups.”

  • Today COO Sheryl Sandberg is meeting with leaders from Color of Change, the group specifically targeted by Definers in its attack on philanthropist George Soros, Emily Stewart reports for Vox. Color of Change is calling on the company to fire Joel Kaplan, to release the opposition research documents Definers had circulated, and to also commit to a public release of the civil rights audit underway of the company’s politics and practices.

  • Related: A former FB employee, Mark Luckie, says that the company has a “black people problem.” In a memo he sent to the company’s staff before leaving in mid-November, Luckie wrote, “The population of Facebook employees doesn’t reflect its most engaged user base. There is often more diversity in Keynote presentations than the teams who present them. In some buildings, there are more ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters than there are actual black people. Facebook can’t claim that it is connecting communities if those communities aren’t represented proportionately in its staffing.” Here’s the full memo.

  • “Tech is failing black people and other minority groups so consistently because the tech world has little understanding of the concept of privilege,” Abedesi Osunsade of Hustle Crew writes for the UK Independent.

  • Anthea Watson Strong, Facebook’s product manager for local news and community information (and an old friend of ours from her days helping to run the Voter Information Project, among many good things) announces the expansion of a new local section on FB called “Today In” and the beginning of a test for local alerts from relevant government pages. More than 50% of FB users say they want to see more local news and community information on the platform, she notes.

  • Brave new world: More than 400 Googlers have signed an open letter calling on the company to stop developing a Chinese search app, Adi Robertson reports for The Verge. A similar number have signed a letter expressing support for the controversial Project Dragonfly, Jon Russell and Taylor Hatmaker report for TechCrunch.

  • In the wake of The Washington Post’s story on Predictim, an AI start-up that analyzes social media data to rate potential babysitters’ on their trustworthiness, Facebook and Twitter have taken action to limit the company’s access to user data, Drew Harwell reports.

  • Deep thoughts on information disorder: Take some time to digest Renee DiResta on the Information World War and the Digital Maginot Line (h/t Bryan Sivak).