Immune Responses

TICTeC global conference gets underway; Lessons from Taiwan's COVID and much more.


This is civic tech: This morning and tomorrow from 9am-1pm EDT (that’s starting 2pm GMT), TICTeC (The Impacts of Civic Tech) conference will be meeting virtually. You can join via Zoom, or dial in. Matt Stempeck and I will be giving a presentation titled “How to Last in Civic Tech (Especially Now)” at approximately 12:20pm EDT. Details here.

Of all the countries dealing with coronavirus, few have done a better job of tamping down its spread than Taiwan. In Foreign Affairs, Jaron Lanier and Glen Weyl of Microsoft Research write that “Taiwan’s success has rested on a fusion of technology, activism, and civic participation. A small but technologically cutting-edge democracy, living in the shadow of the superpower across the strait, Taiwan has in recent years developed one of the world’s most vibrant political cultures by making technology work to democracy’s advantage rather than detriment. This culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus.”

We’ve written before about vTaiwan and the g0v community of civic hackers; it’s heartening to see how that investment in community building is now paying off in spades for Taiwan. And as Lanier and Weyl note, “In theory, China and the United States—“AI superpowers,” as the Taiwanese-born industrial maven Kai-Fu Lee has put it—ought to have better capacity to deal with complex, rapidly evolving problems, given that they have the biggest computers running the most advanced artificial intelligence programs. Yet tiny Taiwan did better than either of them by emphasizing the social inputs to coordination instead of machine learning alone.”

With coronavirus hitting Seattle early, the folks at Democracy Lab decided to move their annual St. Hack-Trick’s Day hackathon to virtual, using the Qiqochat platform built by our friend Lucas Cioffi; here’s a terrifically useful post-event report on how that went, warts and all. If you’re thinking of hosting a virtual hackathon or similarly participatory gathering, this is a must-read.

Mutual-aid networks are popping up in neighborhoods everywhere, and Charlie Warzel of The New York Times reports on how one of the first ones, in Medford, Massachusetts, got going.

Here’s a detailed guide from Slack for teams now adapting to being full-time virtual.

Some updates on how various civic tech organizations in the United States are adapting to the COVID-19 crisis:

Girls Who Code is offering free online classes in computer programming. Code at home!

Ioby has moved to full virtual services and is continuing to support neighborhood community projects and organizers.

NationBuilder, the organizing platform, is providing free services to state and local governments, their contractors and agencies, and NGOs organizing essential service provision and emergency response over the next three months.

Democracy.works is supporting state election authorities as they pivot, doing everything from helping them move polling places out of nursing homes to preparing a massive vote by mail campaign (including getting millions of voters to apply for ballots), fighting voter confusion.

Tech and politics: With political organizers now dropping all plans for door-knocking canvassing efforts, this story in Mother Jones by Kara Voght about how organizers in Wisconsin are shifting to digital is a must-read.

As of four days ago, Michelle Miller reported that frontline workers had launched about 50 campaigns using Coworker.org’s virtual organizing tools, and 85,000 new people had joined campaigns—“30 times average campaign volume.” She adds, “Grocery workers at Trader Joe’s, H-E-B, Whole Foods, Safeway/Albertson’s and Fred Meyer as asking for Hazard Pay. In food service, baristas are asking for stores to close with pay, Caribou Coffee, Bojangles Denny’s, Chili’s and more workers are asking for Paid Sick Leave.” One quick victory: after more than 37,000 of baristas petitioned, Starbucks announced that it was temporarily closing all its cafes, with pay.

Privacy, shmivacy: Zoom, the now ubiquitous tool for group video-conferencing, is rife with privacy issues, Richie Koch writes for Security Boulevard. It is set up to enable hosts to monitor whether participants are actually watching, and shares tons of data with third parties.

Deep thoughts: Here’s Mia Birdsong on what bee colonies can teach us about collective survival.

And here’s Hollie Russon Gilman on civic health at a time of social distancing.

Extremely deep thoughts: This three-minute “Letter from the Coronavirus” YouTube video, made by Darinka Montico, is getting a lot of views.

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