Jury-Rigged

Democracy for sale (the URL); how the Hong Kong protests work; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Here’s a small scoop—Democracy.com, a site that focused on giving down-ballot candidates a simple and cheap way to build an all-purpose campaign website and then pivoted towards supporting all forms of civic engagement, is shutting down due to a shortfall in growth capital, its founder Talmage Cooley tells me, and here’s where things get interesting. The domain democracy.com is for sale with an asking price of $500,000. I know, the irony of Democracy.com being for sale isn’t lost on me, but if you’re interested in owning it, write to domain@democracy.com for details.

  • The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz does a nice job of filleting the new trend in Silicon Valley: Introspection, usually at a high-powered networking retreat like Esalen. Exhibit A for his piece is Tristan Harris, founder of the Center for Humane Technology, who hosted an off-the-record workshop there back in October 2016 for a group reportedly including the co-founders of Google, Slack, and Tinder along with early members of Apple’s executive team and a top Facebook exec.

  • Apply: New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation, which is now headed by our friend John Paul Farmer, is looking to hire lots of people.

  • Organizing for democracy: Maciej Ceglowski‘s first-person account of what it’s like to join Hong Kong’s street protests is an absolute must-read, not only for his sympathetic tech-savvy eye but also for how much he illustrates about the technological superiority of Hong Kong’s public services. Here’s a snippet:

    It’s hard to write articulately about the Five Demands when one keeps getting brought up short by basic things, like the existence of clean public bathrooms. The time and location of protests are set via social media alchemy; once you get notified about one, you descend through a spotless mall onto a bright and clean train platform, get whisked away by a train that arrives almost immediately, step out into another mall, then finally walk outside into overwhelming heat and a gathering group of demonstrators….I should say a few words here about the curious way the protests are organized. The protesters learned in 2014 that having leaders was a weakness. Once the leadership was arrested, the heart went out of the occupy movement, and it lost momentum. So in 2019, there is no leadership at all. The protests are intentionally decentralized, using a jury-rigged combination of a popular message board, the group chat app Telegram, and in-person huddles at the protests. This sounds like it shouldn’t possibly work, but the protesters are too young to know that it can’t work, so it works.
  • An estimated 1.7 million people attended a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong on Sunday, about 22 percent of the city-state’s population. Comparisons to the United States are inevitable, like this one by Isaac Stone Fish, a Washington Post contributor, but it sure is interesting how almost no one points out that just a few weeks ago, an even larger proportion of Puerto Rico’s population—one million out of 3.4 million—rallied to depose its corrupt governor.

  • Facebook and Twitter have removed accounts linked to China that the companies say have acted in a coordinated fashion to amplify misinformation about Hong Kong’s protest movement, portraying the activists as violent and extreme, Kate Conger reports for The New York Times. Twitter says it took down 936 active accounts and suspended a broader group of 200,000.

  • While Apple promotes itself as a privacy hawk here in the United States, Nithin Coca reports for Top10VPN that it is steadily caving into demands from China that it crack down on the use of VPN apps by its Chinese users.

  • Tech and politics: Here’s the definitive refresher on GamerGate, the online social media hounding of five years ago that became the template for today’s far-right misinformation and harassment campaigns, courtesy of Joan Donovan, Brianna Wu, Sarah Jeong and Charlie Warzel in The New York Times. (The graphics tell the story almost better than the writers.)

  • Top Democrats are starting to harp on President Trump‘s use of Twitter, channeling a study by the firm Civis that suggests voters are moved by the argument that he is too fixated on tweeting over delivering on his promises, Sam Stein reports for The Daily Beast.

  • Judd Legum keeps hammering at Facebook for allowing the Trump campaign to violate the company’s advertising rules, and he now reports that his efforts are bearing fruit, with some Trump ads targeting women by their gender being taken down the company.

  • Related: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wants the big platforms to voluntarily stop the micro-targeting of political issue ads, saying that he is especially concerned they can be used for voter suppression messages aimed at minority groups, Donie O’Sullivan reports for CNN.

  • Political science professor David Primo argues in The New York Times that ActBlue shouldn’t be disclosing to the government the names of people donating small amounts, under the official reporting threshold of $200, to Democratic presidential candidates. Oddly, he frames the availability of the information in the context of Russian hacking, as if knowing factual information about who is supporting which candidates with their money is the same thing as spreading misinformation.

  • End times: Let’s hear it for this old-fashioned mashup of Monty Python and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson! (On a serious note, Python John Cleese is leaving Britain out of his disappointment with how the country is being run.)

You are reading First Post, a twice-a-week digest of news and analysis of the world of civic tech, brought to you by Civic Hall, NYC’s community center for civic tech. If you are reading this because someone forwarded it to you, please become a subscriber ($10/m) and support our work or sign up to our newsletter and stay connected with the #CivicTech community.