Just In Time

Resisting alone (thanks to tech?); climate crisis and civic tech; dissent from Google; and much more.


This is civic tech: MySociety CEO Mark Cridge blogs that the long-running UK civic tech organization is going to make the climate crisis its overarching priority this year. “We’ll still talk about democracy; but more than likely we’ll be considering how participatory and deliberative approaches can be useful in finding consensus on the difficult decisions we’ll all need to take to avoid the worst climate impacts,” he writes.
 
NiemanLab asked a bunch of smart people for their predictions about the future of journalism and we quite like this one from Barbara Gray, the chief librarian and an associate professor of investigative research methods at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. She writes, “In 2020, local nonprofit media, j-schools, and civic tech projects will continue to ally with one of our most trusted institutions — libraries — to empower citizens to build the communities they want,” and she predicts “The alliance of these institutions can help foster community engagement, earn trust, benefit communities, and strengthen democracy.” Amen to that. (h/t Fiona Teng)
 
Matt Stempeck reports on all of last month’s updates to our Civic Tech Field Guide, including 171 new entries, a detailed section on narrative tech, tagging of “commercial” tools that have civic uses, and a lot more.
 
A lot of Americans have gotten more engaged in civic action since 2016, but as some guy named Sifry argues in the New Republic in a review of Dana Fisher’s new book American Resistance, “forms of digital organizing may have gotten in the way of a real revival of grassroots Democratic activism. Those millions of people are not for the most part joining local groups and reviving the party’s base. More often they are channeled by sophisticated algorithmic sorting tools into performing just-in-time acts of voter engagement with as little friction or social interaction as possible. There is a danger that, just as Facebook turned real friendship into a status update to be monetized, the national liberal-left email groups have turned real membership into a metric to be optimized.” 

 
 
Are you tracking your civic health yet?
 
Tech and politics: With the Netflix documentary The Great Hack in the running for an Oscar nomination, one of its erstwhile stars, Brittany Kaiser, has started leaking more information from her time working for Cambridge Analytica, Carole Cadwalladr reports for the Guardian. Count me as still skeptical that any of this is as big a deal as Kaiser and Cadwalladr want us to think it is.
 
Say hello to Hawkfish, a relatively new political data firm started by presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg last spring which is now bulking up on staff as he rapidly spins up his operations, as Brian Schwartz reports for CNBC.
 
Life in Facebookistan: Facebook is banning users from posting so-called “deep fake” videos, Tony Romm, Drew Harwell and Isaac Stanley-Becker report for The Washington Post. Parodies or misinformation like the “drunk” video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not be covered by the ban, they note.
 
Ross LaJeunesse was head of international relations for Google, but after 11 years at the tech giant, he has resigned, burning his bridges with this essay on how the company has gone “evil,” doing such things as “working with the Chinese government on artificial intelligence or hosting the applications of the Saudi government, including Absher, an application that allows men to track and control the movement of their female family members.” LaJeunesse has announced he’s running for U.S. Senate from Maine, where he’s from, so one may want to take his words in that context. But it’s still quite a damning document from a person who was once pretty high up in the company.
 
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