Long Games

How Breitbart's sausage gets made; whither FEMA's tech corps?; and more.


  • This is civic tech: The techie volunteers who sprung into action as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and kept going in the wakes of Irma and Marie are wondering whatever happened to FEMA’s Tech Corps program, Angela Shah reports for Xconomy. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who wrote (with an assist from our Andrew Rasiej) the original legislation creating a “Tech Corps” after 9-11, has asked FEMA for a briefing about the state of the program. Several big tech companies, including Cisco, Microsoft and Google, have been active on their own offering disaster assistance, but the idea of Tech Corps was to build a standing army of skilled volunteers ready to be deployed whenever disaster strikes.

  • Hollie Russon Gilman writes for the Stanford Social Innovation Review that the current cycle of disasters raises fresh questions about the off-repeated notion that government should be “run like a business” with citizens as customers expecting good service. She notes: “A challenge with the citizen-as-consumer model is that it provides a shallow analysis of the roles and responsibilities of the customer. Being a member of a democracy is more nuanced than purchasing goods or chatting with your friends online. People expect things from government, and things like public utilities, disaster relief, universal social policy such as education, healthcare, and clean drinking water, are not always driven by a bottom line.” A better approach, she says, is to see citizens as shareholders and co-investors in creating the public good. Amen to that!

  • Our colleagues at Civic Hall Labs report on what they’ve learned from their Healthy Public Challenge, a 6-month program where where teams of entrepreneurs, designers, developers, and more took their first steps towards building solutions that could create a healthier public.

  • FEMA has stopped reporting statistics on its website about drinking water and electricity in Puerto Rico, Jenna Johnson reports for The Washington Post.

  • They can, however, be found on a Spanish-language website maintained by the Governor’s office in Puerto Rico, Status.pr.

  • Trump watch: Joseph Bernstein got ahold of a cache of emails and documents from inside Breitbart, and in this extensive report for BuzzFeed he demonstrates in remarkable details the array of close ties between Stephen Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, and neo-Nazis.

  • Making a cameo appearance in Bernstein’s Breitbart story, Silicon Valley author and self-proclaimed advocate for women in tech, Vivek Wadwha, who frequently wrote to Yiannopoulos, then Breitbart’s “tech editor,” to gin up stories about what he claimed was political correctness run amok.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Jonathan Albright, the research director of Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, says that the accounts and pages that have so far been identified as aiding in Russia-linked efforts to influence the 2016 election were seen billions of times. ““The primary push to influence wasn’t necessarily through paid advertising,” he told Craig Timberg of The Washington Post. “The best way to to understand this from a strategic perspective is organic reach.” For six of the sites that have been made public — Blacktivists, United Muslims of America, Being Patriotic, Heart of Texas, Secured Borders and LGBT United — Albright found that the content had been “shared” 340 million times.

  • Today in corruption: “You shouldn’t be able to pay off a whole society.” That’s the Washington Post’s culture reporter Allyssa Rosenberg, on how Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein managed to keep his decade-long history of sexual harassment—just revealed by The New York Times—out of the news. Mega-donations and favors to top Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama (whose daughter Malia interned with Weinstein this past summer) and Hillary Clinton, was a big part of Weinstein’s power.

  • Rebecca Traister weighs in on The Cut with her own tale of being physically bullied by Weinstein back when she was a young reporter for The New York Observer. She notes in passing that the Weinstein-harassment story was something that David Carr, the tough-as-nails New York Times media reporter, tried for years to get into print and failed.

  • Food for thought: “We are currently seeing an evolution in how data is being manipulated,” says danah boyd, founder of the Data & Society Institute (and longtime friend of Civic Hall). In her talk at this year’s Strata Data conference, she focuses on some of the new ways tricksters are hacking the information economy. And she warns, “there is currently no incentive — or path — for anyone to privately tell us where things go wrong. Only when journalists shame us by finding ways to trick our systems into advertising to neo-Nazis do we pay attention. Yet, far more maliciously intended actors are starting to play the long game in messing with our data. Why aren’t we trying to get ahead of this?”

  • Attend: CampaignCon, the annual global skills-sharing conference focused on “how to build a more nimble, responsive civil society that can mobilise and campaign more effectively in the digital era” is coming up November 7-9 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Apply: Today is the deadline to apply for the first round of Obama Foundation Fellows. I know a lot of you reading this are procrastinating right now…

  • Apply: The HITLAB World Cup is offering awards of $75,000 for “original ideas to improve healthcare access, delivery, and outcomes through technology.”

  • Apply: Code for America is looking to hire a data engineer to work on GetCalFresh.