Magical Thinking

Battling platform biases, learning from Civic Hall Toronto, & more


  • This is civic tech: Shea Sinnott shares some learnings from the first four months of operating Civic Hall Toronto.

  • Vivian Schiller takes to Medium to explain how the Civil Foundation will be funded from 100 percent of the proceeds of the Civil token sale, and commits that the funds will be used to “support quality journalism.”

  • Apply: The city of Detroit is looking to hire a “digital inclusion policy fellow” in association with the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor’s poverty solutions program.

  • Apply: The AI Initiative, a collaboration of the Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network, Reid Hoffman and the Hewlett Foundation, is putting up a $750,000 challenge for proposals focused on using artificial intelligence to improve journalism.

  • Donate: Manny Yekutiel is raising money on Kickstarter to support a new “civic gathering space” that he is opening in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District.

  • David Callahan of InsidePhilanthropy.com has posted a smart review of Anand Giriharadas‘ new book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. The quick version: Giriharadas may be right that lots of rich people and funders on the Aspen circuit want to feel good about helping causes without questioning how their own fortunes are made and maintained, but he leaves out many examples of wealthy givers whose money really does help challenge the status quo.

  • Life in Facebookistan: For BuzzFeed News, Davey Alba writes, “If you want to know what happens to a country that has opened itself entirely to Facebook, look to the Philippines. What happened there — what continues to happen there — is both an origin story for the weaponization of social media and a peek at its dystopian future. It’s a society where, increasingly, the truth no longer matters, propaganda is ubiquitous, and lives are wrecked and people die as a result — half a world away from the Silicon Valley engineers who’d promised to connect their world.”

  • The president of Facebookistan, Mark Zuckerberg, writes in what he says is just the first of a series of notes that he is focused (FOCUSED!) on defending against election interference, and tallies up the ways that Facebook is taking action removing fake accounts (more than one billion between October and March), rooting out suspicious activity using legitimate accounts, reducing the incentives to spread misinformation, and making political ads more transparent.

  • Related: Breitbart reporter Allum Bokhari got a leaked video of the first “all-hands” meeting at Google following the 2016 election, and some of the comments in it—like Google co-founder Sergey Brin saying “As an immigrant and refugee, I certainly find this election deeply offensive”—are adding fuel to the complaints of conservatives that big tech is biased against them.

  • Google responded to the leaked video with a statement that read, in part, “Nothing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products. To the contrary, our products are built for everyone, and we design them with an extraordinary care to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without regard to political viewpoint.”

  • In Congress, the political right and left appear to be finding common ground on the need for greater algorithmic transparency from the big tech platforms, Brendan Bordelon writes for National Journal.

  • Information disorder: Every day it seems we hear of another example of Russian-linked social media accounts attempting to interfere in American politics. The latest example comes from Stephanie Armour and Paul Overberg of the Wall Street Journal, who report on a newly identified group of nearly 10,000 tweets tied to the Internet Research Agency that got engaged in the debate over the Affordable Care Act.

  • As feared, the European Parliament voted to adopt a new Copyright Directive that could lead to a new wave of mass surveillance of content, censorship and charges for linking to news content, as Cory Doctorow breaks down the bad news in a blog post for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

  • Deep thoughts: Tamsin Shaw has a long essay in the New York Review of Books arguing that it’s time to rethink Edward Snowden‘s role as a white knight blowing the whistle against overreaching US surveillance and perhaps see him as a bit too close to the “paranoid libertarianism” of supporters of WikiLeaks and people who think there’s a “deep state” secretly running the country.

  • In the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal asks whether the celebrated Apple product launch event has become anachronistic in an age of rising authoritarianism. He’s got half a point—one could also argue that Apple was just early in responding to the hunger for a brilliant man on the stage offering magical solutions to life’s problems.