Meaningful Groupings

NY Times covers civic tech - using government data to challenge bad NYC landlords; Francebookistan erupts; and more


  • This is civic tech: Luis Ferre-Sadurni reports for the New York Times on the efforts of the Housing Data Coalition to use open government data to help NYC tenants take on notoriously bad landlords. Among the groups mentioned: Civic Hall members Heat Seek and JustFixNYC, which just launched a tool called “Who Owns What” for tracking landlords. (It’s worth noting that this may be the first news story we’ve seen in the Times mentioning the term “civic technology” as it’s currently used, but the first mention of the phrase dates back to 1914!.)

  • Applications for the 2019 Civic Digital Fellowship, which places college students focused on tech, data science and design in internships with US federal agencies for next summer, are now open.

  • Luminate, the Omidyar Network spinoff (that has long been a supporter of Civic Hall, among many civic tech projects) is planning to spend about $60 million in grants and investments in 2019, according to this profile of managing director Stacy Donohue by Tudor Mihailescu in Forbes.

  • Tech and politics: Thenmozhi Soundararajan, founder of Equality Labs, writes a New York Times oped explaining the serious problems with caste-based harassment of Dalit activists on Twitter, illuminating what happened to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey during a recent trip to India where he appeared to express support for their rights.

  • Two media people who hated each other on Twitter now like each other after actually meeting in person at a conference, going swimming at a hotel pool and discovering, well, they have a lot in common. Whodathunkit?

  • NowThis covers the efforts of Civic Hall organizer-in-residence Adam Barbanel-Fried to field test the concept of deep canvassing in the fall congressional election on Staten Island.

  • Life in Francebookistan: First, wipe out most of the establishment parties’ political representatives with a wave election of a promising young leader who turns out to be an elitist technocrat. Then undermine trust in mainstream media while getting everyone hooked on Facebook. Then, add a highly unpopular tax on the lives of ordinary people, say, a gas tax, while loosening taxes on the wealthy. This is France today, where the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement is rocking the Macron government and, as Federic Filloux, editor of the Monday Note, writes, “the perfect, grass-rooted, unstructured movement that demonstrates the efficiency of Facebook and the damages it can indirectly cause to Western democracies.” Read the whole thing.

  • In Liberation, columnist Vincent Glad argues that recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm that enhanced the role of Facebook groups (as opposed to pages) and the powers of group administrators have helped create the conditions now on view in France, where almost random people who happened to start popular groups protesting the gas tax and other measures of the Macron government are now the hubs for attention as the protests continue to grow.

  • Of course, the president of Facebookistan thought, in 2017, when he first unveiled his new goal of “bringing the world closer together” that helping Facebook users create, find and join more “meaningful communities” would be a good thing. Back then, he said:

    These are groups that upon joining, quickly become the most important part of your social network experience and an important part of your real world support structure. If you’re diagnosed with a rare disease, you can join a group and connect with people with that condition all around the world so you’re not alone. If you’re a new parent, you can join a group and get support from other new mothers and fathers. These communities don’t just interact online. They hold get-togethers, organize dinners, and support each other in their daily lives.

    So, Zuck had his engineers build artificial intelligence “to see if we could get better at suggesting groups that will be meaningful to you.” And it worked! “In the first 6 months, we helped 50% more people join meaningful communities. And there’s a lot more to do here,” he added. Indeed.

  • Company COO Sheryl Sandberg herself directed Facebook’s communications team to dig into George Soros after he criticized the company in a speech at Davos, setting off the latest PR disaster for the company, Taylor Hatmaker reports for TechCrunch. After publishing that story, Hatmaker tweeted, “I’ve had more contact from Facebook in the last few hours trying to get me to change [its] headline about Sheryl Sandberg than I’ve had in the last 2 weeks of me contacting them over + over again for comment on the story itself. kind of speaks for itself.”

  • Instagram geotaggers are ruining pristine landscapes, Laura Holson reports for The New York Times. “Last week, the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board asked visitors to stop geotagging photographs on social media in an effort to protect the state’s pristine forests and remote lakes.”