Mitigators

How the blockchain threatens the distributed internet; Google hires artists to adorn data centers; and more.


  • There are two camps of tech-and-social-impact groups, Tom Steinberg writes in his latest Civicist piece: those that promote the public good through innovation and digital technologies, or ‘promoters,’ and those that try to reduce the harmful impact of new technologies, or ‘mitigators.’ Although they rose in tandem over the past two decades, Steinberg argues that in our post-Snowden, drone-filled world, the mitigators have all the momentum while the promoters lose steam.

  • “In a world where digital technology reigns supreme, freedom of speech should not depend on the whims of a few powerful corporations and government rules,” Dan Gillmor writes in Civicist. “Increasingly, it does.” With his mitigator cap firmly on, Gillmor argues that the centralization of internet powers is the biggest threat to the internet—to progress even—and calls upon government, foundations, and individuals to fight it: Government, to promote better policies that encourage decentralization; foundations, “to address market failures that threaten the common good”; and individuals, to invest in solutions if they’re wealthy, or to change their habits if they aren’t.

  • Gillmor singles out Facebook as one of the worst of the centralizers, but his disgust for the platform is nothing compared that of internet activist Hossein Derakhshan (who spend six years in an Iranian prison for said activism), who wrote for the International Business Times last week that, contrary to Zuckerberg’s preferred narrative that Facebook connecting us all, it has in reality destroyed the open web. “Not only does Facebook prioritise native content in its newsfeeds, but it is introducing ideas such as Instant Articles or Live to bring all the content scattered around on distant corners of the web onto its own platform. Zuckerberg’s vision is not to connect people in distant islands, but to bring everyone onto a big island so nobody would ever need to use a bridge to go anywhere else,” Derakhshan writes. “For me, as someone who spent six years in prison at a time when being online was a serious and intellectual activity, it is heart-breaking to see how Facebook has changed the internet into little more than a portal for entertainment.”

  • Threats as far as the eye can see: Manuel Ortega argues for El Correo de las Indias that the block that the blockchain threatens the distributed future of the internet.

  • Glenn Greenwald writes that The Intercept is broadening access to the Snowden archive, first by gradually publishing nearly a decade of internal NSA newsletters, starting with those from 2003, and second, by making the full archive of materials available to outside journalists, including foreign journalists.

  • Google has hired four artists as part of the Data Center Mural Project to paint representations of “the heart of the internet” on the walls that encase it, Selena Larson reports for Daily Dot.

  • After finding that the ProPublica “Prescriber Checkup” database was potentially being misused by opioid abusers, ProPublica published an editorial about their suspicious and added warning labels on the pages for narcotic drugs, Erica Berry reports for the Columbia Journalism Review. But they didn’t take the information down, a decision Berry writes has been celebrated by journalists on social media.

  • We’re a bit late to this but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless: The neighborhood-based social media company Nextdoor has responded to critics and instituted changes meant to discourage racial fearmongering, Nanette Asimov reports for the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • As venture capitalists lose interest in mere “growth” and start demanding profit, on-demand companies contort the truth to get there, Ellen Huet reports for Bloomberg.

  • Friendly public service announcement: If you’re running for office, you might consider closing tabs with “sexy amateur and “tight booty” in them, because Ashley Feinberg at Gawker will do a Google search and confirm they’re porn. Click, if only to read the insane comment (the 6:56 update) this particular Congressional hopeful provided.