Moving Forward

Why we can't blame everything on the Russian bots; how organizers can use NameTag; and more.


  • Big news for us at Civic Hall: Community Board 3 has unanimously voted to approve our application to create Civic Hall @ Union Square, as the LowDownNY reports. The project continues to move through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer taking it up next. The full text of the board’s resolution can be found here (on pages 1-3).

  • Must read: Jonathan Albright, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s research director, has been paying close attention to the ways the big platform companies distort the public arena, and in this interview with Laura Hazard Owen of Nieman Lab, he pulls no punches: “Since the 2016 election what I’ve come to the realization — horribly, and it’s very depressing — that nothing has gotten better, despite all the rhetoric, all of the money, all of the PR, all of the research. Nothing has really changed with the platforms,” Albright says. “We’re basically yelling about Russia right now when our technological and communication infrastructure — the ways that we experience reality, the ways we get news — are literally disintegrating around us.”

  • Related: Miriam Elder and Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed explain why “Russian bots” are not the cause of everything bad happening in the media-sphere these days.

  • If Facebook wanted to figure out the impact of those Russian-connected ads on its users in 2016, it could look for the results of the natural experiment that occurred on the site, since it knows who clicked on them, who didn’t (despite having similar traits) and it can look up whether they voted, data scientist Cathy O’Neil writes for Bloomberg.

  • Tech and politics: The ACLU of Southern California is telling Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas that he should stop deleted negative comments on his office’s Facebook and Twitter pages. “Simply put, the government can’t censor a speaker simply because it doesn’t like what the person has to say or because the person criticizes the government,” the group argues. “This rule is as true on the internet as it is in a public park.”

  • Save the Internet: The Washington Post’s Brian Fung reports on the weekly meetings of a loose alliance of tech company lobbyists, legal experts, and activist groups focused on trying to defend net neutrality.

  • This is civic tech: David Jay explains why he built NameTag, which is focused on enabling organizers or campaigns to hold intimate conversations with supporters early on their ladder of engagement. He writes, “New members participate in our conversations at rates over ten times higher than in Facebook Groups or public Slack channels, because talking to ten people who’ve introduced themselves feels radically different than talking to a thousand names and profile pictures.”

  • Attend:Technology and its Discontents: Building Power for a New Paradigm,” the inaugural conference of the New School for Social Research’s new Digital Equity Laboratory, on March 20 here in NYC.

  • Attend: International registration for Personal Democracy Forum Central-Eastern Europe (including travel grants) is now open. The conference is in Gdansk, Poland, April 26-27. Here’s the speaker list.