Non-Tech Needs

Media companies fight to keep police body cam footage accessible to the public; Jack Dorsey's mea culpa; and more.


  • Washington State just passed the country’s toughest net neutrality laws, banning blocking or throttling of legal content and fast lanes for content providers, Sean Captain reports for Fast Company. The State is also preparing to fight the FCC’s claim that their policy trumps the authority of state government regulations.

  • From Russia With Love: Leaked documents from the Internet Research Agency, the group responsible for Russia’s social media interference in the U.S., identify some of their individual targets in the U.S. and other previously unknown details about their propaganda campaign, Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, and Spencer Ackerman report for The Daily Beast.

  • This is civic tech: A Detroit-based journalist is using texting to connect her audience with vetted, public information about their homes—like whether the taxes are up-to-date or if their landlord has fallen behind—and to find sources and leads for investigative stories, Christine Schmidt reports for Nieman Lab. “Even though the journalism was very good, I was not satisfied with covering low-income communities for a higher-income audience. I wanted to cover issues for and with low-income news consumers,” Sarah Alvarez told Schmidt.

  • Media matters: A group of media companies, including WNYC, The New York Times, and The Daily News, is fighting to keep police body camera footage accessible to the public, Jim O’Grady reports for WNYC. The main police union has argued that the body camera footage constitutes private personnel records, which is exempt from public disclosure by state law, even if requested under the Freedom of Information Law. “The idea that the citizens of New York, who pay a lot for these cameras and for this program, would never be able to see any of the footage, no matter the circumstances, is really troubling,” said Katie Townsend, a litigation director from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “It’s not acceptable.”

  • Social media matters: Yesterday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey offered a mea culpa in a tweet thread in which he admitted that Twitter is broken and the company hasn’t acted quickly enough to address the problems. A key metric the company will try to use going forward, they say, is “conversational health,” and they’re opening up an RFP process in search of ways to measure that. Slate’s Will Oremus praised Dorsey’s openness and uncertainty, which is in stark contrast to how Mark Zuckerberg has responded to sustained criticism: “I’d be more concerned, however, if Dorsey had confidently claimed that this was the best way to cure what ails his company,” Oremus writes. “Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, for example, has embraced technology critic Tristan Harris’ concept of “time well spent” in ways that appear self-serving—and which Harris himself has called disingenuous. That makes it hard to tell whether Facebook is really listening to criticism or just co-opting it.”

  • Speaking of Facebook, that company is ending its misguided decision to remove news articles from the News Feed in six countries, after those countries reported an uptick in misinformation, Sheera Frankel reports for The New York Times, although the company didn’t admit that the change was to blame for the rise in misinformation. However, they did admit that people just didn’t like it. “In surveys, people told us they were less satisfied with the posts they were seeing, and having two separate feeds didn’t actually help them connect more with friends and family,” Facebook’s Adam Mosseri, explained in a statement posted online. “We also received feedback that we made it harder for people in the test countries to access important information, and that we didn’t communicate the test clearly.”

  • In spite of the recent drain in goodwill for the biggest tech companies, Google’s parent company Alphabet is forging ahead into health tech, specifically a type of health insurance called population health management; Apple continues to push for the Apple Watch-as-medical-monitoring device; and Amazon may start selling generic drugs, Klint Finley reports for Wired.

  • Steve Kelman profiles David Eaves, Harvard Kennedy School’s lead on digital government, for Federal Computer Week. “The tech-leader partnership matters a lot,” Eaves told Kelman. “Both have responsibilities. We need techs who can engage non-techs and explain key tech ideas. Non-techs need to know what questions to ask, so techs don’t lead them down a garden path. My goal is to give the non-techs a basic fluency and get them savvy enough to call BS.”

  • Attend: Next Monday, OpenCorporates will lead a workshop at Civic Hall on how to use their data to better understand the global, interconnected corporate world. Learn more and RSVP here.

  • Later next week, on Friday, March 9, Open Contracting Partnership and Global Integrity will host a treasure hunt using New York’s open data to identify ways in which minority and women-owned businesses can get a bigger share of government spending. Learn more and RSVP here.