Popularity Contests

The first 20 Obama Foundation Fellows; what if news orgs optimized for trust; and more.


  • In case you missed it: Lots of privacy experts, including our old friend Doc Searls, are basking in the increased attention the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica mess has sent their way, reports Nellie Bowles for The New York Times.

  • What sharing economy? In the last three years alone, more than 280,000 GoFundMe campaigns in the U.S. have related to homelessness, raising over $69m from more than 1 million donations, according to data the company has given The Guardian’s Erin McCormick. “It’s a shift away from distributing resources to where they will do the most good, to more of a popularity contest,” says Jeremy Snyder, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, who has studied the effects of crowdfunding on medical patients and others in need. “If you have a large social network, media savvy and the ability to use computers, you tend to do well. But that might not match up with those who need the help the most.”

  • After a vocal user backlash, China’s Sina Weibo has reversed its decision to ban content related to homosexuality, Lily Kuo reports for The Guardian.

  • Internet of Shit: Hackers broke into the net-enabled thermostat on the aquarium at a casino in order to plunder its database of high-rollers, Oscar Williams Grut reports for Business Insider.

  • How to avoid “innovation theatre,” by Mark Kuznicki.

  • A leaked memo from inside Apple warns employees to stop leaking internal information and says such people “not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere,” Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports.

  • Media matters: “Mark Zuckerberg could solve the local news problem with the money that’s falling between his couch cushions,” Steven Waldman, the co-founder of Report for America, notes in a New York Times story by Nellie Bowles about his new venture. The nonprofit aims to place 1,000 journalists in understaffed newsrooms by 2022; so far it has funded twelve. Facebook, which recently said it wants to emphasize more local news, is not (yet?) a funder.

  • Related: NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen unpacks what it might mean if a news organization optimized for trust, instead of clicks.

  • Data journalism: The team at Countlove has mapped all the local news coverage it could find related to gun control and gun rights protests since January 20, 2017, and compared them both by volume and intensity. Check out their map: every one of the more than 2,300 dots links back to a news story.

  • Kudos to our friends Erin Barnes of ioby and Tiana Epps-Johnson of the Center for Technology and Civic Life, who are among the twenty inaugural Obama Foundation Fellows just announced.

  • I’m off to the annual TICTeC (The Impact of Civic Tech) conference hosted by mySociety, to give two talks with my colleague Matt Stempeck, one on the challenges measuring impact, and another on learning from failure. Follow #TICTeC to keep tabs.