Precedents, Good and Bad

Mapping the protests' scale; Radical AI; Facebook's civil rights audit; and much more.


New, from Civic Hall’s Activate monthly newsletter, written by Tenzin Kyisarh, Curtis Davis and Fiona Teng 鄧穎恆, an up-to-date guide to many of the ways people are using their economic leverage to support the fight for Black lives, including #StopHateForProfit and #BlackoutDay2020.
 
The Movement for Black Lives is the “largest sustained mobilization in the United States in our lifetimes,” social scientists Lara Putnam, Jeremy Pressman and Erica Chenoweth write in The Washington Post. They have counted at least 5,000 individual anti-racism/anti-police brutality protests since the end of May, and say the real total may be closer to 8,000. In just one state, Pennsylvania, there have been more than 400 protests, compared to just 29 on Tax Day 2009, the spawning ground of the Tea Party movement.
 
Only the National Walkout Day protests of 2018, when the youth-led MarchForOurLives movement struck a nerve with young people across America, have been anywhere as close as big, with 1,313 individual protests documented then by the CountLove team of Nathan Perkins and Tommy Leung. I asked them if the geography of these two youth-led movements overlapped, and Perkins replied, “we definitely see the racial justice protests reaching new cities. Specifically: 976 of the racial justice protests (in 365 distinct towns/cities) took place in locations that are not near any of the walkouts; and 41 of the National Walkout Day protests (in 29 distinct towns/cities) took place in locations that are not near any of the racial justice protests. You can explore CountLove’s National Walkout Day and racial justice datasets here and here.
 
Must-read: Prayyusha Kalluri, one of the founders of the Radical AI Network, in Nature, arguing that artificial intelligence should be judged by “how it is shifting power.” She adds, with the International Conference on Machine Learning on the horizon next week, “those who work in AI need to elevate those who have been excluded from shaping it, and doing so will require them to restrict relationships with powerful institutions that benefit from monitoring people.”
 
Related: Here’s a new case study by Milena Marin, Freddie Kalaitzis and Buffy Price on how Amnesty International used AI to scale up human rights research, focusing on how they enlisted digital volunteers and micro-tasking technology tools to improve the scanning of thousands of satellite photos of Darfur in order to identify destroyed villages.
 
Congrats to Dan Newman, the longtime director of Maplight, the campaign finance reform organization. His new graphic novel, Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy, with art by George O’Connor, has just been published.
 
The Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) network has built an interactive map of 5.500 union contracts around the US that offer leverage for intersectoral and common good campaigns that local organizers can plug into. With many localities talking about imposing austerity on workers in the midst of the pandemic, and many contracts expiring and in need of renegotiation in the next few years, BCG sees this map as tool for building more collective campaigns and power.
 
Apply: The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation is looking to hire a public interest technology workforce fellow.
 
Life in Facebookia: Here’s a great piece in Politico from our old friend and former techPresident editor Nancy Scola reconstructing how the #StopHateForProfit campaign came together.
 
A long-awaited civil rights audit of Facebook, two years in the making, is out, and as Mike Isaac reports for The New York Times, its authors, lawyers Laura Murphy and Megan Cacace, zero in on the contradiction between its stated devotion to free speech and its failure to adequately address the harms it keeps amplifying. Isaac writes, “In the audit, Facebook was repeatedly faulted for prioritizing free expression on its platform over nondiscrimination, and for not having a robust infrastructure to handle civil rights. The report homed in on three posts by Mr. Trump in May, which the audit said contained hateful and violent speech or which harmed voters. Facebook left those posts untouched, over objections by the auditors, the report said. In doing so, the social network set a ‘terrible precedent’ that others could copy and that could affect the November election, the report said.”
 
Again and again, the auditors zeroed in a series of decisions the company made starting last year to exempt speech by political figures from its rules about misinformation and hate—but also found weak spots even there, noting, “Ironically, Facebook has no qualms about reining in speech by the proponents of the anti-vaccination movement, or limiting misinformation about COVID -19, but when it comes to voting, Facebook has been far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression.”
 
Here’s a red-flashing light from the audit: “If politicians are free to mislead people about official voting methods (by labeling ballots illegal or making other misleading statements that go unchecked, for example) and are allowed to use not-so-subtle dog whistles with impunity to incite violence against groups advocating for racial justice, this does not bode well for the hostile voting environment that can be facilitated by Facebook in the United States.”
 
Overall, the report does give Facebook credit for making progress on a number of fronts, but still says that its approach to civil rights “remains too reactive and piecemeal.”
 
Color of Change president Rashad Robinson, who led the group of civil rights leaders who met with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg Tuesday to discuss the #StopHateForProfit campaign’s demands on Facebook, tells Charlie Warzel of The New York Times that he is tired of being gaslit, of the company letting its representative in Washington, DC, Joel Kaplan, oversee how it responds to voter suppression content when Kaplan “has political leanings that would make it harder for my grandfather to vote,” and when Zuckerberg consistently fails to understand that President Trump’s statement about “looting and shooting” is racially coded.
 
Facebook says it “stands firmly against hate,” but as Ryan Mac reports for BuzzFeed, it’s still accepting and running ads from white nationalist groups.
 
Heads up: I’m off on vacation for the next few weeks. Stay safe. And in the meantime, here’s one way to keep things in perspective.

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