Reality Bites

Shallow vs deep fakes; how to start a Code for All org; and more.


  • This is civic tech: New on Civicist from Matt Stempeck, Aliya Bhatia, Sruti Modekurty and me, our analysis of how the field of civic tech has evolved form 1994-2018, complete with lots of charts and graphs.

  • If you are thinking of starting a “Code For _______” in your country, Grace O’Hara has pulled together a great primer answering lots of the questions you should ponder.

  • Here’s the 2019 list of finalists for New Media Ventures’ latest investment round.

  • Here’s an interesting tool that you can use to estimate the number of people in a crowd built on top of Google Maps.

  • Tech regulation? Digital analyst Shelly Palmer says it’s basically silly for lawmakers to express doubts about the spread of facial recognition technology, arguing that it just automates a process already in use with missing person’s pictures and wanted posters. Also, he argues, “If you have your browser history on, or your location services on, or if you allow cookies to be dropped, or allow caller ID to be on, if you use credit cards or debit cards for purchases, if you post your vacation pictures on social media … facial recognition is just icing on the cake.” Instead, what keeps him up at night is “deep fakes” (which you might say are the opposite of facial recognition), which he thinks will hasten in a “post-truth, post-trust era.”

  • The end of reality is also the theme of this post from Sara Fischer and Mike Allen of Axios, who pull together a lot of disturbing data about the prevalence of artificially-created content (including links, shares and likes) online.

  • All of this feels a bit more timely now that the “shallow fake” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking in a way that made her look drunk has taken off online, as Drew Harwell reports for The Washington Post.

  • International: One, two, many Internets? David Sanger of the New York Times explains how the conflict between the US and China over Huawei isn’t really about walling the Chinese nationalist company out of using American technologies, but more about how everyone in the world, including the US, will soon be operating over networks that are as much controlled by China as the US.

  • Related: Tech workers in China are starting to organize themselves in opposition to 12-hour work days, Jason Li reports for Global Voices.

  • Life in Facebookistan: The Junk News Aggregator is a new tool from the Computational Propaganda project at the Oxford Internet Institute that tracks the distribution of misleading, deceptive or incorrect information on Facebook. It has an European Union view and a US view.

  • If you’ve been thinking about switching from Facebook to MeWe, an upstart competitor that does a much better job of respecting its users’ privacy, think again: As E.J. Dickson reports for Rolling Stone, the platform is becoming a haven for many of the types of conspiracy theorists increasingly being banned from Facebook. While MeWe bans unlawful and hateful content, it has no rules against the posting of fake news, something its founder, Mark Weinstein, argues would amount to censorship.

  • Food for thought: Data scientist Tom MacWright asks why the mapping world isn’t doing a better job supporting bicycle and multimodal routing instead of just trying to serve car drivers, since “Routing is the most powerful tool we have to reduce the environmental impact of driving, make cities quieter, safer, and more livable, and fight congestion.”

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