Shining Lights

False equivalencies run amok; the Open Government Partnership in a time of division; and more.


  • A study by Thomas Patterson on the media coverage of the presidential campaign concluded that media portrayals of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as equally unfit for office were the result of false equivalencies run amok, Erik Wemple reports for the Washington Post, with each receiving 87 percent negative coverage of their “fitness” for office and 13 percent positive coverage.

  • “Civil society being strategic and persistent is helpful in good times, essential in challenging times. Dialogue to build trust is helpful in good times, essential in polarized times. This is not the moment to sit down and sulk, but the moment to step up and be brighter, bolder, braver than ever before,” said Paul Maassen as part of his welcome remarks at the Open Government Partnership Civil Society Morning, in which he addressed the need to move “from participating elites to participating masses.”

    He elaborated: “To be honest, many of the commitments delivered so far probably won’t make the heart rates of ordinary citizens go up.  And inviting them to the table as a mere gesture is also not good enough….Participation and dialogue in government should be about citizens talking to citizens, together finding solutions to problems, especially in times like these when perspectives on what the right solution is are often far apart. The conversation might be uncomfortable at first, but it’s the only way to build mutual trust and counter polarization. We have to get out of our bubble and engage.”

  • The Sunlight Foundation’s Alex Howard ponders the uncertain future of the Open Government Partnership—and of open government in general:

    “Consider climate data,” Howard writes. “During President George W. Bush’s tenure, data from the Environmental Protection Agency was taken offline. Today, we see the emergence of networked climate denialism that dismisses a global scientific consensus and finds favorable treatment in the U.S. House of Representatives. There is no reason to expect that other agencies and institutions that produce data will also be questioned and undermined. This poses a direct risk to open government data initiatives that publish evidence that contradicts in the narratives advanced by populist leaders. Fact-checks by media institutions will be insufficient to shift public opinion or knowledge when those same institutions have been undermined and delegitimized. The effect of “fake news” upon millions of people has been to call into question all news, which in turn further weakens the capacity of media outlets to hold power to account.”

  • Don’t fly and surf at the same time, unless you don’t mind American and British intelligence agencies peering into your internet browsing activity, writes Quartz’s Joon Ian Wong, sharing the results of a Le Monde investigation based on documents provided by Edward Snowden.

  • An Xiao Mina explains how Check, a platform for the collaborative verification of digital reports, was used during and after the U.S. election as part of the joint First Draft News and ProPublica project, Electionland.

  • Rick Gladstone, Megan Specia, and Sydney Ember report for the New York Times on the challenge of verifying the Twitter account of a young girl posting about her life under siege in Aleppo.

  • NewCo’s John Battelle interviews Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which has a budget even larger than the Department of Defense, about his job, about the open data project he has spearheaded, and about the uncertain future of health insurance.

  • The Engine Room has published a detailed report on how human rights organizations are using technology in their work.

  • Jonathan Fox argues in a working paper that the field of transparency, participation, and accountability needs “a conceptual reboot, to address the limited traction gained so far on the path to accountability.”

  • Life in Facebookistan: Cathy O’Neil explains for PBS how Facebook has been unintentionally eroding our democracy for several years, and, more importantly, why the half-promises Mark Zuckerberg aren’t very promising.

  • “We consider ourselves a league of extraordinary, courageous, brilliant individuals who should be a shining light for the rest of society,” Jack Abraham, the executive director of Peter Thiel’s fellowship for smart college drop-outs, sincerely tells Backchannel’s Jessi Hempel. Hempel examines how the idea for a fellowship that allowed smart entrepreneurs to skip the bullshit (college) and go straight to working on big ideas has become a place for young but already-proven entrepreneurs to work on projects that often already have some funding and and generally an end-goal for making money.