Some Political Motivation

Changes at Code for Philly; New Orleans dumps Palantir after outcry; and more.


  • Must read: Marshall Ganz, Tamara Kay, and Jason Spicer write in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that social enterprise and entrepreneurship should not be confused for social change, and that not only does the sector fall short of solving systemic social problems that it claims to address, but also “distracts from and undermines the critical role of an organized citizenry, political action, and democratic government in achieving systemic social change, by offering itself as a private, market-based alternative.” They write that social entrepreneurs misunderstand or mistake systemic problems as knowledge problems, that could be fixed with the right technological intervention, as opposed to power problems that require collective action and structural change.

    The authors don’t pull any punches, and their critique—although not directed at the civic tech sector specifically—cuts to the heart of civic tech’s funding/scaling problem: “Entrepreneurial capitalism relies on market-based competition among firms for customers and can reward innovation with economic success. No comparable consumer-based reward system exists for SEE, meaning that even successful SEE initiatives rarely scale up. In fact, effectively scaling solutions to social problems usually requires the kind of government engagement that SEE eschews. SEE as a field has gotten to scale not from market success but by building a vast network of ideological support and funding for its projects, including attracting talented college students and graduates.”

  • Big changes are coming to Code for Philly as the leadership team steps down for a variety of personal and professional reasons, Roberto Torres reports for Technical.ly Philly, although they will maintain advisory roles.

  • This is civic tech: Because anecdotal evidence is not always as convincing or compelling as Data, Data, Data, New Yorker Alex Bell developed a computer program that analyzes traffic cam footage to quantify the percentage of time that cars and trucks block bike and bus lanes, Sarah Maslin Nir reports for The New York Times. On one city block, Bell found that the bus stop was blocked 57 percent of the time, and bike lanes 40 percent of the time.

  • The Snapchat map of school walkouts this week showed the sheer number of students and schools participating in the protest against gun violence, but it also became the target of jokes and dismissive comments, Samantha Grasso reports for The Daily Dot.

  • Life in Facebookistan: “You go into Facebook and it has this warm, fuzzy feeling of ‘we’re changing the world’ and ‘we care about things’. But you get on their bad side and all of a sudden you are face to face with [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg’s secret police,” a former Facebook manager who got caught leaking info to the press told The Guardian’s Olivia Solon.

    Solon reports: “During one of Zuckerberg’s weekly meetings in 2015, after word of its new messaging assistant spread, the usually affable CEO warned employees: “We’re going to find the leaker, and we’re going to fire them.” A week later came the public shaming: Zuck revealed the culprit had been caught and fired. People at the meeting applauded.” Other Silicon Valley companies run similar regimes that use a combination of carrot (team spirit!) and stick (you’ll lose your job!) to keep workers in line.

  • New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has announced the city will not be renewing a contract with Peter Thiel’s tech company Palantir, after collaborating with them in secret for six years, Jonathan Bullington and Emily Lane report for Nola.com. “This technology is no longer being utilized in day-to-day operations, and therefore, will not be renewed,” Landrieu’s press secretary said in an email, as if the decision had nothing to do with the avalanche of bad press released when The Verge first reported the secret relationship.

  • Strange bedfellows: Koch-brother-linked groups and the Democratic Socialists of America are among the rising tide of opposition to Amazon’s second headquarters, Julia Carrie Wong reports for The Guardian.

  • Cyber-insecurity: Nicole Perlroth and David Sanger report for The New York Times on Russian cyberattacks that have compromised U.S. nuclear power plants, water systems, and electric grids. “From what we can see, they were there. They have the ability to shut the power off. All that’s missing is some political motivation,” Eric Chien, a security technology director at Symantec, told the Times.

  • The first blockchain-based election took place in Sierra Leone earlier this month, John Biggs reports for TechCrunch.

  • Related: What can’t do at this point??

  • Plattsburgh, New York, has passed the first Bitcoin mining ban in the U.S., Daniel Oberhaus reports for Vice Motherboard, although the ban will only affect new commercial operations, not companies that are already operating in the city, so will not impact the company using 10 percent of the city’s power budget each month.

  • Attend: Civic Hall member Jonny Goldstein would like to invite you to the opening tonight of the Subway Series—Sketches of NYC Subway Riders, a show by Jonny and John Kitses about “that most crucial piece of Civic Tech—The Subway.” Learn more and RSVP here.