There Goes Gravity

Amazon's injury factories; What China censors; Tech for Pete; and much more


This is civic tech: Bernice Chan of Inkstone News profiles Fu King-wa, a media scholar at the University of Hong Kong and the maker of Weiboscope and WeChatscope. Both are ingenious tools for tracking the patterns of government censorship in China. Every day, they make copies of hundreds of thousands of posts on Weibo and WeChat; later, by revisiting them, the tools discover which topics have been censored.
 
Most 2020 political campaigns have no staff dedicated to dealing pro-actively with online disinformation campaigns, Davey Alba reports for The New York Times.
 
Here’s a useful guide called Defusing Disinfo they could consult. And here’s a new and fairly comprehensive resource guide from the Oxford Internet Institute aimed more at helping civil society organizations work through how they want to handle online disinformation.
 
Here’s a set of interesting recommendations for ways makers of synthetic media tools (aka “deepfake technology”) could insure that their products aren’t used unethically, from Aviv Ovadya writing for MIT Technology Review.
 
Tech and politics: With Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) out of the Democratic presidential primary, it appears that a lot of tech moguls are now lining up behind South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who, like Harris, has avoided the tough line other top Democratic contenders have taken regarding the power of Big Tech. As Theodore Schleifer reports for ReCode, the hosts for a fundraiser for him in Palo Alto yesterday included Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings; Nicole Shanahan, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin; Wendy Schmidt, the wife of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt; and Michelle Sandberg, the sister of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Another event for him in Woodside is being co-hosted by Justin Rosenstein, the co-founder of Asana. It has been previously reported that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan had recommended top staffers to Buttigieg.
 
Speaking of Buttigieg, here’s Charles Homans, the politics editor of The New York Times Magazine, with a piece titled, “How the Internet Came to Loathe Pete Buttigieg,” writing sentences like, “The gravitational center of the rage against Buttigieg has been Very Online, as has the maximalism of its tone — its insistence that Buttigieg, by thriving within the American architecture of capitalism and privilege, must personally embody all its worst qualities. On left Twitter, it is axiomatic that Buttigieg is not merely a relentlessly ambitious striver but an actual ‘sociopath.’” In general, whenever you see a politics writer claiming “the Internet” has any coherent belief, you should run in the other direction.
 
According to this report by Vanity Fair’s Chris Smith, the Bloomberg presidential campaign is hiring a huge number of field organizers at $6,000 a month (double the typical campaign salary) and pledging to keep paying them through next November, promising a ground game to whomever is the Democratic nominee.
 
Brave new world: Low-paid immigrants from the Middle East make up a large part of the workforce doing content moderation of “violent extremism” for YouTube at a center run by Accenture in Austin. As Casey Newton of the Verge reports in another in a disturbing series of exposes by him on the work of these digital janitors, the moderators there are required to watch five hours of gruesome videos a day (despite a promise by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki to reduce that to four hours). Newton also found that these workers “are often not informed about the potential mental health consequences of content moderation when they apply for jobs. Listings and interviews tend to downplay the amount of disturbing content that moderators will actually have to view.”
 
In 2018, the workplace injury rate inside Amazon’s warehouses was three times as high the rate for all private industries in America, according to OSHA data analyzed in a new report, Packaging Pain, produced by several leading members of the Athena Coalition. According to the report, “Based on Amazon’s own internal numbers, workers at Amazon are more likely to be injured at work than police officers, solid waste collectors, lumberjacks or coal miners.” 911 calls from Amazon facilities also spike during the holiday rush period from Black Friday to Christmas.
 
Here’s a very disturbing report by Sloane Ryan, who runs the special projects team for Bark, an online child safety startup, showing how often adult male sex predators contacted her after she posted a photo of an 11-year-old version of herself on Instagram.

You are reading First Post, a twice-a-week digest of news and analysis of the world of civic tech, brought to you by Civic Hall, NYC’s community center for civic tech. If you are reading this because someone forwarded it to you, please become a subscriber ($10/m) and support our work.