Tipping the Scales

Civic tech worldwide; greenlighting election lies on Facebook; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Our Civic Tech Field Guide, curated by Matt Stempeck, has been working with local civic tech leaders from around the world, and we’re pleased to announce our first collection of country and city pages:
    France, curated by Clémence Pène
    Colombia, curated by Juliana Uribe Villegas and Movilizatorio
    Australia, curated by Grace O’Hara and Code for Australia
    Iran, curated by ASL19
    Chile, curated by Auska Ovando and Ciudadanía Inteligente
    New York City, curated by Civic Hall

  • Here’s a nice reminder from journalist Dan Sinker, founder of the spanking new Impeachment.fyi newsletter, that sometimes a crazy idea is worth doing if all it takes is a weekend to put it out there!

  • Here’s Apolitical’s list of the 100 most influential people in digital government, worldwide.

  • A new survey of tech workers in the Seattle area finds that they are more civically engaged than one might suspect, GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg reports. 82% said they were registered to vote, and 62% said that combatting homelessness is their top concern, while battling climate change came second.

  • Here’s a nice profile in Esquire magazine by Aaron Ross Coleman of organizer and author Astra Taylor, centered on her appearance at Civic Hall last month to talk about narrative change in the digital age.

  • Life in Facebookistan: In a truly disastrous decision for the integrity of the 2020 elections, Facebook has decided to allow politicians and their campaigns the freedom to advertise misleading content, Cecilia Kang reports for The New York Times. Responding to a request from the Biden campaign that it take down a Trump campaign video ad that falsely claims the vice president offered Ukraine $1 billion in aid if it protecting his son from investigation, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s head global elections policy, wrote, “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.” (CNN had earlier rejected the same ad.)

  • Unfortunately, Harbath is conflating tolerance for basic political speech with the paid amplification of speech, which Facebook profits from. The Trump campaign is currently spending more than $1.2 million a week running ads on the platform. Chris Hughes, one of the company’s co-founders and now one of its biggest critics, tweetedMark [Zuckerberg], by deciding to allow outright lies in political ads to travel on Facebook, is embracing the philosophy behind Trumpism and thereby tipping the scales….There is a higher calling – to be a platform that won’t allow political lies to spread. Employees should demand that kind of policy. It isn’t partisan – it’s the right thing to do.”

  • It’s not like Facebook lacks the will or ability to monitor and respond to troublesome speech involving forms of lying. The company has made it clear that it will police “coordinated inauthentic behavior” as well as sources that often “post clickbait headlines that withhold and exaggerate information.”

  • Judd Legum, who first uncovered the shift in Facebook’s policy toward political ads, reports here on a recent example where the company downgraded the distribution of posts made by an Alaska public radio station, claiming that a post titled “Confused about Juneau’s municipal ballot measures? You’re not alone,” was clickbait. Because of Facebook’s cockamamie processes, Legum writes, “Alaskans will see less content from their local public radio station as a way for Facebook to teach KTOO a lesson about responsible journalism.” He adds, “[Facebook] has decided that Trump’s false political ads should be privileged, while KTOO’s accurate explanations of local ballot initiatives should be punished.”

  • On Twitter, Yael Eisenstat, who briefly ran Facebook’s elections integrity operations before quitting in despair, notes that while she was there she “asked if we could scan ads for misinfo. Engineers had great ideas. Higher-ups were silent.”

  • This issue isn’t going away. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is demanding that Facebook disclose how it intends to use its influence on the 2020 election.

  • Related: The state of Washington says that Facebook has “repeated violated” a state campaign finance law requiring transparency on the financing and reach of local election ads, Eli Sanders reports for The Stranger.

  • Organizing for democracy: Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times on how tech workers who are organizing in their workplaces without unionizing are using an old handbook written by longtime labor radical Staughton Lynd and a younger associate Daniel Gross called “Labor Law for the Rank and Filer” as their inspiration.

  • On Tuesday, Chinese state media accused Apple of enabling illegal behavior and protecting rioters after it allowed an app called HKMap.live onto the App Store. As Owen Churchill reports for the South China Morning Post, “The app relies on crowdsourced information to track the location of police presence in the city, alerting users to police vehicles, armed officers and incidents in which people have been injured. The app — a website version is also active — displays hotspots on a map of the city that is continuously updated as users report incidents.” A day later, Apple bent the knee to China and removed the app, as Jack Nicas reports for The New York Times. Steve Jobs is turning over in his grave.

  • End times: Here’s what happens when your video conferencing software wants you to attend its conference (h/t Dan Sinker).

  • 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 and support our work or sign up for our newsletter and stay connected with the #CivicTech community.