Unboxing the News

How the greatest troll of them all stole the media spotlight; a defense of voting booth selfies; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Our Jessica McKenzie has a fresh report on the rollout of the New York City Public Library’s hotspot lending program, through which needy New Yorkers are checking out free Sprint Netgear Zinger mobile hotspots. Residents are eagerly signing up for the service, but as she notes, it’s not at all clear how the one-year pilot will be sustained.

  • Pennsylvania becomes the 23rd state to offer online voter registration today, the AP’s Peter Jackson reports.

  • For Slate, Ava Lubell explains why she is in favor of people taking selfies while they vote, which is illegal in many states because it could enable vote-buying.

  • “Let’s get democracy Cinderella to the redesign ball,” writes Dave McKenna on Medium. He’s highlighting the work of the #NotWestminster group, which is tackling the fun challenge of remaining local democracy in the digital age.

  • Trevor Timm reports for the Columbia Journalism Review about the successes digital news organizations are having suing the government under the Freedom of Information Act, and Buzzfeed’s plans to release a “sunshine report” about their FOIA requests.

  • The co-founder of the social impact firm Reboot, Panthea Lee, writes in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that we should rethink user-centered design in development contexts. She notes, “User-centered design was born out of the private sector, and many in my field are starting to wonder if the methodology just isn’t right for the complex global challenges staring us down.”

  • Citizen Lab’s John Scott Tailton and Katie Kleemola expose an “elaborate phishing campaign against targets in Iran’s diaspora” that attempts to get around the safety provided by Gmail’s two-factor authentication. The campaign appears to be linked to previous Iranian government attackers.

  • Tech and the presidentials: FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver reports on how Donald Trump, who he jokingly refers to as “perhaps the world’s greatest troll,” has managed to keep earning the lion’s share of media attention, according to his tracking of Google News and Google Search data.

  • This snippet of handheld video, showing a Trump supporter confronting Univision’s Jorge Ramos after he was thrown out of a Donald Trump press conference, is pretty shocking.

  • The New York Times’ data-politics whiz Nate Cohn performed an analysis of Bernie Sanders’ support base, using data from Sanders’ campaign website about its local volunteers, and found—no surprise—that they are concentrated in liberal areas around the country. So far, so good—we’d love to see more data journalism based on the clues you can glean from careful study of what campaigns make available online through their websites and other tactics. But then Cohn takes a leap from hard data to mushy opinion, writing that the belief among Sanders supporters that they can expand this base is a lot like “trickle-down economics,” and twisting himself in pretzels to make a too-clever-by-half economics joke about Sanders’ current coalition, which he says is “even more unequal than the wealth in the United States.” Given that Sanders’ campaign is arguably the least dependent on wealthy donors of any of the major candidates running, this is a strikingly obnoxious judgment.

  • Future, Imperfect: The horrific shooting of a Virginia TV reporter and cameraman on live TV yesterday reignited the debate about video autopsy and graphic footage on social media, Jason Abbruzzese reports for Mashable.

  • “There’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison,” writes Annalee Newitz for Gizmodo, meaning that the 31 million men who were paying users of the cheating site were mostly communicating with fake accounts or each other. She adds: “It’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.

  • Haven’t heard of the popular phenomenon known as “unboxing videos” where YouTube celebrities open up new toy boxes online and then comment on their contents? (As my kids are now grown, this was news to me.) Well, Disney is all over this YouTube trend and will be using it for a big online push for attention to its upcoming Star Wars movie, Shan Li reports for the Los Angeles Times. Apparently, these are the chachkes you have been looking for!