Under Pressure

Civic tech as a process; open data vs birds; white nationalism platform hearings; and more


  • This is civic tech: Grace O’Hara of Code for Australia offers a fresh approach to understanding civic tech as a process, rather than an outcome like an app or website. Here’s the full working document.

  • Here’s a nice explainer from CitizenLab’s Wietse Van Ransbeeck on the differences between civic tech and govtech.

  • The limits of open data: Maps create empires, observed the cartographer John B. Harley. Because of maps’ power to open territories to exploitation, the maps that Digital Democracy has helped indigenous communities in the Amazon build to understand their own resources are not available online. And here with a similar story is April Glaser of Slate, explaining why the birdwatching site eBird has started hiding birds entered into its database if they are endangered or threatened. “Basically, the whole database had been built to share bird data and show it publicly on maps,” Marshall Iliff, a project leader at eBird, told her. “We put basically 10 years of development and PR behind asking users to show us exactly where they found the birds, so it’d be most useful for science. And suddenly we were in this situation where we realized we have to hide certain birds.” Other wildlife mapping projects, Glaser reports, are making similar moves as they discover how much their open data platforms were being abused by poachers.

  • Charts are us! New York City councilman Ben Kallos, one of the few computer programmers in elected office, has introduced a bill that would require pie charts explaining where council candidates get their contributions from. “What if politicians wore NASCAR logos?” Kallos asked the New York Post’s Rich Calder. “In NASCAR, you get to see who is paying right on the hood of the car. A pie chart showing where politicians are getting their money from is the next best thing.” On a more serious note, Kallos also wants more transparency for donations coming from homemaking spouses and college kids whose giving is often a way for well-heeled donors to skirt the campaign contribution limits.

  • Jill Bjers and Dawn McDougall of Code for America’s Brigade Network offer their takeaways from last month’s TICTeC conference in Paris.

  • Say hello to Google’s new NYC Learning Center, a 11,000 square-foot ground-floor space at its Chelsea headquarters that is offering free digital skills training to all New Yorkers. (Civic Hall is a partner organization, along with a host of other nonprofits and educational organizations.)

  • Apply: Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute is looking to hire a staff technologies.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Congress is holding hearings this today on how Facebook, Google and other tech giants have become incubators for white nationalism, Tony Romm reports for The Washington post. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, says he is unsure about changing Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act, which keeps the platforms from being held liable for the content they host. “[Let’s] see what happens by just pressuring them first,” he commented. 

  • Ajit Mohan, managing director and VP for Facebook India, explains how the company and its family of apps will be hard at work during the upcoming elections there, promising more transparency for political ads, blocking coordinated inauthentic behavior and fighting misinformation.

  • To cut back on spammers, Twitter is now limiting users to being able to follow no more than 400 new accounts per day, AJ Dellinger reports for Engadget.

  • Privacy, shmivacy: Juvenile offenders awaiting trial in Chicago are being given ankle monitors that not only track their movements, they surveil the child’s conversations, Kira Lerner reports for The Appeal. Court officers can also use the device to speak to individuals wearing it. Cook County officials said they starting using these monitors because some children on probation are difficult to reach by phone, but they now will review concerns about privacy.

  • End times: Tomorrow at 9am, big news. Like, really big news.

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 consider joining Civic Hall as a network member and supporting our work or sign up to our newsletter to stay connected with the #CivicTech community.