Watered Down

The diversity of 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men; White House ducks questions on private email use; and more.


  • Over the next few months, Merced County, California, will become the first county to hold a participatory budgeting process for allotting local government funds, but the course of civic engagement never did run smooth. I report for Civicist on the snag that threatened but could not extinguish the flame of PB.

  • Trump watch: White House official Marc Short declined a request by the House oversight committee to explain the use of private email and encrypted messaging apps by administration officials for government work, Kyle Cheney reports for Politico. Short also declined to provide records on the use of private air travel by administration officials.

  • Li Zhou and her Politico colleagues report that Facebook is steering the conversation about Russian interference in the election towards paid advertising, and away from the more challenging issue of fake news and disinformation.

  • Sam Woolley and Marina Gorbis write in The Guardian that it is possible to monitor social media for the influence of bots. “Today, we find portions of an ocean floor instrumented with wireless interactive sensors and cameras that enable scientists (and laypeople) to see what is happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Woolley and Gorbis write. “This allows scientists to “take the pulse” of the ocean, forecast a range of possible threats and suggest powerful interventions when needed. If we can do this for monitoring our oceans, we can do it for our social media platforms. The principles are the same – aggregating multiple streams of data, making such data transparent, applying the best analytical and computational tools to uncover patterns and detect signals of change.”

  • Journalist Casey Michel takes Facebook to task for enabling the divisive tactics used by Russians in the run-up to the 2016 election, and for obscuring their role afterwards so that journalists and researchers are unable to probe the extent of Russia’s influence. “The creators of Heart of Texas not only targeted the sociopolitical tensions within the United States,” Michel writes. “They also exploited our gullibility, which turned out to be far greater than I could have ever imagined. And by assisting them in this massive lie, Facebook has enabled one of the greatest frauds in recent American history.”

  • The hashtag #MeToo has been used more than 500,000 times on Twitter to share stories of harassment and abuse, but many have pointed out that we’ve seen this kind of outpouring before. In 2014, Slate’s Eleanor Cummins reminds us, #YesAllWomen was used to the same purpose, and tweeted 1.2 million times in less than a week. “Do we really need to bleed ourselves dry once again?” asks Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti. “How many times will we need to lay our traumas bare in the hope that this will finally be the time people care enough to do something about it?”

  • However, reporting by The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg, Rachel Abrams, and Melena Ryzik indicates that, in Hollywood at least, something about this time is different than in the past, perhaps because such big names are stepping forward with stories from the industry. And Fatima Goss Graves, the president and chief executive of the National Women’s Law Center, said that the volume of calls from people who have experienced harassment have doubled since the Weinstein story broke.

  • Australia has launched the first nation-wide reporting system for nonconsensual image sharing, or “revenge porn,” Melanie Ehrenkranz reports for Gizmodo.

  • “There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse, too, because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” said Apple’s ~*vice president of diversity and inclusion*~ Denise Young Smith at an event last week, yet another voice speaking out for “cognitive diversity” in the tech industry. “In too many cases, this means that, in the minds of those with influence ver hiring, the concept of diversity is watered down and reinterpreted to encompass what Silicon Valley has never had a shortage of — individual white men, each with their unique thoughts and ideas,” writes Bari Williams in The New York Times. “This shift creates a distraction from efforts to increase the race and gender diversity the tech industry is sorely lacking.”

  • The dog-walking and pet-sitting on-demand company Wag has stumbled in its response to pets that go missing or are harmed while under the care of Wag contractors, Olivia Zaleski reports for Bloomberg. The company has gone so far as to issue one customer, who claimed on social media that the company tried to buy her off when her dog went missing, a cease and desist letter.

  • Openly pro-union workers were among hundreds fired at Tesla this week, Louis Hansen reports for The Mercury News. Although the company declined to say how many workers they dismissed, workers estimate between 400 and 700 were let go, and think that the pro-union workers were targeted in the layoffs.

  • Two-thirds of the adult population worldwide will own a smartphone next year, Rani Molla reports for Recode.