Civicist

CIVIC TECH NEWS & ANALYSIS
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PROJECTIONS

PROJECTIONS

Interpreting “schlonged”; calls for Clinton to stop “Hispandering”; and more.

  • I don’t think I’ve read a more cogent analysis of just what irks Donald Trump than this witty essay from Megan Carpentier in The Guardian, commenting on his recent declaration that Hillary Clinton had been “schlonged” in 2008 by Barack Obama: “…in 2015, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination has admitted that he’s grossed out by the thought of women urinating, he’s disgusted by breast-feeding, he thinks menstruation is a mind-altering phenomenon, and he thinks that the best rhetorical method for referring to a woman’s campaign loss is to evoke mental images of her getting bested by a penis. One would think that a man who likes to build skyline-altering, metal-and-glass phalluses and slap his name on them couldn’t pantomime his sexual insecurities any louder.”
  • Tech and the presidentials: Believe it or not, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both agree about the role of technology in fighting terrorism—and they’re equally wrong about it. That’s Brian Fung’s point in this smart piece for the Washington Post, where he argues that they each are advocating policies that display a common ignorance about how the Internet and online communications actually work and a naive faith in cyber geniuses. “I have a lot of confidence in our tech experts,” Clinton said at Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate, regarding their ability to solve the encryption dilemma. “We should be using our brilliant people, our most brilliant minds, to figure out a way that ISIS cannot use the Internet,” Trump declared at this month’s GOP debate.
  • David Dayen argues for Salon that the real scandal in the Sanders-NGP-VAN-DNC data war is the party’s de facto creation of a monopoly on voter data services, a single-point of failure full of risk for its candidates.
  • And NationBuilder’s Will Conway piles on in Medium with a very similar argument.
  • Hillary Clinton’s latest online push for support from Hispanic voters, a social media campaign centered on “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela,” has generated an online backlash from voters who say that don’t want to be “Hispandered” to, Juana Summers reports for Mashable.
  • Using behavioral science, the Organizing Center’s Michael Moschella’s dissects the Clinton campaign’s latest fundraising email, which makes much of the likelihood that they may be outraged by Sanders this quarter.
  • Organizing news: Our Jessica McKenzie reports on two new online platforms that are helping American Muslims organize and crowdfund for good causes, MPower Change and LaunchGood.
  • Jodi Jacobson, the editor in chief of RH Reality Check, exposes more of the realities of workplace sexual harassment in progressive organizations, an issue that got blown open by last week’s abrupt closing of FitzGibbon Media, and reports that many of the employees of the now-defunct company are in dire straits. An Indiegogo page has been set up to help them out.
  • Money watch: David Callahan’s always essential Inside Philanthropy has just rolled out its annual list of Philanthropy Awards (or IPPYs), and there are some tough and astute picks in the list. This recent piece on the general lack of transparency in much philanthropic giving is pretty mind-boggling.
  • Whither the internet: Scott Malcomson, author of the new book Splinternet, explains how rising and divergent forces in the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union are all reaching “the same conclusion—that the map of the political world should become the map of cyberspace.”
  • Your moment of zen: The Star Wars Holiday Special. A 90-minute made for TV movie featuring baby Wookies. (h/t Cathy O’Neil)
  • And with that, it’s time for some hibernation for yours truly. See you in the New Year and may it be a happy, healthy, and peaceful one for all!
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COOLING OFF

COOLING OFF

Sanders and Clinton campaigns still squabbling over data; Podemos rises higher in Spain; and more.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Hillary Clinton’s campaign is still angry about how Bernie Sanders’ campaign is talking about the NGP-VAN data breach, especially at insinuations suggesting that they too may have accessed data inappropriately, Jennifer Epstein reports for Bloomberg Politics.
  • NGP-VAN’s chief competitors, John Phillips of Aristotle and Jim Gilliam of NationBuilder, both sound off in this New York Times story by Emma Roller on the controversy. They argue that individual campaigns should control their own data, not parties. (Note to NYTimes editors—when quoting competitors of a company, shouldn’t they be described as such?)
  • Slate’s Amanda Hess takes a deep dive into the Clinton campaign’s use of social media, asking the critical question, “Is there anything less cool than someone trying to look cool?”
  • Crypto wars: “The best minds in the world cannot rewrite the laws of mathematics,” Apple says in formal comments submitted to the British Parliament, which is considering legislation that would force the company and others to deliberately make their consumer products open to snooping. As David Sanger reports for the New York Times, the company is pushing back hard on arguments like that of FBI director James Comey: ““Some would portray this as an all-or-nothing proposition for law enforcement,” it told the Parliament. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Law enforcement today has access to more data—data which they can use to prevent terrorist attacks, solve crimes and help bring perpetrators to justice—than ever before in the history of our world.”
  • Internet publics: Spain’s Podemos party, which was founded less than two years and which has relied heavily on social networking tools like Reddit and Loomio to organize its base, is entering the country’s parliament as its third-largest party with 69 seats (20 percent of the vote), as Raphael Minder reports for the New York Times.
  • Your moment of zen: Congrats to SpaceX and its Falcon 9 Rocket, which just successfully completed the first return landing of a booster rocket. Let’s hear it for science.
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First Post

DRIVING THE VAN

DRIVING THE VAN

More on the Sanders-Clinton data kerfuffle; questioning big data in politics; and more.

  • System reboot: The first Democratic presidential primary data war ended quickly, with the Democratic National Party officials restoring access to the national voter file to the Bernie Sanders campaign Saturday morning, and Sanders apologizing personally to Hillary Clinton at the start of Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate. But as Bloomberg Politics’ Michael Bender, Jennifer Epstein and Andrew Harris report, “the grudging settlement of the dispute came after a day of recriminations.” That included the Sanders campaign suing the DNC in federal court, and the Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook charging that their “data was stolen.”
  • Indeed, it remains unclear whether the Sanders team actually took advantage of the temporary failure of NGP-VAN’s firewall to access actual lists of voters that the Clinton campaign had identified, or just summaries of those lists. As Pat Reynard writes for the Iowa Starting Line blog, the search logs made available by NGP-VAN show that Josh Uretsky, the fired Sanders data director, ran “multiple searches for 40 minutes of Clinton turnout and persuasion scores in key early states” which he calls “an obvious attempt to glean valuable data from your rival.” He adds, “Running lists of turnout scores can tell you how many people the Clinton campaign believes will turn out to caucus. Querying their persuasion scores can get you a rough estimate of how many supporters they think they have in a state.”
  • Here’s DNC CEO Amy Dacey’s careful recounting of the steps the committee took as the news of the data breach spread.
  • Politico’s Nancy Scola explains the history of NGP-VAN and why nearly every Democratic campaign uses it.
  • The Sanders campaign has suspended two additional staffers involved in accessing the Clinton campaign’s data, Fredrik Schouten reports for USA Today.
  • The Clinton campaign is still highly vexed over the possibility that Sanders’ team got an unfair advantage from the data breach, as Clinton pollster Joel Benenson told Glenn Thrush and Annie Karnie of Politico. “I don’t think any of us will know until this audit is completed how serious this all is,” Benenson said. “All of [the data] is extremely valuable, it is work produced by tens of thousands of volunteers. … it is part of a roadmap to how we are running and strategizing in our campaign and how we get to the totals we need to win in Iowa and New Hampshire, especially,”
  • Top Democratic campaign veterans had lots to say about the controversy, though some of them were hardly objective observers. For example, former Obama 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird of 270 Strategies tweeted “They stole millions of dollars of research. This isn’t a small thing.”
  • Jim Messina, who ran Obama’s 2012 campaign, tweeted, “Sanders camp reaction is silly. Fess up, apologize, and move on. Rule breakers aren’t victims. (Bird and Messina both worked for the Ready for Hillary Super PAC.)
  • Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, now advising Uber, tweeted, “Think if one company accessed and stole another’s customer data. This is no small thing. Sanders camp should be careful playing the victim.” (Plouffe endorsed Clinton in October.)
  • Taking everything down a notch, Brigade VP Adam Conner (and a longtime Personal Democracy Media friend) writes a tongue-in-cheek version of “All the President’s Data.” Best line comes from Carl Bernstein: “So what exactly got stolen again? Some kind of files? How much paper are we talking here? Boxes? Enough to fill the van?”
  • While the data war dies down, journalists and editorial writers looking for a larger lesson in what seems to be the ultimate inside baseball story might ponder this question: How do national voter files filled with fine-grained data points on the political preferences of hundreds of millions of voters, combined with sophisticated data analytics, change politics? Add in the psychographic modeling and behavioral targeting reportedly being perfected by Ted Cruz’s campaign, and what role is left for ordinary citizens?
  • Political technologist Michael Marinaccio raises a bunch of related questions about whether big data in politics is going to far, giving this as one example of what’s now possible: “I sat in a recent meeting where we were discussing potential messages to use and were planning to segment two different audiences and send them similar, but opposing messages. (Newsflash: it is insanely normal these days to send your pro-life segment a “Yes, Pro-life!” message while sending your pro-choice crowd a “Yes, Women’s health!” one.)”
  • Why you have to read the small print: If you ever bought anything from the Delaware Crossing online Americana store, you may not realize it but you were shopping from the National Republican Campaign Committee, which now has your data, as Theodoric Meyer reports for Politico.
  • This is civic tech: Data scientist Dave Goldsmith shows how to use open data to reduce cycling deaths in Los Angeles.
  • Trump watch: If the short-fingered vulgarian wins the Republican presidential nomination, GOP stalwarts would likely rally behind a more establishment candidate running as an independent, longtime political observer Jeff Greenfield writes for Politico.
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DATA WARS

DATA WARS

HRC campaign data briefly compromised; progressive’s PR co shuts down amid allegations of sexual harassment; and more.

  • Welcome to the data-driven campaign: Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has lost its access to the Democratic party’s 50-state voter file after its staff allegedly accessed internal voter data from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that became available while NGP-VAN, the company that manages the file on behalf of the party, was applying a software patch Wednesday, Rosalind Helderman, Anne Gearan, and John Wagnerr report for the Washington Post. The DNC has blocked Sanders’ use of the voter file until it “provides an explanation as well as assurances that all Clinton data has been destroyed,” they report. Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver says the campaign didn’t download or print any data and is blaming NGP-VAN for the breach.
  • The Sanders campaign has fired one staffer involved in the incident, who “accessed some modeling data from another campaign,” its spokesman Michael Briggs said in a statement. But, as Maggie Habermas and Nick Corasaniti report for the New York Times, “…according to three people with direct knowledge of the breach, there were four user accounts associated with the Sanders campaign that ran searches while the security of Mrs. Clinton’s data was compromised.”
  • Covering the same news for BuzzFeed, Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ruby Cramer report that it was the Sanders staff that alerted NGP-VAN of the breakdown of its firewall between the campaigns. As they note, “The incident could pose a devastating setback for Sanders so close to the start of the Democratic primary: Until access is restored to the NGP-VAN, the candidate’s organizers will have to perform the basic functions of the field program—phone banks, voter contact, visibility—without an electronic system centralizing their efforts.”
  • The staffer who was fired, Josh Uretsky, told CNN’s Dan Merica that he wasn’t trying to access any proprietary Clinton data, but just trying to “understand how badly the Sanders campaign’s data was exposed.” He added, “We knew there was a security breach in the data, and we were just trying to understand it and what was happening. To the best of my knowledge, nobody took anything that would have given the (Sanders) campaign any benefit….This wasn’t the first time we identified a bad breach in the NGP-VAN system. In retrospect, I got a little panicky because our data was totally exposed, too. We had to have an assessment, and understand of how broad the exposure was and I had to document it so that I could try to calm down and think about what actually happened so that I could figure out how to protect our stuff.”
  • NGP-VAN’s president Stu Trevelyan posts a statement this morning explaining that the data breach was quite limited. “For a brief window, the voter data that is always searchable across campaigns in VoteBuilder included client scores it should not have, on a specific part of the VAN system. So for voters that a user already had access to, that user was able to search by and view (but not export or save or act on) some attributes that came from another campaign.”
  • Former Obama campaign data director Ethan Roeder tells Civicist that “It’s becoming increasingly apparent to me, the more I learn about this story, that there’s no there there,” explaining that there’s little information the Sanders campaign could have usefully gleaned from seeing some Clinton voter scores.
  • The DNC’s decision to cut off the Sanders campaign access to the national voter file is highly unlikely to last long, in my humble opinion. If it does, it will undermine the confidence of many other lower level Democratic candidates in using NGP-VAN’s vaunted system. As Ben Jacobs writes for the Guardian, “The move by the DNC raises eyebrows as many Democrats, including Sanders and fellow presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, have long accused the DNC’s chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, of attempting to rig the presidential process to benefit Clinton. In particular, they have raised questions about the relative paucity of debates, which have been scheduled for weekend evenings and to coincide with other events such as a major University of Iowa football game.”
  • As Simon Rosenberg of the New Democratic Network tweeted this morning, “[I] am not a Sanders supporter, but cutting off his campaign from data access after their own software errors an extreme act by DNC.”
  • Not related: Let’s stipulate that Gawker’s J.K. Trotter has an obsession with Hillary Clinton, FOIAing her government records like no other reporter. Still, this headline is quite something: “Clinton aide who avoided FOIA insists he didn’t want to avoid FOIA when he wrote ‘I want to avoid FOIA.’” At issue: longtime Clinton aide Philip Reines use of a private email account to avoid FOIA.
  • How long has this been going on?: FitzGibbon Media, a progressive public relations firm that handled PR for NARAL, MoveOn, the Center for American Progress, AFL-CIO, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, and The Intercept, has shut down “amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault” by the company’s president Trevor FitzGibbon, Amanda Terkel, Ryan Grim, and Sam Stein report for the Huffington Post. Multiple female employees have come forward with accusations. Perhaps most disturbing, they report that FitzGibbon was previously disciplined, but not fired, when accused of harassment while he was working at Fenton Communications. “After the accusation and the firm’s investigation, other female employees came forward with similar harassment complaints,” they report.
  • Brave new world: The Intercept’s Jeremy Swahili and Margot Williams report on “a secret, internal U.S. government catalogue of dozens of cellphone surveillance devices used by the military and by intelligence agencies,” many of them never before described in public.
  • Turkey’s internet service is being disrupted by a huge DDOS attack that is suspected to be coming from Russia, Sheera Frenkel reports for BuzzFeed.
  • With WhatsApp service restored in Brazil, Global Voices’s Taisa Sganzeria offers more background on how the country’s Marco Civil open internet law factored into the episode.
  • Opening the way: Writing for Civicist, Accela’s Mark Headd discusses why open data is so important for understanding and regulating the behavior of “sharing economy” companies like Airbnb.
  • Your moment of zen: Until recently, it was a dry, dry season for political mashups, but suddenly they’re coming like mushrooms after a spring rain. Last week it was Darth Trump and Hello From the Dark Side; now check out this Donald Trump (“Alexander Hamilton” Parody) on YouTube, written by Tyler Davis.
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SUBJECTS OF INTEREST

SUBJECTS OF INTEREST

WhatsApp suspended in Brazil; Facewatch, a crowdsourced watchlist in the U.K.; and more.

  • The world is on fire: Five years ago today, a Tunisian vegetable seller named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire after a policewoman confiscated his cart and insulted him, an event that set off the Arab Spring. That woman, Faida Hamdy, tells the Telegraph’s Radhouane Addala and Richard Spencer, “Sometimes I wish I’d never done it.” Bouazizi’s sister Samia tells them that “My brother is a lover of life and he would have rejected both the stupid politicians and death-loving extremists. My brother died for dignity, not for wealth or an ideology.”
  • The balkanization of the internet: A Brazilian court has temporarily suspended usage of the WhatsApp app across the country because of its refusal to cooperate in a criminal investigation, the BBC reports. The app has more than 100 million users in Brazil, making it the most popular app in the country.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was “stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.
  • Related: In Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman explain how the European Court of Justice’s ending of the Safe Harbor agreement allowing American firms to circumvent tough European data privacy rules is rooted in Continental unhappiness with the NSA’s surveillance overreach. They write:

    “By transforming U.S. technology companies into tools of national intelligence, Washington has badly damaged their corporate reputations and exposed them to foreign sanctions. Their international profits—not to mention a substantial chunk of the U.S. economy—depend on the free flow of information across borders. Foreign officials, political activists, and judges who limit these flows to protect their citizens from U.S. surveillance strike at the heart of these companies’ business models. The ECJ’s Safe Harbor ruling has now forced Washington to decide whether it values its unrestricted ability to spy on Europeans more than an open Internet and the economic well-being of powerful U.S. businesses.”

  • This is civic tech: In Punjab, India, health officials started asking local workers fighting the annual dengue fever outbreak to put timestamps on their reports, and soon added geotagging of mosquito sightings and patient reports. The results have been dramatic, as Apolitical reports. (Apolitical is a new global NGO focused on how public servants worldwide are addressing the world’s greatest challenges, started by longtime Personal Democracy Media friend Lisa Witter among others.)
  • In Ghana, local elected officials are engaging with citizens taking questions by phone and the WhatsApp platform, as part of a government accountability project supported by the Media Foundation for West Africa, GhanaWeb reports. (h/t Apolitical)
  • Campaign watch: The top searched political figures of 2015, according to Google, were Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Deez Nuts, John Boehner, Marco Rubio, Jimmy Carter and Justin Trudeau. In that order.
  • Trump could easily mount an independent run for the presidency, should he be denied the GOP nomination, Ben Schreckinger reports for Politico.
  • Brave new world: In the U.K., the crowdsourced watchlist Facewatch, which is used by around 10,000 retail businesses to spot potentially troublesome customers, has been updated so it can interface with real-time facial recognition systems, reports Sebastian Anthony for ArsTechnica. This means the system will be able to tell a store-owner if someone on the watchlist has just entered their premises. This is a recipe for trouble. As he notes, “Facewatch lets you share ‘subjects of interest’ with other Facewatch users even if they haven’t been convicted. If you look at the shop owner in a funny way, or ask for the service charge to be removed from your bill, you might find yourself added to the ‘subject of interest’ list.
  • Opening government: City Limits’ Adam Wisneiski takes a close look at how New York City is implementing its landmark open data law, passed in 2012, and finds “little progress beyond what was built under [Mayor] Bloomberg.”
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A FORCE AWAKENS

A FORCE AWAKENS

The U.S. Rebel Alliance is here; RepubliCATS; Sanders gained more Twitter followers than most Republican candidates last night; and more.

  • Hacking Star Wars: We’re interrupting this morning’s programming for an urgent message: The U.S. Rebel Alliance is real. And as Civic Hall’s civic imagination fellow Andrew Slack explains in this new post for Civicist, “as we speak, the dream life of Star Wars and the waking life of politics is merging.” And here’s a new video starring Mark Ruffalo, Darren Criss, Heather McGhee (of Demos), Baratunde Thurston (of the Daily Show), and a host of YouTube stars, explaining more.
  • While we’re on the topic of culture hacking, here’s Cats’ creator Andrew Lloyd Webber with his version of “RepubliCATS.”
  • And here’s actor Mandy Patinkin, taking issue with how GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz is embracing his role in “The Princess Bride.”
  • Tech and the presidentials: The internet was mentioned a whopping 18 times during last night’s GOP presidential debate, but if you were paying attention and know anything about tech, you were probably cringing most of the time.
  • With millions of people watching last night’s GOP presidential debate, Twitter reports that the candidates who gained the most followers during the debate’s first hour were, in order: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. You read that right: Bernie Sanders, a Democrat who wasn’t in the debate, gained more followers than every other Republican candidate save Trump. (If you watched the debate live online at CBS News’ site, you saw these insights in real-time, by the way.)
  • Since you won’t find out most of these things from watching debates, the New York Times Interactive department has built a nifty tool for finding out where the presidential candidates stand on a host of top national issues.
  • Net neutrality opponent Marco Rubio has now added his name to a letter attacking the FCC for trying to help municipalities set up their own publicly-run internet services, Brian Fung of the Washington Post reports.
  • If you doubt the impact of Citizens United on this presidential election cycle, check out this one stat: Super PACs and other independent groups have run 35,743 TV ads on broadcast and cable TV, compared to just 291 by traditional advocacy groups, Matea Gold reports for the Washington Post.
  • Brave new world: Google and Facebook could face huge fines amounting to billions of dollars if they fail to comply with tough new European Union privacy rules, Elizabeth Weise reports for USA Today.
  • Security researchers found a huge hole in Target’s gift-registry app, one that allowed anyone to access reams of personal information, Dan Goodin reports for ArsTechnica.
  • FBI Director James Comey testified yesterday on Capitol Hall, calling on tech companies to change their “business models” and stop providing their customers with encryption by default, Dan Froomkin and Jenna McLaughlin report for The Intercept. Told by Senator Mike Lee that encrypted apps would still exist, Comey acknowledged that “the sophisticated user could still find a way.”
  • Related: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is calling for Silicon Valley to do more to counter ISIS’ influence online, David Sanger and Amy Chock report for the New York Times.
  • Trump watch: Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen hears cries of “Sieg Heil” directed at Black Lives Matter protesters at Donald Trump’s Monday rally in Las Vegas. Literally.
  • Kamua Bell explains the #WhitesAgainstTrump movement, which has started trending on Twitter.
  • What sharing economy? Quartz’s Alison Griswold reports on the continuing controversy over Airbnb’s business practices, centering her account on the company’s hyper-controlled approach to data transparency in New York City (they are offering limited viewing hours to internal spreadsheets at a “data room” they occasionally set up here at Civic Hall). The best line in the piece goes to NYC council member Helen Rosenthal, an Airbnb critic. She tells Griswold, “When I met with Chris Lehane (Airbnb’s recently appointed head of policy and a former Bill Clinton aide), he said flat out that he did not agree with our laws. I did not realize that a $25 billion company can just decide which laws they do and do not agree with.”
  • Richie Ross, a veteran labor organizer who worked under Cesar Chavez, is championing legislation in California that would enable gig workers to self-organize and negotiate with the companies whose apps they are working through, George Skelton reports for the Los Angeles Times. He notes, astutely, that Ross’ legislation is unlikely to pass, since business wants to keep these workers exploitable as independent contractors and labor unions want them redefined as traditional employees subject to current labor laws.
  • Related: Seattle’s city council has voted to let Uber and Lyft drivers unionize, Marielle Mondon reports for Next City.
  • Open society: Sam Borden and James Montague report for the New York Times on the rising impact of Football Leaks, a whistleblowing website modeled on WikiLeaks that is driving attention to soccer scandals worldwide.
  • new report from Philamplify, an initiative of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, calls on the Knight Foundation to “Look Beyond #ShinyBrightObjects” and “Do More to Promote Equity.”
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CLAPPING DOWN

CLAPPING DOWN

Government, accountability, and “covert propaganda,” sort of; Star Wars & the candidates; and more.

  • Government as its own worst enemy: The Government Accountability Office has found that the EPA engaged in “covert propaganda” when it rolled out a social media campaign on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Thunderclap to battle public opposition to its clean water rule, Eric Lipton and Michael Shear report for the New York Times front page. While government agencies are allowed to promote their policies as long as their role in doing so is disclosed, the GAO found that using Thunderclap violated the law because as the promoted Thunderclap message spread online across Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, people receiving wouldn’t have known it came from the EPA. “I can guarantee you that general counsels across the federal government are reading this report,” Michael Eric Hertz, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, commented. And that’s not a good thing for everyone who wants government to open up more by using social media.
  • The GAO says (on page 13 of its letter to Senator Jim Inhofe, who requested its investigation into the EPA) the problem with how the agency used Thunderclap is that “While EPA’s role was transparent to supporters who joined the campaign [by signing up for the Thunderclap], this does not constitute disclosure to the 1.8 million people potentially reached by the Thunderclap. To those people, it appeared that their friend independently shared a message of his or her support for EPA and clean water.” This is a truly odd way to think about how information spreads today thanks to the online public sphere: back in pre-internet days, if the Surgeon General said smoking was dangerous to your health, and then some random person used that same phrase in a newspaper story or a conversation over the office water cooler, no one thought that was “covert propaganda.” It was just the effect of an idea spreading, one that happened to come from an authoritative government source.
  • The GAO also slammed the EPA for a blog post about the impact of clean water on surfers and brewers by a communications staffer that including links to two advocacy organizations (the NRDC and the Surfrider Foundation) who were themselves supportive of the clean water rule. Both of those third-party sites included calls to “take action,” including buttons that would take a user through the process of contacting Congress, leading the GAO to conclude that the EPA had violated anti-lobbying provisions of relevant legislation.
  • Both of these rulings by the GAO are likely to chill government communications offices and cause them to pull back from engaging in the online public sphere. Let’s hear it for nitpicky government lawyers. It’s worth remembering that back in 2008, when questions arose about the Department of Defense’s years-long plying of retired military officers with special conference calls, meetings, paid travel and privileged access to senior Pentagon officials, all in service of helping to generate favorable news coverage of the Bush administration’s war efforts, the GAO found that there was no evidence of any “covert” propaganda effort, since the Pentagon didn’t specifically contract with or pay those retired officers for positive commentary. (The fact that many of these same ex-officers were simultaneously employed by major defense contractors as lobbyists was deemed beyond the scope of the GAO’s investigation, as was the fact that the Pentagon spent millions to carefully track what they said to media outlets.)
  • So, just to be clear: if a government agency gets Americans to voluntarily share its message on social media and doesn’t disclose in every instance of that message’s appearance that it came from the agency, that’s “covert propaganda” according to the Government Accounting Office. But if a government agency gets Americans to voluntarily share its message in news media and doesn’t disclose in every instance that they wined and dined these Americans, who they handpicked because they knew they already shared the agency’s point of view, that’s…just fine.
  • While we’re pissed off at government, department of: The Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle has posted an angry open letter to the National Credit Union Administration, announcing the voluntary liquidation of his Internet Credit Union project, and it’s quite a doozy.
  • Tech and the presidential: It will be interesting to see how the presidential candidates try to insinuate themselves into this week’s big cultural event, the release of the new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens.” Already, Ted Cruz is calling on users of his mobile engagement app to step up their volunteering in the hopes of winning tickets to see the film opening weekend. Cruz tells ABC News, “I grew up on Star Wars. I collected all the Star Wars action figures, I had them all in a Darth Vader carrying case and with my friends we would play and fight them back and forth. I had a giant millennium falcon.”
  • By the way, now that we know that everything the Cruz campaign does is shaped by behavioral scientists testing the effects of different messages on targeted audiences, it becomes possible to read his campaign moves in a whole new way. Call it reverse engineering of data targeting. Thus, last week’s New York Times story by Matt Flegenheimer about Cruz’s efforts in Iowa to Make Friends with Ordinary People becomes more understandable. As Flegenheimer reported, “While many candidates stick to their stump speech script, a Cruz performance can appear obsessively calibrated, down to the dramatic pauses deployed identically from event to event. He is folksy by memorization, ticking off tales of college football woe or a drawling West Texas farmer with the precision of mass repetition.”
  • This Des Moines Register story by Jennifer Jacobs suggests that Donald Trump’s ground game in the state may be faltering, though it is using the Ground Game 2 mobile canvassing app.
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PIG LIPSTICK

PIG LIPSTICK

The rise of homelessness in Silicon Valley; the failings of the Open Government Partnership; and more.

  • Tech and the presidential: Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is now openly bragging about its use of psychographic data for voter micro targeting, as Tom Hamburger reports for the Washington Post. Using data from people’s Facebook profiles along with consumer data, the campaign tailors its outreach to individuals with care. Hamburger writes, “For example, personalities that have received high scores for ‘neuroticism’ are believed to be generally fearful, so a pro-gun pitch to them would emphasize the use of firearms for personal safety and might include a picture of a burglar breaking in to a home.” He also nicely notes this: “Cruz, a critic of excessive government data collection, has been notably aggressive about gathering personal information for his campaign.”
  • Hate search: Using weekly Google search data from 2004 to 2013, Evan Soltas and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz write that they “found a direct correlation between anti-Muslim searches and anti-Muslim hate crimes.” They also estimate that “negative attitudes against Muslims today are higher than prejudice against any group in any month since 2004, when Google began preserving detailed data on search volumes.” The only silver lining in all their findings: after President Obama mentioned that Muslims in America include many top athletes and soldiers, searches on those word combinations also spiked.
  • Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, posts on Medium that “Let’s not let fear defeat our values. We must support Muslim and other minority communities in the US and around the world.”
  • Monica Potts’ story for The New Republic on homelessness in Palo Alto is powerful and heartbreaking.
  • What open government? Steve Adler, chief information strategist of IBM, writes that, despite being a “big fan” of the Open Government Partnership (OGP)—a signature international transparency initiative galvanized by the Obama Administraton—the entire project “needs a reboot.” He adds, “We are increasing membership but not increasing open government, and civil society is increasingly cynical about OGP. Many are saying it is a whitewash, lipstick on a pig, giving national governments a nice pretty facade of openness behind which they write laws restricting access to executive emails, forbidding foreign funding of journalism, empowering universal surveillance, and even worse.” And he asks some really good questions, like “Why is an organization dedicated to transparency having secret leadership meetings?”
  • Watching their words: Angie Drobnic Holan, a fact-checker with Politifact, offers some tantalizing evidence that the online fact-checking movement is having an impact on politicians, with some “vetting their prepared statements more carefully and giving their campaign ads extra scrutiny,” and media organizations highlighting fact-checking in their coverage “because so many people click on fact-checking stories after a debate or high-profile news event.”
  • This is civic tech: A boycott app named Bingdela has taken Taiwan by storm, giving Taiwanese a way to vent their anger at a court ruling clearing a major manufacturer of a food scandal, Paul Mazur reports for the New York Times.
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First Post

THE WILD WEST

THE WILD WEST

Using Facebook profiles to target voters, without permission; screens talking back; and more.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, now surging, is using a data analytics firm whose prime product is a database of millions of Facebook users whose profile information was “harvested largely without their permission,” Harry Davies reports for The Guardian. The firm, Cambridge Analytica, which specializes in “behavioral microtargeting,” claims to be able to match Facebook data to existing voter data. Its Facebook database was reportedly obtained by an academic who paid Mechanical Turk users to let him access their Facebook profiles, which allowed him not only to harvest their personal data and likes, but also those of their friends.
  • The ACLU’s chief technologist, Christopher Soghoian, said the Guardian’s findings were “troubling,” adding, ““What it essentially means is there is no one regulating campaigns’ privacy data and security practices. So it means you have a wild west, where the campaigns can do whatever they want and get away with it.” It’s worth noting that in 2012, the Obama campaign built a similar (but much larger) dataset of Facebook users through its “I’m in” app and Targeted Sharing project.
  • A coalition of liberal and Muslim advocacy groups organized by online advocacy group CREDO Action are calling on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to back away from retired General Wesley Clark, a campaign surrogate who recently called for the internment of some American Muslims, Alex Seitz-Wald reports for MSNBC.com.
  • Don’t miss our Christine Capaiuolo’s report for our new “Rethinking Debates” series on how Twitter finally managed to get a real-time comment from someone watching a presidential debate into the actual debate. As Twitter’s director of news Adam Sharp told her, ““For 55 years, we’ve all been yelling at the screens in presidential debates…This is really the first time the screen talked back.”
  • Media and democracy: If, as Craig Newmark of Craigslist likes to say, “the media are the immune system of democracy,” then this article by Marc Levy in the Cambridge Day, decisively debunking an attack on a local Muslim city councillor by Breitbart.com, is a great example. We’re going to need a lot of this kind of journalism, because anti-Muslim hysteria in America has never been greater. Notably, the Breitbart story appeared in the sponsored news feeds of many Cambridge residents, suggesting that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to defend Muslims may need a little work.
  • Related: If you’ve ever doubted the value of a seemingly obscure report by a gadfly good-government group on the political process, read David Howard King’s story in the Gotham Gazette on how the New York Metropolitan Council on Housing’s 2013 report on how real-estate moguls were abusing a giant loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws set off the corruption inquiry that took down Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The reform battle isn’t won yet, to be sure.
  • This is civic tech: Marcus Westbury and his Renew Newcastle nonprofit, which is credited with catalyzing the turnaround of that once-depressed Australian city, gets a lavish and well-deserved write-up in The New Republic by Greg Lindsay. “What we’ve done is change the software of the city,” Westbury says. “We’ve changed how it behaves. We’ve changed how it responds to people who want to try things, do things, and run their own experiments.”
  • Here’s our Nick Judd, writing the same story on Newcastle and Westbury for techPresident, nearly five years ago.
  • Very belated but still worth noting: this analysis by Alex Hill of Detroitography shows not just the harsh effects of Detroit’s digital divide, but the “promising” value of the Improve Detroit (aka SeeClickFix) smartphone app, which is drawing user submissions from across the city. (h/t Ben Berkowitz)
  • The Knight Foundation announced $1.2 million in funding for CODE2040, which works to close the diversity gap in tech, building on an earlier grant of $400,000 in 2014 as part of its News Challenge cycle on strengthening the Internet. The money will help expand CODE2040’s Fellows Program, which places black and Hispanic software engineering students into internships with top tech companies, and its Technical Application Prep program which prepares students for tech careers through coaching, mentoring, retreats, and workshops.
  • What sharing economy? Uber is lobbying hard to get Ohio and Florida to join Arkansas, North Carolina, and Indiana in classifying its drivers as independent contractors, not employees, as Andrew Hawkins reports for The Verge.
  • Former White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, last seen predicting that 2016 would be “the (jeez, I can’t even remember the name of the app) election,” is joining crowdfunding platform GoFundMe as its VP of Communications and Policy. Comparing his experience on the first Obama campaign to the site’s users, he writes, “Ultimately, GoFundMe is all about using technology and social connections to empower people to help people.”
  • Well, not all people. I wonder if Pfeiffer knows about GoFundMe’s refusal to let women use the site to fund abortions, while permitting “pro-life” campaigners to use it to raise money for their causes.
  • Oh, yeah. Remember Meerkat?
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First Post

TAKING A STAND

TAKING A STAND

White supremacists see website traffic increase; air pollution v. big data; and more.

  • Trump watch: A very big swath of civil society in America is signing onto the We Are Better Than This statement, which decries the “rising tide of hatred, violence and suspicion in America” and “pledges to stand with any community that is targeted by hateful rhetoric and violence.” The statement was initiated by MoveOn.org, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, United We Dream, the Center for Community Change, Demos, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Arab-American Association of New York SEIU and Color of Change. Andrew Rasiej and I are signers on behalf of Civic Hall. Please add your name.
  • White supremacists like David Duke and Stormfront founder Don Black say Donald Trump’s campaign has revitalized their movement, Politico’s Ben Schreckinger reports. Black says he is upgrading Stormfront’s servers to deal with the steady increase in traffic he has seen since Trump began campaigning. “He’s made it ok to talk about these incredible concerns of European Americans today, because I think European Americans know they are the only group that can’t defend their own essential interests and their point of view,” Duke says.
  • An online petition aimed at the British Parliament calling for Trump to be refused entry based on laws against hate speech has received more than 400,000 signatures, well beyond the 100,000 needed for it to prompt a parliamentary debate, Dan Bilefsky reports for the New York Times.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posts that “I want to add my voice in support of Muslims in our community and around the world,” adding that “As a Jew, my parents taught me that we must stand up against attacks on all communities….If you’re a Muslim in this community, as the leader of Facebook I want you to know that you are always welcome here and that we will fight to protect your rights and create a peaceful and safe environment for you.”
  • Facebook’s head of global product policy Monika Bickert has responded to a Change.org petition calling on its to do more to delete accounts supporting ISIS or praising terrorism, saying “there is no place on Facebook for terrorists, terrorist propaganda, or the praising of terror.” The petition had collected more than 135,000 signatures, as Karissa Bell reports for Mashable.
  • Darth Trump” is the first political mashup of the presidential season that really hits the mark, in my humble opinion.
  • Samir Chopra points out that part of what is driving the Donald Trump moment is “a media corps that prefers sensation to substance.” As he notes, the Republican primary race has gotten twice as much coverage on TV as the Democratic race, with Trump alone getting more airtime than the entire Democratic field.
  • Nate Silver tweets that Bernie Sanders has slightly more supporters than Trump, but Trump as gotten 23 times as much coverage on the nightly network news.
  • What sharing economy?: Remember that Freelancers Union study claiming that 54 million Americans are freelancers? Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, points out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a much lower estimate of 14.8 million self-employed workers. How to explain the difference? Mishel writes, the Freelancers Union estimate “is of anyone ‘engaged in supplemental, temporary, project- or contract-based work, within the past 12 months’ and even includes people who ‘freelance’ but do not have any 1099 income—stretching this group beyond recognition. In contrast, the BLS estimate reflects those whose primary job is or primary income comes from self-employment.” Why does this matter? Because, as Mishel carefully lays out, the Freelancers study has been used to claim that the gig economy is exploding, with tens of millions supposedly supporting themselves that way. And that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Likewise, a new study from Intuit and Emergent Research finds something similar: “the typical on-demand worker is a part-timer, working 12 hours a week via his or her primary platform and collecting 22 percent of their household income from work obtained through online marketplaces or applications that connect providers to customers.”
  • Tooling up: Accela is partnering with APPCityLife, which the companies predict will make it a lot easier for government agencies to create and manage their own mobile apps. Big congrats to both, and we can’t help but notice that it was at Civic Hall that members Lisa Abeyta (for APPCityLife) and Mark Headd (for Accela, along with his colleague Seth Axthelm) met to set the partnership in motion.
  • Paul Taylor, editor-at-large of Governing magazine, predicts that 2016 will be the year of the government API.
  • IBM is using big data to help cities like Beijing fight air pollution, Alex Howard reports for the Huffington Post.
  • Open Knowledge has released the third annual Global Open Data Index, ranking 122 countries by the availability and accessibility of data including government spending, election results, procurement, and environmental data.
  • YouTube is adding a new “Trending” tab to its web and mobile apps that will show popular videos as they start taking off, Harrison Weber reports for VentureBeat.
  • Really brave new world: Don’t miss sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson’s new short story, which takes us into a future without hunger and a very angry Supreme Court. (h/t Gideon Lichfield and This.cm)