“They don’t give a damn about governing”; civic tech applications of the blockchain; and more.
Petition 2.0: On first taking his job earlier this year, White House chief digital officer Jason Goldman said he would look into the backlog of unanswered WeThePeople e-petitions, and yesterday he produced results, Alex Howard reports for Huffington Post, announcing that from this point forward qualified petitions would get official answers within 60 days, and sharing responses for 20 long-unanswered petitions, including one from two years ago (!) calling for Edward Snowden’s pardon (which was unsurprisingly rejected).
Here’s Goldman’s post on Medium (his former employer), explaining the updates to WeThePeople.
Writing for Civicist, Dave Karpf argues that the most important news here isn’t the promise of a response within 60 days, it’s Change.org’s decision to partner with WeThePeople on petitions aimed at the administration. As he notes, “most people sign one WeThePeople petition and never come back. Only two or three petitions are started per day on WeThePeople. Change.org receives hundreds per day.” Not only does the partnership mean that Change and WeThePeople are no longer competing for users’ attention, Karpf adds, “The more that WeThePeople integration is baked into the functionality of other large petition sites, the harder it will be for the next President to shutter WeThePeople’s doors.”
Writing for Politico, Sarah Wheaton puts the WeThePeople news in context of the White House’s longer up-and-down history of experimenting with and using digital tools. And she quotes some guy named Sifry who suggests that if Goldman and team really want to score some digital engagement points, they should try some more free-wheeling ideas, “like a Wiki for suggestions about how Obama should spend his post-presidency, or a crowdsourcing site for pointing out government waste.”
Tech and the presidentials: Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign is struggling with “deep fundraising and organizational problems,” Alex Isenstadt reports for Politico. Among Paul’s problems: he hasn’t succeeded at cultivating a “sugar daddy.” Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley VC, helped his father’s 2012 run, but Isenstadt says he is “now unlikely to be a major contributor” to the younger Paul. The senator also canceled a planned appearance at Auren Hoffman’s Dialog Retreat, another opportunity to tap tech libertarian types.
Paul’s digital director, Vincent Harris, went to Google’s VidCon conference last week and came back convinced that his party is doing online video “wrong.” He writes on Medium, “Republican campaigns, institutions, and advocacy groups are doing a great job of ‘tv-ing the internet’, while missing the key differences in the style, substance, and type of content that needs to be created for younger audiences.”
In a new paper, “They Don’t Give a Damn About Governing,” published by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, journalist Jackie Calmes reports on how conservative media exerts enormous influence on the Republican party. For anyone wondering why Donald Trump is doing so well at the moment, Calmes’ paper is must-reading. Here’s a taste of what she found:
“It’s not just talk radio, but the blogosphere, the internet—they’re all intertwined now. You’ve got this constant chorus of skepticism about anything the quote-unquote establishment does,” said a longtime former top aide to House Republican leaders, Dave Schnittger. And, he said, the chorus is loudest in opposition to those actions that are fundamental to governing: meeting basic fiscal deadlines for funding the government and allowing it to borrow. “Those are the things that leaders have to get done as part of governing,” the Republican said, “as much as conservative media may hate it.”
Tom Latham, a longtime House Republican who retired in January, said, “All the social media, Facebook, all this stuff has had a huge impact, in that there’s a group of people out there for whom everything is immediate. It isn’t necessarily verified as being true; there’s a lot of opinion stated as fact. And they [conservative media] can arouse a lot of people just instantaneously.” When Latham came to Congress with the big Republican class elected in 1994, “We didn’t have internet, didn’t have that type of instantaneous communication,” he said. Twenty years later, constituent contacts to his office “went from maybe 7,000 a year up to, when I left, to 35,000 to 40,000 contacts a year, just because of the ease of communication and people popping off the emails every day. A lot of that is generated by the conservative talk show people and media people.”
Calmes also made smart use of Media Cloud’s news search tool, finding a dramatic difference between conservative and liberal media in coverage of the “Common Core” education curriculum.
Annals of open government: Waldo Jaquith of U.S. Open Data explains how they created a simple, free, open source software product that will help states publish verifiable legal data, and thus are heading off a rising tendency to lock it up in the hard-to-access .pdf format in order to comply with the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act.
Future present: Frank Pasquale and Siva Vaidhyanathan, two of academia’s sharpest tech critics, write for The Guardian that when “disruptive” companies like Airbnb and Uber posture as righteous champions of freedom while they flout standing employment and anti-discrimination laws, they are actually invoking a different history: the choice by reactionary Southerners to “nullify” federal laws they didn’t like. In doing so, they argue, these companies “undermine local needs and effective governance.”
Nick Grossman of Union Square Ventures, always a little ahead of the curve, says he sees the emergence of a whole swath of new networked services that “will fill the gaps left by the unbundling of the job” giving independent workers a variety of supports from help with job discovery and equipment to administrative help and insurance benefits.
Blockchain technology could be useful in protecting user-generated video of official misbehavior, distributing welfare payments, and providing people with official IDs, reports Emily Spaven of CoinDesk.
This is civic tech: Eilis O’Neil reports for us on Civicist about the efforts of Black Girls Code, where girls learn not only how to code, but how not to “feel like a weirdo” for wanting to.