The definitive history of Facebook’s “Free Basics”; a blockchain skeptic’s rant; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Jen Pahlka, founder of Code for America, writes on the Huffington Post’s Davos blog about “government that moves at the speed of the 21st century,” citing an evocative example of an online application form built by some CFA fellows that makes it incredibly easy (10 minutes) for someone to apply for food stamps in California.

  • Here’s Civic Hall Labs civic imagination fellow Andrew Slack, founder of the US Rebel Alliance, exercising some civic imagination in a face-to-face Q&A with Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz in New Hampshire yesterday, courtesy of ABC News. Happening on the 6th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which Slack said was “a Death Star aimed at American democracy,” he asks Cruz—a self-professed Star Wars fan—if he will take the “Jedi Pledge” in support of “we the people” and restore balance to our republic by supporting citizen funded elections. Cruz, to his credit, takes Slack seriously (after accepting a gift of a light saber) but then insists that campaign finance reform is just about protecting incumbents and preventing the people from having a voice.

  • Our Christine Capaiuolo reports for Civicist’s Rethinking Debates section on how Google and YouTube keep trying to open political debates to more questions from non-journalists, most recently via YouTube stars’ participation in this past week’s Democratic primary debate. If the names Destin Sandlin, Ingrid Nilsen, and Adande Thorne don’t mean anything to you, you should read this piece.

  • Life in Facebookistan: BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz has written a definitive history of Facebook’s controversial “Free Basics” (aka “,” aka “Facebook for Every Phone,” aka “Facebook Zero” or “0.Facebook”) global effort. He writes that after a promising start, “A host of international partners—including Samsung, Qualcomm, and Ericsson—have essentially disappeared from the site. Meanwhile, partnerships with competing companies like Google and Twitter—which would have lent credibility to Facebook’s argument that Free Basics is open to everyone—never materialized. In short, Facebook’s massive push to bring the world online has hit a wall of activists and government regulators who argue that its free service violates basic principles of an open, free, and fair internet.”

  • Tech and politics: The Washington Post’s Matea Gold traces Bernie Sanders’ entry into presidential campaign politics to a 2014 online petition by Progressive Democrats of America on CredoMobile’s website that called on him to run as a Democrat.

  • Time Inc. has launched CampaignFocus, a voter-targeting advertising platform that will combine the company’s audience data for its many magazines with Audience Partner’s National Online Voter File database, reports Jameson Doris for Folio. Time’s Chief Data Office JT Kostman commented, “At the end of the day, politics is a product, and the key to messaging any product is getting the right content to the right person in the right context at the right time. Our partnership with Audience Partners allows us to do just that by tying political messaging to compelling content in a way that ensures its resonance with donors and voters.”

  • The AFL-CIO has launched “By Our Hands,” an online magazine on Medium (where else?!) that “seeks to bring together the timeless values of work and solidarity with emerging technologies to create a platform for storytelling,” writes its president, Richard Trumka.

  • What sharing economy? Airbnb’s head of global policy, Chris Lehane, is taking the company’s pitch directly to the US Conference of Mayors, using the odd pitch that the company is willing to collect and pay taxes, as Cecelia Kang reports for the New York Times.

  • If you are, like me, a bit skeptical about the breathless hyping of the blockchain—yes, it’s an interesting new technology that may someday revolutionize commerce and society, but not tomorrow—then this rant from David G. W. Birch of Consult Hyperion will entertain you.

  • Trump Watch: Make a note to yourself—today is the day the Republican “establishment” (whatever that is) started to talk publicly about accepting, even supporting, Donald Trump’s ascension as the party’s presidential front-runner. (Hat tip to National Review: at least some of the contributors to their new issue attacking Trump’s rise oppose him because of his racism and authoritarianism).