DISAPPOINTMENTS AND DISAGREEMENTS
SXSW cancels panels about gaming culture; NY Attorney General to investigate internet providers; and more.
Today’s civic tech must-read: Rachel Cohen, a writing fellow at the American Prospect, argues in “Pushing civic tech beyond its comfort zone” (a feature article in its Fall 2015 print issue) that technologists who talk about “revolutionizing” local government by improving its IT, making it more responsive, transparent, data-driven and cost-effective are “set[ting] up people for later disappointment.” She writes, “Accountability, however, is ultimately a political matter, and civic tech cannot simply steer clear of politics in the belief that technology will solve problems on its own.” Among the civic tech leaders cited in her piece: Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix, Stephen Goldsmith and Susan Crawford (co-authors of The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance), Sean Moulton of the Project on Government Oversight, Tiago Peixoto of the World Bank, Dan O’Neil of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, Haley Van Dyck of the U.S. Digital Service, Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics and Eric Liu of Citizen University. Oh, and some dude named Sifry and some conference called Personal Democracy Forum.
Just launched by Political Animal and Poderopedia: NarcoData, a digital platform tracking 40 years of Mexico’s drug cartels, including their emergence, geographic expansion, international relationships and criminal activities.
Embattled Empaneled: Hugh Forrest, the longtime organizer of SXSW Interactive, has announced that two previously announced sessions related to online harassment and gaming culture—one that was seen as pro-GamerGate and one that was not—have been canceled due to “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.” (GamerGate refers to a loose-knit online network that has viciously targeted women in the gaming industry.) Forrest’s statement noted that SXSW’s “big tent” of ideas requires civil and respectful dialogue and that if a “safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment” cannot be assured, the “sanctity” of that big tent would be compromised. Not explained by his statement: why the conference organizers couldn’t assure sufficient on-site security for these two panels to take place.
“Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” was the non-GamerGate panel canceled by SXSW. On Twitter, one of its organizers, Randi Harper of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, shared a stream of protests about the decision, noting that “we didn’t demand that the GamerGate panel be removed from the schedule. We just asked that safety precautions be taken.” She also noted, “Our panel was not about GamerGate, but instead making design decisions in abuse systems.”
Another co-panelist, Katherine Cross of CUNY Graduate Center, said, “The panel was meant to be a wide-ranging discussion about how we might design websites, social media, and online games to be less susceptible to online harassment and hate mobbing. We were going to discuss various design proposals, including some already extant in the gaming industry that have been proven to work, but our panel was meant to be a solutions-oriented discussion of harassment in general.” She also told Austin Walker of Giant Bomb News that SXSW had not alerted her panel about threats of violence before announcing their panel’s cancellation.
The other canceled panel, “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” featured several supporters of the GamerGate movement. Perry Jones of the Open Gaming Society says the group is raising money to hold its panel during SXSW somewhere nearby.
As Noah Kulwin writes for Re/Code, SXSW’s decision shows that “The online hate mob of Gamergate is good at two things: Sending horrible threats to women online, and forcing people to shut down events featuring people critical of Gamergate.”
Digital politics: The White House is disagreeing with FBI Directer James Comey’s recent claims that increased scrutiny of local police behavior and fear of officers that their actions will go viral—the so-called “YouTube effect”—is leading to a rise in violent crime in some cities, Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo report for the New York Times. “The evidence we have seen so far doesn’t support the contention that law enforcement officials are shirking their responsibilities,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in response to a question about Comey’s remarks.
A new study from the Brennan Center for Justice, “Voter Registration in a Digital Age: 2015 Update” looks at the 38 states that now offer electronic and/or online registration and finds that it is boosting registration rates, increasing voter roll accuracy, and saving money.
With the help of his newly installed senior enforcement counsel Tim Wu, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has told Verizon, Time Warner, and Cablevision that he is probing whether their so-called “super-fast” “premium” internet connections are actually ripping off customers with slower-than-advertised speeds, Christie Smythe reports for Bloomberg Business.
The news from Facebookistan: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is continuing his charm offensive in China, giving a speech in Mandarin while on a visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing (where he is on the board of its school of economics and management), the Los Angeles Times reports.
Meanwhile, as Vindu Goel reports for the New York Times, Facebook’s Internet.org project (which was recently renamed “Free Basics”) is struggling to gain acceptance in India. As Goel notes, one of Facebook’s local telco partners, Reliance, is known for shoddy service. And as he writes, one phone shop owner told him, “Even if Reliance’s network were good…the package excludes WhatsApp, a popular messaging app owned by Facebook, and users must pay to see the photos in their Facebook feeds. ‘If you have to pay for data, what’s the point of calling it free?’ he said.”
Your moment of zen: Former President Bill Clinton tells Mark Halperin of Bloomberg Politics that he likes the “selfie” phenomenon. “In a way I like it, though, because it’s democratized record-keeping of memories—because if you can afford a cell phone, you’ve got a camera, and a camera will operate at a fairly high resolution, with a fairly good amount of clarity, and if you need to for some reason you can print it out.” He also joked that if selfies existed back in the 1980s when he first entered politics in Arkansas, he “might not have lived” to run for President. “I did not have a selfie with that woman.” No, he didn’t say that.