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Behind-the-scenes on the development of; social media and the campaign; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Building on David Moore’s essay yesterday about the need for open data standards for civic information, Mark Headd of Accela chimes in, asking “What organization(s) have the clout, impartiality and durability to bring together disparate interests and help craft a new data standard?”

  • Speaking of open data, the FCC just voted to require all but the smallest cable, satellite, and radio stations to upload their political files, which reveal who is buying what ads and when they run, online. As Libby Watson points out on the Sunlight Foundation blog, these files are technically open public records but only available for viewing on paper at each station’s office. This FCC decision will make Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth tool far more useful.

  • Presidential Innovation Fellows Kate McCall-Kiley, Luke Keller, and Adam Bonnifield go behind-the-scenes on the development of, a new platform they built in just two weeks that helps citizens find out how to register to vote in their state. They also report that Facebook has partnered with the site, using its tools to alert users to state registration deadlines, writing “With the help of this Facebook pilot, more people registered to vote in one day than did so in the entire previous two weeks.”

  • Tech and the presidentials: Snapchat has started a political campaign show anchored by former CNN reporter Peter Hamby, Steven Perlberg reports for the Wall Street Journal.

  • Presidential campaigns are uploading their email lists and voter files to Facebook’s advertising network, which then matches “real-life voters with their Facebook accounts,” Harry Davies and Danny Yadron report for the Guardian. This is allowing campaigns like Ted Cruz’s to “target voters on a range of broad issues like immigration controls to niche specific causes such as abolishing state laws against the sale of fireworks.” The company is also finding users “who like lots of political content and share it with their friends, mark[ing] them as ‘political influencers’ and allow[ing] campaigns to target them specifically.”

  • As the Guardian reports, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, told investors on an earnings call Wednesday that “the 2016 election is a big deal in terms of ad spend,” adding “Using Facebook and Instagram ads you can target by congressional district, you can target by interest, you can target by demographics or any combination of those. And we’re seeing politicians at all levels really take advantage of that targeting.” Luckily, Facebook is helping more voters register too (see above item).

  • Whither privacy? With signs that the Federal Trade Commission is going to start policing privacy violations more stringently, business lobbyists are mounting an active campaign to delegitimize its efforts, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, UC Berkeley privacy expert, writes for The Hill.

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YCombinator to lead research on basic income; life inside Facebookistan; and more.

  • This is civic tech: David Moore of the Participatory Politics Foundation (longtime friend of Personal Democracy Media and Civic Hall member) lays out a detailed vision of the “open data infrastructure for civic engagement” that the U.S. civic tech field badly needs. Believe it or not, we still don’t have open data for every elected official and candidate; nor do we have open standards for constituent communication data.

  • YCombinator’s Sam Altman announces a research project aimed at exploring the idea of a universal basic income. They want to give a basic income to a group of people in the U.S. for a five year period, and they’re looking for a full-time researcher to lead the project. (Who will presumably get something more than a basic income. Oh, the irony.)

  • Mark your calendars: Personal Democracy Forum Poland-CEE 2016, our fourth annual European sister conference, will be taking place in the historic city of Gdansk this coming March 17-18. The theme this year is Re/Disconnecting Citizens. For more details and to register, go here.

  • Janet Haven, longtime director of the Open Society Foundations’ Information Program, is joining the Data & Society Institute in February as its first director of programs. (Welcome to the neighborhood!)

  • Digital Democracy, which works to empower marginalized communities to use tech to defend their rights, is looking for a Community Engagement Fellow.

  • Tech and the presidentials: ZDnet’s David Gewirtz makes a valiant effort at decoding the presidential candidates rhetoric to determine where each of them stands on encryption.

  • The “Grassroots for Sanders” sub-reddit, which has more than 150,000 subscribers, has raised more than $1 million through its own dedicated portal for the campaign, the Burlington Free Press’ Jess Aloe reports.

  • More than half the people Donald Trump has retweeted so far this week have white supremacist connections, Jay Hathaway reports for New York magazine, citing data from Marshal Kirkpatrick’s data analysis service LittleBird. (Do note: the “connections” cited are things like following one of the top 50 White Nationalist accounts on Twitter or following at least three people who have used the hashtag #WhiteGenocide recently.)

  • Something to like: Remember Facebook’s experiment in giving its staff a taste of the slow internet service its poorer users experience in the developing world, which was supposed to help them be more “empathetic.” Well, the guy who signed off on that idea, Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, is now leading the company’s push to drop its “Like” button for a new, more varied feedback tool called “Reactions,” reports Sarah Frier for Bloomberg Business.

  • Frier’s story is filled with fascinating findings about life inside the heart of Facebookistan, including this gem about the impact of people “liking” stuff on the site: “In January, [company chief operating officer Sheryl] Sandberg went so far as to suggest that likes could help defeat Islamic State: By posting positive messages on the terror group’s Facebook pages, users could somehow drown out the hate.”

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Close looks at the Knight News Challenge data winners; remembering the Egyptian revolution; and more.

  • This is civic tech: iHollaback, the anti-street-harassment organization, is launching HeartMob today, a new platform aimed at helping people report online harassment and receive (and give) online support in real-time.

  • The new group of White House Presidential Innovation Fellows has just been announced (along with a nifty photo from the NY Tech Meetup).

  • The new round of winners of the Knight News Challenge (announced yesterday at Civic Hall) have a strong focus on efforts to track police, make FOIA easier, or follow journalism, reports Joseph Lighterman for Nieman Lab.

  • Built in Chicago’s Andres Rekdal focuses on two Knight News Challenge winners, mRelief and the Citizens Police Data Project, that exemplify civic tech’s potential to improve people’s lives and change policing for the better.

  • The Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Youth-Led Tech program is heading into its second year, announcing ambitious plans to double the number of young people in its intensive web design instruction program this summer. (Kudos Dan O’Neil!)

  • U.S. News and World Report’s Joseph Williams has a nice overview of current efforts to use technology to improve criminal justice (along with some of their pitfalls).

  • Belated but still worthwhile: don’t miss this beautiful profile of TechDirt blog founder Mike Masnick by Simon Owens. In case anyone tells you that bloggers don’t matter any more.

  • Tech and the presidentials: We couldn’t help but notice this tantalizing line at the bottom of Sunday’s New York Times story about President Obama’s love of tech gadgets: “In long dinners with Silicon Valley titans, [President Obama] has talked extensively about ways to better use personal technology to increase voter turnout and improve civic engagement.” So we went looking and managed to dig up a partial transcript of one of those dinners, featuring Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Eric Schmidt of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Pincus of Zynga and Travis Kalanick of Uber.

  • Speaking of Uber, don’t miss Dana Rubinstein’s report for Capital New York on how the company’s lobbyists worked last summer with Governor Andrew Cuomo to undermine New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s opposition to its expansion. They even had a draft executive order ready for his signature that would have overruled any city regulation blocking the company’s growth, Rubinstein reports.

  • According to a Bernie Sanders supporter on Reddit, the number of people showing up to phonebank for the Vermont Senator vastly outweighs the numbers showing up for Hillary Clinton, based on reports from both campaign’s websites. For example, in the Los Angeles zip code of 90021, just 5 people are listed as phone banking for Clinton, compared to 318 for Sanders. In Austin, it’s 443 to 1.

  • According to Echelon Insights, Sanders and Clinton are closely matched in Iowa and New Hampshire Facebook conversations. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump has the lion’s share of conversation in both states. Intriguingly, a Trump campaign YouTube video on how to caucus in Iowa and a caucus finder on his website are among the links most shared in that state.

  • Want to know the type of people Donald Trump retweets? Then just following @TrumpRetweeps, a twitter bot built by the geniuses at Fusion, which tweets the Twitter bio of everyone Trump plugs, as Daniel McLaughlin explains.

  • Thursday night’s GOP debate, held on FOX, will include some new real-time information features provided by Google, including long-form rebuttals by campaigns, reports Danielle Bowers from Google News Lab.

  • Remember our project, which crowdsourced questions to the presidential candidates back in 2007? The Des Moines Register and Change Politics,’s new elections platform, collected questions for the Democratic presidential candidates for an online townhall forum in Iowa and got their answers to the most popular top five.

  • Related: As T.C. Sottek writes for The Verge, the cable networks that host these debates are just become “showrooms” for internet companies to display their products from.

  • Brave new world: On the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 revolution, New York Times master-blogger Robert Mackey takes a melancholy trip down memory lane with many of the social-media-powered activists who briefly represented a new kind of people power.

  • Blocked by the government of Malaysia for publishing critical reporting by a site called Sarawak Report, Medium’s legal team says it’s not going to censor any content without an order from a “court of competent jurisdiction” and “we stand by investigative journalists who publish on Medium.” Kudos!

  • I know where you drove last summer: Conor Friedersdorf reports for the Atlantic on Vigilant Solutions, a private corporations that has built a database of 2.2 billion car and truck license-plate photos, which it combines with location data and sells to police agencies.

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New Deals

New Deals

Craigslist founder launches Water for Flint challenge; civic tech and Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Building on earlier writing (including work he did for techPresident and republished in our book “A Lever and a Place to Stand“), Matt Leighninger of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium suggests some key goals for the civic tech field. He writes:

    To make our democracies more participatory, energetic, efficient and equitable, we should take stock of how civic tech can be part of an overhaul of our whole civic infrastructure. How can online tools help revitalize face-to-face meetings? How can online forums help sustain social and political connections among large numbers of people? How can we give more people — especially those who face barriers related to education, language and economic stability — the skills and support they need to participate effectively, online or off?


  • Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist and longtime friend of Personal Democracy Media and Civic Hall) is teaming up with Crowdrise to launch a massive “Water for Flint challenge.” For every $20 donated to any CrowdRise campaign for Flint Water Crisis Relief, his charity craigconnects with match it with 100 cases of water to be distributed to Flint residents. Newmark says, “The deal is I want to put clean drinking water into the hands of every person who’s in Flint, Michigan. I actually spent about a decade living not too far from Flint, so this really hits close to home for me.” So far, he’s donated 17,335 cases of water.

  • Nithin Coca has a fascinating in-depth look for Greenpeace’s MobLab at Taiwan’s Sunflower movement, which is using “software, social media, and other rapidly evolving technologies [to fuel] digital democracy and political change in Taiwan.” Among the tools discussed: Hackfoldr (open source multi-level bookmarking), Loomio (online consensus decision-making), Hacked and Ethercalc (for realtime document sharing), and (a non-hierarchical commenting platform).

  • Our friends at GovLab are out with a big new report on the four key ways that open data is changing the world: by improving government, empowering citizens, creating opportunity, and solving public problems.

  • The Political TV Ad Archive has launched courtesy of the folks at the Internet Archive, chock-a-block with more than 30,000 ads from the early 2016 primary states, along with the data on how often it aired, where and when. (Congrats to our friends Roger MacDonald, Nancy Watzman, and Dan Schultz!)

  • Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year by the philanthropic sector for improving voter education, registration, election administration and civic participation, voter turnout in the United States is stagnant or declining, Kelly Born of the Hewlett Foundation writes for Stanford Social Innovation Review. It’s the introduction to a series of 15 forthcoming pieces examining what the social sector can do to improve turnout, that we’re looking forward to reading.

  • Imprisoned Iraq War whistleblower Chelsea Manning gave a rare interview to artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, which BoingBoing has published. In it she talks about her view of big data, data mining, transparency and related subjects. She says, “we need laws that actually promote openness. We need transparency laws. Such laws would not be the Orwellian, ironically named ‘Freedom of Information’ laws that local, state, and the federal governments regularly use to deny information. Instead, these would be open records laws that would allow the public to quickly and efficiently examine what is going on in their government in their own neighborhoods, towns, cities, and states.”

  • How we live today: Silicon Valley whiz-kids are running out of real problems that they can solve. Or shall we say, real “First World” problems. That’s the underlying point of Sarah Kessler’s snarky and funny piece for Fast Company about the new batch of “gas-delivery start-ups” that are hoping to top off your car’s tank for you. (She’s got liquor-delivery, suitcase-packing, and on-demand laundry service in there too.)

  • President Obama has a thing for tech gadgets, Michael Shear reports for the New York Times.

  • Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has posted a story to Medium (where else?!) titled, “At 83, I Decided to Develop an App.” It’s for a version of solitaire. The comments on his post, starting with one by Medium cartoonist Matt Bors, are, shall we say, to die for.

  • Another longtime friend (and Civic Hall member), Zephyr Teachout, has announced that she is running for Congress, as Jesse McKinley reports for the New York Times. She’s tackling the same upstate New York congressional district that stymied Sean Eldridge (Chris Hughes’ husband) in 2014, but this time the incumbent Republican congressman Chris Gibson is stepping down.

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Predicting the west coast civic tech scene; analyzing Twitter for sarcasm; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Microsoft’s Jessica Weare has some intriguing predictions for the west coast civic tech scene in the coming year, starting with the “death of the hackathon” and the rise of long-term partnerships involving volunteer-driven civic innovation.

  • Ash Roughani, the founder of Code for Sacramento, makes a bold and useful proposal for the development of a civic operating system, built by a new kind of public utility.

  • Trump Watch: Continuing the shift in conventional wisdom, here’s Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight explaining Donald Trump’s staying power: “the [Republican] party isn’t doing much to stop Trump. Instead, it’s making such an effort against [Ted] Cruz.”

  • On Friday, Trump retweeted a white supremacist’s jab at Jeb Bush. This same account has tweeted an animated picture of Trump “dressed as a Nazi, about to gas” Bernie Sanders, Bethany Palma Markus reports for Raw Story.

  • Tech and the presidentials: With a week to go, the top questions users want asked of the Republican primary presidential candidates on the new platform are on social security, animal testing, and, yes, reforming marijuana laws. The top three aimed at the Democratic candidates are on campaign finance reform (from ex-candidate Lawrence Lessig), animal testing and, yes, reforming marijuana laws.

  • Word games: Longtime readers know that I have regularly railed against claims that such-and-such a tool can provide meaningful “sentiment analysis” of online postings. Language is notoriously squirrelly, after all, and when it comes to political statements, people often employ a variety of tricks—especially sarcasm—to shade or emphasize a point. Well, now come two computer scientist Ph.D.s from Carnegie Mellon with a serious paper suggesting that they have figured out how to detect sarcasm on Twitter with 95 percent accuracy. (Yeah, right.) Their solution is to train their algorithm with a set of tweets marked by their writers with the word “sarcasm” or “sarcastic,” and then to add additional filters that tend to strongly indicate sarcasm. My favorites, in case you want to start confusing your readers, are word unigrams like dare, shocked, clearly, #lol and gasp, and bigrams include you mean, how dare, i’m shocked, i’m sure and at all. No way! (h/t Ian Kar)

  • Speaking of training computers to analyze speech, a team of researchers led by William Li of MIT have figured out the author of unsigned Supreme Court opinions based on comparing the language they use in signed opinions, Adrienne Lafrance reports for The Atlantic.

  • Brave new world: An array of leading civil liberties and internet freedom organizations have written the FCC asking it to start drafting internet privacy rooms “as quickly as possible,” Maria Trujillo reports for The Hill.

  • With the FAA looking closely at regulating nonmilitary drones, lobbying around the technology is heating up on Capitol Hill, Cecilia Kang reports for the New York Times. “Hobby groups are trying to peel back recreational registration rules, while airline pilots are pushing for more mandates that drone makers like DJI and GoPro put safety technology on machines. Amazon and Google, which want to use drones for delivery, are asking permission to test their technology,” she writes.

  • Quartz’s David Panofsky and Jason Karaian built a helicopter-tracking rig to pick up the radio transmissions from aircraft flying into and around Davos and managed to identify 16 private helicopters flying around the area during the elite conference.

  • End game: Erik Wemple of the Washington Post has a savage takedown of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’ profligate spending on The New Republic (which he is now trying to sell), featuring multiple office and magazine design renovations, consultants galore, expensive teleconferencing technology that rarely worked, and glamorous A-list parties.

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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).

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The GovTech100; DemocracyOS has fans in France; and more.

  • This is civic tech: News from Datamade‘s Derek Eder: Chicago Councilmatic has just relaunched, tracking all things related to the Chicago City Council, joining its cousin NYC Councilmatic.

  • and Dustin Haisler and Paul Taylor of e.Republic have put together the GovTech100, a list of 100 companies focused on servicing government customers, “having developed an innovative or disruptive offering to improve or transform government, or having created new models for delivering services. These companies are active in one or more market segments: administrative, service delivery, intelligent infrastructure and civic tech focus areas.”

  • DemocracyOS, the open-source deliberation platform that originated in Argentina, has a posse in France, as Virgil Deville describes.

  • 93 percent of 89 U.S. mayors from 31 states surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual Menino survey say they are in favor of police wearing body cameras.

  • Asked about infrastructure needs for their cities, these mayors identified roads, mass transit, and water/wastewater/stormwater as their top priorities were they to get an “unrestricted grant” to pay for a large project. Broadband was at the bottom of their lists. (The word “technology” never appears in the full report.)

  • Asked what three cities these mayors had “recently looked to for policy ideas,” the top three responses were, in order, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. (h/t NY city councilman Brad Lander)

  • Privacy watch: Speaking of our inspiring city, really high-speed free Wi-Fi is coming to New York City via the new LinkNYC network being built by the CityBridge consortium, and while the network’s speed and availability is going to surprise a lot of users, the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern warns that you better take some common-sense steps to secure your communications before you join in the party.

  • Related: Privacy expert Julia Angwin of ProPublica offers her guide to improving your internet security.

  • Further related: If you are worried about the data that Google and Facebook may be collecting from you, Brian Fung of the Washington Post reports consumer privacy groups are even more worried about the data that your internet service provider—Verizon, AT&T, Comcast most likely—is collecting.

  • Jenna McLaughlin explains in The Intercept why the White House’s recent request of major social network companies like Facebook that they use their algorithms for spotting “terrorist content online” is highly unlikely to work. The main problem: acts of terror are exceedingly rare. She writes, “Many experts, including people with law enforcement, academic, and scientific backgrounds, agree that it’s practically impossible to boil down the essential predictive markers that make up a terrorist who is willing and capable of carrying out an attack and then successfully pick him out of a crowd.”

  • What sharing economy?: A Pennsylvania State University study funded by the hotel industry found that 39 percent of all the revenue generated by Airbnb guests in 12 major metropolitan areas over a thirteen month period in 2014-15 went to landlords operating more than one unit, Patrick Clark reports for Bloomberg Business.

  • Diversity blues: Silicon Valley companies say they want to hire more blacks, but as Vauhini Vara reports for Bloomberg Business, getting young coders from an elite historically black college like Howard University jobs at major tech firms is a lot more complicated.

  • Don’t miss Thinkup’s Anil Dash on “flying while brown” and why he’s the “most magnanimous motherfucker I know.”

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The good, bad, & ugly of tech to prevent sexual assault; high-tech fitting rooms; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Longtime civic hacker Luke Fretwell (founder of the GovFresh blog) announces the launch of Proud City, focusing on delivering “open, responsive digital services” for cities.

  • Microsoft is donating $1 billion in cloud services to nonprofits and university researchers over the next three years, its president and chief legal officer Brad Smith writes. “Our goal is to support 70,000 nonprofits through this initiative during that time,” he says. The effort is a founding initiative of Microsoft Philanthropies, launched last month.

  • Jason Tashea shares with Civicist some of the key findings from a report he recently completed for John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the current state of criminal justice tech and how to support and grow this ecosystem.

  • Lorelei Kelly argues that better civic tech, in the form of tools and platforms that allow for greater citizen participation in lawmaking, could help route around the future disputes like the one now roiling Oregon’s Harney County land occupation. (Something tells me the militia men who think they have the sole authority to interpret the Constitution might not buy into that, but we still could use much better processes for public engagement in lawmaking than the ones we have now.)

  • USC professor Henry Jenkins, who has long argued for the civic value of popular culture, posts a long, two-part dialogue with Tracy van Slyke, founder of the Culture Lab. Part one focuses on her 2014 report Spoiler Alert. Part two looks at how both progressives and conservatives are focusing on using culture to shift political narratives.

  • Some apps for helping victims of sexual assault are useful, like Circle of Six, which sends an urgent help message to six contacts with a single tap. And others, like a new batch from a company called “We-Consent,” are positively awful, writes Nora Caplan-Bricker for Slate.

  • The U.S. Census Bureau is embracing open source, FlowingData’s Nathan Yau reports.

  • The Points of Light CivicX Accelerator is accepting applications now for its Spring 2016 cohort.

  • Code for Australia is launching a six-week academy focused on helping re-imagine public service work.

  • San Francisco’s Office of Civic Innovation is looking for two new 2016 Mayor’s Innovation Fellows and the deadline to apply is February 2.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Some of the emails housed on Hillary Clinton’s home server while she was Secretary of State contained information classified Top Secret/Special Access Program, a higher level than previously reported, according to a letter to Congress from the intelligence community’s inspector general, NBC News’ Ken Dilanian reports.

  • Wired magazine’s editors came up with a list of the 20 tech insiders having the greatest influence on the 2016 campaign. While many of the people named definitely are players in the political tech sector (oddly missing: the team from Revolution Messaging that is powering Bernie Sanders’ internal tech), Wired can’t help but puff them beyond recognition. It’s a silly, silly exercise, starting with this disconnected-from-reality statement: “2016 is the election when Silicon Valley—its players, its policy priorities, and, oh yes, its money—finally upstages the old 20th-­century power structure and seizes control of the political game.” (So that means the top candidates are all in favor of liberalizing immigration policy and strong encryption, right, like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz?) Also, “the nature of power itself is changing,” Wired claims, citing the example of Mark Zuckerberg throwing his Mandarin skills to impress the authoritarian regime in Beijing and promising to use his fortune to “rethink ‘society’.” Gosh, that sounds like the “nature of power” hasn’t changed at all, Wired editors!

  • Crypto wars, continued: A U.K. court of appeal has ruled that the detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, under the Terrorism Act, violated his rights as a journalist, Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian. Miranda had been stopped at Heathrow and detained and interrogated for nine hours without a lawyer after visiting Laura Poitras in Germany, assisting their reporting for the Guardian on the NSA.

  • Life in Facebookistan: India’s internet regulator has rebuked Facebook for its heavy-handed effort to get its users there to support its controversial “Free Basics” program, telling the company, “Your urging has the flavor of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll.” Among other things, it criticized the company for claiming to speak on behalf of users it had prompted to lobby the regulator via nudges on its platform, Rohan Venkataramakrishnan reports for

  • Meanwhile in Myanmar, internet usage has exploded from less than one percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2012 to 62 percent now. And as David Madden of the Phandeeyar Innovation Lab tells Erik Crouch of TechinAsia, Facebook is the internet there. “For millions of people, Facebook has become the go-to site for news, discussion, and debate,” he says. “Publishers will often post news updates and picture stories straight to Facebook, with no link to the homepage,” adds Poppy McPherson of the Coconuts Yango website.

  • I know what you wore last summer: Fitting rooms are going high-tech, reports Kim Bhasin for Bloomberg Business, and this little fact, buried in her otherwise helpful story about improving the clothes shopping experience, may give you pause: “In a partnership with eBay, Rebecca Minkoff stores are testing rooms that let patrons flip through lighting templates to show what they look like in the office, on the street, or at a club. Through radio-frequency identification tagging, screens know what clothing is being tried on and display different colors and sizes.” Caveat emptor: It isn’t just “screens” that “know what clothing is being tried on.” This brings new meaning to tag sales.

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Democratic candidates flub on encryption; a search engine for civic tech; and more.

  • The annual Burson-Marsteller Twiplomacy study is expanding this year to include other platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Yesterday, they released the the first installment, which covers the use of Facebook by world leaders and their governments.

  • The report is as full and detailed as ever, even if judging governments and leaders by their social media presence has its limits. (I, for example, would rather judge my president’s effectiveness by something other than Facebook interactions.) Burson-Marsteller found that Barack Obama and India’s Narendra Modi were the Most Liked world leaders, as determined by the number of page likes. Argentina’s new President Mauricio Macri was found to be the “Most Engaged,” with the highest interactions to fan ratio, followed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Narendra Modi and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan topped the list of “Most Effective” world leaders, meaning that they had the highest average number of interactions per post.

  • I reached out to Burson-Marsteller to ask about bots and whether evidence of bot activity was found or taken into consideration in the results, and a representative replied, “We did see some strange activity on one or two accounts but we cannot say for certain whether this was due to bots or if the organisation simply paid to promote the account or the posts with Facebook ads. Since Facebook will not release that information we decided not to mention this.” According to the press release, additional installments to the 2016 Twiplomacy study will be released each month until the full study is published in May.

  • New on Civicist: We’re thrilled to announce that Tom Steinberg is our new senior contributing editor, and his first piece, on civic tech’s Important Problems, is up now.

  • Maksim Pecherskiy reflects on his first year as CDO of San Diego.

  • Looking for civic tech?: Code for America’s Andrew Hyder has revealed a new thing called the Civic Tech Project Search, which is exactly what it sounds like and pulled up awesome things when I did two quick test searches for “food” and health.” Looks like a great resource for finding out who’s working on what, where.

  • Civic Hall v2.0?: Earlier this month, Toronto’s Government Management Committee was asked to consider opportunities for the creation of a Toronto-based “Civic Hall,” “based on the civic model which has been developed in New York City” (that’s us!). Motion was carried, and the Committee should be getting a report back in June.

  • On Sunday, Slack co-founder and chief executive Stewart Butterfield emailed Slack employees to remind them of the significance of the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. In the email, published in full here, he writes, “Despite the fact there have been areas of progress great and small, [the civil rights movement] is still, shamefully, far from finished. And it is on all of us to see it through. There is only us, the people. And if we truly value solidarity at this company it is a good time to recognize, and remember, and recommit to standing with the people who lost their livelihoods, their limbs, and even their lives, merely asking for something as simple and basic and obvious as equal rights and equal protections under the law.” It’s quite a statement.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Writing for Time, Haley Sweetland Edwards observes that the Democratic presidential candidates “flubbed” it in response to a question about their stance on encryption from YouTube star Marques Brownlee.

First Post



Gun dealers v. Starbucks dataviz; widow sues Twitter for violating Anti-Terrorism Act; and more.

  • The proposed bill in New York to require state smartphone vendors to sell only phones that can be decrypted or unlocked by the manufacturer or OS provider has had one unexpected boon: it has drawn New Yorkers’ attention to, and even generated excitement about, the relaunch (which I wrote about last October) and how New Yorkers can use it to express support (“aye”) or rejection (“nay”) of proposed legislation, as Zack Whittaker has encouraged ZDNet readers to do.

  • For the Chicago Tribune’s innovation vertical, Amina Elahi reports that Chicago’s civic tech scene has in many ways stalled, which Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Dan O’Neil attributes to a disconnect between activists in the street and civic technologists. This extends to campaign tech, too: “There may not be a game-changer in political technology this election cycle as campaigns lean on the widely available and affordable data analytics tools and techniques pioneered by Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012,” Elahi concludes.

  • I Quant NY’s Ben Wellington crunched the numbers again and found that 28 percent of New York City is not patrolled by the closest precinct house. Reasons that might matter? First of all, it would perhaps make reporting crimes easier, because the logical place to go would be the closest precinct house. Then, Wellington also wonders whether centrally-located precinct houses could improve community-police relations.

  • Data visualization company 1point21 Interactive has created a map that clearly shows the 6 to 1 ratio of gun dealers to Starbucks in the United States, Tanvi Misra writes for CityLab. Gun sellers (64,747 licensed as of December 2015) even outnumber the total number of coffee shops in the U.S. (55,246 in 2016).

  • There were multiple explosions in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday, but Facebook did not deploy its safety check feature, Nadine Freischlad reports for Tech in Asia. Following terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, Lebanon, last year, Facebook was criticized for activating the feature for the former but not the latter, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that they would activate it for more “human disasters” in the future.

  • The Twitter Government and Elections team last night tweeted that Trump dominated 38 percent of the #GOPDebate conversation, a hefty lead over Cruz, at 22 percent, Bush at 11 percent, Rubio at 10 percent, and Carson at 9 percent.

  • Speaking of Twitter, over at Motherboard, Sarah Jeong has written a thorough and fairly engrossing history of Twitter’s Rules, from the first 568 to the now 1,334, and all the little additions and subtractions in between. She concludes, in part: “In a way, things were easier when Twitter was still the free speech wing of the free speech party. In the golden age of Twitter’s free speech brand, the company was often lauded for doing the “hard” thing when standing up to governments worldwide. In retrospect, this corporate hardheadedness was easier to pull off than what they’re doing now, where speech is policed in the name of free speech…The Twitter of today strikes an uneasy balance between its old self and the unapologetic, ideologically-unburdened censoriousness of Facebook and Instagram. It remains yet to be seen whether the company has the vision and creativity to live out its new identity.” It’s well worth a stroll down memory lane.

  • In other Twitter news, the widow of an American killed in a terrorist attack in Jordan is suing Twitter for violating the Anti-Terrorism Act, Jonathan Stempel and Alison Frankel report for Reuters.

  • The app Stolen, which allowed users to collect and trade Twitter profiles, has shut down after being overwhelmed with complaints and concerns about the potential for harassment and abuse. If, like me, you don’t understand what the appeal was in the first place, or you want a better understanding of all the things that could or did go wrong, Holly Brockwell interviewed Siqi Chen, the CEO of the company behind Stolen, for Gadgette.

  • It’s never too late for resolutions: Although we missed it when it originally went up, an email from 18F’s Melody Kramer drew our attention to a blog post she co-wrote with Britta Gustafson on 18F’s New Year’s resolutions, which include developing metrics for measuring progress, improving documentation, improving communication when asking for help; asking for help, make it easier to contribute and to reuse tools they’ve built; etc. The full list is worth a perusal.