Tech titans react to terrorism in Paris; how to join the civic tech movement; and more.
Tech vs. terror: BuzzFeed’s Brendan Klinkenberg reports on how several leading tech platforms, including Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Uber, and Twitter responded to the terror attacks in Paris. Facebook activated its “safety check” tool, helping 4.1 million people alert their friends and family that they were safe. Uber turned off surge pricing in Paris. Airbnb urged local hosts to make their homes available for free or low cost. Twitter users crowded around the hashtag #PorteOuverte to help Parisians find sanctuary. And Google made international calls to France free via Hangouts.
Facebook faced criticism for not having used “safety check” for other non-Western crises, and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly responded that in the future, the giant social network will implement its “safety check” feature for “more human disasters,” as Alex Howard reports for the Huffington Post. While the option was activated in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, it had not been offered to users in the wake of suicide bombings in Beirut two days earlier.
Facebook’s vice president of growth, Alex Schultz, also said the company will explore giving users options to “show support for other things that they care about through their Facebook profiles,” a reference to the company’s enabling users to add the silhouette of France’s tricolor flag to their profiles. As Howard astutely notes, “The criteria that will be used to determine which issues and events users will be able to ‘show support for,’ however, aren’t clear.” No option has been offered to users to show solidarity with the people of Lebanon or Syria, for example.
As you consider Facebook’s emerging approach to “human disasters,” keep in mind that its CEO is still hungry to crack the one global market the company has yet to penetrate: China. He says, “We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.” We shall see.
How many gigs in the gig economy? Lydia dePillis takes a behind-the-scenes look for the Washington Post on how an unusual group of tech companies, labor advocates, and think-tankers came together to call for new benefits for people working in the “gig economy.”
One interesting angle dePillis notes: not all economists agree with the Freelancer’s Union’s assessment that 53 million people are independent workers. Official numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest it’s more like 15 million. Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute says, “It’s not true, and I think it’s in service of making people think that things are changing much faster than they are, and that therefore the legal models that we have shouldn’t be applied,” says Eisenbrey. “That’s Uber’s wish, that they escape from employment obligations, that they not have to pay minimum wage and overtime. I think that something like this could be misused.”
Debatable: For the first time in my memory, a live presidential debate included a real-time question from someone watching that was in response to something one of the candidates said. As Alexandra Petri points out for the Washington Post, the tweet came in response to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s assertion that her millions in Wall Street connected donations were because of her hard work helping the financial sector rebuild after 9/11. “I’ve never seen a candidate invoke 9/11 to justify millions of Wall Street donations until now,” wrote Andy Grewal, at 10:07pm the night of the debate. Moments later, his question was posed directly to Clinton. (Grewal, who says he admires Bernie Sanders but thinks his tax plan is too radical, has since jokingly offered to retract his tweet “in exchange for 10% of [Hillary’s] Wall Street donations.”
Hidden deep in the Wi-Fi SSIDs and passwords for media attending the Republican and Democratic presidential debates, Upworthy’s Parker Molloy finds meaning.
This is civic tech: Omidyar Network investment partner Stacy Donohue writes for TechCrunch on three ways that techies can join the civic tech movement: by solving personal challenges (such as the ones that led some vets to start Unite US, or that led Rose Broome to start HandUp); by taking a career leap into government (like Megan Smith of Google or Alex Macgillivray of Twitter, both now at the White House); or by becoming more active citizens using problem-solving platforms like Citizinvestor or SeeClickFix.
Andrew Baron, the founder of Rocketboom and Know Your Meme, has just launched a new project called Humanwire, which aims to connect refugees to donors seeking to support them.