Why Twitter is not your town square; what the Army Corps of Engineers had to do with Katrina; and more.
Food for thought: On the tenth anniversary of Katrina, veteran reporter Michael Grunwald offers this Twitter-storm-rant on the ongoing scandal that is the Army Corps of Engineers. In theory, what the Corps does is old-fashioned civic tech, in the core sense of using technology for the common good, but as Grunwald points out, not only did 1,800 people die in New Orleans because the Corps flood protection failed, Congress never took steps to reform it after Katrina and the agency remains a prime hub for pork-barrel waste.
Our global town square: Data scientist Kalev Leetaru took a hard look at three years worth of Twitter messages from 2012 to 2014, and finds that “if Twitter is indeed a global town square, it’s one that most of the town hasn’t entered yet—and one where the townsfolk who have entered seem to be doing more listening than talking these days….rather than growing outwardly and spreading to new regions, Twitter is largely growing inwardly and intensifying its coverage of locations where it was already popular, including the United States, Indonesia, and Japan.”
Twitter has published explicit targets for improving the diversity of its workforce in 2016, Stuart Dredge reports for The Guardian.
EFF’s Parker Higgins points out that a big reason Russia backed down on censoring Wikipedia last week over the publication of an article about hashish (which apparently violated the country’s restrictions on content related to drugs) was because the site uses HTTPS encryption. As a result, Russian authorities could not avoid blocking the entire site when they sought to suppress that one page. Higgins argues that that level of “conspicuous overblocking” was too much censorship for Russian authorities to risk.
Google could face a fine of as much as $1.4 billion if Indian authorities decide it has been rigged search results in its favor there, Abhimanyu Ghoshal reports for The Next Web.
What political nerds don’t get about techies: Since David Roberts’ long piece in Vox about how smart “tech nerds” don’t get American politics seems to have struck a nerve, let me add a few cents about why I’m not enamored of his essay. The core problem is that Roberts makes a blanket statement about “tech nerds” that he never actually backs up. Tim Urban, the author of the Wait But Why blog, is his sole target, and that for writing a long post about climate change that gets the science right and the politics wrong. From there, Roberts leaps, gazelle-like, to the claim that “distaste for government and politics” is “extremely common in the nerd community” and that most tech nerds just think Washington is dysfunctional and both parties are equally to blame. Well, if “tech nerds” all thought that, then why are so many tech nerds plugged into the Obama administration (and campaign before it)? And why are Democratic campaigns so well stocked with tech nerds while the Republicans struggle to recruit top talent to their side?
(Oh, and as to Roberts’ claim that “there are no independents” in American politics, the fact is that when Americans have three viable choices on the ballot (rather than the duopoly), they often vote for the independent—just ask Senators Angus King, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee or Governors Bill Walker, Lowell Weicker and Jesse Ventura. If Democratic and Republican party identities were so strong, how did these guys all get elected?)