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From: Civic Hall <i...@civichall.org>
Date: Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 3:46 PM
Subject: Civicist's First Post: The Zuckularity
To: Michel <michelsub2...@gmail.com>

Tech and politics collide at congressional scale today; we get sucked down
the black hole of Zuckerberg takes; questions someone should ask Congress

April 10, 2018
[image: First Post]

*Micah L. Sifry*
*The Zuckularity**


   Today, the Boy King testifies before Congress, starting with the Senate
   Judiciary Committee at 2:15ET. According to Facebook CEO *Mark
   Zuckerberg*'s pre-released testimony
   that he plans to give the House Committee on Energy and Commerce tomorrow,
   he's going to focus on the steps the company is taking to address the
   abilities of third-parties to access the profile data of millions of
   Facebook users and to make it harder for Russians and others to spread
   disinformation across the site. Not covered: what Facebook employees
   embedded with the Trump campaign actually did, the use of Facebook's
   targeting tools to discriminate against minorities, its targeting of
   children, its anti-competitive penchant of buying upstart platforms that
   threaten its dominance, the use of its platform to incite genocidal
   violence in places like Myanmar and now we learn Sri Lanka

   *Franklin Foer* writes for The Atlantic
   that Zuckerberg's testimony will mark the day "Silicon Valley no longer
   floats above the world." He adds, "One of the salutary benefits of this
   backlash is that it stands to dent the culture of the company. It creates a
   new expectation that its employees should be more questioning, less
   thoughtless about human beings. The congressional flaying will show that
   there’s, at the very least, a social price to be paid for creating such a
   careless product."

   Flaying? Let's lower our expectations a little. If only appearing before
   Congress meant something like what Foer writes. The odds of any member of
   the committee understanding what Zuckerberg means when he says, per his
   written testimony, that "we're restricting more APIs like groups and
   events" are nil. Here's Senator *Dianne Feinstein* (D-CA), getting ready
   to flay Zuckerberg
   after she met privately with him as he made the rounds on the Hill
   yesterday: "He's a very nice young man. He's very young. And he has 27,000
   employees. And it's - that's amazing. He's obviously smart. He obviously
   knows what he's doing and he has a very pleasant personality. He's not
   hard-edged in any way that I saw."

   Of all the great questions for Zuckerberg prepared by Privacy
   this one could genuinely cut through a lot of the BS: "You post regularly
   on Facebook yourself. Is your personal data protected beyond the level
   available to everyone else? Are you 1 of the 87million people whose data
   has been accessed by Cambridge Analytica - if not, what was it that kept
   your data safe?" Even a dimwitted Member of Congress like Feinstein could
   ask it.

   Technosociologist* Zeynep Tufekci* wisely advises not focusing on what
   questions Congress asks Zuckerberg
   and instead urges it to take action to force platform companies to get
   meaningful informed consent from their users, to put time limits on how
   long they hold user data, and to also regulate how they use aggregated data.

   A question I wish someone would ask Members of Congress: Will you stop
   using Facebook to hold formerly public events like town-hall meetings? If
   not, why are you forcing your constituents to give their personal
   information to a private corporation in order to interact with you?

   Considering the role of private foundations in America as one of the
   last sources of theoretically countervailing power in an age of massive
   media and economic concentration, this is big news: The Social Science
   Research Council announced yesterday that it is partnering with Facebook
   and a group of seven major foundations to develop and fund independent
   research on the social network's impact on society, starting with
   elections. Here's the statement
   from Facebook VP of communications and public policy, *Elliot Schrage*,
   and director of research, *David Ginsberg*. "The focus will be entirely
   forward-looking," aiming to understand Facebook's impact on upcoming
   elections, "and to inform our future product and policy decisions," they
   write. A commission made of "respected academic experts" will develop and
   oversee the research agenda and independently select grantees whose work
   will be funded by the foundations. "When appropriate," the researchers will
   also be given access to "privacy-protected data from Facebook."

   Here's SSRC president *Alondra Nelson* on the new initiative
   She notes, "SSRC-appointed review committees will actively engage with
   technologists, advocates, and ethicists to develop 21st century academic
   standards for anonymized digital data use—with particular emphasis on the
   potential impacts on vulnerable groups by the dynamics the initiative
   studies. While Facebook and the users of its data are bound by the data
   access and privacy laws where they operate, the SSRC will have no qualms
   about withdrawing from this initiative should we deem it necessary."

   Not stated: whether the commission or its researchers will be able to
   audit Facebook's algorithms, to determine, for example, if the voter
   megaphone tool is actually being shown to all voters neutrally. Microsoft
   Research's *Tarton Gillespie* also points out that researchers need to
   study Facebook's engineers, design choices, business model and user policies
   not just the data.

   The foundations backing the SSRC-Facebook effort are the Hewlett
   Foundation, Sloan Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, Democracy Fund,
   Knight Foundation, Arnold Foundation, and Omidyar Network. One of these
   things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong, as
   the song goes. While six of those foundations do a lot of credible work
   focused on broadly advancing democracy in America, Koch, himself a former
   member of the John Birch Society, funds many things, including advancing
   white supremacy, neoConfederate academics, and broad attacks on voting
   rights and civil rights, as this recent report from UnKochMyCampus

   "Zuckerberg's dilemmas are not the dilemmas of a corporation but the
   dilemmas of a king," write
   Farrell, Margaret Levi and Tim O'Reilly* in Vox. Gee, could he be the
   king of a country called Facebookistan?

   Buried deep in this recently released interview of Zuckerberg
   by Freakonomics writer *Stephen Dubner* is this fascinating admission:
   "There’s interesting research now that shows that the average American has
   fewer than three close friends who they would turn to in a crisis. So one
   of the questions that I asked inside our company, and I started a team to
   work on this is, 'Well, can we build some products or services that make it
   so that the average person has one more close friend?'”

   Also this statement from the same interview is worth meditating on: "One
   of the interesting challenges that you find running a company or a
   community at scale [*running a community at scale?!*] is there are
   people who want things that are completely conflicting. So there are
   certain people who want us to share more information, and then there are a
   lot of people who really don’t. For some of these social decisions that we
   have to make, I find that the right place to be is when you’re getting
   yelled at from both sides equally." Paging *Jay Rosen*?

   *Robinson Meyer* of The Atlantic talked to Mark Zuckerberg and didn't
   learn anything new
   other than the unsurprising fact that the embattled CEO isn't planning to
   leave the company he started.

   Last week a group of civil society organizations in Myanmar wrote an
   open letter to Zuckerberg complaining of how poorly the company has
   responded to the rise of sectarian violence there, and he responded with a
   personal email, *Kevin Roose and Paul Mozur* report
   for The New York Times. “It’s great that he’s engaging personally with
   this, but the stuff he’s talking about is really not that much different
   from what they’ve been saying for the past few years,” said *Jes
   Petersen*, the chief executive of Phandeeyar, the innovation lab that
   organized the letter to Zuckerberg. To everyone's credit, the exchange is
   now public and the groups are pressing the company to do a lot more to
   address the problem.

   Here are some important questions
   from election law expert *Rick Hasen* on the challenges Facebook will
   face with its new promise to increase the transparency of election-related

   If you still don't understand how Facebook's ad targeting system can
   allow outside advertisers to glean incredibly personal information from
   people sent to them via Facebook, read *Michael Jones*, the former chief
   technology advocate for Google, explaining the nuts-and-bolts
   to *James Fallows* of The Atlantic.

   Some big institutional investors want Facebook to replace Zuck as
   chairman, *Jen McGregor *reports for The Washington Post

   In case you were worried that former Clinton pollster *Mark Penn *wasn't
   still stupid, here he is opining for CBS Marketwatch
   that "I do not believe that the Facebook issues in any way compromised the
   2016 U.S. presidential election. It’s unclear whether Cambridge
   Analytica did much, if anything, for the Trump campaign."

   In other news, maybe it's time we paid a bit more attention to stuff
   like this

   Oh, and perhaps a big deal

   *Media matters*: Voters in so-called news deserts—place with minimal
   newspaper subscriptions, print or online—voted for Donald Trump in 2016 in
   higher-than expected numbers, Politico's *Shawn Musgrave and Matthew
   Nussbaum* report
   In effect, they suggest that Trump's reliance on social media served him
   best in places where news consumers were least likely to have independent
   media habits providing factual correctives.

   Related: Crack investigative journalists *Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson* are
   leaving ProPublica
   to try to scale up more "tech-driven investigations" by building their own
   newsroom. Godspeed!

   Attend: Organizing 2.0 is holding its annual conference this Friday and
   Saturday in NYC. Register here.

   *Hat tip to *Mark Pesce* for the term
   We promise, dear readers, to pay more attention to other topics in future
   days. If Facebook will let us.


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