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First POST: Astonishing

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, July 31 2014


  • The Twittersphere erupted with attacks on Twitter CEO Dick Costolo after he prompted users Tuesday afternoon to #askcostolo to ask him questions. The issue for many, as Ethan Chiel reported for On the Media: how Twitter handles (or fails to handle) abuse and harassment by some users, which often targets women and minorities.

  • One response, from mobile interaction designer Danilo Campos, suggested that Twitter give users a bunch of tools that they could use to block abusive users.

  • But veteran digital freedom activist Danny O'Brien remarked, "handing someone else a tool to silence others for you is handing them a tool that will be used to silence the weakest, it *seems* obvious."

  • Abuse reporting tools are being misused right now in Vietnam, Global Voices' Duy Hoang reports, where government-funded "opinion shapers" orchestrate fake reports to get democracy activists suspended on Facebook.

  • "Many current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they'd build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren't standing in the way," writes Foreign Policy's Shane Harris. His story details how John Poindexter's original and controversial plan for Total Information Awareness, which was quietly broken into pieces and implemented in part by the NSA, has been embraced in the island autocracy.

  • The anonymity service Tor may have been successfully hacked by researchers at Carnegie Mellon's Computer Emergency Response Team, leading Tor to warn users, in particular anyone who used the service between January 30 and July 4.

  • Facebook's program has launched in Zambia, and GigaOm's David Meyer astutely points out that the free service is "essentially an expansion of the existing Facebook Zero program," which he notes is not unique to the company--Twitter, Google and Wikipedia have similar offerings. "For better and for worse, welcome to the world without net neutrality," he writes. "More people will get online, but unless they have the money to pay their way into the free web, they’ll effectively be in a walled garden."

  • Spain is on the verge of passing new legislation that Global Voice's Renata Avila reports "could inflict long-lasting harm on the digital commons."

  • Online news startups are taking off across Latin America, reports Fiona Lowenstein for the Columbia Journalism Review. Of greatest interest: Animal Politico, a Mexican upstart that covers "stories that make our readers outrage[d}," its editor-in-chief Dulce Ramos tells Lowenstein.

  • War and social media: A Russian soldier's Instagram postings appear to place him inside Ukraine, Max Seddon reports for BuzzFeed.

  • FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has written to Verizon objecting to its newly announced policy of throttling users with unlimited data plans. "'Reasonable network management' concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams," he wrote, Jon Brodkin reports for the Wall Street Journal.

  • Capital New York's Johana Bhuiyan takes a revealing look at Vocativ, an online news hunter that claims its proprietary software enables it to mine the "deep web" and find original stories, whose MSNBC deal made headlines last February. She finds that the value of the company's software is being vastly inflated--in one case a story that MSNBC's Ronan Farrow touted as derived from Vocativ's tech was actually based on a New Yorker article.

  • Sarah Palin may have a new online TV channel, but Stephen Colbert now owns

  • Desk smarts: Are online "Ideas" sections and their corollary festivals the new media equivalent of cheap reality shows for TV? The Baffler's Kyle Chayka spears the current mania for "Ideas" among media outfits from The Atlantic to Buzzfeed. He writes:

    Unfortunately, the new fad serves more to underline just how vacant most published writing has become in media companies’ ongoing competition over “eyeballs” online. Increasingly, breaking news is a job only for the heritage media institutions with enough money to do it. Lightning-fast aggregation has leeched the significance out of even rehashing it. So the thinkpiece is now the dominant currency of the online news cycle because it traffics in something that writers stuck at desks in midtown offices can uniquely provide: “smart takes,” “new angles,” and, of course, ideas.

  • Pete Leyden's Reinventors program is hosting a live, online roundtable on reinventing government procurement today at 2pm ET, features a who's-who of gov-nerds: Jen Pahlka of Code for America, Henry Poole of CivicActions, Alissa Black of Omidyar Network, Alex Howard of TechRepublic, Yiaway Yeh of Nashville & Davidson Country Metro Government, Clay Johnson of the Department of Better Technology, and Matthew Chandler of Palantir.

  • How the 1% get by: Martha Stewart loves her new drone, and weirdly imagines for Time magazine how 18th century French royals would have enjoyed them.

  • Forbes blogger Tom Watson (and PDM friend) interviews the founders of the Detroit Water Project, which is enabling people to directly pay the water bills of poor Detroiters. So far, more than $28,000 has been donated in amounts ranging from $5 to $2500. Their story is definitely, as Philanthropy 2173's Lucy Bernholz wrote, "almost astonishing" as the donation clearinghouse was built in a matter of hours, no intermediary organization takes a cut, and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department didn't need to give its permission.