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First POST: If We Didn't Have the Open Web

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, August 15 2014

If We Didn't Have the Open Web

  • "Algorithms have consequences," writes Zeynep Tufekci in a must-read post about the role of yes, net neutrality in #Ferguson. Twitter, she points out, is a relatively open platform where users have a lot of control of what they choose to see and whose "trending" algorithm rewards spikes and helps spread news to places. Facebook, on the other hand, has a completely opaque system for deciding what to show users, throttling the display even of what your friends are posting (unless you pay the Zuck). And in the five days before Ferguson became a national crisis befitting President Obama's intervention, Twitter was driving attention to the nightly protests, while Tufekci's Facebook feed had nothing on the issue (she doesn't mention this, but from what I saw, for the last week News Feed has been all about the "ALS ice bucket challenge," a well-intentioned but completely non-political social fad).

  • Tufekci's conclusion: "I hope that in the coming days, there will be a lot written about race in America, about militarization of police departments, lack of living wage jobs in large geographic swaths of the country. But keep in mind, Ferguson is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue." Amen.

  • Speaking of the power of the open web: Take one outraged and well-networked activist, add a timely hashtag, a Facebook call to arms, a Google doc list, and presto, more than 100 Facebook event pages for yesterday's National Moment of Silence vigils blew up across America yesterday, filling mainstream news coverage and helping turn Ferguson into a national issue, as our Jessica McKenzie reports. Now, Internet who is so good as saying "no" (in this case to police brutality), can we rally around "go" (as in fix it!)?

  • Anonymous is in turmoil in the wake of conflicting efforts to influence events in Ferguson, Missouri, Nicole Perloth reports for the New York Times.

  • Speaking of the power of algorithms, check out this short essay by Emily McManus on what happened to her when she Googled for "English major who taught herself calculus" and was asked by the Google bot, "Did you mean 'english major who taught himself calculus.'"

  • In case you were wondering, you have the right (in America) to film the police, Jeff John Roberts explains in GigaOm. And the police can't order you to delete what you film. Finally, to access what's on the phone, they need a warrant.

  • While Facebook and Instagram are the online services most used by millennials, Snapchat is more popular than Twitter, reports the Washington Post's KnowMore blog.

  • Glass half-empty dept.: Arielle Pardes argues that hashtag activism and its cousin, social media fads, isn't real activism, using a series of examples from the current "ALS ice bucket challenge" to Livestrong wristbands, #HaitiRelief, #KONY2012, #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen and the Human Rights Campaign equality symbol campaign on Facebook.

  • Farhad Manjoo turns to academia to find out what the war against online trolling isn't going well.
    In case you need a refresher, here's all the ways Twitter has been bad at responding to abuse, gathered by Mary Anne Franks for The Atlantic.

  • Talk about pull: Five years ago, our friend Andrew Hoppin and his team at the NY State Senate CTO's office (yes, that institution was briefly run by web-savvy people) were the first to post their code to GitHub. Now the number of active government users on GitHub has just hit 10,000, reports Ben Balter.

  • Our Susan Crawford reports on how emergency services in New York City are using digital tools and WiFi to improve patient outcomes--but points out: imagine what it would be like with universal high-speed broadband.

  • Can tech improve the lives of low-income Americans? Significance Labs just rolled out five impressive start-up projects that show the answer is an emphatic yes, as I report. This is civic tech at its best.

  • And with that, friends, First POST is going on summer vacation hiatus. Read a book. (It's available as an audio book now, too.) See you after Labor Day!