An open data project sought to battle tax foreclosures by arming residents with information. It may have empowered property speculators more than anyone.
Nfr Esters knew she couldn’t save the family house through conventional means. She had inherited the duplex on the East Side of Detroit from her great-grandfather in 2010, but a pipe burst before she moved back to the city, flooding the basement and racking up a $4,000 water bill that the city added to her property taxes. Esters would surely lose the house to tax foreclosure—but there was still hope.
CrowdJustice was founded on the idea that the rich shouldn’t be the only ones with access to the legal system. The crowdfunding platform launched in the United States yesterday with a campaign to raise funds for two Yemeni brothers caught in the crosshairs of President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
In 2014, the Daily Mail published a story about a dystopian Beijing in which the smog is so bad that residents flock to outdoor screens to watch digital sunrises. Time, CBS, and the Huffington Post picked up the story. Only, as a Tech in Asia reporter wrote several days later, the story wasn’t true.
Stories like these run rampant on Taiwanese social media, and in 2013 several members of the online-offline civic movement g0v.tw built a browser extension called News Helper for crowdsourcing the identification of fake news. As of December, more than 17,000 people currently have installed the extension on either Chrome or Firefox.
On Thursday the Obama administration announced the elimination of the regulatory underpinning of a post-September-11 national registry program for “certain nonimmigrants.” Although the program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), had not been active since 2011, many worried that it could have been rebooted under a Trump administration as Trump’s promised Muslim registry, and the announcement followed a targeted campaign around the issue by a coalition of groups, including MoveOn.
“This is a win,” MoveOn campaign director Iram Ali said Thursday. “I can’t even remember the last time Muslim communities have had a win so, it’s a huge deal.”
America’s civic tech army is experiencing some growing pains.
Since its launch in 2012, Code for America’s volunteer-led Brigade program has become one of the most influential civic tech bodies in the country, with chapters in 80 cities and tens of thousands of volunteer participants. A recent study by the Omidyar Network and Purpose found that the majority of grassroots civic tech activities in the U.S. over the past few years have been associated with Code for America (CfA) and that the Brigade network—which costs CfA more than a million dollars a year to run—has largely driven the geographic diversification of civic tech, from hubs in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia to outposts in places like Wichita, Kansas, and Birmingham, Alabama. If you wanted evidence that civic tech is spreading, the CfA Brigade program has been Exhibit A.
But after five years, the program is getting redesigned, prompted both by longstanding frustrations within its volunteer leadership as well as the need to find a more sustainable model. Brigade’s challenges have taken on increased urgency because CfA suffered from a fundraising shortfall last year, as CfA founder and executive director Jennifer Pahlka explained in an email to Brigade organizers at the end of December. (Her email, and others to the organizer listserv, can be found in Code for America’s Brigade program Google group.) Meanwhile, in part because of the budget crunch at headquarters, brigades have been operating since the beginning of this year without the stipends from CfA that have helped support meetings and events in previous years.