What's New in Civic Tech: Facebook Preps UK Users for Fake News Spotting in Advance of Election

Plus, Chicago posts removed federal climate change data online, and Austin hosts competition for app builders with $38K of prize money.

by / May 11, 2017
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What's New in Civic Tech takes a look at highlights and recent happenings in the world of civic technology.  

Facebook Ramps Up Fake News Enforcement Ahead of UK Elections

As the United Kingdom prepares for a general election next month, Facebook is working to stem the influence of fake news stories by taking out advertisements in British newspapers that warn readers not to believe every story on their feed, among other things.

The British newspapers used for this cautionary campaign include The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Times, and the content of the full-page advertisements is simple enough. There is a headline reading, “Tips for spotting false news.” Beneath that headline are numbered pieces of advice such as be skeptical of headlines, look closely at the URL, consider the photos, look at other reports, and is the story a joke?

These ads come about a month after Facebook added educational tools centered around identifying misinformation to its interface, a move that was explained in a blog post by Vice President Adam Mosseri.

“We know people want to see accurate information on Facebook — and so do we,” Mosseri wrote. “False news and hoaxes are harmful to our community and make the world less informed. All of us have a responsibility to curb the spread of false news.”

To build these educational tools, Facebook worked with First Draft, a nonprofit dedicated to improving skills and standards for the sharing of information online. The tools were linked to the top of the news feeds of users in 14 countries. These links took users to the Facebook Help Center, which contained tips on how to spot fake news, tips similar to those being published in the UK papers.

This all comes amid concerns of Facebook shareholders about accountability for the spread of misinformation.

Chicago Rolls Out Tools to Help Preserve Scientific Data

Chicago has created a website for climate change information that was removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Website April 29 by the Trump administration.

Chicago’s new site is called Climate Change is Real, and it was announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Sunday, May 7. In a press release, the city said its goal in doing so was to ensure that the public continues having access to important environmental information.

“The Trump administration can attempt to erase decades of work from scientists and federal employees on the reality of climate change, but burying your head in the sand doesn’t erase the problem,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in the release. “We are going to ensure Chicago’s residents remain well informed about the effects of climate change, and I encourage cities, academic institutions, and others to voice concerns to follow suit to ensure this important information does not disappear.”

The release also quoted Henry Henderson, the Midwest director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, as saying “cities are becoming central in the climate fight.” Emanuel called on other mayors across the country to do the same.

The development of this website comes amid concerns about the removal of government data from federal websites under the Trump administration. The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group of open government, has begun tracking the removal of such data, as well as posting links to extant archives. 


Austin Offering $38K of Prize Money in App-Building Competition

Austin is looking for gigabit applications focused on transportation, clean energy, education, health and safety. To entice developers, the city is hosting an app building contest with $38,000 of prize money.

The contest is called the city of Austin’s GigaTECHs Competition, and the prize money is to seed and support the development of the winning applications. Austin officials invite interested competitors to attend a kickoff event that will be part of the 5th Annual ATX Hack for Change event, which runs from June 2 to 4. Registration prior to the event is required through the ATX Hack for Change website.

Qualified submissions should include ideas, concepts and wireframes, and they should be focused on the aforementioned areas: transportation, education, clean energy, health and safety. From the applications, a panel of expert judges will pick finalists to move forward and begin prototyping their app concepts. To be eligible, participants must reside or own a business in the Austin area.

The competition is part of a nationwide effort to encourage the creation of next generation Gigabit Internet apps, led by D.C.-based company U.S. Ignite. The prize money for this contest will be provided by U.S. Ignite and Austin’s Communications and Technology Management Department. Additional information about the competition will be announced during the ATX Hack for Change event. 

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.