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Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: September 15, 2023, 6:00 pm

                                                    Photo by Jon Moore on Unsplash 

If you've been wondering why the rhetoric around AI sounds so familiar, I have some thoughts. 

If you read Nancy Maclean's 2017 bestseller, Democracy in Chains, and then pick up a newspaper (or open a news company's app) and read this story on funding for AI scholarship at elite universities across the country, you will notice that the funders/philanthropists in the news story are using the playbook developed by those in the historical study. 

Democracy in Chains is about the fueling of libertarianism and a political economy that favors the wealthy few - an undemocratic project based on perverting majority-based systems to serve a very rich, very determined self-interested few. It goes further than Jane Mayer's brilliant Dark Money to show the intellectual history and the broad reach of the nonprofit/think tank/university (in other words, nonprofit) infrastructure for turning ideology into public policy. MacLean's book was published in 2017 and it centers on the Koch brothers - an updated version could factor in a wide range of philanthropic/funder/investor actions from younger billionaires and include otherwise-inexplicable actions such as Musk's purchase of and destruction of Twitter, and the general weirdness (horror) of First Amendment jurisprudence (FAIR v Harvard, UNC). When we are searching to make sense of a present moment it is helpful - extremely so, in this case - to look to both short and long-term historical precedents.

When it comes to our current moment (in the U.S.) in which Supreme Court decisions seem to abandon procedural and substantive norms from one day to the next and we're all rapidly trying to learn to distinguish AI-generated text/photos/videos from those made by humans and everything from the weather to the role of elections in this democracy seem up for grab these historical events are helpful. It's not quite rhyming (as historians will remind us), but there are patterns to see that can be helfpul. Maclean shows a 50+ year arc of an ideologic project built around a minority-viewpoint that has yielded extraordinary, stealthy success. It's worth understanding those past patterns to understand our current setting.

It's no coincidence that today's funders focused on existential risks of AI are using the playbook of scholarships, fellowships, and academic centers to build cadres of like-minded thinkers.  It focuses your attention downstream, away from the present. This funding model works - especially if you take a multi-decade time frame.

Just because it "works," however, doesn't mean it is in the best interest of anyone but those funding and being funded. The Kochs' and their allies were very clear that their project benefitted a minority (wealth owners). What they needed to do was bend the systems of a majority-based democracy to serve minoritarian ends. This was not hard to do, since the U.S. Constitutional system has numerous minoritarian run-arounds (e.g., Senate apportionment, electoral college, voting rules) built into it.  We should be on the lookout for similar motivations and efforts as we think about our now AI-dominant online information sources, systems, and messa

Some of those engaged in discussions and training about existential AI risks will note that human extinction is likely to come faster from climate change, weaponized nuclear facilities, and perhaps the next pandemic then from man-hating robots. Focusing scholars and the media's attention on the potential long-term harms to all of humanity is a slick way of distracting those same communities and others from the here-and-now harms of AI-enabled disinformation, discrimination, and economic harms for people already marginalized by race, religion, identity, and/or income. Each moment that goes by in which near-term harms are ignored is another chance for the current powers to further implant, strengthen, and reap the rewards of the very path dependencies that lead to the future they claim to be fighting against. 

In short, beware the arguments of those who direct your attention to far-away catastrophes while they benefit by building those very systems now. Better to refuse, redirect, or rebuild systems that cause no harm now, for they will also cause less harm later.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: July 5, 2023, 6:29 pm

Screenshot from

You know that the PGA Tour is a nonprofit, don't you?*

I'm also sure you've heard the news that the Saudi government (via its public investment fund, with $600+ billion in assets) launched a new tour (called LIV) which has announced a merger with the PGA Tour. Details are being worked out (and investigated.)

Why does this deal stink so much? Sport washing by a country with a dismal human rights record is pretty obvious - especially as the country is unabashadly trying to buy soccer talent also. Certainly, families of people who were killed on September 11, 2001 are disgusted (my own included). There's a lot of media on this story about the players, the fans, the public, the sport-washing, human rights, and, of course, Trump Sr., Kushner Jr., and Mnuchin. I'll let you read all that elsewhere. 

Let's go to back to the role of the Tour as a nonprofit organization. If you check on (screenshot above) you'll find the PGA Tour with its $4 billion in assets as well as about a dozen other PGA-named nonprofits, including a 501 (c) (3) foundation with$10,000 in assets and an organization for and by the wives of PGA players

This comes along as the United States has lost control of our system for financing campaigns and the regulatory body in charge (the FEC) is hogtied by politics. Money flows from individuals and corporations to nonprofits, where the names of the donors are "washed off" and the money is passed through to politically-active affiliated organizations. Sometimes, people just "move" nonprofit funds to their own pockets. As I predicted in 2010, when the Citizens United decision was handed down, large swaths of nonprofit organizations have become money laundering mechanisms for politics. This structure - foreign government "investment" in a nonprofit that holds extravagent and expensive events at properties owned by an indicted former president running again for office - looks and smells like the making of a money washing scandal from here, before the deal is even done. 

The new entity ("NewCo" to be born from PGA + LIV) will be a commercial enterprise. Owned by the nonprofit PGA. I'm not a lawyer but I can read these signs - that means no conversion foundation or tax payback from the nonprofit. Massive commercial investments plus a nonprofit structure that will enable anonymous financial flows. A set of nesting doll organizations ripe for funding abuse by anyone, anywhere interested in political influence, but particularly convenient for foreign governments. Given the timing, expect big concerns about funding and influence in the 2024 Presidential election.

Given the cast of characters involved, I'll say it out loud now: this deal looks like the biggest money laundering machine yet to be carved out of the nonprofit tax code. I'll put my bet down now - If the deal goes through, this will become a story of campaign finance violations. And we're watching it being put together right in front of us. It may never happen due to antitrust and other reasons, but still, it's important to see what this deal intends, and realize if not this, then somewhere else.

*I'm sure you remember that the NFL was a nonprofit until 2015 - when it reorganized as a commercial entity. Happens under 501 (c) (6) of IRS Code.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: June 8, 2023, 7:53 pm

Photo from Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Dateline: May, 2027

Location: Pretty much anywhere on earth

“Miriam was one of those rare people who could remember reading about her cause of death                                                                         before it happened. It wasn’t the reading that was rare - the warning had been printed in The New York Times, page A9. It also wasn’t the dying that was rare - hundreds of thousands of people would die of the same cause. It was the remembering that was rare.”

Yes, that’s fiction. I just made it up. Because I just read this story in today’s New York Times: record heat between now and 2027 due to climate catastrophe and El Niño weather patterns. It’s likely that one of the years between now and then will cross the mark of 1.5 degree celsius hotter than 19th Century average. 

So, there’s the science. The article goes on to do the work - “This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food, water management and the environment.” 

Keep going - do the rest of the work: Those far-reaching repercussions mean fires, droughts, floods, food shortages, hunger, water wars (term used deliberately). These things mean death. I made up Miriam and I interpolated from the global recent past to get to “hundreds of thousands of deaths.” (We’ve passed the tens of thousands marker). Here’s what’s happening now - four years after devastating 2019 Australian summer. 

If you have children starting elementary school this Fall, 2027 will be here before they go on to middle school. If your child was accepted to a four-year college this Spring, they’ve just been welcomed in to the class of 2027. If you’re writing a five year (?) strategic plan for your foundation/nonprofit you’re planning this precise timeline of these disasters - how are you fitting them into those plans?

I wrote a wee bit of fiction from this news. (I’ve done some other things, actual prep. Which given the global nature of the prediction is challenging) How do we respond to predictions like this - Action? Stasis? What are you doing? What can we do together? 

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: May 18, 2023, 8:48 pm
We're in an incredible moment. After decades of research and advocacy and warnings we are now living through the weather and natural disaster effects of climate collapse. We're also more than a few meters down the pitch of living with pervasive artificial intelligent systems. 

Ways of life from agriculture to writing, architecture to transportation are transitioning. The practices for adapting to more sustainable, more energy efficient, lower impact methodologies are being refined, shared, modeled and implemented at scale in some places. 

 And then there's this (which I reprinted with permission in the Blueprint 2022)

My question is are there examples of philanthropy that are clearly rooted in a sense of transition from one state to another? There are funds named for transitions - or at least there is the Just Transitions Fund - but are there others? If there are, what defines them? What are they transitioning to? Where are the experiments, innovations, regulatory reconsiderations, imaginaries, and alternatives in philanthropy and civil society that make use of (but don't venerate) our current capacities (for almost instant global communication, for example) and that pursue a vision of human thriving on a climate-damaged planet? How would such philanthropy work, what would it look like, what would it do differently from now, and how would it change itself in order to justify its continued existence? 

That last question is not meant to be rhetorical. The time frame for irreversible climate collapse is now about the length of time an American child spends in elementary school or just barely longer than the term of an elected Senator. The time frame for harms from badly designed AI to manifest has passed, it's already underway and we're well down that path.

We're on the path to both realities. We can see them up ahead and are already experiencing the harms we know will grow. It's illogical to do things the way they've been done during a transitional moment, unless your goal is to maintain the status quo. I've yet to meet the foundation or philanthropist who (explicitly) states such as their goal so this should be a time of tremendous experimentation and hopeful innovation. I'd love to see it - please point me in the right direction.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: May 11, 2023, 7:22 pm

                                                                                    Eileen Pan on Unsplash

There's been a lot of writing over the last three decades about the blurring of boundaries between nonprofits, governments, and markets. 

These analyses usually focus on the use of profit-generating tactics by nonprofits (blurring them with market institutions), the growing involvement of nonprofits in public policy (usually discussed either in terms of dark money or organizations with multiple tax statuses such as c3s and c4s), and the use by governments of philanthropy-style incentives (e.g. prizes or matching grants) or direct government involvement in supporting specific companies the way investors do. The whole social enterprise movement is an example of blurring lines between philanthropy and business.

In this context, this story of a government "watchdog" group is fascinating. The article describes how every inquiry into the group by a reporter is met with a different classification claim. Starting in 2021, it claimed to be a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, then it removed the 501 (c) 3 part, then in 2022 it referred to itself in a lawsuit as “an unincorporated association of retired and former public servants and concerned citizens that is dedicated to restoring public trust in government.” And then, in January 2023, it labeled itself simply “a collection of individuals.”

Needless to say, whatever it is, it has not been filing any paperwork or tax documents that might explain who is involved and where the money is coming from. 

Just in time for the 2024 U.S. Presidential election, which we can expect to be defined by AI generated information warfare online, we should also be on the lookout for more of these "deepfaked" IRL organizations.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: May 9, 2023, 9:55 pm
Nonprofits and foundations have been slow to realize that they live in a world of dirty tricks, bad faith messaging, trolls, DDOS attacks, and data breaches. In other words, they inhabit the same internet the rest of us do - one where determining what information to trust is almost a full-time job.
Industry intermediaries - organizations that provide information about nonprofits and foundations to the public - live in this same world. Not only are political groups setting up nonprofits as fronts for political money laundering, they are using the nonprofit information infrastructure to help them spread falsehoods, to slap back at organizations opposed to their views, and basically every other trick of online information harassment.
Here's a picture (a screen shot on my end) of what I assume is a hacked and defaced organizational page on Candid - the biggest provider of data on nonprofits and foundations. 

                                Screenshot taken from Candid website, 3:30 pm pst, May 2, 2023

That's the home page of an organization called American College of Pediatrics - an anti-gay, anti-trans lobbying group. Clearly, someone doesn't agree with their views.* The group also lost 10000 records from a Google drive it left online and unprotected - information leaked includes all kinds of donor and member information.

The internet and world wide web are trash piles of information. AI systems, such as ChatGPT, spew statistically-produced baloney. All of them are readily designed to facilitate harm and lies. It didn't have to be this way, but it is. Many people are clutching their pearls, having ignored the insights and warnings of those who've been pointing out these harms for decades. 

It doesn't have to continue this way, though it seems to be doing just that. Glory and hysteria go in cycles - from app to app, crypto to GPT.  Despite all the warnings of a cliff ahead, we seem to be driving faster and faster toward it.

*FWIW, I don't agree with their views. I did not deface their page on Candid.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: May 2, 2023, 10:59 pm

Today, reporters tell us that staff at X Corp. (the company now responsible for Tw*tter) are going through its database and removing - one by one - emergency services that subscribe to the platform's API - thereby cutting off these departments (fire, emergency services) from using the social media service in emergencies.

GLAAD discovered yesterday that Tw*tter had suspended its efforts to protect transgender people, deliberately removing language in its Hateful Conduct Policy that penalized misgendering and dead-naming.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported today that nonprofits are sticking with Twitter, despite....everything going on over there at the company and on the platform.

Hmmm. Why are Niemöller's's words ringing in my ears? You know the ones: "First they came for the..."

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: April 19, 2023, 6:30 pm

                                                                                                    Photo by Mike Scheid on Unsplash

Colorado privacy law INCLUDES nonprofits - 

This is as it should be. Nonprofits gather, hold, and rarely protect an enormous amount of very sensitive data of very high value. Think about it - your donations to, volunteer time at, and service from a nonprofit says a LOT about you - much more personal information than your favorite ice cream flavor. Marketers and politicians LOVE this information. And they use it to even further segment and divide us.

Philanthropists need to step up and help nonprofits protect their data and the whole sector needs to massively improve their data governance and protection processes OR stop collecting data OR stop lobbying their way out of accountability.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: April 13, 2023, 9:14 pm

                                                        Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash 

I changed my job in response to the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). I was convinced at the time (2010) that the Court's decision would lead to the transformation of many nonprofits from advocacy organizations to money laundering tools for political donors. I was right.

It's been hard to prove the scope of this for the very reason it's happening. Nonprofit law allows for donor anonymity; campaign finance law does not. By using nonprofits to "wash" their names from political donations, it makes it very hard to track money back to its source. The amazing web of connections that Jane Mayer drew out in her book Dark Money and ProPublica documented here shows how hard this can be. These concerns were part of what led Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli and I to write Good Fences: The Importance of Institutional Boundaries in the New Social Economy (2013).


The rules on donor anonymity that come from the nonprofit sector have proven to be remarkably adaptable tools for "washing" donors' names from political contributions. This can be done by moving money from a c3 to a c4. It can be done by opening and closing a c3 or c4 in-between the required reporting periods. It can be done by creating layers of relationships between c3s and c4s and crowdfunding platforms. It can be done - and is being done - because the laws about nonprofits (and the regulators of them - state attorneys general, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and, in the case of Florida, the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services) intersect somewhat orthogonally with the laws about elections and political donations (and with the FEC and state level oversight bodies).

What's worse, is that Citizens United was only a point on a path. There are trend lines that can be spotted and forces identified working very hard to further dilute any distinctions between charitable anonymity and political anonymity. Today, in an article by Rick Hasen, an election law expert, I read that we are heading toward:

"..a world in which many of the remaining regulations of money in politics could well be struck down as unconstitutional or rendered wholly ineffective by a Supreme Court increasingly hostile to the goals of campaign finance law and extremely solicitous of religious freedom."(fn)

I can't quote more of the article - and shouldn't have quoted that much - as the article is in draft form and was discussed at a conference celebrating Professor Ellen Aprill. (Grateful to the blog post by Gene Takagi that led me to the event). You can download the draft paper here

In a nutshell, Professor Hasen uses Professor Aprill's work to show the intellectual and legal history that will likely use religious freedom to deregulate political donations. How? Via the deregulation of political activity in churches and houses of worship. There's much more to it (read the paper) but that gets us started. 

What does this mean for nonprofits? More politics. More money laundering. Less trust. 

What does it mean for democracy? More blurring of boundaries between nonprofit and commercial corporations. More anonymous money in politics. Less trust. More plutocratic control. 

It's not a positive tale. But thanks to Professors Aprill and Hasen, we've been warned. So, what are we going to do about it?

(fn)Richard L. Hasen, Nonprofit Law as the Tool to Kill What Remains of Campaign Finance Law: Reluctant Lessons from Ellen Aprill,"Forthcoming, 56 LOYOLA OF LOS ANGELES LAW REVIEW (2023) (special festschrift symposium honoring Ellen Aprill)

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: March 30, 2023, 8:58 pm


                                                                    Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

Civil society organizations are on the front lines of advocating for or against the most divisive issues in the United States. The following list is organized by rights. The links are almost entirely to civil society organizations fighting to protect the rights to free expression, free assembly, voting, reproduction, and work. Their civil society opponents on these issues are noted under each section.

(I'm sure there's more to add here - feel free to send additions to or comment below)

Book bans, educational censorship and attacks on free expression

Pen America reports there have been 86 state bills proposed that would censor a wide swath of educational materials and ban books, mostly on Black people, LGTBQ+ people, and discussions of critical race and queer theory (college level). An increasing number of these bills allow a single person to request removal of any number of books, and for those books to be removed before any kind of review. Thirty-two states and more than 150 school districts have implemented book bans.

        Notable nonprofits for book bans:

Moms for Liberty, formed in 2021, has 200 local chapters. It is both a c3 and a c4. Other national groups with branches include US Parents Involved in Education (50 chapters), No Left Turn in Education (25), MassResistance (16), Parents’ Rights in Education (12), Mary in the Library (9), County Citizens Defending Freedom USA (5), and Power2Parent (5).

Another 38 state, regional, or community groups advocating for book removals appear unaffiliated with the national groups or with one another.

        Notable nonprofits against: PEN America, American Library Association, many others

Protest bans and attacks on free assembly

Thirty-nine states have passed laws limiting protest. While a handful of jurisdictions have passed laws limiting the use of facial recognition by police, most places have not done so. In 2021, half of the 42 US federal agencies that are part of law enforcement owned or used facial recognition technology. Corporate use of SLAPP lawsuits against individual protestors are rising in numbers. Open carry laws for handguns exist in 36 states and you can carry a long gun openly in 44 states. Guns at protests are hard to square with the idea of peacable assembly. 

Notable organizations promoting protest bans: Police associations, Republican officials,

Notable organizations fighting against them: Civil Liberties Defense Center, ACLU, BLM


Voting rights

As of 2021, nineteen states had passed laws making it harder to vote. Eighteen states were carrying over 152 bills to restrict voting in 2022. 

Notable organizations promoting voting restrictions: Americans For Prosperity, Heritage Foundation, ALEC

Notable organizations fighting against restrictions: Voting Rights Alliance, ACLU, some election administration groups, Fair Fight, Brennan Center, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights

Reproductive rights

Have split the U.S. in two - with 24 states banning access to abortion. These states are also adding vigilante bonuses and surveilling communications and travel.

Notable organizations promoting reproductive restrictions: see this list

Notable organizations fighting for access to healthcare: see this list

Right to work

These laws, whose name implies one thing but which actually focus on restricting the right for labor to organize, exist in 27 of the 50 states.

Notable organizations promoting voting restrictions: Americans For Prosperity, Heritage Foundation, ALEC, Republican Party

Notable organizations fighting against restrictions: AFL-CIO, SEIU, Center for American Progress, Democrats

Behind all of these organizations are donors. Some are heavily supported by individuals, others by foundations, others by corporations. Many rely on crowdfunding or on a mix of all of these funding structures. Behind each issue, on each side, is a mix of 501c4 and 501c3 organizations - an approach that makes it easy to hide the identities of donors whose interests are primarily political but who desire anonymity. New case law on donor anonymity in such situations, and conservative groups efforts to enable even greater anonymity for political donors, further complicates our ability to know who is funding what. 

I don't have a conclusion to offer to this post. Yet. Instead, view this as "first draft thinking" for Blueprint 2024. I welcome your feedback.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: March 29, 2023, 7:59 pm

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash 

If you’ve been reading the news you know that Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), a bank that heavily caters to VC firms and start ups, collapsed and its depositors are being saved by the US Treasury. You know that hearings are being called for in Congress and the same old battle lines between the wealthy (people and institutions) and everyone else have been re-animated. And you can infer that there was (and is) a whole lot of backroom-ing going on.

You also know that SVB had lots of money in accounts held by nonprofit organizations, including affordable housing organizations. 

You also know that Open AI, the once not-for-profit-now-for-profit research organization has released GPT 4, a large language model (LLM) update to its previously (as in three months ago) released GPT 3. You’ve heard about generative AI, read stories about how “nasty,” “smutty” or “just weird” the outputs of the GPT models are, and you may have even “played” with or worked with these models. On mastodon I found a thread of nonprofit staff sharing stories of how they’re using ChatGPT to expedite the funder-driven time-suck of cutting the 1000 word description of your programs and their world changing effects required by Funder A into a 300 word description for Funder B. 

And you’ve probably seen, perhaps read, maybe skimmed the numerous articles and abundant research on how the LLMs are biased and the outputs are “hallucinations,’ (yes that’s what they’re called). As for SVB, you may have seen stories or tweets or blog posts about how the collapse of SVB will lead to an immediate funding disaster for all Bay Area nonprofits.

I want to posit two things. First, jumping to insights or conclusions right now about the effects of either the bank collapse or generative AI makes for good Twitter (if there is any such thing anymore), but isn’t reality. It’s punditry, lobbying, or sales. Second, think about the intersections between these things - emerging tech systems, corporate hype, cost of living, need for and role of nonprofits, risk management in banking, risk denial in corporations, risk and responsibility of governments, philanthropic product choices by wealthy individuals (DAFs, LLCs, private foundations, community foundations) and, finally, the overlap between these categories in terms of actual number of people involved. 

It’s too soon to know how these things will play out at a sector level. Those on the outside of SVB and/or OpenAI don’t know as much as we think we know. We don’t know all the ways they intersect. The best anyone can be doing right now is 1) finding out if they have exposure to SVB or Credit Suisse, either directly or through their funders (true for startups and nonprofits and mitigate appropriately at the organizational level; and check on your own bank, given potential for ripple effects of individual bank problems; 2) Put on your hype-goggles, convene your nonprofit’s data governance review committee (What? You don’t have one?) and start thinking now about who generative AI helps, what it does well and where it is dangerous, if and how it aligns with the mission of your organization (The mission - not the development or marketing departments' metrics, but the actual mission), where (within what software you use) are algorithms already at work, and what data (on whom) you’d be feeding to a third-party corporation (such as OpenAI) if you start using it and what that means for your constituents. 

These two things - a bank collapse and new technology - ARE likely to have BIG societal impacts. But understanding them will take time. And their impacts won't unfold along "straight lines" from A to B. There will be all kinds of additional "developments," intersections and interactions between impacts, and mitigations and responses. Don't fall for the quick analysis - it’s all operating on incomplete information.*

Just like the weather in California, judging from the winter we’ve had, forecasters (armed with actual meteorological and longitudinal data) are noting that we’re in for a long, strange Spring. That’s about all we can guess is coming from these two recent events. Strange times ahead. Keep your goggles on.


 *Speaking of incomplete information, Time Magazine is running a story describing how some of the biggest names in Effective Altruism knew about the financial shenanigans of their most famous, duplicitous member, Sam Bankman-Fried. Yet, they were still "shocked and dismayed" when his crypto-empire turned out to be built on fraud.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: March 15, 2023, 9:16 pm


                                                            Photo by Kier in Sight on Unsplash 

Proud to say this article, "Digital Public Policy: New Priorities for Nonprofits" has just been published. It is derived from lessons learned preparing the Integrated Advocacy report and this article on media coverage of civil society and covid

My co-authors, Toussaint Nothias and Amelie-Sophie Vavrovsky and I outline the many ways in which civil society is now bounded by and dependent on the many public policy domains that shape digital spaces. 

The most basic distillation of the argument is this: civil society is where we express ourselves, gather together (for non-market, non-state activities) and take collective action, often contrapuntally to the "mainstream" actions of markets and governments. In our times, most acts of expression (or mere communication) and gathering are dependent on information exchanged digitally. Just as digital practices and public policy shape online expression and assembly, civil society also shape digital practices and policies. They are entwined with each other. Whether we are considering public policy decisions about privacy, expression, assembly and association or considering regulations about philanthropy, nonprofit structures, and protest or free expression we are talking about enjoined systems.

You can download a copy of the article here. (hope this is not paywalled)

P.S. Thanks to everyone who has reached out to me after receiving these blogs posts/emails and offered good wishes, hoping that the return of the blog indicates an improvement in my health. I wish they were directly correlated. In fact, my return to blogging is motivated by the destruction of Twitter. I am chronically ill and disabled by Long Covid and am blogging when I can.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: February 27, 2023, 2:25 am

                                                                        Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

Earn to give. 

Make as much money as you can to give it away. 

Why are we surprised that messages like this would provide incentives for people (or be used as justification by people) who just want to make lots of money? 

This story from The New York Times, seems at first as if it will pull back the curtain on this logic that making money at all costs is OK if you're going to give it away. But, it doesn't. Instead it joins the legions of articles written about effective altruism and the potential crimes at FTX that inherently reify the logic. 

Rather than the FTX debacle unleashing a broad conversation about wealth and responsibility, philanthropy's roles in making amends for harmful actions, or *gasp* real questions about capitalism and justice, the FTX scandal is philanthropy's version of asterisked hall of famers. Those involved in FTX are being treated like the Pete Roses and Barry Bonds of philanthropy. The more that stories about FTX repeat these tropes about effective altruism, the more they reinforce it as an excuse, a justification, even a reason for fraud.

Philanthropy - and here I'm talking about big philanthropy, institutionalized and with extraordinary resources - has been a tool for cleaning up reputations (of individuals, corporations, and whole industries) for a long time. Philanthropy as an acceptable pre-condition for malfeasance is the throughline to much of the press coverage on FTX. 

What's notable is that the press I've seen calling out this problem is that which quotes other effective altruists or those who disagree with it's underlying philosophy. Other parts of organized philanthropy haven't had much to say. And that says a lot.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: February 21, 2023, 8:34 pm


                                            Photo by Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash

You knew I was going to have to do it. So here it is (Courtesy of ChatGPT Feb 17, 2023)

The first line is the "prompt" I typed into ChatGPT. The rest of the text are the answers it provided to me

Answers such as these don't bode well for small community-based groups. The AI doesn't overemphasize, but does include, "overhead" concerns as it does "outcomes." First answer promotes aligning your giving with your values (fine), then it goes on to suggest organizations without concern about what my values might be.

Looks like a #buzzword-trained AI to me.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: February 17, 2023, 7:32 pm

                                            Photo by @chairulfajar_ on Unsplash
Today's New York Times features an article on how tech companies are dismantling their Trust and Safety Teams (free article). This strikes me as akin to price gouging by oil companies during the inflationary moment we're in - taking advantage of the great tech-layoff-contagion to get rid of something they don't seem to have ever really wanted. 

Let's just acknowledge that we can't trust anything posted on social media (and the most vulnerable, the  most outspoken, and  the rest of us are all facing more harm). We can't trust the answers from ChatGPT and the tech companies are racing each other to implement similar AI systems into their search products and elsewhere. At the same time, the companies are less and less interested in making any data available to independent researchers who might check the companies' own claims. There are lots of efforts to ensure access - the EU's Digital Services Act, proposed legislation called the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act in the US, and the Coalition for Independent Technology Research - but none are perfect and all must reckon with serious concerns about people's privacy.

I've noticed an uptick in my email of research reports from nonprofits and advocacy groups. I suppose this makes sense in a time of continued pressures on journalism and the swamp of bad information that is the internet. How should we know to trust these reports? Chances are each of us will only receive such reports from organizations with which we're already aligned or organizations that have bought email lists from other organizations with which we're aligned. That sets us all up for an ever-growing pile of one-side-ism. 

I'm pretty sure I've never ever received a report from an organization that criticizes the organization or its outcomes. Occasionally, I receive one after a scandal in which the report guarantees me the problem has been solved. I have received some self-searching emails about the claims of sexual harassment in the Effective Altruism community, by people in the community (I am not in it) but those are about "culture" and "governance" not the work itself so much.*

Here's my question for nonprofits and foundations and activists and associations - to civil society, basically - how do we trust you and your research?

This is a sector-wide issue. What mechanisms, credentials, cross-checks, editorial practices, industry norms need to be developed and implemented before civil society's signals become indistinguishable from incessant noise?

*Kelsey Piper, who identifies as an effective altruist, has a decent example of soul-searching about EA and harassment in her newsletter dated February 15, 2023 for Vox.  Although she nods to the homogeneity of the EA community she doesn't draw any further inferences to the problems in its giving approach, governance, or harassment.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: February 15, 2023, 9:22 pm

I wrote about Grift - Gifts here. I didn't think of the term soon enough to include it in the Buzzwords list for Blueprint 2023 - which is now available. Get your free copy here.

In The New York Times print edition, December 15, 2022, the following ad ran on page A7. I don't know where else it ran.

It's a full paid ad (estimated cost is at least $150,000), from the Stellar Development Foundation, arguing how fraudsters (e.g. Sam Bankman-Fried of #FTX fame) are giving crypto a bad name. It goes on to describe how the blockchain is facilitating direct cash transfers across international borders and without banks - enabling aid to people in Ukraine who are under attack. (it leaves out any mention of how this also allows movement of money for other purposes as well, from sanctions avoidance to money laundering to weapons/drugs purchases and, of course, support of the invaders).

Good. It's beyond time where we had a real discussion about the good and bad of crypto. Not a hype-fest or a crossed-arm, "it's all bunk" argument, but a determinative discussion about if and how it can be used to help people. And what the RULES need to be to eliminate the centralizing, wealth extracting, environment destroying aspects of it - IF its going to be used. 

Differentiating grift-gifts from "crypto-philanthropy" is going to come down to the regulations and oversight mechanisms built around the technology and the groups participating. It's about the legal code, not the software code. 

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: December 15, 2022, 7:11 pm

It's beginning to look like SBF (Sam Bankman-Fried) and FTX (crypto currency exchange) are going to go down in history as the biggest case of "philanthropy-washing" in history. So big and important, I've coined a new word, Philanthro-grift.*

The U.S. Department of Justice has arrested SBF and charged him with intent to defraud investors. The court-appointed clean up CEO of FTX told the U.S. Congress "This is just old fashion embezzlement, taking money from others and using it for your own purposes. This is not sophisticated at all." (<- that's a direct quote from Dave Pell's NextDraft newsletter. You should read it).

Here are the implications for  civil society and philanthropy.  

  1. FTX and SBF spent a lot on "philanthropy" - especially organizations aligned with             #EffectiveAltruism.  All part of his grift (alledged)
  2. If the whole crypto industry is a sham (as many think), what the heck could possibly be valid about crypto giving and philanthropy? 

Crypto is bad for the environment, a sham of a financial system, and - at least in SBF's case - was part of a major grift. How do civil society organizations justify being part of any it? Really, takes philanthropy-washing to a new level.

I think someone could start a "philanthropy is going great" website (modeled after Web3IsGoingGreat and TwitterIsGoingGreat).

Final thought - SBF's grift extended to political contributions (some public and some dark money). We need new rules.

*I also considered "grift gift". (Grift giving) Which do you prefer?

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: December 13, 2022, 9:10 pm


Cover of Blueprint 2023

Download for free:

For the 14th year in a row, I've written a Blueprint on Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society. This year's version - which covers 2023 - will go live on December 15, 2022. You can get your free copy here

As it always has, the Blueprint includes Buzzwords (which got their start on this blog), Predictions for 2023, and a scorecard of past predictions and whether I got things right or wrong. The Buzzwords will also run in the Chronicle of Philanthropy - on or about December 15.

This year, for the first time, the Blueprint includes some AI generated art (and lots of questions about it), and two essays by other authors - one on community organizers and data by Venita E Griffin and one the impact of impact measurement by Aaron Horvath. 

We'll be moving the chat about #Blueprint2023 from Twitter to the Fediverse. You can find me over there and the hashtag will stay the same. Join us.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: December 7, 2022, 6:49 pm


                                                Palm trees on campus*. Photo by Lucy Bernholz

I've always doubted the effective altruism (EA) approach. Making as much money as you can so you can give it away is 1) an individual approach to societal problems, 2) a fancy way of alleviating rich people's guilty consciences, and 3) the focus on self-made metrics contributes to the distancing of donors from communities. In my snarky moments I've been known to point out that the most ardent adherents of EA seemed to be quant jocks and philosophers - two groups that tend to complicate things rather than simplify them. The self-referential and self-aggrandizing nature of many EA adherents is a big put-off. Longtermism seems to me to result in a lot of vanity projects. I could go on and on. And in fact, I do, go on and on a bit in the forthcoming Blueprint 2023. 

All that being said, some of the EA's most influential thinkers did the right thing by immediately resigning from the FTX Future Fund (Sam Bankman-Fried's EA-committed philanthropic fund) immediately upon hearing of the financial shenanigans and bankruptcy of FTX and for calling out their concerns about fraud. In their words:

"We are now unable to perform our work or process grants, and we have fundamental questions about the legitimacy and integrity of the business operations that were funding the FTX Foundation and the Future Fund. As a result, we resigned earlier today.

We don’t yet have a full picture of what went wrong, and we are following the news online as it unfolds. But to the extent that the leadership of FTX may have engaged in deception or dishonesty, we condemn that behavior in the strongest possible terms. We believe that being a good actor in the world means striving to act with honesty and integrity."

So, fraudulent behavior in the name of good acts is not OK. That oughta be obvious and the individuals involved above commended on their actions. 

But fraud in the name of good is not only an individual problem. We've built a larger system of giving and philanthropic adoration that repeatedly and reliably sets up philanthropic acts as a cover up for bad corporate and billionaire behavior. Bad behavior is not the same as fraud, but the former might be a gateway drug to the latter. 

The two stories above are probably better thought of as "philanthropy-washing" then fraud.  If the concerns about FTX turn out to be true, then it will go down as a massive scam which conned itself out of public, regulatory, and investor oversight, at least partly through its philanthropic claims.

As a long time critic of "[Blank] for good" initiatives from tech companies and others, the idea of committing fraud for good is more than just a bit of schadenfreude. It's a warning to all of us. The entanglement of profit-making and good-doing is problematic in so many ways that labeling it all "fraud for good" is just too tempting. 

What will come of all this? Charitable donations may be clawed back to repay investors. That alone says much about the priorities of this dynamic and the way things are regulated.

I suspect we'll see more organizations establishing donation policies regarding crypto-wealth generated donations. The rise of research into tech's social harms has already led many such groups to declare tech wealth off limits; just as the ACLU has long shunned government funding and Consumer Reports doesn't take corporate money from product companies. Tobacco and fossil fuel company donations led the way in being seen as "toxic;" we're likely to see ever more domains of industry put into those categories. 

Bibliography - other links on FTX and philanthropy

Chronicle of Philanthropy (may be paywalled) 


The Atlantic

The Washington Post

Financial Times

Critiques of effective altruism (publishing sites listed below; opinions are those of the authors)

Radical Philosophy



New Statesman

*I took this picture on the Stanford campus in November, 2022. I've often joked to people that "even the palm trees on campus have donor plaques on them." This is not true, but if it were, I'd guess the tree on the right front side of the picture (the one without a top) is the "FTX palm."


Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: November 18, 2022, 9:41 pm

NOTE About this post: I'm trying to make sense of something happening around me rapidly. Will be back to revise my thinking and (I hope) improve the text.

The following post is about the chaos that is now Twitter, the growth in the #fediverse, the damage being done in real time to disbursed communities of people and activists, the possibilities of digital civil society coming through to shine, and the need to think carefully and collectively. There is some terminology that may be new to readers. See below.*

Half the staff of Twitter was laid off on Friday, November 4 including members of the human rights, accessibility, and election integrity teams. The local news (here in San Francisco) is that layoffs are coming to Meta (Facebook), Uber, Lyft, Stripe, etc. See this layoff tracker. These are a big deal in my region - lots of jobs lost. This also means lots of people with (potentially) a vested interest in and relevant skills for digital civil society. Some non-tech companies wasted no time in reaching out to the newly unemployed. This isn't only a Bay Area phenomenon - the companies, their workforces, and digital civil society are all global.


Let's get some speculation out of the way:

What if we take him at his word? The new owner of a certain social media site favored by journalists has said his goal is to turn the site into something else. Specifically, X - an all in one app such as WeChat. Communication, payment, retail, transport, etc. 

So, there's that. He's not trying to save the site, he's trying to destroy it. And chaos is his tactic.

Now, building something new may be his goal. But destroying things that he (and many others) don't like is also happening. Perhaps it's a consequence, perhaps it's intentional. Certainly the chaos is intentional. For those in the U.S.A. we've seen this before: 2017-2021 this was the primary communication tactic coming from the former president. Make headlines, deal with fallout by making more headlines, don't like that, try this. "Hey, look, squirrel." 

There's no doubt that Twitter is falling apart and that a single person is wielding the sledgehammer.

The purchase, the lawsuit and backtracking, the firings, the chaos, the timing are almost fictional in their sly but public, obvious but "conspiracy theory?-esque", could be deliberate, could be just beneficial fallout kind-of way.A good writer could build a whole narrative around the backroom cabals of pleading millionaires (whose whining was outed as part of a headfake lawsuit), the entanglement with politicians and political groups quite proudly and publicly intent on voter suppression, one-party rule, the end of free and fair elections, and the new owner's apparently primary source of pleasure, trolling. 

Speculate away. 


There's no doubt that the collapse of Twitter (intentional, deliberate, self-inflicted, self-protective) is causing chaos for on the ground organizers and carefully-built communities. People with disabilities. Communities of color. Queer communities. Critics of power - technological, financial, and political. Some are finding their accounts suddenly closed.

The chaos is destructive to public protest, community organizing, and distributed networks of grassroots power,

Many people fleeing Twitter are headed over to the #fediverse,* trying to learn the customs and protocols, being schooled in community practice, and desperately seeking their previous connections. You can watch in real time as people leave Twitter and come rushing in the doors of Mastodon or other parts of the #fediverse. In less than a week, the vibe in the new place has started to shade from "Hey, I'm new here, how do I participate?" to "Let me continue to act like I did over there, bring some self-promotion with me, criticize the norms over here and see how quickly we can change the #fediverse to be familiar, rather than change our behavior to fit in." (slightly overblown, but you can see it now, around the edges)

From the perspective of digital civil society (dcs) - this is our moment. People hosting #fediverse servers have long been part of digital civil society. Volunteers making spaces for online communities - one of the oldest behaviors in a networked world. People who have only ever used commercial services like Twitter and Facebook and who have either 1) developed every trick in the book to outmaneuver the algorithms and data extraction or 2) made peace with the cost of using those services for their greater need of community finding/building instead have a chance to participate in and help expand/deepen digital systems that are as fragmented, diverse, and pluralistic as the best of physical world civil society. We can build alliances, norms, and call out bad behavior. We can find our own people and interact with potential allies. We can build apps and practices on top of what is already there - being careful not to destroy this digital world by demanding it look like, act like, feel like the rotted systems of Twitter and Facebook that seem comfortingly familiar. The familiar is poisonous in this case. The analogy of climate change is sitting right there. Don't build more of destructive ways, try different ones.

This is an amazing moment to experience community-led, less-extractive, less corporatized digital life. It's not perfect (privacy is...complicated), and it's open for you to help improve it. It takes learning and time - just like moving to a new community should. People there need help, and they are asking for it. Communities that were connected via the commercial platforms are seeking ways and places to rebuild and reconnect. They're wise to watch and learn. First mover advantage is a corporate mindset. Careful community building might be yours, instead. 

Having your online community blasted apart is painful. For many, the effort to rebuild is enormous. People with chronic illnesses and disabilities and other communities BY DEFINITION can't jump up and move, not physically and not digitally. While healthy people with the time to do so are moving on  to find new digital homes they're not organizing or getting out the vote, they're still busy understanding what differentiates a toot from a tweet.* While journalism and even site users are pre-occupied with the finances of a billionaire, the election misinformation and manipulation runs amok.

Let it be noted - online communities for marginalized people, coordinated GOTV efforts, election protection, and disinformation removal were blasted apart five days before an election. We will look back at this period through the lens of election outcomes first. Right now, I'm urging you to experience the period while understanding the harm that's been inflicted. We will rebuild our online communities, and in doing so, I hope we keep the confusion and pain of this period alive in our memories, for whatever we join into or build anew should be designed to prevent this from ever again happening.

I do want to note that parts of digital civil society are ready for this. There are institutions ready to Reboot Social Media. Scholars and builders redesigning digital public infrastructure. New_Public has been hosting discussions on better digital media and now there's Project Mushroom. (I"m sure there are many more of these efforts - send them along to me, please) 

Some of these examples are coming from big, wealthy institutions. The people doing the community building and organizing, they may still be reflecting, reconsidering, and resting. Both are important parts of digital civil society. 

Digital civil society's moment is now. The wheels are coming off - or at least starting to wobble on - the big, commercial, data extractive sites of Twitter and Facebook. There's open space for communities, activists, technologists, civic leaders, and community organizers to build digital systems that they can influence, even control. All that "tech for good" project work? Time to try it out in a world without a dominant commercial social media site. This is a moment, it may not last. Twitter is reeling and Facebook's corporate owner is firing people and piling money into other products. Don't doubt for a minute that other commercial sites - IG, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr - they're busy trying to capture as many people as they can during this period of turmoil. We too, the makers and thinkers and builders of digital civil society, can do this also. We're the ones those companies want to lock in, so there's not better time to find our own way and make our own spaces.

*Some terminology

#Fediverse. This is the collective noun to describe thousands of independent servers connected via a shared protocol, that allow people to set up accounts and communicate with others, anywhere on any server. Most of the servers are run by individuals or community groups, paid for by the hosts or crowdfunded donations. Each host sets their own rules. Joining the #fediverse now is not unlike joining Twitter in 2008. You have to find the people you want to interact with, curate your own community. There is no master algorithm feeding things into your line of vision. The fediverse includes well-established but previously niche groups, marked by diversity of almost all kinds (right wing hate groups and sites cannot be connected to some servers), and focused on community-built communication and community building spaces.

Mastodon. Part of the #fediverse. Like Twitter, its mostly text sharing, with space for photos and videos. Also links to other parts of the fediverse that are dedicated to sharing photos, videos, etc. Mastodon is getting a LOT OF PRESS, but it's only one part. By end of this week it's fair to guess that every mainstream paper, magazine, news site in the US will have run or linked to a "How-to" guide to Mastodon. Likely true in other parts of the world also. 

Tweet: what one posts on Twitter. 

Toot: what one posts on Mastodon.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: November 7, 2022, 10:24 pm


                                 [Photo by Lars Kienle on Unsplash. ALT - picture of red computer cables running                                     from a server].

We founded the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford in 2014 to examine and act on the ways digital dependencies effect civil society. How does a global exoskeleton of corporatized infrastructure and government/corporate data surveillance change how people take collective action? How are people taking collective action to influence that infrastructure and exoskeleton? What skills, expertise, and practices do nonprofits, foundations and other associations need access to in order to collect, use, store, and destroy data safely and effectively?

If you've been following me, you know I obsess about these issues. 

I fear for how these dependencies are playing out. For the first time since I started writing this blog in 2002, the technology companies that are responsible for much of this infrastructure are facing economic headwinds.  They did fine through 2008 and have so far flourished through the pandemic. Today, not so much.

I live in San Francisco, where the city as a whole (and the actual city government) await the fallout of Elon Musk's bravura. We have an election on Tuesday in the U.S. By Tuesday, Twitter will have half as many staff as it does today. The company's ability to prevent deliberate attacks on the truth was already minimal; it will fail as a source of reliable information by Tuesday. But will people, journalists, election officials, candidates, and political parties recognize it's frailty? Probably not. Much more likely is the deliberate exploitation of the corporate chaos to wreak election havoc.

The company's ability to protect it's data (your data, if you're on the platform) is already suspect. Musk needs to pay the debt he's loaded onto the company. Your data is not safe. All the threads, the DMs, the location information, the metadata on who interacts with whom. Not secure, not safe, probably for sale and easy to steal.

For those of us in the U.S., turning to Twitter for election information will need to be seen as an experiment in truth-finding. I don't know of measures of this, but I'll bet the ratio of deliberate deception to truth telling on the platform trips to more election lies even than cat photos no later than Monday. Tuesday night election reporting is going to be a fiasco. In addition to Twitter's problems, Tik Tok is setting new records for synthetic data, e.g. deepfakes. Jurisdictions across the country have implemented procedures that will slow vote counting, so that the "Tuesday night, just claim [you] won" tactic is normalized across the nation.  What should be denial of the reliability of social media will be presented as denial of the reliability of elections. 

Your nonprofit or foundation or association needs to reconsider it's use of social media. Organizers, protestors, community organizations, activists - they're not safe now. From Kviv to Tigray, people in distress have relied on Twitter to find and offer help. Going forward this won't be safe, and the data lives on from all our past uses. How is your organization, your communication team, your lawyers, evaluators, program and constituent services staff preparing to distinguish and tell truths from lies? How are you preparing to protect the data you have - and the relationships mapped out by your social media interactions (which is manifested in data that Twitter holds)? Are you moving off Twitter? Where are you going? What about the other platforms you use - what lessons will you learn from Twitter's public car wreck and apply to uses of other data collection services such as Facebook, Salesforce, or your payroll company?

At a minimum: Request your twitter archive. Download it. Deactivate/Delete it. None of this protects your past, but it may limit your future harm.

Try something new. Like the fediverse - the open source, interconnected system on which you can set up an account and build a community of people and organizations and interests (and cats) without an algorithm doing the work for you. You can find me over there -

And, please, "doubt, then verify," everything you see on social media.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: November 4, 2022, 6:34 pm

I'm pleased to say I'm working on the Blueprint 2023. This will be the 14th annual edition. I wasn't sure what would happen this year, given how sick I've been. Thanks to a small group of critical collaborators, there will be a Blueprint dropping in December. 

As always you can find past versions here and here

I'm thinking about it because I just read this article in Alliance Magazine, reflecting on Indy Johar's words to the PEX network in Europe.  First, you should check out Dark Matters Lab, where Indy works. They do very cool thinking. 

Here's the key point he made: 

            "We are on the path to systems failure, he says, and the timescale is three to five years."                                                                                 (Alliance article is paywalled)

In some cases, I think his timeline is too generous. He's clear in the article that he's talking about global systems - food crises, inflation, and displacement. I've been thinking about the systems I deal with directly, here in the U.S.:

  • The healthcare system has failed and is failing. Children's hospitals across the country are overflowing, and many have been closed or converted to adult hospitals which make more money. So we're choosing for children to die. I have private insurance and access to best medical care - systems is barely able to meet my long Covid needs - can't be working for anyone.
  • Public education systems are failing. Underinvestment, teacher burnout, and direct attacks, sometimes violent, on school boards as part of a larger effort to break democracy - all out in the open, all visible. Particularly tied to demographic change and racism. 
  • Employment. We've seen the numbers of chronically ill and disabled people increase dramatically. How many of you work in a place that is actually proactively preparing for a workforce where 1 in 20 people need accommodations? It's easy to imagine a much better working life for everyone if all the systems were designed to help disabled people flourish, but the system doesn't and chances are your workplace doesn't either. 
  • Higher education. Here the national trend seems to be to double down on a handful of elite, private universities, sell of our public universities for parts (or outsource teaching to online platforms), and then decry the inequitable system. Don't overlook the billionaires who used the student loan industry to rip-off hundreds of thousands of people now working back rooms to protect their own golden geese. 
  • Electoral politics, campaign finance. If you have to ask....
  • Nonprofits as service providers. Outsourced, unaccountable public services being delivered at below market rates surrounded by dark money flooded social welfare organizations designed to launder money into political power. 
  • News and civic discourse. Seriously? Where - Twitter? Facebook? YouTube? Your local independent newspaper or the one that's a facade for one or the other political extremes?

In the Blueprint, I write about trying to write the future in the present tense. The best work in this regard was done by Octavia Butler. A good recent example is Bruce Holsinger's novel, The Displacements (highly recommend). Doing this for yourself is important - it's not if a natural disaster happens, it's what to do after it has happened. Not if a pandemic virus disables you, but afterward. Not if elections lead to violence, but after they've continued to do so for several cycles. Not if the population is being lead to radicalization and violence, but after this has taken leadership hold across several countries and being terrorized as a citizen is sanctioned state practice (again, familiar to many for centuries) within nominal democracies.

Basically, at the root of each of those failures above are deliberate, decades-long efforts to serve the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Private money speaks; public access, equitable service, equal rights before the law - nice concepts, not reality.  The future of systems failure is the present (and past, for many). 

The challenge, I think, is acknowledging this. It requires an inversion of time in which the worst case projection is marked down as status quo, and change begins from there.

It's a little like becoming chronically ill on a collective scale. As I've been sick for 10 months (the blink of an eye compared to many) I've noticed changes in my understanding of time. Am I sick now, trying to get better? Am I holding on, waiting for research, cures, or new treatment? Or do I live each day doing the most and best I can, because the future is only bleaker? Or can I do both, plus adapt to new abilities and pursue alternative dreams based on my new limits? Do I set my baseline to before I got sick, how I feel now, or how bad this might get? Am I recovering, waiting, or living?

I'll work the health part out for myself (with lots of community and professional support). But these questions apply to the systems noted above, about the world writ large, the people I care about and people I'll never meet. Our baselines were pretty bad and in many cases, the worst futures are very much the current present for so many people. It's not about future system collapse failure, but existing failures - and the hope and commitment to begin anew. 

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: November 2, 2022, 8:28 pm

Well, I guess there's a lot I could say through the lens of digital civil society about why I'm back here instead of running my mouth in a long twitter thread. I'll sum it up this way - our information spaces being controlled by unaccountable plutocrats is bad. This one's not much better than that one, but the overlord boosting lies about attempted political assassinations is a step too far for me. 

My whole life has changed since I started this blog. I'm now chronically ill and episodically disabled by long Covid. For the last 10 months, social media has played a socializing role in my life that it didn't play before - it is often the only way I'm in touch with people. Navigating my own health within the context of a global public health collapse has been tough, and the communities I've found via the bird site, Telegram, and Reddit have been critical for me. I won't leave the bird site entirely because of those communities. 

But I'm going to move my thoughts on philanthropy, digital civil society, and democracy back here where they started. I can also be found:


Reddit        p2173 



Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: October 30, 2022, 8:43 pm

Civil society suppression...the digital way

On August 13, 2021, AlgorithmWatch, a German nonprofit focused on algorithmic accountability, shut down its work on Instagram because Facebook (owner of Instagram) threatened to sue the group for violations of its Terms of Service.

This followed in the footsteps of Facebook kicking NYU researchers off of the platform for the work they were doing tracking political ads. (August, 2021)

The threats to both organizations and the research they were doing is a threat to any independent effort to hold the platforms accountable or to understand what is actually happening on these systems. 

"Allowing Facebook to dictate who can investigate what is occurring on its platform is not in the public interest," said Damon McCoy, associate professor of computer science and engineering at NYU and one of the affected researchers. "Facebook should not be able to cynically invoke user privacy to shut down research that puts them in an unflattering light, particularly when the 'users' Facebook is talking about are advertisers who have consented to making their ads public."

Facebook controls its Terms of Service and controls who can access what data for independent research purposes. It can stop - and will - anyone doing research it doesn't approve. To tighten its grip even further, Facebook has taken steps to rein in or cut off access to Crowdtangle, a tool commonly used by researchers to make sense of Facebook data.

These are examples of a powerful company threatening and shutting down civil society accountability efforts and independent research - not by money but by data. All nonprofits and foundations should pay attention to this.

Author: Lucy Bernholz
Posted: August 16, 2021, 7:53 pm