September 24, 2018; The Hill
With over $20 million in funding from big-name donors, including the founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark, the Markup, a nonprofit journalistic venture that’ll research the effect “Big Tech” has on society, is set to launch in early 2019.
Although primarily known for the classified advertisement website that bears his name, Craig Newmark also runs Craig Newmark Philanthropies, a philanthropic organization that focuses in four specific areas: “trustworthy journalism, voter protection, women in technology, [and] veterans and military families.” In addition to his $20 million donation to the Markup, just this summer alone, Craig gave $20 million towards the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Newmark is among a growing number of philanthropists who are investing in the growing field of journalism, nonprofit news sites, and infrastructure. In particular, high-net-worth philanthropists appear to be drawn to single issue news sites.
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The Markup will be led by the same Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who made a name for herself as “big tech’s scariest watchdog” through her time spent at ProPublica deciphering complex algorithms to unveil hidden discrimination: Julia Angwin. NPQ recently covered the movement that spawned from the landmark investigation she headed into allegations that Facebook was allowing race-targeted housing ads that excluded African Americans, Latinxs, and Asian Americans. Angwin will be joined in this new endeavor by fellow ProPublica team member Jeff Larson and Sue Gardner, the former executive director for the Wikimedia Foundation.
The announcement of this nonprofit comes at a crucial moment in which major technology companies have found themselves in the crossfire of several controversies. Facebook, Twitter, and Google have faced attacks from American conservatives due to claims of censorship and bias, even leading to an accusatory tweet from President Donald Trump implying the possibility of regulation. Google has recently taken even more flak due to a partnership with the Chinese government in developing a heavily censored version of its search engine to bypass China’s strict Internet laws. According to the former head of free expression for Google in Asia, Lokman Tsui, this is a dire problem: “The reality is that they will be serving the Chinese government. The government now tracks people, apps on phones reveal who you are, where you are.”
“They are intrusive,” he added. “They collect much more data and Google can be requested to handover these data to the government.”
In short, as NPQ observed last month, it would appear that “Facebook and Google [have] ‘a private surveillance apparatus of extraordinary reach and sophistication’… built…without express permission from the public or the government and with virtually no restrictions on how they use it.” The existence of a dedicated and effective tech watchdog would thus seem to be of utmost importance, in much the same way that Climate News is on the environment, but only time will tell if Newmark’s new venture will be able to fill that role.—Moshe Hecht