Today in OpenGov: Twitter tackles political ad transparency


In today's edition, we keep up with the latest news around online ad disclosure, subpoenas are issued in the Paul Manafort money laundering probe, a Mexico prosecutor who was investigating high profile bribes is sacked, Houston's civic tech spirit grows, and more. 

washington watch

An example of what a political advertisement may look like under Twitter's new transparency program.  
  • Twitter announces online ad transparency efforts. Yesterday, in a blog post Twitter "steps to dramatically increase transparency for all ads on Twitter, including political ads and issue-based ads. We will also be improving controls for our customers and adopting stricter advertising policies." The effort will center around a Transparency Center that, according to the post, "will offer everyone visibility into who is advertising on Twitter, details behind those ads, and tools to share your feedback with us." (Twitter) Our take? We're glad to see Twitter listening, acting, and leading on this issue and are looking forward to learning more about how the proposed Transparency Center will work. That said, changes by one company don’t address the fundamental issue: disclosure and disclaimers for online political ads should be law.
  • Meanwhile, a major technology trade association is pitching self-regulation over legislation. Ben Brody and Bill Allison explain that a "trade association whose members include Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. will pitch self-regulation instead of a proposed federal law requiring more disclosure for political advertising on their online platforms during a congressional hearing." (Bloomberg)
  • Study highlights a growing a need for algorithmic transparency around online news. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism conducted 13 focus groups with news consumer across the country. One of the major conclusions, writes Pete Brown, is "that the need for algorithmic transparency is more urgent than ever. Some people explicitly say they want to know more. Others, underestimating the reach of algorithms, arguably need to know more." (Columbia Journalism Review
  • Sunlight joined a broad coalition in support of bipartisan Senate surveillance reform legislation. Yesterday, we signed onto a letter supporting the USA Rights Act. "The legislation, introduced by Senator Paul and Senator Wyden, is the strongest reform proposal currently on the table as Congress debates whether to reauthorize, reform, or allow the law to expire before the end of the year." Learn more on the issue at or read the full letter right here


  • Small company from Interior Secretary Zinke's hometown snags $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico's electrical grid. Whitefish Energy, a company that had two full-time staffers on the day Hurricane Maria made landfall, signed the biggest contract yet issued as part of the fledgling effort to rebuild Puerto Rico following the devastating storm. The contract is drawing scrutiny for a number of reasons, according to the report by Steven Mufson, Jack Gillum, Aaron C. Davis, and Arelis R. Hernandez, although both Secretary Zinke and company representatives have "said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico." (Washington Post)
  • DNC and Clinton Lawyer bankrolled now infamous Trump Dossier. "The Democratic National Committee and a lawyer for Hillary Clinton helped bankroll research that led to the now-infamous dossier on alleged ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian government operatives, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday." (POLITICO)
  • Subpoenas issued in Manafort money laundering probe. "Federal prosecutors in New York have issued subpoenas as part of an investigation into whether former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort used New York real estate transactions to launder foreign money into the U.S. financial system, according to a person familiar with the matter." (Bloomberg)

around the world

  • Does scholarly publishing need a public data infrastructure outlining its costs? "Such infrastructures would enable the tracking, documentation, publication, and discussion of different costs associated with scholarly publishing. Thereby public data infrastructures would provide the evidence base for a well-informed discussion about alternative ways of organising and financing scholarly publication in a world where open access to academic outputs becomes increasingly the norm." (Open Knowledge)
  • Mexican prosecutor investigating if bribes helped fund winning presidential campaign abruptly fired. "Mexico’s government, under pressure to prove it is serious about fighting corruption, faces a snowballing political crisis after the prosecutor investigating whether bribes by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht helped fund President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign was abruptly sacked." Jude Webber has the full story for the Financial Times.
  • Tonga shakes up state media organization ahead of elections. "A shakeup at the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) prompted speculations that the Tongan government has taken more control over the state-funded media. News editor Laumanu Petelo and news manager Viola Ulakai were suddenly transferred to the sales and marketing department. Both clashed with Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva when the latter accused the TBC of being an enemy of the government." General elections are scheduled for November 16th. (Global Voices)

states and cities

  • How New Orleans leveraged data in its fight against blight. Following Hurricane Katrina New Orleans was faced with one of the worst rates of blight in the country, prompting "Mayor Mitch Landrieu to set an audacious goal of cutting blight by 10,000 units by 2014. The city achieved that goal a full year early and now is down to fewer than 28,000 blighted properties, according to city officials, now they are looking to get Land for sale to grow the number even more. One crucial tool in this effort was BlightStat, an analytics program that uses data from the Department of Code Enforcement and other agencies… (Governing)
  • Houston's civic tech spirit grows in aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. "Hurricane Harvey may have highlighted a potential new tech hub for Houston: civic entrepreneurs. They created apps and bots to help with relief and recovery efforts, such as connecting volunteers with those who needed help." (Government Technology)
  • Recent California court ruling boosts contracting transparency. "In 2013, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. Metro) awarded a $500 million contract to Canadian bus manufacturer New Flyer to purchase hundreds of compressed natural gas public transit buses. L.A. Metro’s decision was based in part on New Flyer’s promise to create hundreds of good-paying jobs both in L.A. County and elsewhere in the United States. To check if New Flyer kept its promise, Jobs to Move America (JMA)—a coalition of community, civil rights, and labor groups—filed a request under California’s public records law for information about New Flyer employee wages and benefits." Last week a court denied New Flyer's efforts to obtain an injunction in the case, arguing strongly for transparency, according to this analysis by Neil Gordon at the Project on Government Oversight.


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