Stuff That Actually Matters

In the wake of things like GamerGate, Brexit, and the American election, it seems pretty clear that the tech industry needs a backgrounder for people who want to know more about how our political, legal, and economic systems actually work. Having produced half a dozen crowd-sourced books on open source software and software engineering over the last ten years (see here, here, and here), our goal now is to create something like Physics for Future Presidents, but instead of (for example) explaining nuclear power to someone who might one day run the country, we want to explain things like voter suppression to people who might one day build online voting platforms.

What are you looking for?
Tutorial essays, each 2000-5000 words long. Tell us a bit of history, explain why a widely-held belief is wrong, or connect the dots so that people don't have to on their own.
Can you give me some examples?
Sure: Fred Clark's article on abortion politics, or Siyanda Mohutsiwa's analysis of how young white men are being radicalized online both teach both useful specifics and a way of seeing the world that most programmers have never been exposed to. Similarly, if understand how standardized testing perpetuates the status quo and know how literacy tests were used to disenfranchise racial minorities, you're less likely to be seduced by the idea that citizens should have to pass an exam in order to vote. And if engineers at Facebook knew how city planners made beaches inaccessible to public transit so that the "wrong" people couldn't reach them, maybe they would have been less quick to build tools that let advertisers hide certain ads from specific racial groups (sorry, "ethnic affinities").
What aren't you looking for?
Rants and sermons. This book's job is to inform: we hope that knowledge will lead to action, but our focus is on the first.
Should contributions be about technology?
No. Our focus is about the world technology acts in and on, not technology itself. For example, we don't want an explanation of how encryption works. Instead, we want an explanation of how the rules on warrants for wiretapping have evolved, how they're currently being used and mis-used, and why the issue isn't as clear-cut as people on both sides sometimes seem to believe.
Should contributors have experience with social justice and activism?
Preferably: this isn't meant to be a hobby project for programmers who have suddenly realized that software isn't value-neutral. However, you don't have to be an expert on a topic to write about it, so long as you're willing to learn and accept feedback from reviewers.
Does the material have to be original?
No. If we can recycle something you have already written, please let us know. And if you have seen something that you think we ought to recycle, please point us at it: we're happy to try to talk people into letting us share their work more widely.
Isn't all this stuff out there on the Internet already?
Sure, but that's like saying that Google and Stack Overflow mean that we don't need lessons on programming. A lot of people don't know where to look or what to look for, so providing some starting points and context can make a big difference.
How can I get involved?
Mail us if you'd like to contribute. If you know what you want to write about, tell us; if you don't, we have lots of topics that need to be covered.
How else can I get involved?
We will be looking for reviewers as well: again, please mail us if you want to help.
How soon do you want contributions?
A year ago. Hell, thirty years ago, so that we wouldn't get into the mess we're in now. But since we're here now, we'd like people to commit by the end of the year, and to get us first drafts by the end of February.
How are copyright and licensing being handled?
Authors will retain copyright to their own material. Everything will be publicly available under the Creative Commons - Attribution - No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND) license. This allows free re-use of the material so long as they cite the original source and do not distribute modified copies (except as allowed under fair use). This is different from the simpler CC-BY license used in our previous books, but given the nature of the material, we think it's important to guard against the possibility of distortion and misrepresentation.
How will the book be published?
Electronic versions will be made freely available in common formats (HTML, PDF, EPUB, and MOBI). Physical copies will be available from a print-on-demand service.
What about royalties?
As with previous books, all royalties will be donated to Amnesty International.
So are you asking people to work for free?
For now, yes, but we recognize that's unfair and exclusionary, and we're pursuing several ideas for grants and crowdfunding so that we can compensate contributors for their labor. If you have experience, ideas, or leads, please get in touch.
Can I contribute anonymously?
No. We recognize there's a risk of people being harassed for doing work like this, but we believe in the importance of creditable authorship and demonstratably diverse voices as a pushback against the devaluation of marginalized perspectives. And realistically, if someone really wants to find out who you are, they'll probably be able to.

In the wake of posts about Shopify's support for white nationalists and DataCamp's attempts to cover up sexual harassment
I have had to disable comments on this blog. Please email me if you'd like to get in touch.