Will we get the future we deserve?

I have to admit this Plandemic conspiracy theory has somewhat passed me by. It sounds bonkers, to say the least.

Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy videoScience
Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick.

Mikovits: Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by sand or soil “sequences.” There is no evidence that microbes in the ocean can heal COVID-19 patients.

It’s worrying how mainstream these ludicrous conspiracies are becoming.

The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook momsWired UK
Across Facebook, the Plandemic video was shared on hundreds of community groups. Its appearance was often incongruous, akin to the conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. turning up uninvited to your village’s summer barbecue and telling everyone that vaccines are going to kill their children. The spread of the conspiracy theory on otherwise banal community groups reveals a perilous new reality: one where the coronavirus pandemic has taken dangerous, fringe views and planted them firmly in the minds of scores of ordinary people. And, as with the anti-vaccination movement, the Plandemic conspiracy theory has resonated particularly strongly amongst women – often young mothers. […]

The unprecedented success of the Plandemic video is part of a growing trend: of conspiracy theorists using the coronavirus pandemic to seek out ever larger audiences. For this to work, they have changed tack. While poorly-produced, hour-long rant videos and clumsy memes still persist, the Plandemic was notable for its higher production values. This added slickness is central to efforts to attract new believers. And it’s working.

The video’s long gone now, taken down in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. But even that’s not straightforward.

[T]he messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it. This created the perfect storm – a Streisand effect that boosted the conspiracy theory still further.

It may feel like a US-only problem, but that’s far from the case, sadly. Here’s another Wired UK article from earlier this year, before our current lockdown had properly begun. Facebook, again.

How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellholeWired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […]

Other Facebook groups keen on coronavirus conspiracies include “We Support Jeremy Corbyn”, “I’M A BREXITEER” and the “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of reactions. These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”

It’s easy to feel despondent, reading all this — we’re just too stupid to help ourselves, we’re going to get the future we deserve. But it’s important to remember that, however noisy all these scared stupid bigoted idiots people are, and however much attention the media gives them, the vast majority of us are sensible and keeping it together. Right?

Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinkingThe Conversation
Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty.

Get the facts, before it’s too late

Rather than bringing us together, social media can often pull us apart. We all know this, and it seems the platforms themselves know this too.

Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisiveWSJ
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

But of course the platforms aren’t solely to blame. The users have to take some responsibility for what they write and share. Take this user, for example, just your typical conspiracy theorist.

See those little ‘Get the facts’ warning labels, suggesting he’s spreading fake news making unsubstantiated claims?

Twitter labels Trump’s false claims with warning for first timeThe Guardian
The company’s decision on Tuesday afternoon to affix labels to a series of Trump tweets about California’s election planning is the result of a new policy debuted on 11 May. They were applied – hours after the tweets initially went out – because Trump’s tweets violated Twitter’s “civic integrity policy”, a company spokeswoman confirmed, which bars users from “manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes”, such as by posting misleading information that could dissuade people from participating in an election.

He didn’t like that, as you can imagine, and is trying to retaliate.

Trump to sign executive order on social media on Thursday: White HouseReuters
The officials gave no further details. It was unclear how Trump could follow through on the threat of shutting down privately owned companies including Twitter Inc. The dispute erupted after Twitter on Tuesday for the first time tagged Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact check the posts.

But is this just the beginning?

Trump sows doubt on voting. It keeps some people up at night.The New York Times
The anxiety has intensified in recent weeks as the president continues to attack the integrity of mail voting and insinuate that the election system is rigged, while his Republican allies ramp up efforts to control who can vote and how. Just last week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold funding from states that defy his wishes on expanding mail voting, while also amplifying unfounded claims of voter fraud in battleground states. […]

The task force began with 65 possibilities before narrowing the list early this year to eight potential calamities, including natural disasters, a successful foreign hack of voting machines, a major candidate’s challenging the election and seeking to delegitimize the results, and a president who refuses to participate in a peaceful transfer of power. Among the scenarios they eliminated when making final cuts in January, ironically, was a killer pandemic that ravaged the country and kept people homebound before Election Day.

That election’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

Deleting the micro-plastics of the mind

I know that most of the articles about social media that I share are more negative than positive these days. But is this confirmation bias in action? To find out, I’m giving Twitter another go, and will actively look for the positives this time.

micro-plastics

Perhaps I should run all my tweets through Botnet first, to see how well they’ll do?

Welcome to Botnet, where everyone’s an influencerWired
Botnet looks like a stripped-down Facebook Newsfeed, where the only posts you can see are your own. It’s just you and the bots, who like and comment on your posts with reckless abandon. Botnet is designed to simulate the experience of mega-fame on the internet, Chasen told me—not just a microcelebrity or nano-influencer, but someone on the order of Kylie Jenner or Cristiano Ronaldo. Every post on Botnet receives hundreds of thousands of likes, no matter how banal the subject matter.

Or maybe not. Anyway, we’ll see how long it lasts; I’ve lost track of how many accounts I’ve set up and deleted over the years. But is that such a bad thing? We don’t keep transcripts of our phone calls normally, so why not be as relaxed with other forms of communication? I never realised I was in such good company.

Deleting all your tweetsRoden Explorers Archive
I am a full-blown born-again Tweet Deleter. I delete most everything older than seven days. I have a cron job running on a server that deletes for me, it’s called langoliers.rb and was written by Robin Sloan. He’s also a tweet deleter. There are many of us. And I think, having now deleted tweets regularly — and this is a bold claim, backed up only by gut feelings and zero data — that the world would be a better place if tweet deleting was on by default, and if, generally, we deleted more of our social media bloviations.

Twitter can be seen as a generator of micro-plastics of the mind. And the entirety of it as a sea of these largely nutrition-free bits. That doesn’t mean a tweet can’t be valuable for a second, but it’s unlikely they’re valuable for, say, years (or hours or even minutes). Applying a tweet-delete mindset to Twitter (that is: a mindset of ephemerality, what you could perversely call Buddhist Twitter) makes it lighter, a little more fun, and a lot less serious. You can ask a question, get some responses, and then just delete your question.

Isn’t that ephemerality implied in the name, even, to simply twitter on, saying very little of importance or interest, “short bursts of inconsequential information.”

Speaking of witch, here’s Callie Beusman sharing her thoughts online on how to avoid getting distracted by all the crap out there that it’s not worth thinking about.

My mind is a palace stuffed with exquisite garbageThe Cut
A few months ago, I came up with a metaphoric framework that felt uniquely suited to my problem, one that has brought me some degree of serenity: the mind palace. Simply put, a mind palace is a repository for all the thoughts, memories, and observations that bring you joy, fortified against whatever you deem needlessly irritating, depressingly banal, or just a waste of your time.

Is #mindfulbrowsing a thing?

This is not to urge non-engagement with issues that are genuinely pressing and compelling, if unpleasant; it’s more about determining which things you truly need and want to devote your time to, and recognizing that not everything warrants your attention.

We’re all under no obligation to read everything on the web. Some things just aren’t worth the time. And that’s OK, just raise your drawbridge.

The banality of evil

You remember that post I shared in June 2014 about the CIA’s Twitter account, right? It seems it’s not improved in the intervening six years.

The CIA’s Twitter account is a war crimeThe Outline
Social media obscures the realities of the entity using it, instead allowing it to represent itself as the more-abstracted notion of “a brand.” The public opinion of an occupation that requires one to partake in “forced sodomy for prisoners who refused food” gets confusing when that same entitity is posting pictures of adorable deer, joking that they’re just as stealthy as its employees. This isn’t just its social media team: the CIA hires a litany of employees, “operations officers, to analysts, to librarians and public affairs,” whose roles’ banality upholds the whole operation. Maybe the CIA intentionally runs this account knowing we’d be all, “WTF, CIA?”. Worse, maybe it’s really such a “normal” workplace that most individuals who work there are just as far removed from its conduct as you or I, which leads them to believe this kind of thing is completely fine.

I wonder if they refer to their style guide when drafting those tweets.

Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manualQuartz
As revealed in the manual, the CIA is a prescriptivist scold, a believer in the serial comma, and a champion of “crisp and pungent” language “devoid of jargon.” It takes a firm stand against false titles used attributively and urges intelligence writers to lowercase the w in Vietnam war (“undeclared”).

Perhaps they just need another coffee.

At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covertWashington Post
The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world. But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks.

Twitter news echoes

Grumpy old man alert! I know everyone uses Twitter to find news these days, but I can do without news organisations passing off as news what’s simply a report on what’s been said on Twitter. Hashtag: lazy-journalism-question-mark; hashtag: these-are-not-slow-news-days-after-all; hashtag: 24-hour-news-filler-I-can-do-without; hashtag: yes-I-know-hashtags-don’t-work-like-this.

Trump’s new Space Force logo looks awfully familiar to Star Trek fansThe Verge
Although, as one user on Twitter noted, the designers did seem to take some cues from the NASA logo, predominantly the exact placement of the stars that appear to have been copied over directly.

Philip Pullman calls for boycott of Brexit 50p coin over ‘missing’ Oxford commaThe Guardian
“The ‘Brexit’ 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people,” wrote the novelist on Twitter, while Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell wrote that, while it was “not perhaps the only objection” to the Brexit-celebrating coin, “the lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me”.

Broadcasters speak up for Alastair Stewart after ITV News exitBBC News
ITV presenter Julie Etchingham wrote on Twitter: “So sad to learn this – we have worked on many big stories together & Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.”

Technologically grim tales

What a way to end 2019.

The most dangerous people on the internet this decadeWired
In some cases these figures represent dangers not so much to public safety, but to the status quo. We’ve also highlighted actual despots, terrorists, and saboteurs who pose a serious threat to lives around the world. As the decade comes to a close, here’s our list of the people we believe best characterize the dangers that emerged from the online world in the last 10 years—many of whom show no signs of becoming any less dangerous in the decade to come.

It’s not just the people that are alarming, it’s the technology too, and what can be done with it, like this investigation into the smartphone tracking industry. (I didn’t even realise there was such an industry.)

technologically-grim-tales

Twelve million phones, one dataset, zero privacyThe New York Times
Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017.

But perhaps there’s some room for optimism? Here’s the New York Times again, gazing into their crystal ball.

technologically-grim-tales-2

No more phones and other tech predictions for the next decadeThe New York Times
There has been a lot of gnashing and wailing about screen addiction, “sharenting” and the myriad other negative effects of all the devices we have come to rely on. (I am guilty as charged.) These gadgets have been designed to hook you, not unlike sugar or cigarettes or gambling or opiates. The well known techie Tristan Harris calls it “human downgrading” — and he’s right. But there is yet another opportunity here to push for design ethics, a movement that I think will gain traction as we all assess what our dives into digital have done to humanity. While our tech devices have, on the whole, been good for most people, there is a true business opportunity in making them work more efficiently and without a reliance on addiction. Whether we move toward more intuitively created tech that surrounds us or that incorporates into our bodies (yes, that’s coming), I am going to predict that carrying around a device in our hand and staring at it will be a thing of the past by 2030. And like the electrical grid we rely on daily, most tech will become invisible.

I love the sentiment, but remain very doubtful.

Happy New Decade

Happy New Year, and all that. At last, we’re in a decade with a normal name.

decades

Decadesxkcd

2020 is such a futuristic-sounding year.

It’s 2020 and you’re in the futureWait But Why
It’s also weird that to us, the 2020s sounds like such a rad futuristic decade—and that’s how the 1920s seemed to people 100 years ago today. They were all used to the 19-teens, and suddenly they were like, “whoa cool we’re in the twenties!” Then they got upset thinking about how much farther along in life their 1910 self thought they’d be by 1920.

To give us a sense of the decade we’ve just left behind, here, via Kottke, is a list of all the best ‘best of’ lists, if that makes sense.

Lists: Best of the 2010s decade
This page, compiled by @fimoculous, aggregates all of the lists related to 2010s decade.

As well as what you’d expect to find (34 lists in the Books category, and 120 lists in the Film category), there are a few more interesting ones.

Here’s an extra one to add to the list, before our futuristic hubris catches up with us.

From Glass to Fire Phone, these were the decade’s top tech flopsWired UK
Facebook Portal: In 2018, though, a scandal-infected Facebook was attempting to put out fire after fire – the Cambridge Analytica breach, Russian troll ads, the UN’s report on its role in Myanmar. With Facebook the absolute worst word in privacy and trust, no-one wanted a Facebook camera and microphone in their homes, especially one which the company admitted would track call data in order to serve ads to users.

Hiding behind cuteness

Earlier, I shared an article about the cute infantilization of corporate logos. It seems there’s a corresponding drift towards patronising, cartoony blandness in illustration too.

Don’t worry, these gangly-armed cartoons are here to protect you from big techEye on Design
How do the cheerful, Mastisse-like illustrations that fill up the corners of any given Facebook page temper the expectations of people using these platforms? Their palpable joy is friendly, approachable, inviting, even—all of which translates to trustworthiness. Facebook has of course, proven to be one of the most untrustworthy public-facing companies in the world, repeatedly spying on users and leaking private data with impunity. Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other outrageous mishandlings like Facebook’s role in inciting genocidal violence in Burma, the company’s public persona is now more than ever in need of a face-lift. As a quasi-monopoly, Facebook seems to never pay for its sins in terms of usership decline—we’re all still there, staring at pages that have become cuter and bubblier as the company they represent grows more and more powerful.

hiding-behind-cuteness-1

Quitting your pocket slot machine

Political misinformation, privacy screw-ups , harmful and manipulative content — let’s just switch it off.

The case for deleting your social media accounts & doing valuable “deep work” instead, according to Prof. Cal NewportOpen Culture
As for the claim that we should join him in the wilderness of the real—his argument is persuasive. Social media, says Newport, is not a “fundamental technology.” It is akin to the slot machine, an “entertainment machine,” with an insidious added dimension—the soul stealing. Paraphrasing tech guru and iconoclast Jaron Lanier, Newport says, “these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.” But like the slot machine, the social media network is a “somewhat unsavory source of entertainment” given the express intent of its engineers to make their product “as addictive as possible,” comparable to what dietitians now call “ultra-processed foods”—all sugar and fat, no nutrients.

It’s from three years ago now, but doesn’t get any less relevant.

Quit social media | Dr. Cal NewportYouTube
‘Deep work’ will make you better at what you do. You will achieve more in less time. And feel the sense of true fulfillment that comes from the mastery of a skill.

Democracy damaged

It seems the Conservatives have shown themselves to be factually untrustworthy. I can’t imagine they thought they’d get away with this. I guess they mustn’t care.

Or perhaps it’s just a classic Trumpian move: the more we’re talking about this concocted social media controversy, the less we’re talking about the real issues at stake. Either way, (more) trust is lost.

Tories under fire for ‘fake’ fact-checking Twitter accountThe Telegraph

Tories pretend to be factchecking service during leaders’ debateThe Guardian

Fact Check HQ: Tories condemned over fake Twitter accountThe Herald

Tory HQ slammed for ‘dystopian’ rebranding of Twitter account during leaders’ debateHuffpost

Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile ‘factcheckUK’BBC News

Britain’s ruling political party masqueraded as a fact-checker on Twitter during a TV debateCNBC

The Tories just used a disinformation trick that deserves to get them banned from TwitterNew Statesman

Twitter says PM Johnson’s party misled public with ‘factcheck’ accountReuters

The debate itself left no clear winner. Perhaps, as suggested in the latest B3TA newsletter, the format should be dropped entirely and substituted for something more testing.

Forget leaders debates, prospective Prime Ministers should do a series of tasks without losing cool: switch phone to a different tariff; retrieve ball from grumpy neighbour; submit tax return to HMRC website; take a driving test etc.

In an earlier newsletter they had some pointers on how to improve voting, which, joking aside, might really be worth considering.

16 year olds should get TWO votes as they’ve got to live with the consequences longer.

Blank ballot papers so votes only count if you can remember the name of the candidate.

One person, one vote and that person is Sir David Attenborough.

 

The Twitter Presidency

Some people think Twitter’s latest announcement about banning political ads is one others should copy.

The Irish Times view on Twitter’s ad ban: over to you, Facebook
In an important announcement on Wednesday, Twitter chief executive and co-founder Jack Dorsey promised the platform would ban all political advertisements – including ads about political issues – by late November. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he said. …

On Wednesday, Dorsey pointedly tweeted: “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.” He’s right. Facebook and others should follow Twitter’s example.

Here’s a different take on that, though.

Twitter’s political ad ban is disingenuous: The platform will continue spreading false political statements free of charge — and benefiting from it
In fact, I’d rather see a misleading statement by a politician clearly marked as an ad than endlessly replicated on my Twitter feed as organic content. It’s hard to disagree with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s contention that it makes more sense to increase political advertising transparency than to impose a complete ban on such paid content.

Of course, some “politicians” are getting their message out for free. Here’s a visually striking, in-depth article from The New York Times on how crazy Trump’s Twitter tantrums and tactics have become.

How Trump reshaped the Presidency in over 11,000 tweets
When Mr. Trump entered office, Twitter was a political tool that had helped get him elected and a digital howitzer that he relished firing. In the years since, he has fully integrated Twitter into the very fabric of his administration, reshaping the nature of the presidency and presidential power. …

“Boom. I press it,” Mr. Trump recalled months later at a White House conference attended by conservative social media personalities, “and, within two seconds, ‘We have breaking news.’”

twitter-presidency-1

twitter-presidency-2

Less elder-statesman, more oversugared-bullying-kid-in-sweet-shop. We’ll need to amend the dictionary definition of presidential, when all this is over.

There are other articles in this series, but I’m reluctant to subject myself to more of this craziness.

What a mess

No, I’m not talking about Westminster this time.

Lisa Li: Angry landlord exposes online star’s ‘double life’
A social media influencer in China has been exposed for living a “double life”, after her landlord revealed her filthy living conditions, which contrasted with the glamorous image she presented online. Footage went viral showing the apartment of Lisa Li – a blogger with 1.1 million followers – littered with rubbish, mouldy food, and dog excrement.

what-a-mess-1

She went on to apologise to her landlord and clean the mess up. I don’t imagine anyone thought of preserving it for posterity. That does happen though…

Francis Bacon’s preserved art studio
After his death, the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, was able to obtain the entire contents of his artists’ studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London, in 1998. The entire space was broken down into its parts. Over 7,000 articles were collected and cataloged, including everything from paintbrushes to art supplies, and even the dust! The ceiling, the walls, and the narrow staircase that led up to the studio were even taken. The massive collection was then reassembled in great detail and precision using architectural maps and photographs.

what-a-mess

History of studio relocation
The Francis Bacon Studio Database is the first computerised archive of the entire contents of a world ranking artist’s studio. Every item in the studio has a database entry. Each entry consists of an image and a factual account of an object. The database has entries on approximately 570 books and catalogues, 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases, 1,300 leaves torn from books, 2,000 artist’s materials and 70 drawings. Other categories include the artist’s correspondence, magazines, newspapers and vinyl records.

A history of urban futures

How about this for an unsettling glimpse into the future?

Hyper-reality
Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.

It serves as the introduction to this fantastic overview of augmented reality in urban environments.

City Skins: Scenes from an augmented urban reality
In one scene, the film’s protagonist-user (“Juliana”), becomes confused, even anxious, by a technical glitch which forces a reboot of her device while shopping for food, showing the viewer a brief glimpse of a un-augmented and totally featureless supermarket, clearly designed for the express purpose of accommodating a digital overlay. Matsuda’s film ultimately suggests that augmented reality may become so commonplace as to be essential to making sense of the world.

However futuristic it may seem, location-based augmented reality (virtual reality’s more successful but less hyped cousin) has been around for a while.

Growing interest in location-based AR projects, beginning in the late 1990s, can be in part attributed to the confluence of art and networking technologies which emerged out of the gradual popularization of the Internet and the influence of “net art.” Net art, according to critic Josephine Bosma, has often concerned itself with “the public domain as a virtual, mediated space consisting of both material and immaterial matter,” indicating a conceptual and ethical foundation for augmented reality’s radical leap from the space of the screen to a “hybrid space” mixing real and virtual elements.

Near the tail end of the 20th century, pseudonymous author and technologist Ben Russell released The Headmap Manifesto — a utopian vision of augmented reality referencing Australian aboriginal songlines and occult tomes, while pulling heavily from cybernetic theory and the Temporary Autonomous Zones of Hakim Bey. At turns both wildly hypothetical and eerily prescient, Headmap explores in-depth the implications of “location-aware” augmented reality as a kind of “parasitic architecture” affording ordinary people the chance to annotate and re-interpret their environment.

That might sound too abstract and theoretical, but here’s an example of a very real-world, poignant use of AR.

Following the release of the first iPhone and advancements in mobile phone cameras and processing power, AR began to move toward the more visually-dominant experiences we are familiar with today — in the process also opening up possibilities for more explicitly political projects. The group 4 Gentlemen, for instance, embraced AR as a tool for criticizing oppressive government policies in China. A collective of exiled Chinese artists and one American artist, 4 Gentlemen (taking their name from a group of intellectual dissidents central to the Tiananmen Student Protest in 1989) developed a series of works that digitally recreated in situ both the famous “Tank Man” image and the “Goddess of Democracy” statue — two symbols of the Tiananmen protest which have defined the struggle for democracy and human rights in China since.

urban-futures

A life in print

Last year, Facebook gave us the option to download all our data. Katie Day Good, an avid Facebook user since the early days, took them up on the offer and, perhaps because of her former interest in scrapbooking, decided to print it all out…

Why I printed my Facebook
Other files were less amusing. “Advertisers Who Uploaded a Contact List With Your Information” was a 116-page roster of companies, most of which I had never heard of, that have used my data to try to sell me things. The document called “Facial Recognition Code” was disturbingly brief and indecipherable, translating my face into a solid block of jumbled text—a code that only Facebook’s proprietary technology can unlock—about 15 rows deep. Some documents held secrets, too. “Search History” revealed an embarrassingly detailed record of my personal obsessions and preoccupations over the years. Crushes, phobias, people I have argued with and envied―this was the information I never wanted to post on Facebook, but instead had asked Facebook to help me find. This information, along with the facial recognition codes of my children (which were not included in the .zip file, but which I assume Facebook owns), is the data I most wish I could scrub from the servers of the world.

All told, my Facebook archive was 10,057 pages long.

Don’t give up on social media just yet

Most of the social media articles I share here are quite negative. I think it’s got a lot to answer for, in making us less social. But perhaps there are some pockets of positivity out there, as this Scientific American blog post explains.

The technology of kindness
People’s ability to connect is the glue that holds our culture together. By thinning out our interactions and splintering our media landscape, the Internet has taken away the common ground we need to understand one another. Each of us is becoming more confident about our own world just as it drifts farther from the worlds of others …

Diagnosing technology’s damaging effects is the first step toward reversing them. Harris co-founded the Center for Humane Technology to encourage developers and investors to build “regenerative,” rather than extractive, online platforms. The idea is that our capacity for empathy runs just as deep as our vanity, outrage or fear, and technology should highlight healthier forces.

Rather than thinking that Twitter and Facebook are the only options, we’re introduced to ChangeAView, RareConnect, Koko and 7 Cups.

Sites such as ChangeAView and 7 Cups can appear like oases of connection in a landscape bereft of it—exceptions that prove the rule. But what sets connected platforms apart is their break from common, antisocial online practices. They allow people to be vulnerable and visible to one another and reward them for listening rather than shouting. Other social media companies could follow suit: by reforming their incentive structures such that open-minded, positive posts rise more quickly or by facilitating longer, richer communication between users. But they must make progress on this mission intentionally and soon.

Perhaps there’s hope for them (and us) yet.

More data breach fines

Flying off to a nice hotel somewhere?

British Airways gets hammered with a record £183m fine for data breach
The incident came to light last September, when British Airways revealed that a sophisticated hack had led to 380,000 customer accounts being compromised, although that initial figure turned out to be an underestimation, with some 500,000 people actually affected, the ICO reckons.

Those folks had the likes of names, addresses, emails, credit card numbers and expiry dates – as well as the security codes on the rear of cards – stolen over a two-week period beginning on August 21, we were told at the time. Although the ICO claims that the thefts began occurring as early as June 2018.

Marriott to face £99 million GDPR fine from ICO over November 2018 data breach
The breach revealed in November 2018 involved the leak of 500 million customer records from the guest reservation database of Marriott’s Starwood Hotels and Resorts division. The attackers – who are unknown but believed to have links with China’s Ministry of State Security – appear to have had access to the system since 2014.

The organisation only became aware of the compromise in September 2018 following an alert from an internal security tool over an attempt to gain access to the reservation system. The company claims that it “quickly engaged” a group of security experts to investigate the apparent attack and “learned during the investigation that there had been unauthorised access to the Starwood network since 2014”.

Update 15/07/2019

Meanwhile.

Facebook’s $5 billion FTC fine is an embarrassing joke
Facebook’s stock went up after news of a record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine for various privacy violations broke today.

That, as The New York Times’ Mike Isaac points out, is the real story here: the United States government spent months coming up with a punishment for Facebook’s long list of privacy-related bad behavior, and the best it could do was so weak that Facebook’s stock price went up. […]

From some other perspectives, that $5 billion fine is a big deal, of course: it’s the biggest fine in FTC history, far bigger than the $22 million fine levied against Google in 2012. And $5 billion is a lot of money, to be sure. It’s just that like everything else that comes into contact with Facebook’s scale, it’s still entirely too small: Facebook had $15 billion in revenue last quarter alone, and $22 billion in profit last year. […]

That’s actually the real problem here: fines and punishments are only effective when they provide negative consequences for bad behavior. But Facebook has done nothing but behave badly from inception, and it has only ever been slapped on the wrist by authority figures and rewarded by the market. After all, Facebook was already under a previous FTC consent decree for privacy violations imposed in 2011, and that didn’t seem to stop any of the company’s recent scandals from happening. As Kara Swisher has written, you have to add another zero to this fine to make it mean anything.

Making Twitter better, but why bother?

Twitter. I’m one of those boring snobs who say it was so much better in the old days, before it went all mainstream and shouty. I yo-yo a little with it; joining in, deleting everything, joining in again with a fresh account, deleting again.

I imagine someone trying to explain to me, back in 2007 when I first joined — happily twittering away to myself into the void — that in 12 years’ time it would become so embedded everywhere, its toxicity so inevitable and intractable, that Twitter would have to create specific rules to deal with hate speech from a sitting President of the United States.

Trump tweets could be restricted after Twitter moves against abusive posts by high-profile politicians
The new policy, announced by the company on Thursday, will affect world leaders and other political figures who use the platform to threaten or abuse others. It comes amid accusations Twitter has unfairly allowed the US president to tweet hateful messages other users would be censured for, and which critics say could lead to violence.

Why Twitter’s new policy on political figures’ tweets is encouraging
There is a strong argument that the rules governing everyone else’s ability to harass or spew hate should apply equally to those in power, whose harassing behavior is most likely to silence critics or cause other harm. But there’s also an argument that private companies such as Twitter have the least business meddling with the public conversation when elected or would-be-elected officials are involved. Doing so could have a dramatic impact on the democratic process, and citizens deserve to know what the people who represent them are doing and saying — perhaps even especially when their comportment is appalling.

I wonder what impact it will have on him, if any, to know that his posts have been formally categorised as hateful.

Politicians this side of the Atlantic can’t leave it alone, either.

Jeremy Hunt tweets solo Q&A after Boris Johnson skips debate
While answering Twitter users’ questions on Brexit, Hunt promised to give full rights to Europeans living in the UK and to “deliver a Brexit that works for the 48% not just the 52% — a positive, open and internationalist Brexit, Great Britain not Little England.”

What can be done? Here are a couple of suggestions.

Chrissy Teigen’s 2 suggestions for Twitter would make it 100 percent better
In a couple of tweets from Wednesday and Thursday, Teigen proposed two functions: One would create a feed for only happy posts that a user could access or view when they’re feeling emotional. The other proposed an “address book of sorts” where a user could, through typing or a link, note the reason why they started following somebody in the first place.

I use lists to help with both of those functions, but I’m not sure if I can be bothered going through the motions with it anymore. Does it bring me joy?

AI Spy

It seems we’re not the only ones playing with that AI fake face website.

Experts: Spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets
“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.

Yes, it’s obviously a fake. I mean, only a fool would fall for that, right?

“I’m probably the worst LinkedIn user in the history of LinkedIn,” said Winfree, the former deputy director of President Donald Trump’s domestic policy council, who confirmed connection with Jones on March 28.

Winfree, whose name came up last month in relation to one of the vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, said he rarely logs on to LinkedIn and tends to just approve all the piled-up invites when he does.

“I literally accept every friend request that I get,” he said.

Lionel Fatton, who teaches East Asian affairs at Webster University in Geneva, said the fact that he didn’t know Jones did prompt a brief pause when he connected with her back in March.

“I remember hesitating,” he said. “And then I thought, ‘What’s the harm?’”

<sigh> It might not be the technology we need, but it’s the technology we deserve.

But fear not, help is at hand!

Adobe’s new AI tool automatically spots Photoshopped faces
The world is becoming increasingly anxious about the spread of fake videos and pictures, and Adobe — a name synonymous with edited imagery — says it shares those concerns. Today, it’s sharing new research in collaboration with scientists from UC Berkeley that uses machine learning to automatically detect when images of faces have been manipulated.

But as Benedict Evans points out in a recent newsletter,

Potentially useful but one suspect this is just an arms race, and of course the people anyone would want to trick with such images won’t be using the tool.

A ‘fake’ arms race, for real

This essay from Cailin O’Connor, co-author of The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, frames the issue of online misinformation as an arms race.

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting
What makes this problem particularly thorny is that internet media changes at dizzying speed. When the radio was first invented, as a new form of media, it was subject to misinformation. But regulators quickly adapted, managing, for the most part, to subdue such attempts. Today, even as Facebook fights Russian meddling, WhatsApp has become host to rampant misinformation in India, leading to the deaths of 31 people in rumour-fuelled mob attacks over two years.

Participating in an informational arms race is exhausting, but sometimes there are no good alternatives. Public misinformation has serious consequences. For this reason, we should be devoting the same level of resources to fighting misinformation that interest groups are devoting to producing it. All social-media sites need dedicated teams of researchers whose full-time jobs are to hunt down and combat new kinds of misinformation attempts.

I know I’m a pretty pessimistic person generally, but this all sounds quite hopeless. Here’s how one group of people is responding to the challenge of misuse of information and fake videos — by producing their own.

This deepfake of Mark Zuckerberg tests Facebook’s fake video policies
The video, created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe in partnership with advertising company Canny, shows Mark Zuckerberg sitting at a desk, seemingly giving a sinister speech about Facebook’s power. The video is framed with broadcast chyrons that say “We’re increasing transparency on ads,” to make it look like it’s part of a news segment.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram,” a spokesperson for Instagram told Motherboard. “If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.”

We’re all plugged in

Earlier this year I linked to research from Ofcom on children’s use of technology and media. Here’s their report on the rest of us.

Adults’ media use and attitudes – Ofcom
The annual adults’ media use and attitudes report provides research that looks at media use, attitudes and understanding, and how these change over time. The report also includes a particular focus on those who tend not to participate digitally.

Basically — phones. They’re everywhere. We’ve tried to dumb them down, we’re trying to reduce screentime, but there seems to be no stopping them.

media-literacy

Adults: Media use and attitudes report 2019 (pdf)

Key findings

• Mobile phones are increasingly integral to everyday life and half of adults now say, of all devices, they would miss their mobile phone the most.

• One in three adults never use a computer to go online and one in ten only use a smartphone, an increase since 2017.

• Video-on-demand and streamed content is becoming a central part of adults’ viewing landscape.

• Social media users are less likely than in 2017 to see views they disagree with on social media.

• Compared to 2017, internet users are more likely to have encountered hateful content online, however most didn’t do anything about it.

• Although most internet users are aware of at least one of the ways in which their personal data might be collected online, less than four in ten are aware of all the ways we asked about.

• There has been little change in critical awareness in the past few years, with many still lacking the critical skills needed to identify when they are being advertised to online.

• One in ten internet users say they don’t think about the truthfulness of online content, although those who do are more likely than in 2017 to make checks to verify the information.

• Thirteen percent of UK adults do not use the internet, unchanged since 2014; those aged 55 and over and in the DE socio-economic group remain less likely to be online.

• One in seven adults of working age in DE households do not go online, and when they do, one in five only go online via a smartphone.