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Culture war games: walking into glass walls

Apple’s New Spaceship Campus Has One Flaw – and It Hurts
By Mark Bergen

The centerpiece of Apple Inc.’s new headquarters is a massive, ring-shaped office overflowing with panes of glass, a testament to the company’s famed design-obsessed aesthetic.

There’s been one hiccup since it opened last year: Apple employees keep smacking into the glass.

Surrounding the building, located in Cupertino, California, are 45-foot tall curved panels of safety glass. Inside are work spaces, dubbed “pods,” also made with a lot of glass. Apple staff are often glued to the iPhones they helped popularize. That’s resulted in repeated cases of distracted employees walking into the panes, according to people familiar with the incidents.

Some staff started to stick Post-It notes on the glass doors to mark their presence. However, the notes were removed because they detracted from the building’s design, the people said.

The building is designed to house some 13,000 employees. Wired magazine, first to pay a visit at its opening last year, described the structure as a “statement of openness, of free movement,” in contrast to Apple’s typically insular culture. “While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement,” Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, told the magazine in May. “The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.”

The Follower Factory
By Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel J.X. Dance, Richard Harris and Mark Hansen

Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found.

“I started this company with a thousand dollars in the bank, without investors, and only the burning passion for success,” Mr. Calas wrote last year on the job-listing site Glassdoor.

As Mr. Calas’s ambitions grew, so did his embroidery. A copy of his résumé posted online in 2014 claimed that he earned a physics degree from Princeton University in 2000, when he would have been about 10 years old, and a Ph.D. in computer science from M.I.T. Representatives for both schools said they had no record of Mr. Calas’s attending their institution. His current LinkedIn page says that he has a master’s degree in “international business” from M.I.T., a degree it does not offer.

Last August, Mr. Calas sued Ronwaldo Boado, a Filipino contractor who previously worked for Devumi as an assistant customer support manager. After being fired for squabbling with other members of his team, Mr. Boado took control of a Devumi email account listing more than 170,000 customer orders, Mr. Calas alleged in court papers. Then Mr. Boado created a fake Devumi.

Twitter Followers Vanish Amid Inquiries Into Fake Accounts
By Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel J.X. Dance and Rich Harris

Some federal and state lawmakers have called for more stringent laws regulating social media companies, in part to combat the epidemic of fake accounts. Many fake accounts are deployed by Russia and other countries seeking to influence American politics, but others are used by marketing companies to influence consumers and even policymakers.

Marc Levine, a California state assemblyman from outside San Francisco, introduced legislation on Monday that would require social media companies doing business in California to link every account to a human being. The legislation would also require that social media companies allow only human account holders to place advertisements on their platforms.

“There are any number of interest groups looking to shape public opinion,” Mr. Levine said in an interview. “We’ve seen all of this exploited and millions of people manipulated.”

Last Week at Wellesley
By Alice Domurat Dreger

Earlier in the day, in a class co-taught by the Freedom Project’s Director, Tom Cushman, a student had read aloud to me something I supposedly have said about transgender people. It was so comically bigoted, it was hard to take seriously. But apparently someone somewhere said I said this, and this “quote” from me was being transmitted in an email around campus, the one calling for the protest of me. I explained in that class and later in my talk that there are fake social media accounts in my name, including fake blogs, with my photo and my name. A student asked why I “let that happen.” I answered that I can’t spend my life chasing them down and trying to stop them.

(I tried that once, with Facebook. Did you know if someone sets up a fake Facebook account in your name, you have to prove you are you by sending a photo of your passport ID page to Facebook? The person stealing your identity doesn’t have to prove she’s you. To this day, Twitter won’t shut down a fake account using my name and photo, no matter how many times I and my followers ask.)

Matt Stoller on Modern Monopolies
By EconTalk

Matt Stoller: Well, I mean, you know, I guess there are sort of two different ways to think about it. The first is: You have institutions that are so large that they simply can’t be managed. So, Facebook has two billion users on its various networks. Google has 7 products with more than a billion users. And what you find is all sorts of areas where the people that are managing these networks are just not paying attention to parts of the networks that are damaging people. So, as an example, Google organizes the world’s information; they’ve engaged in a whole range of conduct to make sure that specialized search engines don’t emerge and potentially challenge them in niche areas. And so, one of the results is: You have a health crisis. That exists already, the opioid crisis. But, when people who are addicted to opioids do a search for rehab clinics, what they will find is, first, about a year ago they would find a whole bunch of different ads from rehab clinics that weren’t particularly good but were from out of state, would rip them off, and most importantly, wouldn’t help them off opioids. And when Google found about this, they got rid of the advertising. So, they weren’t–they were making a bunch of money off of this but they stopped making money on it. And then afterwards, Google’s search engine was actually manipulated and gamed by some of these kind of scummy rehab clinics. And that’s just an example of–the net result is that a bunch of people who are addicted to opioids and want to get off them, can’t. And that’s incredibly harmful. And that’s not because anybody at Google was sort of a bad person. It’s just because the institution, there’s just–the network is too big for them to actually manage. And you see that in all sorts of ways with institutions like Facebook, where you have lots of things just coming in the back door. So, that’s one problem. That’s a problem of absentee ownership–no one’s minding the store. The other problem is that the algorithms themselves drive extremist behavior. So, these are based, the algorithms that Facebook uses or that Google uses to sort of attract you and keep you using their technologies, keep your attention so they can sell you more advertising–they have specific biases built in that are not good for human beings. So, as an example, if you are, say, a conspiracy theorist around vaccinations, they will say–the recommendation engine will tell you–‘Well, maybe you are interested in this thing called PizzaGate.’ Or, maybe you are interested in this thing called, you know, ‘Sovereign Citizen.’ If you are–an doesn’t matter if it’s a Right or a Left thing. It’s an extremist-generating engine. So, if you are interested in being a vegetarian, maybe you should try becoming a vegan. Or, whatever. And it keeps you and pulls you into a more and more extremist, sort of socially dysfunctional position, because essentially it’s manipulating your brain in a way that is very similar to the desire to see a fight going on, where you just can’t look away. And the algorithms that these guys use, because they are so attention-based, actually incentivize sort of the worst socially dysfunctional behavior. So, those are two basic problems.

Google is coming after critics in academia and journalism. It’s time to stop them.
By Zephyr Teachout

When Google was founded in 1998, it famously committed itself to the motto: “Don’t be evil.” It appears that Google may have lost sight of what being evil means, in the way that most monarchs do: Once you reach a pinnacle of power, you start to believe that any threats to your authority are themselves villainous and that you are entitled to shut down dissent. As Lord Acton famously said, “Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.” Those with too much power cannot help but be evil. Google, the company dedicated to free expression, has chosen to silence opposition, apparently without any sense of irony.

… in recent years, Google has become greedy about owning not just search capacities, video and maps, but also the shape of public discourse. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Google has recruited and cultivated law professors who support its views. And as the New York Times recently reported, it has become invested in building curriculum for our public schools, and has created political strategy to get schools to adopt its products.

The Supreme Court Case That Could Give Tech Giants More Power
By Lina M. Khan

The concept is that players in “two-sided” markets are unique because they serve different sets of customers in distinct but related markets, effectively facilitating transactions. American Express, for example, charges both merchants who accept its cards and consumers who use them. Using this concept, the Second Circuit held that the government would have to show that any price increases for merchants also harmed cardholders, or at least didn’t benefit them. In effect, the court introduced a dramatically new rule, making it much more difficult to win important antitrust cases and to stop anticompetitive behavior.

The case is now at the Supreme Court. If affirmed, the Second Circuit decision would create de facto antitrust immunity for the most powerful companies in the economy. Since internet technologies have enabled the growth of platform companies that serve multiple groups of users, firms like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Uber are set to be prime beneficiaries of the Second Circuit’s warped analysis. Amazon, for example, could claim status as a two-sided platform because it connects buyers and sellers of goods; Google because it facilitates a market between advertisers and search users. (An industry trade group representing the tech platforms filed an amicus brief in support of American Express.) Indeed, the reason that the tech giants are lining up behind the Second Circuit’s approach is that — if ratified — it would make it vastly more difficult to use antitrust laws against them.

The fact that the tech platforms could effectively be shielded from antitrust is troubling because, in several respects, these firms enjoy dominant market positions that makes antitrust scrutiny of their conduct especially important. By virtue of providing increasingly critical services, tech giants wield immense leverage over the sellers and buyers that rely on their platforms. This power is ripe for abuse. If the Supreme Court ratifies the Second Circuit’s approach, platforms will be able to engage in anticompetitive activity with one set of users, so long as they can plausibly claim that harmful conduct enabled them to benefit another group.

The Case Against Google
By Charles Duhigg

The myth that Google humbled Microsoft on its own is wrong. The government’s antitrust lawsuit is one reason that Google was eventually able to break Microsoft’s monopoly.

“If Microsoft hadn’t been sued, all of technology would be different today,” Reback told me. We’ve known since Standard Oil that advances in technology make it easier for monopolies to emerge. But what’s less recognized is the importance of antitrust in making sure those new technologies spread to everyone else. In 1969 the Justice Department started a lawsuit against IBM for antitrust violations that lasted 13 years. The government eventually surrendered, but in an earlier attempt to mollify prosecutors, IBM eliminated its practice of bundling hardware and software, a shift that essentially created the software industry. Suddenly, new start-ups could get a foothold simply by writing programs rather than building machines. Microsoft was founded a few years later and soon outpaced IBM.

Or consider AT&T, which was sued by the government in 1974, fought in court for eight years and then slyly agreed to divest itself of some businesses if it could keep its most valuable assets. Critics complained AT&T was getting the deal of a lifetime. But then start-ups like Sprint and MCI made millions building on technologies AT&T championed, and AT&T found itself struggling to compete. It’s completely wrong to say that antitrust doesn’t matter, Reback argues. “The internet only exists because we broke up AT&T. The software industry exists because Johnson sued IBM.”

Silicon Valley’s Tax-Avoiding, Job-Killing, Soul-Sucking Machine
By Scott Galloway

Big tech learned from the sins of the original gangster, Microsoft. The colossus at times appeared to feel it was above trafficking in PR campaigns and lobbyists to soften its image among the public and regulators. In contrast, the Four promote an image of youth and idealism, coupled with evangelizing the world-saving potential of technology.

The sentiment is sincere, but mostly canny. By appealing to something loftier than mere profit, the Four are able to satisfy a growing demand among employees for so-called purpose-driven firms. Big tech’s tinkerer- in-the-garage mythology taps into an old American reverence for science and engineering, one that dates back to the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program. Best of all, the companies’ vague, high-minded pronouncements—“Think Different,” “Don’t Be Evil”—provide the ultimate illusion. Political progressives are generally viewed as well-meaning but weak, an image that offered the perfect cover for companies that were becoming hugely powerful.

Corporate America Is Suppressing Wages for Many Workers
By Alan B. Krueger and Eric Posner

The culprit is “monopsony power.” This term is used by economists to refer to the ability of an employer to suppress wages below the efficient or perfectly competitive level of compensation. In the more familiar case of monopoly, a large seller — like a cable company — is able to demand high prices for poor service because consumers have no other choice. It turns out that many corporations possess bargaining power over their workers, not just over their consumers. Their workers accept low wages and substandard working conditions because few alternative job opportunities exist for them or because switching jobs is costly. In other words, in the labor market, effectively a small number of employers are competing for their labor.

When employers exercise monopsonistic power, wages are suppressed, jobs are left unfilled, and economic growth suffers. Unions used to offset employer monopsony power, but unions now represent only 7 percent of private sector workers, down from a peak of 35 percent in the 1950s. Combating the practices that employers use to monopsonize the labor market can lead to higher wages, more jobs and faster economic growth.

During the Obama administration, the government awoke to the problem of monopsony. It was then that the public learned that high-tech companies, including Google and Apple, had agreed not to poach one another’s talent, a flagrant monopsonistic tactic that brought down the wrath of the Justice Department.

Google and Apple Settle Lawsuit Alleging Wage-Fixing
By Eliana Dockerman

About 60,000 tech employees filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe in 2011 accusing those companies of agreeing not to hire one another’s employees in order to drive down salaries. The plaintiffs cited emails from top executives like the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in which they discussed an agreement not to poach each others’ workers and thus enter a salary war.

In one particularly damning email, Schmidt tells Jobs that an employee recruited from Apple to Google will be fired per their agreement—an email that Jobs forwarded to an Apple human resources executive with the comment: “:)”

The Rise of Tech Giants May Be Bad News for the Economy
By Alessandro Speciale

Tech giants like Facebook and Amazon are the tip of the iceberg of a trend toward market concentration. That’s good for profits, but a new study says it also risks harming productivity and growth potential in the long run.

According to Sophie Guilloux-Nefussi, an economist with France’s central bank, the market share of the eight largest companies rose in more than 60 percent of the sectors of U.S. between 2002 and 2012.

Profits have grown as a consequence, but investment and salaries have failed to keep up. The falling share of companies’ revenue ending up in the pockets of workers may deepen the polarization of society while the lower investments reduce growth potential for the economy in the years ahead.

Moreover, the barriers to new entrants have become higher, as shown by a sharp decline in the creation of new companies.

Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Big Fight’ Against Monopolies
By George Zornick

Warren: When giant corporations have that much economic power, they also accumulate massive political power. They can pour insane amounts of money into electing politicians who will do their bidding in government. It’s no wonder that the biggest companies in America also spend the most on lobbying government officials. It becomes an ugly, self-perpetuating cycle.

Zornick: Companies like Google and Facebook have become just massive. Are there unique dangers when tech companies get so big and control so much?

Warren: In many ways, tech monopolies are similar to the oil and sugar and railroad trusts of the 19th century. And antitrust enforcers have the tools to stop tech companies from engaging in practices that choke off competition, but only if they use them. But there’s one key difference between the 19th-century trusts and today’s tech companies, and that’s data. Companies today gather more data on everything from where we work to where we shop, to our political views, to what we eat for breakfast. There’s this belief, when it comes to tech companies, that when people don’t pay up front, there’s no antitrust concern. But that’s a myth. Data is power. And data allows companies to push tailored advertisements to both shape and drive our preferences, and ultimately to benefit the corporation’s bottom line. That’s why it’s critically important that antitrust enforcers focus on the ways data can be used to undermine competition.

Google for the first time outspent every other company to influence Washington in 2017
By Hamza Shaban

The tech industry’s ballooning lobbying budgets may also be an indication that the companies will fight hard to protect the data they are collecting on Americans, said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University. Bedoya worries that the government will now struggle to pass new and meaningful consumer protection laws.

“Because this is the first time in American history that the giants of industry have as their raw material personal data, [tech companies] are going to do as much as possible to protect access to that raw material,” Bedoya said.

Google and Facebook are watching our every move online. It’s time to make them stop
By Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo

What you may not realize, though, is 76 percent of websites now contain hidden Google trackers, and 24 percent have hidden Facebook trackers, according to the Princeton Web Transparency & Accountability Project. The next highest is Twitter with 12 percent. It is likely that Google or Facebook are watching you on many sites you visit, in addition to tracking you when using their products.

As a result, these two companies have amassed huge data profiles on each person, which can include your interests, purchases, search, browsing and location history, and much more. They then make your sensitive data profile available for invasive targeted advertising that can follow you around the Internet.

Google flexed its muscles with new ad-blocking rules, and some smaller players are concerned about its power
By Jillian D’Onfro

Meanwhile, some believe that the sheer scale of Google’s business makes this move feel a bit like it’s playing God with what users will or will not see online.

Google’s global online ads business is bigger than its next five competitors combined, while Chrome has 59.23 percent browser market share across desktop and mobile, according to

“This gives Google even more power over the internet now than ever before,” Rich Kahn, the CEO of digital advertising company eZanga tells CNBC. “When does one consider it to be too much power in the hands of one company?”

Apple moves to store iCloud keys in China, raising human rights fears
By Stephen Nellis and Cate Cadell

Human rights activists say they fear the authorities could use that power to track down dissidents, citing cases from more than a decade ago in which Yahoo Inc handed over user data that led to arrests and prison sentences for two democracy advocates. Jing Zhao, a human rights activist and Apple shareholder, said he could envisage worse human rights issues arising from Apple handing over iCloud data than occurred in the Yahoo case.

In a statement, Apple said it had to comply with recently introduced Chinese laws that require cloud services offered to Chinese citizens be operated by Chinese companies and that the data be stored in China. It said that while the company’s values don’t change in different parts of the world, it is subject to each country’s laws.

“While we advocated against iCloud being subject to these laws, we were ultimately unsuccessful,” it said. Apple said it decided it was better to offer iCloud under the new system because discontinuing it would lead to a bad user experience and actually lead to less data privacy and security for its Chinese customers.

Until now, Apple appears to have handed over very little data about Chinese users. From mid-2013 to mid-2017, Apple said it did not give customer account content to Chinese authorities, despite having received 176 requests, according to transparency reports published by the company. By contrast, Apple has given the United States customer account content in response to 2,366 out of 8,475 government requests.

China’s Dystopian Tech Could Be Contagious
By Adam Greenfield

The Chinese state relies upon private enterprise to implement social credit and extend its tentacular reach. Top-tier concerns like Alibaba’s Alipay, Tencent, Baidu, the mobility-on-demand service Didi Chuxing, and the massively popular dating site Baihe either contribute significant elements of the system’s architecture or incorporate its rulings into their services. As is common in Western-style credit scoring, these companies use readily observable and easily measurable acts as proxies for behaviors that are more abstract or harder to gauge. For example, a propensity to spend hours playing online games becomes an index of indiscipline in and of itself, even if the person playing them is debt-free and has a clean record otherwise. One’s brand of smartphone serves as a stand-in for social class, while routine purchases of diapers are taken as an indication that one is a parent and therefore more likely to be responsible. All of these qualities are factors in determining what score one is ultimately awarded.

China learned to bind real-world consequences with such clunky, even laughable inferences from the West, where algorithmic credit-scoring systems can flag a tendency to fill out loan application forms in capital letters exclusively as a proxy for low reliability and creditworthiness. But by drawing conclusions about citizens’s political sentiments into the judgments it renders, social credit goes far beyond anything currently imagined in the Western world. The state relies on its corporate partners to punish behavior it regards as problematic. Private, commercial transactions—renting a car, reserving a hotel room, buying a plane ticket—become venues for state-directed punishment for nonconformity.

It’s not always clear, even in retrospect, what behavior might have triggered such an exclusion, but early indications suggest that a broad array of putative transgressions can be picked up and punished by the system. Human Rights Watch reports that the lawyer Li Xiaolin was barred from boarding a domestic flight because a written apology he’d offered a regional court in an unrelated matter some months before was held to be “insincere.” His name had been entered into a national no-fly list because he’d run afoul of the whims of a petty bureaucrat. And the activist Liu Hu was apparently ensnared by the system for undertaking political activity abrasive to the state. Frozen out by the network, he can no longer buy real estate, secure a commercial loan, or pay for airfare. He can’t even travel on the national high-speed rail network. It’s not hard to see how such restrictions, applied broadly enough, would put an effective brake on nonconforming behaviors—or even the expression of nonconforming opinions.

China censorship after Xi Jinping presidency extension proposal
By Kerry Allen

Several key terms have suddenly been subjected to heavy censorship on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog since Sunday.

According to censorship-monitoring websites China Digital Times and Free Weibo, censored phrases include:

  1. I don’t agree
  2. migration
  3. emigration
  4. re-election
  5. election term
  6. constitution amendment
  7. constitution rules
  8. proclaiming oneself an emperor
  9. Winnie the Pooh

The rise of China as a digital totalitarian state
By Xiao Qiang

The University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab has identified various surveillance mechanisms used to monitor social media platforms such as WeChat, which can leave people with the sense that they have a surveillance weapon in their pockets. What’s more, these mechanisms remain in effect when individuals leave the country, as do large number of Chinese students who study abroad.

Another major development is the Chinese government’s creation of an army of Internet commentators, collectively known as the “50 Cent Army.” These commentators are organized and often paid by the government to publish online content favoring government policies, defaming public intellectuals, boosting Xi’s image and generally monitoring netizens’ activities, often using fake identities.

In 2015, an anonymous user leaked onto social media various email correspondences between propaganda officials, shedding light on the secretive work of the Fifty Cent Party. These archives include photos, directories of Internet commentators, and summaries of records of individuals’ online activities, dating to 2002. From those leaked documents, it is clear that the Chinese government has mobilized over 10 million college students through its Communist Youth League organization to take on various “online public opinion struggle” tasks.

What’s worse than fake news? The distortion of reality itself.
By Aviv Ovadya

Advances in communications technology and artificial intelligence are making it easy to create audio or video content with potentially dangerous consequences, from making it appear that a world leader is ordering a nuclear strike to simulating your spouse’s voice on the phone asking for a bank password.

As individuals and institutions, we must ensure that we trust the trustworthy and disregard the disingenuous. Representative government requires accountability, and accountability requires discerning knowledge. But technology is disrupting that edifice of knowledge, and if we don’t act quickly enough, it may soon bring us past the point of no return.

So what can we do? In short, we need massive investment across industry, civil society and government, to understand and mitigate threats to our information ecosystems. And we need it now.

Special counsel Mueller: Russians conducted ‘information warfare’ against US during election to help Donald Trump win
By Dan Mangan and Mike Calia

The indictment said the Internet Research Agency was registered with the Russian government as a corporate entity in 2013, and by May 2014 the group’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” the indictment said.

The indictment details an extremely sophisticated conspiracy in which defendants traveled to the United States to conduct research, employed specialists to fine-tune social media posts to “ensure they appeared authentic,” and stole real people’s identities to purchase online ads.

How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics
By Nicholas Confessore and Daisuke Wakabayashi

The Russian campaign also appears to have been tailored to exploit the companies’ own strategies for keeping users engaged. Facebook, for example, pushed people to interact more in Groups like the ones set up by the Russians, where users can “share their common interests and express their opinion” around a common cause. LinkedIn, the professional social network owned by Microsoft, is geared toward encouraging users like Mr. Swanson to create articles and other content.

“The strategies are no mystery,” said Michael Strangelove, a lecturer on internet culture at the University of Ottawa. “Foreign powers are playing within the rules of the game that we wrote.”

Why Putin’s Foes Deplore U.S. Fixation on Election Meddling
By Andrew Higgins

Mr. Volkov and others say they have no doubt that Russia did interfere, at least on the margins, in last year’s presidential election campaign. But they complain that the United States consistently inflates Mr. Putin’s impact and portrays his government as far more unified and effective than it really is, cementing his legacy and making him harder to challenge at home.

Ultimately, they say, Americans are using Russia as a scapegoat to explain the deep political discord in the United States. That has left many westward-leaning Russians, who have long looked to America for their ideals, in bitter disappointment that the United States seems to be mimicking some of their own country’s least appealing traits.

The hysteria over Russian bots has reached new levels
By Thomas Frank

… either Democratic “political operatives” are incredibly bad at what they do, or else they are feigning amazement in order to get themselves off the hook for the lousy job they did in 2016. They themselves blew millions and came up empty, but to this handful of bargain-basement Russian trolls they ascribe all manner of ability. Clinton’s glittering Jedi army was simply powerless against them.

It is worth noting that the indictment itself, as the deputy US attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, said on Friday, declines to attribute any actual election results to the Russian ads. It is also important to acknowledge that I believe Mueller’s indictment is probably correct in its particulars. Everyone can see that we are living in an age of rampant propaganda, that conspiracy theories have never travelled faster. But no thanks to a new cold war.

Yes, go after the Russian trolls. Prosecute them for their alleged crimes. Punish Putin if he tried to jack with us. But understand that this sort of operation is not going away.

Russian Meddling Was a Drop in an Ocean of American-made Discord
By Amanda Taub and Max Fisher

But if Americans were susceptible to messages seeking to discredit democratic institutions, it was because many already believed them.

The Tea Party movement, for instance, rose on a fear that Barack Obama was more dictator than president, and that his health care reforms would send elderly Americans to “death panels.” Mr. Trump rose on the lie that Mr. Obama is secretly foreign-born. Some supporters of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic senator, suspected that Mrs. Clinton had engineered the primary vote against him, a notion later hit upon by Russian misinformation.

How Liberals Amped Up a Parkland Shooting Conspiracy Theory
By Molly McKew

People outraged by the conspiracy helped to promote it—in some cases far more than the supporters of the story. And algorithms—apparently absent the necessary “sentiment sensitivity” that is needed to tell the context of a piece of content and assess whether it is being shared positively or negatively—see all that noise the same.

This unintended amplification created by outrage-sharing may have helped put the conspiracy in front of more unsuspecting people.

It’s the wild-west landscape that social media platforms have encouraged, knowing that outrage is an effective currency in the so-called attention economy.

This terminology camouflages the war for minds that is underway on social media platforms, the impact that this has on our cognitive capabilities over time, and the extent to which automation is being engaged to gain advantage. The assumption, for example, that other would-be participants in social media information wars who choose to use these same tactics will gain the same capabilities or advantage is not necessarily true. This is a playing field that is hard to level: Amplification networks have data-driven, machine learning components that work better with refinement over time. You can’t just turn one on and expect it to work perfectly.

The vast amounts of content being uploaded every minute cannot possibly be reviewed by human beings. Algorithms, and the poets who sculpt them, are thus given an increasingly outsized role in the shape of our information environment. Human minds are on a battlefield between warring AIs—caught in the crossfire between forces we can’t see, sometimes as collateral damage and sometimes as unwitting participants. In this blackbox algorithmic wonderland, we don’t know if we are picking up a gun or a shield.

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