Pattern Matching

The first step is agreeing on exactly what it is — and what we want it to be

Image for post
Image for post
And yet they did. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

This was a week of pointing fingers. As the dust cleared from the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump was re-impeached (early candidate for word of the year), many blamed the social media platforms on which his most rabid supporters organized. Critics on the left said they failed to take timely action against Trump, QAnon, and Stop the Steal groups; the right blamed them for taking action at all.

Finger-pointing in itself might not seem all that productive. But the debate over exactly what role the platforms played in fomenting political violence, and what they could have done differently, has the potential to be clarifying. Academics and technologists are now weighing with fresh urgency social media reforms that could redefine how we interact in online spaces — if we can ever reach consensus on what those reforms should be. …


Trump’s extremism is forcing tech companies to abandon the pretense of political objectivity — for now

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Taylor Smith

There’s an idea in media criticism known as the “view from nowhere.” Popularized by Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, the phrase takes aim at the ethos of political agnosticism that news outlets have historically cultivated. He argues that “both sides” reporting, which treats competing viewpoints or arguments as equally valid, does a disservice to the truth. Journalism about the “climate debate,” which used to give industry shills equal airtime alongside climate scientists, is a famous example.

Social networks, perhaps Facebook most of all, have long embraced their version of the view from nowhere. …


Pattern Matching

Booting Trump won’t solve social media’s problems. But it’s not a bad place to start.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The president of the United States is no longer allowed to post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, or Shopify. Twitter said Friday night that its ban was permanent — and it was swiftly followed by suspensions of the @POTUS and @TeamTrump accounts when Trump attempted to use those instead. When Trump tried tweeting from the account of Gary Coby, his digital campaign director, Twitter promptly suspended that, too. The nonprofit First Draft started a helpful Google Doc to keep track of all the platform responses to the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.

Meanwhile, Google suspended the “free speech” social app Parler from the Google Play store, and Apple was threatening to do the same on its iOS App Store, imperiling a right-wing refuge that some expected to become Trump’s new platform. An evidently apoplectic Trump spent Friday evening “scrambling to figure out what his options are,” Politico reported. Before he was booted, he tweeted that he’s “negotiating with various other sites” and suggested he might even try to build his own social platform. (I have an idea for what to call it.) …


The move is a reminder of social platforms’ power over online speech — and the inconsistency with which they wield it

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After four years of accommodating, tolerating, and occasionally wrist-slapping Donald Trump, Facebook chose the morning after a riot breached the U.S. Capitol to suspend the outgoing president from its platform. Several smaller platforms, including Snapchat, Shopify, and Twitch, have taken similar steps, and more dominoes are likely to fall soon.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook post shortly before 11 a.m. on Thursday that both Facebook and Instagram have blocked Trump’s account. According to the post, the accounts will be blocked “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.” …


Internet Happy Places

At the end of a year in which we could not explore much IRL, team OneZero is sharing our favorite places we found online.

Remember when websites were fun? When interactive visualizations felt fresh and experimental? Self-described “creative coder” Neal Agarwal’s The Deep Sea is a throwback to a simpler internet era, before every online experience was optimized and monetized to death. Published in December 2019, the site takes you on a downward-scrolling journey beneath the waves, past a procession of pictures of marine animals, each placed at roughly the maximum depth its species is known to dive or dwell. You’ll meet a paddling polar bear at 25 meters, a macabre wolf eel at 220 meters, and a shimmering firefly squid at 375 meters… and then keep going, with surprises along the way. Like the famous Scales of the Universe exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, the Deep Sea sparks wonder by downscaling an unfathomably vast natural realm to a navigable yet still capacious scope. Once you’ve reached the bottom, you can try one of Agarwal’s other projects at his website, Neal.fun, …


Pattern Matching

The feud between Apple and Facebook enters a new era

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An adage of international relations holds that great powers have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests. (The original quote, from a 19th-century English statesman known as Lord Palmerston, is a bit less pithy.) It accounts for how the United States and Russia were allies in World War II, then bitter enemies soon after; or how Japan fought with the Allies in World War I but joined the Axis in World War II.

Today, the U.S. internet giants resemble expansionist empires jostling for power, influence, and market position around the world. Each has its impregnable base of power — e.g., search for Google, social networking for Facebook, online shopping for Amazon — but their spheres of influence are so great that they can’t help but overlap. …


Pattern Matching

The roots of Big Tech’s antitrust problem can be found in his bestselling 2014 business book, ‘Zero to One’

Image for post
Image for post
Peter Thiel. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival,” Peter Thiel wrote in his bestselling 2014 book, Zero to One. That one thing, Thiel stated outright, is “monopoly profits.”

In the book, which was embraced as a business bible in Silicon Valley and beyond, Thiel made the case for monopoly as the ultimate goal of capitalism. Indeed, “monopoly is the condition of every successful business,” he asserted. With it, you’re free to set your own prices, think long-term, innovate, and pursue goals other than mere survival. Without it, you’re replaceable, and your profits will eventually converge on zero. Thiel went on to describe economists’ valorization of competition as “a relic of history” — an “ideology” that “pervades our society and distorts our thinking.” His core thesis was summarized in a 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined “Competition Is for Losers.” …


‘Copy, acquire, and kill’

Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark Zuckerberg.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Image

Wednesday’s filing of a major government antitrust suit against Facebook is a landmark in the internet’s history. We knew the suit was coming; we didn’t know it would call for a full-on breakup that would split off Instagram and WhatsApp from the parent company. You can read the Federal Trade Commission’s 53-page complaint here.

Some commentators were quick to question how the FTC and 46 state attorneys general could credibly claim Facebook’s 2012 Instagram acquisition and 2014 WhatsApp acquisition constituted monopolistic behavior, given that the deals withstood antitrust scrutiny at the time. …


Pattern Matching

An online speech expert explains why no online platform will be spared from content-moderation controversy

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

For years a battle of ideas has raged over the limits of online speech, focused largely on Facebook, Twitter, and to a lesser extent YouTube. Innately resistant to the messy and expensive work of policing users’ speech, those vast platforms have grudgingly enlarged their moderation workforces, expanded their content policies, and toughened their enforcement in response to media backlashes, congressional hearings, regulatory threats, advertiser boycotts, and revolts from their own employees. Professional racists such as Milo Yiannopoulos, conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones, and even grassroots movements such as QAnon have all been booted from major platforms for violating policies after significant backlash. Public officials such as Donald Trump now find themselves fact-checked or their posts hidden. …


Gebru is known for influential research about bias in facial recognition

Image for post
Image for post
Timnit Gebru. Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Timnit Gebru, a pioneering researcher on algorithmic bias, said Wednesday night that she had been abruptly let go by Google, where she was technical co-lead of the company’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, after she had privately threatened to resign.

Tweet from Timnit Gebru

Gebru is known for her co-authorship with Joy Buolamwini of an influential 2018 paper on bias in facial recognition software, among other work. The study found that three leading facial recognition systems were far more likely to misidentify women and people of color than white men. The findings helped to fuel a backlash against facial recognition that has led some major companies and jurisdictions to stop developing or using the technology.

About

Will Oremus

Senior Writer, OneZero, at Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store