Illustration: Patrik Mollwing

While Facebook and Twitter get the scrutiny, Nextdoor is reshaping politics one neighborhood at a time

One year ago, Delaware’s second-largest school district was in trouble. A failed referendum in 2019, on the heels of state funding cuts two years prior, had left it staring down a $10 million deficit that raised the specter of teacher layoffs, the end of sports and extracurriculars, and the demise of a promising magnet-school program. …

Pattern Matching

The company’s campaign to encourage vaccination is fighting against the dynamics of its own platform.

Promotional art showing the Covid-19 Information Center on Facebook.

In the most idealistic view of Facebook’s mission, this is the sort of moment it was built for.

With Covid-19 killing thousands of people every day, humanity is in a race to vaccinate enough of the global population to curb the pandemic — ideally before it evolves in ways that make it even harder to contain. One obstacle, of course, is vaccine availability. But another is “vaccine hesitancy:” people afraid or unwilling to get vaccinated when they have the chance.

Facebook has built a network of nearly 3 billion people across its platforms, and has the ability to influence the…

A grotesque segment mocking Black farmers illustrates just how much bigotry a conservative star can get away with

Screenshot: YouTube

An overtly racist video by conservative YouTube star Steven Crowder did not violate YouTube’s hate speech policy, the company told OneZero, though it has been taken down for other reasons. The stance highlights the broad leeway for bigotry in the platform’s moderation rules, even as it cracks down on certain categories of content, such as Covid-19 misinformation.

In a March 16 livestream, Steven Crowder and his co-hosts on the show Louder With Crowder — which has 5.4 million subscribers — performed grotesque caricatures of Black people. The bits were part of a segment mocking provisions in the new U.S. Covid-19…

Pattern Matching

Blockchain takes a substantial toll on the environment that experts are beginning to reckon with

Alpine Mining co-founder and CEO Ludovic Thomas works at the company’s main cryptocurrency mining site in the tiny southern Swiss village of Gondo. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

The price of one bitcoin, as I write this, is $57,383 — more than 10 times what it cost just a year ago. That price is volatile, so it will be different by the time you read this. But rest assured it will remain expensive.

There’s another toll, though, for every bitcoin created: the toll it takes on the environment. It’s one that is not paid in full by either the miner or the buyer. As bitcoin reaches new heights, fueled by advocates such as Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, it’s a cost that’s becoming impossible to ignore.

The Pattern

Crypto faces…

An industry veteran on why recent moves from the tech giants should be the impetus for a federal privacy law

Street view of New York City featuring a billboard that reads “DoubleClick Welcomes you to SILICON ALLEY.”
Street view of New York City featuring a billboard that reads “DoubleClick Welcomes you to SILICON ALLEY.”
A large billboard for the online advertising agency DoubleClick stands on a rooftop at 22nd and Broadway in New York City. Photo: Erik Freeland/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images

Jules Polonetsky remembers the moment that shattered his naivete about the internet.

“I was the consumer affairs commissioner for New York City 20 years ago when some company I’d never heard of came in with a big billboard,” he recalls. “It said, ‘Welcome to Silicon Alley,’ sponsored by DoubleClick.” I’d read in the headlines that DoubleClick was in trouble for using something called cookies. And something to do with “appending your identity” to your web-browsing history.

DoubleClick was a pioneer in targeted advertising: It used cookies to track people around the web for the benefit of advertisers across its vast…

Pattern Matching

Why the search giant can afford to kill the cookie

Photo Illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

For two decades, the cookie has been an emblem of the online advertising model that powers much of the open web — and the privacy invasions that come with it. Now, the cookie as we know it is dying.

Online advertising will live on, of course, and so will privacy invasions. But the changes taking shape today will nonetheless alter how we navigate the web in the future — and define which companies dominate it.

The Pattern

The internet’s giants are building its post-cookie future.

Google has been planning for a while now to phase out third-party tracking cookies in its Chrome…

‘Twitter description guy’ isn’t a guy. It’s Twitter’s curation team, and I talked to the woman who runs it.

Twitter’s director of curation, Joanna Geary. Photo courtesy of Joanna Geary

“Twitter description guy,” in users’ collective imagination, is a beleaguered soul, constantly scrambling to comprehend the bizarre subcultural memes that go viral on the site so that he can write sober-minded summaries of them for Twitter’s trending section. In December, Twitter’s description of a Minecraft-related trending topic led Twitch streamers and gamers to imagine a beleaguered “Twitter description guy”. They worked to make #TwitterGuyIsOverParty a trending hashtag in hopes that said Twitter guy would be forced to write a description of his own cancellation.

There is, of course, no single “Twitter description guy.” The descriptions are written by Twitter’s curation…

Apple’s new privacy measures will test the theory that underlies Facebook’s business model

Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Facebook recently launched an ad campaign to defend personalized advertising against Apple’s new privacy measures. The campaign, called “Good Ideas Deserve to Be Found,” touts targeted ads as a boon for small businesses. Here’s one of the ads, which I found amusing, if perhaps not exactly in the way that Facebook intended.

The ad push comes ahead of a change in Apple’s policies that could dramatically affect Facebook and other app makers’ ability to track iOS users for advertising purposes. Starting this spring, iPhone users will see a pop-up when they open an app that tracks them, giving them the…

Pattern Matching

Products like Clubhouse and Twitter’s “Super Follows” offer a new kind of engagement

A slide about Twitter’s “Super Follows” pulled from a recent presentation for investors

Open Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or Pinterest, then look at your index finger. If you’re like me, you’ll find it already hovering over the screen, poised for scrolling. Our algorithmic feeds have conditioned us to expect little from any given post, flicking our eyes across each one just long enough to decide whether it’s worth a second glance before we dispense with it forever and move on to the next one.

These feed-based platforms are powered by scale and automation. They encourage users to friend, follow, and like liberally, building sprawling networks on the promise that aggressive ranking algorithms will…

Pattern Matching

How to bolster the media without breaking the internet

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

A proposed law intended to bolster the struggling news media at the expense of thriving tech platforms is playing out quite poorly in Australia.

Google reluctantly obeyed the legislation, which is expected to pass in the next week, by agreeing to pay large sums to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and other corporate media giants in exchange for linking to their articles. (News Corp is the dominant player in Australia’s heavily concentrated media market.) Facebook refused, opting instead to ban all news from its network in Australia. In the process, Facebook appears to have also blocked posts from public health agencies

Will Oremus

Senior Writer, OneZero, at Medium

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