Facebook won’t take down a recording of Nancy Pelosi slowed down to make her sound drunk. That’s because the social network sees “fakes” as content.

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Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Every time another “fake video” makes the rounds, its menace gets rehashed without those discussing it establishing what “fakeness” means in the first place. The latest one came last week, a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi. Unlike so-called deepfakes (machine-learning-made videos in which people appear to say or do things that never actually happened), this video is not technically sophisticated at all. It was altered by slowing down the playback and modifying the soundtrack. The result retains the pitch of Pelosi’s voice but makes it sound as if she is slurring her words, incoherent or drunk.

Many news outlets called it a fake; others called it doctored or distorted. Whatever you want to label it, the video was created to spread, and that’s exactly what happened. The Facebook page Politics WatchDog posted a version that has been viewed millions of times, eliciting sneering comments about Pelosi, possibly from viewers who didn’t realize that the video had been manipulated. Others appeared on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and elsewhere. President Donald Trump tweeted a reference to the video; his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani shared it, too, although Giuliani later deleted his post. News outlets have chased the story with fervor, even while correctly noting that such pursuit snares the media in the very trap the makers of the video hoped to set. …


An artificial-intelligence “artist” got a solo show at a Chelsea gallery. Will it reinvent art, or destroy it?

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AI-generated “faceless portraits” by Ahmed Elgammal and AICAN. Photo: Artrendex Inc./The Atlantic


The company enables the surveillance that supposedly offends its values

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks onstage during the Apple Inc product launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater on September 12, 2018 in Cupertino, California. Photo: VCG/Getty Images

“We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right,” Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, said in a privacy-conference keynote last year in Brussels. “But we also recognize that not everyone sees things as we do.” Cook was making an impassioned plea to end the technology industry’s collection and sale of user data. “This is surveillance,” he continued. “And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.” Cook called for a comprehensive U.S. data-privacy law focused on minimizing data collection, securing that data, and informing users about its nature and use.

The speech is worth revisiting in light of an emerging fight between Apple and Facebook. Earlier this week, TechCrunch reported that Facebook had been paying people, including teens 13 to 17 years old, to install a “research” app that extracted huge volumes of personal data from their iPhones — direct messages, photos, emails, and more. Facebook uses this information partly to improve its data profiles for advertisement, but also as a business-intelligence tool to help paint a picture of competitor behavior. …


A controversial video of Catholic students clashing with American Indians appeared to tell a simple truth. A second video called that story into question. But neither shows what truly happened.

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Photo: KC Noland/YouTube

In a short, viral video shared widely since Friday, Catholic high-school students visiting Washington, D.C., from Kentucky for the March for Life appeared to confront, and mock, American Indians who had participated in the Indigenous Peoples March, taking place the same day.

By Saturday, the video had been condensed into a single image: One of the students, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, smiles before an Omaha tribal elder, a confrontation viewers took as an act of aggression by a group of white youths against an indigenous community — and by extension, people of color more broadly. …


The company’s new line of voice-automated products, including a wall clock and a microwave, could help it amass an enormous database of consumer behavior

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An Amazon Alexa–enabled wall clock Photo: Amazon

Almost every day I make a pot of tea. Strong, black tea, the kind you have to steep properly in a ritual that involves a kettle, a tea tin, tea lights, a tea cozy. It’s a four-minute brew, so I set a timer. I used to do it on the microwave, but some time ago I just started asking Alexa, via the Amazon Echo on my kitchen counter. “Alexa, set a timer for four minutes.” I can do this while pouring from the kettle to the pot. …


Comcast sent me 10 pizzas. This isn’t nice; it’s manipulative.

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Illustration: Laurent Hrybuk

I didn’t realize how seriously companies take social media until last year, when I opened my front door and saw a delivery guy holding a stack of pizza boxes up to his chin.

Comcast had recently started advertising mobile-phone service where I live. Given that Comcast and AT&T were already the only local choices for broadband and cable, the move felt like an ominous sign of even more industry consolidation. I took to Twitter to air this worry. “It’s nice that Comcast is offering mobile phone service now,” I posted. …


Google and Facebook are easy scapegoats, but companies have been collecting, selling, and reusing your personal data for decades, and now that the public has finally noticed, it’s too late. The personal-data privacy war is long over, and you lost.

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A natural-gas field in Derweze, Turkmenistan, collapsed into an underground cavern, creating a continually burning crater 69 meters across. It’s called the “Door to Hell”. Photo: Giles Clarke/Getty Images

A barista gets burned at work, buys first-aid cream at Target, and later that day sees a Facebook ad for the same product. In another Target, someone shouts down the aisle to a companion to pick up some Red Bull; on the ride home, Instagram serves a sponsored post for the beverage. A home baker wishes aloud for a KitchenAid mixer, and moments after there’s an ad for one on his phone. Two friends are talking about recent trips to Japan, and soon after one gets hawked cheap flights there. A woman has a bottle of perfume confiscated at airport security, and upon arrival sees a Facebook ad for local perfume stores. These are just some of the many discomforting coincidences that make today’s consumers feel surveilled and violated. The causes are sometimes innocuous, and sometimes duplicitous. …


A new law in Georgia discourages drivers from even touching a screen. Whether or not it improves safety, it could help break people’s phone habits.

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Photo: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images

Last week, for the first time in years, I stopped my car at a red light and didn’t bide the time by fondling my smartphone. This isn’t a proud admission, but it is an honest one: Pretty much every time I stop my car at a traffic signal, I pick up my phone and do something with it. I’m not even sure what. I “check my phone,” as people say. Checking your phone doesn’t really mean checking your email or text messages or social-media feed. Mostly, it means checking to see if there’s anything to check.

I’m even less proud to admit that I didn’t stop this practice by choice. On July 1, a new hands-free law went into effect in Georgia, where I live, which makes checking your phone while driving illegal — or a lot harder to do legally, anyway. Texting while driving has been prohibited here since 2010, but the new law, HB 673 or the “Hands-Free Law,” goes much further: It appears to prohibit drivers from physically contacting the device under almost any circumstances unless legally parked. Not even if the phone is attached to a dashboard mount. Not even to adjust Google Maps while stopped at a red light. Not even to skip the track on Spotify. …


The hyperlocal social-media platform highlights small grievances — and proves that neighbors have more in common than they think

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Illustration: Josh Cochran

Here are some of the things I heard about in my neighborhood over the past year: A thunderstorm downed a tree, blocking a central road; a shadowy agent called “the night clipper” arose, surreptitiously cutting overhanging bushes while unsuspecting property owners slept; several dogs and cats were lost, found, or “on the loose,” whatever that means for a cat; a federal-grand-jury-summons telephone scam struck; someone sought belly-dancing classes, an apparent alternative to Pilates; and, innumerable times, people deposited bags of dog poop into lawn-clipping and recycling canisters at the curb. All of this news came courtesy of the social-media service Nextdoor. …


The company’s slick, wireless earbuds work great, but they foreshadow startling changes to the social fabric

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Photo: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

The moment I put the Apple AirPods in my ears, I feel like I’ve already dropped them in the toilet. They are so small and slippery. The mere act of removing these precious, wireless ear buds from their lozenge-shaped case makes them feel like a futuristic cure to unknown ills. I am late to adopt them, so I indulge a marvel. I take one out of an ear; this time I feel like I’m sure to ingest it, eventually, mistaking it for space-age apparatus for wellness or transhumanism. My AirPods, I am convinced, are not long for this world.

Worrying about losing something is a good sign that you feel endeared to it. And, like so many others, I am: The Apple AirPods might be the best product Apple has produced in years. By contrast, I’ve dropped my iPhone in the toilet before, but it almost felt like a relief to do so, at least for a moment. I despair holding it in my hand, but there it is in my hand anyway, almost all the time. …

About

Ian Bogost

Writer and Game Designer. Georgia Tech, The Atlantic, Persuasive Games, Object Lessons, etc. http://bogost.com, http://theatlantic.com/author/ian-bogost/

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