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Credit: Mike Theiler — Reuters

Wednesday, as I took a break from the joys of my tenth straight month of remote work to eat lunch, I witnessed something I never thought I’d see. For only the second time in the history of the United States, the flag of an enemy army entered the nation’s capitol. However, unlike in 1814, this was not the result of a military defeat, but was instead a self-inflicted wound. We watched, in real time, as a unique form of political violence was unleashed the likes of which America had not seen since the Redemption era. …


Disinformation relied on large platforms’ complacency

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Stranger Danger, the more palatable gateway drug to Satanic Panic // wikimedia commons

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of what has now become the only reliably pandemic-proof part of my social life: BYOB on Sunday afternoons in my friend’s backyard. Through conversational circumstances that a few hazies prevent me from recalling in detail, we ended up talking about 1980s Satanic Panic. My friend’s mom had dropped by, and began telling the story of the McMartin Preschool.


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Copyright ExtremeTech 2018 // “Why Google Glass Failed, and What to Expect Next”

Today’s journalism, art, literature, and music are rife with depictions of techno-dystopia and techno-utopia. The battle lines seem more clearly drawn than ever before between pessimists and techno-optimists of all political shades. Perhaps we’ve thrown off the rose-tinted glasses we once used to examine Silicon Valley’s contributions to society, but the debate about the role of technology in our future economy, social order, and personal lives still rages on.

Burn-in, a novel by Peter W Singer and August Cole, looks to extrapolate current trends in technology, to imagine a near-future where technology has penetrated into every space of human existence…


“Contagion” is a warning to all those hoping a vaccine rollout will go smoothly

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Jude Law as conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede in “Contagion” // Warner Bros Pictures

In Steven Soderbergh’s newly rediscovered 2011 film Contagion, a hypothetical novel virus called MEV-1 causes a global pandemic, which has to be stopped by the film’s protagonists, epidemiologists working for the Centers for Disease Control.

While the film contains all sorts of exposition sequences that are legitimately educational about the nature and spread of airborne viruses, the real nugget of gold in the film is in its main subplot. Jude Law plays Alan Krumwiede, an Alex Jones-type conspiracy entrepreneur. He spends his days chasing down sensational stories and posting ranting videos on his website, “Truth Serum”.

Despite the contemporary irrelevance…


An online battle for websites preceded real world protests

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An anti-social distancing protester confronts a counter-protesting nurse in Denver, CO // credits to Alyson McClaran

Over the weekends of the 17th and 24th of April, thousands of Americans showed up at intersections and state houses across the country to protest against social distancing rules, the closure of businesses, and other measures taken by mayors and governors to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Depending on the location, protestors ranged from the pedestrian to the extreme and bizarre. Some groups were calm, carrying signs calling on governors to reopen businesses. Other groups were toting semi-automatic rifles, combat gear, and QAnon paraphernalia.

Users on reddit, in particular /u/Dr_Midnight, noticed a strange pattern in certain sites purporting to support the…


The newest ironically self-aware brand

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I’ll take my pandemic rare with a side of levity, thanks. On 2 April, Steak-umm, supplier of the sliced frozen beef used in the iconic Philly cheesesteak and other fine hoagies, tweeted a long-winded thread on echo chambers and misinformation in times of crisis:

The initial 2 April thread got thousands of likes and retweets, many from political scientists and media figures. But the storied purveyors of frozen meat weren’t finished. True virality came on 6 April, when the following thread got over 60 thousand likes:

The thread goes on to make several cogent points about sorting good…


A consortium of university labs are using your computing power to treat Coronavirus

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Anyone who’s ever taken a class in cybersecurity, listened to their company’s mandatory security training videos, or watched a hacker movie has heard of botnets: sets of compromised computers that hackers use to launch denial-of-service attacks. The attack technique made headlines in 2007 when Kremlin-affiliated hackers nearly shut down the entire country of Estonia for a few days by launching a massive DoS attack on Estonian ministries, government websites, banks and newspapers.

However, it seems that not all uses of botnets are malicious. One group of medical laboratories is using a program called Folding@home to conduct research on a host…


Twitter and Facebook differentiate their concepts of “Free Speech”

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An 1883 political ad featuring George Washington, intended to encourage citizens to vote // Wikimedia Commons

On 31 October 2019, Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced the microblogging site would be banning all political advertising globally, both by candidates and on an issue-by-issue basis. The announcement was made in the early morning eastern time, well before markets opened.

Twitter’s timing could not have been better, on the heels of Libra’s regulatory troubles and Zuckerberg’s uninspiring performance in front of the House Financial Services Committee the week prior.

Twitter

Dorsey outlined Twitter’s reasoning in a lengthy thread, but his central point was simple: reach should be earned, not paid for. His argument centered around a definition of…


Cloudflare cuts services for Nazi recruiting-ground 8chan

On 3 August, a young white man carrying a Romanian-built semi-automatic rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people, mostly of hispanic descent. Before the rampage, the shooter had posted a lengthy “manifesto” on the site 8chan.

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Mourners in El Paso / Mark Ralston for Agence France-Presse

The site had also been used to post a “manifesto” by the white power terrorist responsible for the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand earlier this year, as well as by the antisemitic terrorist from the Poway synagogue shooting outside San Diego, California. …


Federalist 51 is our best defense against Big Tech’s monopolistic impulses

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The tech and media policy Twitterverse was taken over in early May by a New York Times op-ed from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes arguing that the behemoth he’d helped found at Harvard, and in which he remains a major shareholder, should be broken up by federal authorities. The argument that Facebook is a monopoly has been made before, including by presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, but the Facebook co-founder’s argument had one essential strength. In knowing Zuckerberg personally and having a personal commercial stake in Facebook, Hughes can insulate himself from claims of demonizing success. He specifically states that Zuckerberg is…

Jackson Oliver Webster

Sometimes I write about politics and tech // JFK / LAX / CDG

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