Wednesday 21 October, 2020

The road in Winter

One of my favourite roads in Norfolk. When we get to it we know we’re nearly at the coast.

Quote of the Day

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most”

  • Abraham Lincoln

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Boccherini | Cello Sonata in A Major, G.4 | 2013 | Jonathan Roozeman


Zoom is trying to turn itself into a platform

Sigh. It’s predictable. As video conferencing becomes a commodity, Zoom needs to find a way of not just being a video-conferencing app. So it’s signed up lots of ‘partners’, mostly the usual suspects (Slack, Trello, etc.) They all have cheery and (to my jaundiced eye) slightly depressing videos. For example:


The aim is to build what corporate strategists call a ‘moat’ round Zoom to keep users inside the compound.

Call police for a woman who is changing clothes in an alley? A new program in Denver sends mental health professionals instead.

As austerity and the pandemic continues to destroy people’s lives, many police forces say that they are having to turn into part-time social workers. This heartwarming report in the Denver Post illustrates what an intelligent response to human distress would be like.

A concerned passerby dialed 911 to report a sobbing woman sitting alone on a curb in downtown Denver.

Instead of a police officer, dispatchers sent Carleigh Sailon, a seasoned mental health professional with a penchant for wearing Phish T-shirts, to see what was going on.

The woman, who was unhoused, was overwhelmed and scared. She’d ended up in an unfamiliar part of town. It was blazing hot and she didn’t know where to go. Sailon gave the woman a snack and some water and asked how she could help. Could she drive her somewhere? The woman was pleasantly surprised.

“She was like, ‘Who are you guys? And what is this?’” Sailon said, recounting the call.

This, Sailon explained, is Denver’s new Support Team Assistance Response program, which sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls instead of police.

Since its launch June 1, the STAR van has responded to more than 350 calls, replacing police in matters that don’t threaten public safety and are often connected to unmet mental or physical needs. The goal is to connect people who pose no danger with services and resources while freeing up police to respond to other calls. The team, which is not armed, has not called police for backup, Sailon said.

“We’re really trying to create true alternatives to us using police and jails,” said Vinnie Cervantes with Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, one of the organizations that helped start the program.

Though it had been years in the making, the program launched just four days after protests erupted in Denver calling for transformational changes to policing in response to the death of George Floyd.

Other, possibly interesting, links

  • The Nobel Prize Committee couldn’t reach Paul Milgrom to tell him that he won the Nobel Prize for Economics, so his neighbour (and fellow winner) Robert Wilson knocked on his door in the middle of the night. Here’s what Milgrom’s Ring doorbell recorded! Link

  • Q: Why has New Zealand rejected populist ideas other nations have embraced? Hint: The country doesn’t have any newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch. Link.

  • “Eight Persistent COVID-19 Myths and Why People Believe Them”. From Scientific American

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Thursday 17 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

“Here’s what being called sir feels like to me. You see someone who you think you could be friends with because inside you’re 19, and they call you sir, and you remember what it was like when you were them and you saw someone who looked like you look now.”

I know just how he feels. And I’m older than he is! Although, when I think of it, I can’t recall ever calling anyone sir. Maybe I was born middle-aged.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard & Keith Richards – Trouble In Mind


Misconceptions about the virus

The longer this pandemic goes on, the more we’re learning about our initial misconceptions about the virus. Remember when it was just a new kind of flu? And then all the stuff about coughs, high temperature etc. being sure-fire symptoms? And how it was mainly a respiratory disease that attacked the lungs? And how you were most of risk of catching it if you touched an infected surface? And so on.

Making tea this morning I happened to catch an interview with Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, who’s one of the researchers behind the Covid Symptom-Tracking app which apparently has been downloaded 4m times. This is an app which asks users to spend a minute every day reporting (to the app) their health status (even if they’re not feeling ill). The app asks you to share some general information (age and some health details, such as whether you have certain diseases) and then asks you every day to report know how you feel, so you can share your symptoms. It also asks if you have visited a hospital, and if so what treatment you received there, and whether you have been tested for COVID-19.

Some interesting findings seem to be emerging from this research, including ones which seem to suggest that our original ideas of signature symptoms might have been a bit off beam.

Here’s the relevant audio clip from the programme:


It’s funny how we always seem to be fighting the last war. I was thinking of this while reading about schools and hotels going to extraordinary lengths to make sure that work-surfaces, door-knobs etc are sanitised, or even made redundant.

And all the while maybe the prime means of transmission is via aerosols rather than droplets.

I promise to pay the car park attendant on demand…

My friend Quentin and his wife are on holiday in Cornwall at the moment, where they have run into a problem they hadn’t anticipated — the need to use cash (as in coins and notes). Quentin has written a lovely blog post about it. Here’s a sample:

We’ve been taken by surprise, as visitors here, by the number of car parks which require payment, and where that payment can only be made with cash. Usually in coins, with no change given, so you really want the exact amount. Now, as someone who hasn’t really used cash for years, this was a minor inconvenience the first two or three times. But I’ve now realised that it’s basically the same everywhere: the Queen’s currency is still vital here; it’s a complex kind of car-parking token. Every single car park has required cash; I think we’ve been to four or five here, and one in Devon on the way down. Today, as a gesture to the 21st century, the car park had two machines. One took cards! Hurrah! It was out of order.

Now this isn’t because we’re in some remote backwater where they’ve never heard of digital transactions. Pretty much everything else, since we’ve left home, has been paid for sans contact using my Apple Watch (which is how I’ve paid for most things in the last five years). And, in fact, in Covid-world, most shops are not taking cash at all, so it’s even harder to go and buy a Kit-Kat to get some change. That’s assuming you can find an ATM from which to get some notes in the first place; they’re not exactly plentiful here.

Since there are a lot of visitors to this part of the world, car park attendants have to spend a lot of their time explaining to people that, no, I know it’s astonishing, but you do actually need cash if you want to park here. No, sorry, there isn’t an ATM here, but there’s one in the next town… Yes, that one you drove past 20 minutes ago on the narrow winding road with occasional passing places…

Why Holocaust denial thrives

One of the things that always puzzles me is why conspiracy theories involving Holocaust denial continue to circulate and thrive.

And then I read this report in today’s Guardian:

Almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust, a new survey has found, revealing shocking levels of ignorance about the greatest crime of the 20th century.

According to the study of millennial and Gen Z adults aged between 18 and 39, almost half (48%) could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto established during the second world war.

Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, or had been exaggerated, or they weren’t sure. One in eight (12%) said they had definitely not heard, or didn’t think they had heard, about the Holocaust.

More than half (56%) said they had seen Nazi symbols on their social media platforms and/or in their communities, and almost half (49%) had seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online.

Ye Gods!

Bill Gates Sr. RIP

Bill Gates’s Dad has passed away. The Seattle Times has a nice obit. He was an Honorary Fellow of my College, Wolfson, and a thoroughly good egg. Bill Jr. said yesterday that his father “was the real Bill Gates. He was all the things I strive to be.” The funny thing is that while Bill Jr. was a very obnoxious kid, he eventually morphed into a thoroughly good human being. Rather like his old man, in fact.

At last: a full at-home rapid coronavirus test – Axios

If we’re ever to get this virus under some kind of control, the first step is not a distant vaccine but a cheap, quick and easy test. It looks as though one may have arrived. At any rate the American pharma firm Gauss and Cellux has announced what it describes as the first full at-home rapid coronavirus test.

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Wednesday 16 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

“No man should escape our universities without knowing how little he knows”.

  • J. Robert Oppenheimer

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

John Field – Nocturne No. 5 in B flat major


According to Nate Silver Biden is on course to win on November 3

I’ve just been looking at his latest projection.

I can’t help remembering that at this time in 2016 he was convinced that Hilary Clinton would win!

How to (Actually) Save Time When You’re Working Remotely

From the Harvard Business Review:

While the widespread shift to remote work hasn’t been without its challenges, it does offer a major silver lining: For many of us, commuting has become a thing of the past. In the United States alone, eliminating the daily commute has saved workers around 89 million hours each week — equivalent to time savings of more than 44.5 million full workdays since the pandemic began! These numbers suggest that working remotely could be a deus ex machina for reclaiming one of our most precious and limited resources: time.

But despite the potential for staggering time savings, many have struggled to achieve everything they hoped the pandemic would finally make time for: baking sourdough, meditating, or writing the next great literary masterpiece. On the contrary, data we collected from 12,000 people across the U.S. and Europe during the pandemic show that the additional time is often burned on unproductive work and unsatisfying leisure activities. Having more time does not necessarily mean that we use it wisely. So, what are we doing wrong?

Answers on a stamped, addressed, handmade postcard.

HT to Charles Arthur, who spotted it.

Stop Expecting Life to Go Back to Normal Next Year

Well, actually, I wasn’t expecting that. But it’s the headline on a NYT OpEd today:

Anthony Fauci warned us last week that Covid-19 is likely to be hanging over our lives well into 2021. He’s right, of course. We need to accept this reality and take steps to meet it rather than deny his message.

Many Americans are resistant to this possibility. They’re hoping to restart postponed sports seasons, attend schools more easily, enjoy rescheduled vacations and participate in delayed parties and gatherings.

It is completely understandable that many are tiring of restrictions due to Covid-19. Unfortunately, their resolve is weakening right when we need it to harden. This could cost us dearly.

The unrealistic optimism stems in part from the fact that people have started pinning their hopes on a medical breakthrough. There have been promising developments. Remdesivir holds potential for those who are hospitalized. Convalescent plasma might do the same. Antibody treatments might improve outcomes for some or prevent infections in those at highest risk…

It’s an interesting and not very cheery assessment.

The bottom line is that we’re in a marathon when too many people think it’s a sprint.

Nicci Gerrard’s crowdfunding campaign is half-way to meeting its target!

Please consider donating. It’s a great cause.

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Sunday 13 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.

  • George Orwell, 1945.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Glenn Gould plays Haydn Piano Sonata no.60 in C major (13 minutes)


It will take more than attacks on Huawei to win the tech cold war

My Observer column this morning. Banning the Chinese giant from using US components won’t stop a company that’s too big for China to allow it to fail.

Nobody knows how this attempt to strangle Huawei will pan out. The company is too big and too dominant in China to fail – and it’s unlikely the Chinese state would let it go down anyway. After all, Huawei still has a huge domestic market and non-aligned countries will still buy its mobile networking gear. But if one of the motives behind the American assault was to reduce the chances that China would replace the US as the global tech hegemon then it’s unlikely to work.

All that’s happened is that the campaign has highlighted the extent to which semiconductor design and manufacturing capacity have become key strategic assets. The Chinese understand this and there’s no reason that they can’t build that strategic capacity: all it needs is money and brains and they have plenty of both. And when they finally achieve tech parity, the US – and hopefully the rest of the world – will have learned a new slogan: the technological is not just political, it’s geopolitical.

Trevor Paglen has a fascinating, sobering new exhibition on the history of photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

His work brilliantly illustrates how artists can sometimes critique tech much more effectively — and efficiently — than we academics. He was the guy behind ImageNetRoulette, for example, a digital art project and viral selfie app that exposed how biases are intrinsic in facial-recognition technology. Here’s how the NYT reported in 2019.

When Tabong Kima checked his Twitter feed early Wednesday morning, the hashtag of the moment was #ImageNetRoulette.

Everyone, it seemed, was uploading selfies to a website where some sort of artificial intelligence analyzed each face and described what it saw. The site, ImageNet Roulette, pegged one man as an “orphan.” Another was a “nonsmoker.” A third, wearing glasses, was a “swot, grind, nerd, wonk, dweeb.”

Across Mr. Kima’s Twitter feed, these labels — some accurate, some strange, some wildly off base — were played for laughs. So he joined in. But Mr. Kima, a 24-year-old African-American, did not like what he saw. When he uploaded his own smiling photo, the site tagged him as a “wrongdoer” and an “offender.”

“I might have a bad sense of humor,” he tweeted, “but I don’t think this is particularly funny.”

As it turned out, his response was just what the site was aiming for.

An immodest proposal

Nice essay by Samuel Weber, meditating on the ageism intrinsic in mask refusal.

He starts by reminding us of Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” for alleviating the shortage of food facing the growing Irish population. The essay, published in 1729, suggested that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich people. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general.

Samuel Weber has used this satirical lens as a way of thinking about contemporary attitudes towards the pandemic. The virus, he writes,

has one distinctive quality that might have appealed to Swift’s satiric talent: in attacking above all the poor and the elderly, it can be seen to be a kind of Malthusian force striving to rid “society” of its unproductive elements. This is especially relevant to the elderly persons “parked” in “nursing” or “old-age homes.” In French there is a good word that describes the reality of many of these institutions, even if it does so brutally: mouroir. It is a place people are sent to die, when there is no one willing or able to care for them in a less institutional manner. The spread of dementia, in its various forms, collected often under the name “Alzheimer,” has only increased this tendency of contemporary societies to dispose of the elderly by removing them to invisible institutional settings, more or less well-equipped depending on the financial resources of those subjected to them.

If he’d been around today, Weber writes, Swift would have had to modify his satirical proposal.

No one is proposing to eat the poor and the elderly. It is enough to dispose of them, just as society has tried to exclude them from public view by parking them in “homes” or in segregated housing “projects” where they are free to assassinate each other in a scramble for the profits of a socially imposed “drug trade.”

Not cannibalism today — that would be too crude. Today’s “immodest proposal” is being made practically if implicitly by all those who have decided that the extra effort involved in wearing masks, distancing, etc., is simply not worth it, since it only affects “others” and not oneself. This attitude and behavior should not surprise anyone, since it simply builds on the invisibility that is already a characteristic of most of the societies affected by this pandemic. Such invisibility — which sustains thoughtlessness and unconcern about structural injustice — has long been a “preexisting condition” of these societies. COVID-19 has only cast a fresh and harsh light on this — but it is a light that conceals more than it reveals.

I love these sharp perspectives on current events. Swift’s modest proposal also made a lot of people think — though perhaps not the right people.

Haven’t we come far

No comment needed.

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Tuesday 8 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

“Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

  • Mark Twain

It’s the mistake liberals make when dealing with creeps like Trump and Farage.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Nicolas Altstaedt plays the Bach Cello suites in the Philharmonie in Berlin


This is long (an hour and three-quarters in total) but beautiful. It reminds me of Casals’s wonderful version recorded (I think) in a small deserted church in Spain many years ago.

Thanks to Seb Schmoller for the link.

The Simulmatics project

One of the great benefits of working in a university is that one has access to lots of stuff that’s normally behind journal paywalls. So when I saw that the historian Jill Lepore has a forthcoming book about an astonishing data-science operation that was up and running for the 1960 Presidential election, I went looking for academic papers by the people who ran the project. And lo and behold, here’s one by two of the key figures.

LATER Charles Arthur (whom God preserve) told me about a New Yorker (non-paywalled) piece by Jill Lepore in which she sketches out the story on which her book is based. It begins thus:

The Simulmatics Corporation opened for business on February 18, 1959, in an office rented by Edward L. Greenfield, the company’s thirty-one-year-old president, on an upper floor of a building at the corner of Madison Avenue and Fifty-second Street, five blocks south of I.B.M.’s glittering World Headquarters. Greenfield, an adman, political consultant, and all-around huckster, pulled people in like a “Looney Tunes” magnet. “Ed Greenfield,” he’d say, flashing a Dean Martin grin, slapping a back, offering a vodka-and-tonic, palming a business card. His new company’s offices were threadbare; his ambition could hardly have been grander. “Simulmatics,” a mashup of “simulation” and “automatic,” had much the same mystique as another nineteen-fifties neologism: “artificial intelligence.” Decades before Facebook and Google and Cambridge Analytica and every app on your phone, Simulmatics’ founders thought of it all: they had the idea that, if they could collect enough data about enough people and write enough good code, everything, one day, might be predicted—every human mind simulated and then directed by targeted messages as unerring as missiles. For its first mission, Simulmatics aimed to win the White House back for the Democratic Party.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon in a campaign that carries an air of destiny, mainly because of an iconic account by the reporter Theodore H. White. In “The Making of the President 1960,” White created the myth of Kennedy as an inevitable President—King Arthur, pulling Excalibur from the stone. But Kennedy’s bid for the nomination was a long shot, his victory in the general election was one of the closest in American history, and his campaign deployed an election simulator. However commonplace now, this was new then, and fiercely controversial. White, while never naming Simulmatics, took the trouble to disavow its influence on the very first page of his book. “It is the nature of politics that men must always act on the basis of uncertain fact,” he wrote. “Were it otherwise, then . . . politics would be an exact science in which our purposes and destiny could be left to great impersonal computers.” White was close to the Kennedy campaign, and the Kennedy campaign had decided to deny, publicly, that it had used Simulmatics…

Interesting piece of history that. The only book I read about Kennedy’s victory was Theodore White’s. So I’ve been labouring under a misapprehension for six decades!

WashPo’s ‘Date Lab’

It’s strange what newspapers get up to sometimes. The Washington Post, for example, has something called a Date Lab.

Here’s how it works: We search our database of thousands of Washington, D.C.-area singles until we find a pair with romance potential. Then we send them out on a blind date on our dime and report the results in the pages of the Washington Post Magazine and online.

Our requirements: To participate you must be over the age of 21, single and living in the greater D.C. area. You must agree to have your name, age and picture published and to participate in a telephone interview.

Apply now!

Here’s an excerpt from one of the ‘experiments’:

Meeting through a computer screen did not curb their physical chemistry. Sam immediately noticed Elli’s olive complexion. He added: “She’s beautiful.” Elli, who Sam described as “extroverted,” was not shy about stating her height preferences. “I was like, don’t worry, I’m 5-foot-11,” he said. “And no one would lie about being 5-foot-11, so you can believe me.”

Sam says his ideal partner would share 80 percent of his political views (100 percent “would be boring,” he says), and over the nearly three-hour conversation, they discovered where their 20 percent gap in politics lay: former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg. When Elli asked him who his preferred candidate was during the 2020 Democratic primaries, she said, “Please don’t say Pete.” (He said Pete.) Sam, on the other hand, says that Elli thought Buttigieg “was a Republican.” Ultimately, it was a difference that both of them could stomach.

There were no awkward lulls in conversation, and Sam did not consult his tab of questions even once…

Dark matter, second waves and epidemiological modelling

Since we can’t know the future, we have to make educated guesses about it. Statistical modelling is one way of doing that. This interesting (but not yet peer-reviewed) research paper uses a modelling approach to try to assess whether fears of a catastrophic Autumnal second wave of Covid-19 are too pessimistic.

Its conclusion is: they are. Or, as the researchers put it:

A dynamic causal model that incorporates heterogeneity of exposure, susceptibility and transmission suggests that the next wave of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic will be much smaller than conventional models predict, with less economic and health disruption. This heterogeneity means that seroprevalence underestimates effective herd immunity and, crucially, the potential of public health programmes.

I hope they’re right.

Om Malik on emerging from lockdown

Interesting postfrom a thoughtful tech commentator and photographer.

As I become more open to the world, I notice that the words others use to describe it have become more calculated. Every word online, it seems, is uttered for the benefit of the platforms. Through the feed, which is how we experience the “now,” words are designed to provoke outrage. Images are almost perfect, each one laser-printed to perfect saturation, built to get likes and followers. Like a polluted stream, it flows past us.

Faster and faster it goes, when slower is what I want everything to be — especially my photography. I have lost all interest in perfection. The representation of reality is meaningless. From politics to stock markets to fashion, we find ourselves trapped in a reality that is nothing more than synthetically generated memes in obeisance to the hyper-capitalism.

For me, the camera has become a way to try and escape this world defined by unreal reality. When I find something that I see in synchronicity with my inner self, I want to use it to paint that moment. I want to get lost in what I can only imagine. My journey is taking me deeper and deeper into these imagined landscapes.

This is a constant quest. As I looked out in the Pacific Ocean beyond Bolinas, the feeding frenzy unfolding in front of my eyes, I imagined it as a pastoral activity in the distance.

The ocean had a green-blue color, not the ominous dark blue that one encounters during the winter. The sky was gray, but somewhere beyond, you could feel the sun slowly slithering into the ocean.

His photographs are always distinctive, though never vivid.

It’s not just Americans who are paying the price of Trump’s thuggery

Great essay by Andrew Sullivan — now back on his own blog. This is how it begins…

The Uighur women in exile in Istanbul are the fortunate ones. They managed to escape the control of the Chinese Communist regime, thanks to relatives who found ways to get them out of the country. But one woman refugee also has a confession: “She speaks of participating in at least 500 to 600 operations on Uighur women including forced contraception, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and forced removal of wombs. She told me that on at least one occasion a baby was still moving when it was discarded into the rubbish.” She believed, she says, that this was just part of the Chinese government’s overall birth control policy. Now she knows that was a lie. While birthrates have fallen by 4 percent over the whole country, in Uighur areas, they have declined by 60 percent. The only word for this is genocide — something we have now known for some time.

Meanwhile, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has denied that he had anything to do with the sudden sickness of Alexander Navalny, the most prominent Russian opposition leader. A Russian hospital where Navalny was initially treated claimed there was no evidence of poisoning. But as soon as he was transferred to Berlin for medical attention, incontrovertible evidence emerged that Navalny had been poisoned by the now-familiar nerve agent, Novichok, a substance manufactured by the Russian government. It is the same poison used against a former Russian spy in exile in Salisbury, England, a little over two years ago.

China’s dictator, president-for-life Xi Jinping, has made some efforts to hide his new complex of concentration camps, but he does not appear to be worried. Vladimir Putin, despite the pro forma denials, is also not particularly concerned that he be discovered as a state assassin. In fact, the blatant use of a nerve agent long tied to the Kremlin is a sign that he wants these attempted murders to be attributed to him.

And both dictators know very well that in president Trump, they have an American leader who is actually impressed — rather than repelled — by this kind of state thuggery…

Worth reading in full.

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Tuesday 1 September, 2020

Quote of the Day

Trump has found a formula for success. 1. Wait for cop violence against black man. 2. Protests follow. 3. Trump shooters show up at protests. 4. People die. 5. Repubs say: Cities on fire! 6. Repeat. Not sure what the antidote is, or if there is one.

Me neither, other than if you’re an American citizen be sure to vote on November 3.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

J. S.Bach: Sheep May Safely Graze – The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra


I love the comment below the video: “Hmm, at this tempo the sheep aren’t grazing, they’re mowing.”

If you think it’s too fast, there’s a lovely, more leisurely, piano version played by Alessio Bax here.

China Just Called Trump’s Bluff on TikTok

Interesting Bloomberg report.

I love this.

Imagine a bidder wanting to buy KFC, but being told the deal might not include the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices. That’s effectively what Beijing has told the list of U.S. companies keen to purchase short-video app TikTok: The key ingredients may be out of reach.

China’s Commerce Ministry added new items to its list of export controls late Friday. Now, artificial intelligence interface technologies such as speech and text recognition, as well as methods to analyze data and make personalized content recommendations, are matters of national security.

That means ByteDance [TikTok’s owner] will need Chinese government approval to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations, Bloomberg News reported Sunday; a person familiar with the matter said the new rule is aimed at delaying the sale, not an outright ban. But with AI and its content recommendation engine among the key ingredients of the company’s success, Beijing becomes the arbiter of TikTok’s fate. Not the U.S. administration.

Two can play at the National Security game!

Elon Musk’s Neuralink neuroscience theatre

From an excellent Tech Review report.

In a “product update” streamed over YouTube on Friday, Musk, also the founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, joined staffers wearing black masks to discuss the company’s work toward an affordable, reliable brain implant that Musk believes billions of consumers will clamor for in the future.

“In a lot of ways,” Musk said, “It’s kind of like a Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires.”

Although the online event was described as a product demonstration, there is as yet nothing that anyone can buy or use from Neuralink. (This is for the best, since most of the company’s medical claims remain highly speculative.) It is, however, engineering a super-dense electrode technology that is being tested on animals.

Musk’s presentation is surprisingly hesitant.

Personally, I am very interested in this stuff because I am not the world’s greatest multi-tasker. My way of accounting for this is to say that I’ve got the wrong multi-tasking algorithm. To which my friend Quentin once reassuringly replied: “Don’t worry, you can always be re-flashed.” And I thought he was joking.

How tech companies behave when they’re threatened

Anyone who thinks that tech companies are different from any other ruthless corporation hasn’t been paying attention. Here’s a revealing account of the lengths they will go to silence or derail critics.

That night, Dubal says she slept on the floor of her two eldest children’s shared room with a baby monitor close by. As she closed her eyes, she couldn’t stop thinking about the messages and tweets she’d been barraged with. “Vile Veena.” “Veena Dubal is insane! Let’s give her our piece of mind!” “She is a very annoying pest. Bring out some spray #veenadubal.”

Dubal says she had inadvertently been pulled into a bizarre world where people on Twitter and Facebook seemed to think she was behind a California law, Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), that addressed labor protections for gig workers. One of the main goals of AB5 was to get companies like Uber and Lyft — two of the world’s largest ride-hailing services that rely on the work of independent contractors — to reclassify their drivers as employees, so workers can get basic benefits like health care, sick leave and a minimum wage. The law was actually authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, someone Dubal had met only a couple of times, in group settings.

Dubal is an outspoken supporter of AB5. She’s often quoted in the media, has written articles and op-eds, and has sent letters to unions, the California legislature and Congress to advocate in support of gig workers. But she says she had no hand in creating the law.

“So, where did the idea come from that I wrote the law?” Dubal says.

This idea might not have gone viral by accident, but rather by design.

Dubal seems to have become a target in a complex campaign involving social media harassment, take-down articles on conservative websites and actions by at least two public relations firms hired by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates. One of those PR firms, Sacramento-based MB Public Affairs, submitted a lengthy public records request on July 28 for Dubal’s email correspondence with 130 other labor activists, academics and union leaders.

Public records obtained by CNET from the California Secretary of State show the five gig economy companies hired the PR firms to work on a ballot measure campaign that’s up for a vote in California’s November election. The ballot measure, Proposition 22, was jointly sponsored by the five companies and aims to specifically exempt them from AB5. The proposition suggests creating an alternative to the law that keeps workers as independent contractors, but adds a few more benefits, such as expense reimbursement and a health care subsidy.

My view of tech firms is that they are indistinguishable from tobacco, oil and mining companies, i.e. intrinsically sociopathic and ruthless. And there isn’t a barrel they won’t scrape when threatened. We saw this on the Observer when we broke the Cambridge Analytica story. Facebook’s legal and other actions that Friday night provided a master-class in corporate viciousness.

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Sunday 30 August, 2020

Quote of the Day

“All men are cremated equal”.

  • Spike Milligan

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

What happens when you put a piano in a public place


Made my day! Hope it makes yours.

Let’s not forget, Bill Gates hasn’t always been the good guy…

This morning’s Observer column:

Twenty five years ago last Monday, Microsoft released Windows 95, its first operating system based on the Wimp (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) interface that had been developed at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s and, er, borrowed by Steve Jobs for the Apple Macintosh that he launched in 1984.

Few geeks who were around and sentient at the time will forget the hoop-la that surrounded the launch of the Microsoft system. It included a commercial that had the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up as a soundtrack. The symbolism of this was that in order to get Win95 rolling you had to press the “Start” button. (Satirists quickly noted that in order to turn the operating system off you also had to press the Start button, but the joke was clearly lost on Microsoft’s designers.) It was variously reported that the company had paid the Stones between $8m and $14m for the right to use the song, but Microsoft said that this was just a rumour spread by the band to increase their market value, and that the company actually paid a fraction of that amount.

The geek community, which was – then as now – sceptical of the Microsoft juggernaut, viewed the hoop-la with a certain ironic detachment. Some observed that it had taken the company 11 years to catch up with Apple, or 22 years to catch up with PARC. But the most interesting aspect of the launch was the evidence it provided that even in 1995 Microsoft had not yet fully twigged the significance of the internet…

Read on

Some readers have pointed out that Microsoft had a number of earlier attempts at the WIMP user interface, which is true. But having used them, I can testify that none of them was what you might call a finished product. Win95 was the first attempt to do WIMP properly. Which is why Microsoft made such a fuss about it.

The GOP’s secret election platform

Perceptive Atlantic article by David Frum.

Republicans have decided not to publish a party platform for 2020.

This omission has led some to conclude that the GOP lacks ideas, that it stands for nothing, that it has shriveled to little more than a Trump cult.

This conclusion is wrong. The Republican Party of 2020 has lots of ideas. I’m about to list 13 ideas that command almost universal assent within the Trump administration, within the Republican caucuses of the U.S. House and Senate, among governors and state legislators, on Fox News, and among rank-and-file Republicans.

In summary they are:

  1. The most important mechanism of economic policy—not the only tool, but the most important—is adjusting the burden of taxation on society’s richest citizens.
  2. The coronavirus is a much-overhyped problem. It’s not that dangerous and will soon burn itself out.
  3. Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about.
  4. China has become an economic and geopolitical adversary of the United States. Military spending should be invested with an eye to defeating China on the seas, in space, and in the cyberrealm.
  5. The trade and alliance structures built after World War II are outdated.
  6. Health care is a purchase like any other. Individuals should make their own best deals in the insurance market with minimal government supervision.
  7. Voting is a privilege. States should have wide latitude to regulate that privilege in such a way as to minimize voting fraud, which is rife among Black Americans and new immigrant communities.
  8. Anti-Black racism has ceased to be an important problem in American life. At this point, the people most likely to be targets of adverse discrimination are whites, Christians, and Asian university applicants.
  9. The courts should move gradually and carefully toward eliminating the mistake made in 1965, when women’s sexual privacy was elevated into a constitutional right.
  10. The post-Watergate ethics reforms overreached. We should welcome the trend toward unrestricted and secret campaign donations.
  11. Trump’s border wall is the right policy to slow illegal immigration.
  12. The country is gripped by a surge of crime and lawlessness as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and its criticism of police.
  13. Civility and respect are cherished ideals. But in the face of the overwhelming and unfair onslaught against President Donald Trump by the media and the “deep state,” his occasional excesses on Twitter and at his rallies should be understood as pardonable reactions to much more severe misconduct by others.

Storytelling with a camera

My son Brian (the other photographer in the family) has a new website.

Living with Covid-19

The head of France’s equivalent of the UK’s SAGE put it nicely when advising the organisers of the Tour de France: Covid is like a chronic illness: it’s going to last so you just have to learn to live with it.

Succinct articulation of the reality that so many people haven’t yet grasped. This thing isn’t going to go away.

How words morph

Edward Luce has an interesting review essay in the weekend edition of the Financial Times (which may be behind the paywall: apologies if so) in which he discusses the way political terms change their meanings over time. The three examples he picks are ‘populism’, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ from Robert Frank’s new book, People without Power: the war on populism and the fight for democracy.

Frank claims, says Luce,

that the word “populism” has been hijacked. The term, an American original, now stands for what used to be meant by “Jacksonian” — resentful of those above you (the bankers and intellectuals) and cruel towards those below (the slaves and native Americans). In fact, Frank reminds us, the origins of US populism were very different. The prairie populists of the 1890s were in favour of racial integration, women’s emancipation and opposed to the robber baron capitalists. They gave birth not only to the term “populist” but also to the People’s Party, which briefly threatened to re-align US politics. Its legacy carried into the progressive era that helped tame American capitalism, enshrine fiat money, create income taxes and launch trust busting… It was quintessentially American in its yen for social equality and economic fairness. “Equal rights to all, special privileges to none”, was its founding creed.

And as far as ‘liberal’ is concerned…

The term used to mean 19th century bourgeois nationalists who believed in free trade. In America it evolved to mean people who believe both in social freedom and government intervention in the economy.

And what about ‘conservative’?

Conservative originally derived from “conserve” that things should be kept the same. Now, in America at least, it means whatever Donald Trump wants it to mean, which can take even his closest acolytes by surprise.

The Johnson method of government: total power with zero responsibility

Great Observer column by Andrew Rawnsley.


Within Mr Johnson’s inner circle, it is a private boast that they are “tearing up the rule book” of government. One of the rules that they have been shredding most aggressively is the concept of ministerial responsibility. Under previous governments of many different complexions, this idea has been central to how democratic politics is supposed to work. When things go wrong, the minister is accountable to parliament and must answer to the public for his department’s failings. When things go badly wrong, the minister resigns. Ministerial responsibility is at the core of the compact between government, parliament and public. Bronwen Maddox, the director of the Institute for Government, has it right when she says: “Unless there are consequences for ministers of the decisions that are their responsibility, the UK’s principles of democratic accountability will become meaningless.”

This government has inverted the doctrine to the point where ministers assign responsibility for misjudgments and failures to anyone but themselves. When searching for somewhere else to throw the blame, their first choice is civil servants, who make convenient targets because they are not supposed to answer back. So out goes Sally Collier, chief executive of Ofqual, the regulator, over the grading fiasco. Following her overboard goes Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, who was sacked in a fashion brutal even by the standards of the current regime. Mr Williamson, meantime, stumbles on towards his next appointment with calamity in an apparent determination to make Chris Grayling feel a bit better about his time in government.

In an even darker part of the forest, there is a manifest effort to manipulate inquiries into the handling of the coronavirus crisis by shifting culpability from the prime minister and his lieutenants.

The Johnson/Cummings playbook is a variant of the Trump one. And people used to think that that kind of thing couldn’t happen here.

One of the things we didn’t properly appreciate until 2016 is how liberal democracy depends as much on norms and conventions as it does on the rule of law. When elected politicians like Trump and Johnson start to flout conventions and ignore norms, then things go to pieces very quickly. And the flouting creates precedents for their successors, whoever they turn out to be.

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Saturday 29 August, 2020

Quote of the Day

”Irrationally-held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.”

  • TH Huxley

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mumford & Sons plus friends: Amazing Grace — sung like you’ve never heard it sung before. (9’49”)


At Bonnaroo, Tennessee in 2011.

How not to campaign against Trump

Shrewd column by Jack Shafer:

As Trump prepares to run the same campaign as he did in 2016, the Democrats shouldn’t feel obliged to return the favor. Clinton, like some of the Republicans who ran against Trump then, spent a great deal of her energy accentuating Trump’s many negatives—his chauvinism, his bigotry, his caustic personality, his political shallowness, his flip-floppery, his cruelty, and his endless lies, just to name a few. Clinton extended her attack on Trump into an attack on his supporters, depositing half of them in a “basket of deplorables.”

Trump’s flaws seemed like easy targets, but when the votes were counted, it turned out they didn’t matter much. Few of the punches at Trump’s negatives landed with the people whom Clinton needed to reach, and those that did were canceled out by what his supporters consider his positives—his professed love of America, his Reaganesque optimism about the future, his projection of strength, opposition to illegal immigration, his pro-gun policies, his plain-spoken, “candid” responses to the issues, his anti-government and anti-Washington rhetoric, sticking it to insiders like Jeb Bush and Clinton, and his promise to return the nation to the good old days. So great are Trump’s positives that they have provided him qualified immunity—in the eyes of his supporters, at least—from the critiques of the fact-checkers.

As I wrote in 2016, shouting about Trump’s negatives did little to persuade his supporters to abandon him, because they had already discounted—practically embraced—his warts.

That sounds to me like a shrewd analysis.

What Does Boredom Do to Us—and for Us?

This is weird. I met a guy recently who was arguing that one of the explanations for Brexit was boredom. I wondered privately what he’d been smoking. And then I open the New Yorker and there’s a long essay on the subject. Humans have been getting bored for centuries, if not millennia, it says. And now there’s a whole field to study the sensation, at a time when it may be more rampant than ever.

Here’s how it begins:

Quick inventory: Among the many things you might be feeling more of these days, is boredom one of them? It might seem like something to disavow, automatically, when the country is roiling. The American plot thickens by the hour. We need to be paying attention. But boredom, like many an inconvenient human sensation, can steal over a person at unseemly moments. And, in some ways, the psychic limbo of the pandemic has been a breeding ground for it—or at least for a restless, buzzing frustration that can feel a lot like it.

Fundamentally, boredom is, as Tolstoy defined it, “a desire for desires.” The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, describing the feeling that sometimes drops over children like a scratchy blanket, elaborated on this notion: boredom is “that state of suspended animation in which things are started and nothing begins, the mood of diffuse restlessness which contains that most absurd and paradoxical wish, the wish for a desire.” In a new book, “Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom,” James Danckert, a neuroscientist, and John D. Eastwood, a psychologist, nicely describe it as a cognitive state that has something in common with tip-of-the-tongue syndrome—a sensation that something is missing, though we can’t quite say what.

I don’t think I’ve ever been bored, so I’m afraid I don’t get it.

Chinese students and Uber

In answer to my post a few days ago asking “What is it about Uber and Chinese students?” Paul Lefrere writes:

“The answer is in the annotated map that comes with the receipt for an Uber trip. Uber tracks and records every nuance of each journey you take, in a life-logging way that is not compatible with privacy as we experience it in the West. But, in both PRC and USA, Chinese students and Chinese professors tell me that they accept Uber’s tracking and documenting as “a feature, not a flaw”.

Many thanks, Paul.

Zuckerberg blames contractors for failing to remove Kenosha militia’s ‘call to arms’

Guardian report.

Mark Zuckerberg blamed an “operational mistake” by contractors for Facebook’s failure to remove the “call to arms” of a Kenosha, Wisconsin, militia prior to the shooting Tuesday night that left two people dead and another injured.

The Kenosha Guard militia had established a Facebook page in June 2020 and this week used a Facebook event page to invite “any patriots willing to take up arms and defend out sic City tonight from the evil thugs”, referencing those protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Facebook has admitted that both the page and the event should have been banned under the company’s new policy addressing groups linked to violence, such as militias. The company nevertheless failed to remove the page or event despite multiple users who reported the content to Facebook, the Verge reported.

“It was largely an operational mistake,” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said in remarks during a weekly meeting with staff. Facebook has a specially trained team dedicated to enforcing its ban on “dangerous organizations”, Zuckerberg said. “The contractors and the reviewers who the initial complaints were were funneled to … basically didn’t pick this up.” Once reports were sent to the specialized team – after the fatal shooting – both the page and the event were removed.

Why do we tolerate this company?

The Conscience of Silicon Valley

An interview with Jaron Lanier.


He returned to thinking about my attempt at a summary of his life’s work. He said he thought I wasn’t wrong but it was important that people not get the impression that he was trying to tell them how to live. “I love the foundational papers of the United States, where they’ll talk about, you know, the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “Like, you don’t define what happiness is, and you don’t define it as something that will be achieved. It’s the pursuit. You leave space for future people to find it themselves. And so, I think the number one priority is to not create perverse incentives that ruin quests for meaning or for happiness or for decency or betterment.”

Perverse incentives are what Lanier has spent his life railing against—the way that tech is co-opted and digital spaces colonized for the profit of people (or, perhaps eventually, robots) who do not care about your happiness.

“So,” he said, sighing. “My project is in a way more modest than you’re making it out to be. It’s more…it’s more to not fuck the future over, you know?”

Lanier is a truly good person in an almost unworldly sense. I once went to interview him at his hotel in London when he was on a book tour. He had done three interviews with various journalists that morning before it was my turn. We had an intense conversation for about twenty minutes about issues raised in the book that had intrigued or puzzled me. Then he suddenly went quiet. “What’s up?” I asked him, anxiously. Had I said something to annoy or hurt him? “I’m just thinking”, he said, “that you’re the only person I’ve talked to who has actually read my book”.

I had my Leica with me and asked him at the end if I could take a photo (above). Years later I had an email from him saying that he urgently needed a pic for some gig he was doing and could he use it. Which of course he could.

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Friday 28 August, 2020

Quote of the Day

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

  • Aldous Huxley, 1927.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Haydn – Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major (9’45”)


Stamps to mark 25th anniversary of Father Ted sitcom

I could never understand why so many people — including my kids and their mother and many members of my extended family — loved the Father Ted sitcom. Given that they are all Irish I could hadly acuse them of enjoying racist trash. So I just had to grin and bear it.

And now, look what’s happened!

A quarter of a century after it first aired, Father Ted, one of television’s most loved sitcoms, has officially stamped itself on popular culture.

Ireland’s post service, An Post, issued a set of stamps on Thursday to celebrate its characters and one-liners and to mark the show’s 25th anniversary.

Phrases forever associated with Craggy Island, the fictional home of three wayward priests and their housekeeper, now adorn four stamps.

Guardian story.

People Drawn to Conspiracy Theories Share a Cluster of Psychological Features

Useful Scientific American article on the experience of the cognitive Stephan Lewandowsky when he did research on why people believe conspiracy theories.

About six years ago the cognitive scientist had thrown himself into a study of why some people refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence that the planet is warming and humans are responsible. As he delved into this climate change denialism, Lewandowsky, then at the University of Western Australia, discovered that many of the naysayers also believed in outlandish plots, such as the idea that the Apollo moon landing was a hoax created by the American government. “A lot of the discourse these people were engaging in on the Internet was totally conspiratorial,” he recalls.

Lewandowsky’s findings, published in 2013 in Psychological Science, brought these conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. Offended by his claims, they criticized his integrity online and demanded that he be fired. (He was not, although he has since moved to the University of Bristol in England.) But as Lewandowsky waded through one irate post after another, he discovered that his critics—in response to his assertions about their conspiratorial tendencies—were actually spreading new conspiracy theories about him. These people accused him and his colleagues of faking survey responses and of conducting the research without ethical approval. When his personal Web site crashed, one blogger accused him of intentionally blocking critics from seeing it. None of it was true.

The irony was amusing at first, but the ranting even included a death threat, and calls and e-mails to his university became so vicious that the administrative staff who fielded them asked their managers for help. That was when Lewandowsky changed his assessment. “I quickly realized that there was nothing funny about these guys at all,” he says.

Of course all lives matter, but that’s not the point

Memorable post by Dave Winer:

If when someone says Black Lives Matter you quickly respond with All Lives Matter then I have a few things I want to say to you.

At least pause for a moment before replying and ask yourself why this person is saying Black Lives Matter. Of course they know and agree that all lives matter. But that isn’t what they’re saying. They’re saying that Black Lives Matter not because they’re more important than white lives or cop lives, which seems to be how you’re interpreting it, but because a lot of black people are being killed and the justice system does not seem to care.

I think we all know that if Trayvon Martin, for example, had been a white teen, and George Zimmerman had been a black adult man, the outcome would have been different. But because he was black, and black lives don’t matter, Martin is dead and Zimmerman is free.

There have been a seemingly endless series of graphic stories, many of them on video, of white police killing black people, and getting off. I suspect this has been going on all along, but now with the wide use of smartphones, we’re actually seeing it, visually, as we couldn’t have seen it before. Now it’s not their word against a cop’s. The video provides testimony that is impossible to refute.

If you were black, and you saw this happening, you might be inspired to do more than say something like Black Lives Matter. Your rage and fear might overwhelm you. So the first thing I would say to a black person who said Black Lives Matter is thank you for containing the rage you must feel, that I would feel if I were in your shoes, that I feel in a small way on your behalf, at the cruelty and callousness of our system and culture. Then I’d ask if there was anything I could do to help.

The User Always Loses: How did the Internet get so bad?

Lisa Borst’s perceptive review in The Nation of Joanne McNeil’s new book, Lurking: How a Person Became a User, “a conversational and idiosyncratic account of the past 30 years of online life that reminds us that the Internet didn’t have to become what it is today”.

Long read of the Day.

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Thursday 20 August, 2020

Made my day this morning!

Quote of the Day

“Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true”.

  • Samuel Johnson

Musical alternative to this morning’s radio news

Glen Campbell playing the William Tell Overture


And if this doesn’t leave you gibbering, then I don’t know what will.

How a brand of chalk achieved cult status among mathematicians

Improbable but lovely story — with a happy ending… Who knew that mathematicians take chalk so seriously?


Tony Connelly on Phil Hogan’s resignation from the European Commission

Connelly is Ireland’s most astute political commentator. This morning he was on song about the resignation of Ireland’s European Commissioner.

Phil Hogan’s resignation is a very dramatic development, marking a decisive moment in one of the most fractious periods in Irish politics.

It is almost unprecedented for a European Commissioner to resign. He has held one of the most important European portfolios at a time when international trade has been at the forefront of historic upheavals in global politics, from Brexit to trade wars with the United States and China, and even how the Covid-19 pandemic could change the way trade operates.

But it was that very pandemic which caused his downfall. His defensive, then fragmented response to the Clifden golf dinner raised the hackles of many Irish people angered at what were seen as double standards, and dismayed the coalition government, which feared that the critical message on curtailing infections was being drowned out by the crescendo of public anger over the controversy.

Phil Hogan did apologise, at times profusely, first in a statement, and then during an RTÉ News interview. But his position was damaged further by his defence that a negative Covid-19 test absolved him of the 14-day period of restricted movements. Official statements suggested otherwise.

Despite a passionate appeal for forgiveness and to be able continue his work as trade commissioner, the Government still could not express full confidence in him, and this put Dublin on a potential collision course with the European Commission.

That collision has been averted. Phil Hogan has chosen to resign himself.

(Readers puzzled by the “golf dinner” business may find this report helpful.)

The stock market is crazily out of sync with the real world.

From Quartz this morning…

Should we be worried about a stock bubble? It seems odd to discuss irrational exuberance when the economy is anything but exuberant, but these are unlikely times. To help answer this question, consider Boom and Bust: A Global History of Financial Bubbles, a new book by William Quinn and John Turner. Their research suggests there are three necessary ingredients for a financial firestorm: speculation, marketability (how easy it is to buy an asset—think innovation in stock trading apps, or the brainiacs who brought us mortgage-backed securities), and credit.

Quinn and Turner find that asset booms are happening more frequently, and that government policy—meant to make housing more affordable, or shed unsustainable debts, for example—is often the spark that lights the financial fire. If ultra-low interest rates and the boom in brokerage apps like Robinhood are any indications, a bubble in equities could be inflating as we speak.

Is there a pattern here? For example, social media make it easy for anyone to say virtually anything online — and have it spread like wildfire. The result: a polluted public sphere which distorts perceptions of political and social reality. Apps like Robinhood make it possible for anyone to buy and sell shares instantly. The result: an asset bubble which is totally removed from economic reality.

Citizen Lab report on Chinese censorship of Covid news

The Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto carried out daily tests on WeChat censorship practices, collecting 2,174 censored keywords between January to May 2020. The data provide a window into censorship practices related to COVID 19 on WeChat, the preeminent chat application in China. The country’s censorship regime is highly distributed, organised through a process of “intermediary liability” in which the platforms themselves largely decide what content to censor and how to do so.

OnWeChat, censored keywords and images are removed from chats without any notice to the sender or receiver — making censorship decisions largely opaque. The Citizen Lab’s daily experiments involved automatically sending thousands of news articles between WeChat accounts controlled by the Lab and then observing which of those triggered censorship, thereby allowing researchers to observe exactly what content is being censored on a daily basis. After finding a news article that was censored, they then identified which combination of keywords may have triggered its censorship.


The first period (December 31, 2019 to March 2020) covered the emergence and spread of COVID-19 in China. Censored keywords focussed on:

  • early warning of the virus,
  • interactions between China and the WHO)
  • general health information
  • criticism of China’s response to COVID-19.

The second period (beginning in March 2020) covers the phase in which the virus becomes a pandemic and goes global. During this phase, the focus of censored content went beyond issues in China proper to cover:

  • international responses to COVID-19
  • international criticism of the Chinese government.

The third and final phase focused on the period in which the United States became the global epicentre of the pandemic. Censored content in this period included:

  • conspiracy theories,
  • U.S. criticism of China’s political system,
  • critical and neutral references to China-US relations, and
  • U.S. domestic politics.


Great research. Reminds me of the work that Gary King and his colleagues at Harvard have done on examining how the Chinese censorship system works in practice.

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