Saturday January 18, 2020

The enigma that is Twitter

In relation to Google and Facebook, Twitter is a minnow. And yet it dominates our politics and public discourse, in ways that seem increasingly dysfunctional. Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer argues that that’s because “it’s a machine for misunderstanding other people’s ideas and identities”. Developing the idea led him to dig into the ideas of Walter Ong, a linguist and Jesuit priest who died at 91 in 2003. “Ong spent his life trying to understand the revolutionary technologies, such as the television and radio, unleashed during his lifetime. But he did so by looking far from modern America—and by studying the difference between human cultures rooted in orality and those rooted in literacy. His topic matters for Twitter more than you may think.” Oral conversation is very different from text-based interactions, and the problem with Twitter is that it fuses the two. “The rot we’re seeing in Twitter”, as Bonnie Stewart puts it, is “the rot of participatory media devolved into competitive spheres where the collective ‘we’ treats conversational contributions as fixed print-like identity claims.” Sounds pretentious, maybe, but isn’t: and worth reading in full. permalink

Trolling, epilepsy and human nature

The Internet holds a mirror up to human nature, and much that is reflected there is truly revolting. If you want an insight into the depths of human depravity, then thisis is pretty good illustration. Epilepsy sufferers have been plagued by trolls who target them with strobing GIFs which can trigger epileptic attacks. Last week the trial opened of a guy named John Rayne Rivello who had sent a GIF that triggered a serious attack to a journalist who had posted material critical of Donald Trump. The GIF strobed violently across his computer screen, flashing a red, yellow and blue geometric pattern behind the words “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.” The attack could have been fatal if the victim’s wife had not discovered him in time. Rivello is expected to plead guilty, making this the first conviction for this kind of inhuman behaviour, but what’s even more revolting is that Rivello’s supporters — among them, neo-Nazis and white nationalists, including Richard Spencer — have been arguing that the issue here is about freedom of speech. In an amicus brief to the criminal case, the First Amendment Clinic at Duke University School of Law put the boot into this idiotic claim: “A brawler who tattoos a message onto his knuckles does not throw every punch with the weight of First Amendment protection behind him,” the brief stated. “Conduct like this does not constitute speech, nor should it. A deliberate attempt to cause physical injury to someone does not come close to the expression which the First Amendment is designed to protect.” permalink



Upcoming changes

From today, I’m making some small changes in this blog, basically to tidy things up. From now on all posts written on the same day will be included on a single page, with Quotes and the Linkblog at the end, and a permalink for each element. In practice it should make for easier reading, and it might also make it easier to create an email version for readers who prefer getting it in their inboxes.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

Quote of the Day

”The most talked about issues in AI today: deepfakes, bias, explainability, privacy, all have trust as a common denominator.”

  • Technology Review

Has the NSA really changed its mind?

Hmmm… Fascinating report in today’s NYT:

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency has taken a significant step toward protecting the world’s computer systems, announcing Tuesday that it alerted Microsoft to a vulnerability in its Windows operating system rather than following the agency’s typical approach of keeping quiet and exploiting the flaw to develop cyberweapons.

The warning allowed Microsoft to develop a patch for the problem and gave the government an early start on fixing the vulnerability. In years past, the National Security Agency has collected all manner of computer vulnerabilities to gain access to digital networks to gather intelligence and generate hacking tools to use against American adversaries.

The foolishness of policy was critically exposed A while back when some of those tools fell into the hands of cybercriminals and other baddies, including North Korean and Russian hackers.

So does this new spirit of cooperative ness signal a real shift in strategy? Or does it just show that the agency was temporarily traumatised by accusations that its unscrupulous collection of vulnerabilities caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage? Should we believe the declaration by Anne Neuburger, the NSA’s Cybersecurity director, that “We wanted to take a new approach to sharing and also really work to build trust with the cybersecurity community.”

Good news if she’s serious. And the theft of the tools should serve as a warning against governments’ incessant campaign for backdoors into commercial encryption systems.

Quote of the Day

”Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance. The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.”

  • Lawrence Fink, CEO OF Blackrock, the world’s biggest investment fund, reported in the New York Times.

Er, what took you so long, Larry?

Ten tech trends that shaped a decade – Pew Research Center

  1. Social media sites have emerged as a go-to platform for connecting with others, finding news and engaging politically.
  2. Around the world and in the U.S., social media has become a key tool for activists, as well as those aligned against them.
  3. Smartphones have altered the way many Americans go online.
  4. Growth in mobile and social media use has sparked debates about the impact of screen time on America’s youth – and others.
  5. Data privacy and surveillance have become major concerns in the post-Snowden era.
  6. Tech platforms have given rise to a gig economy.
  7. Online harassment has become a fairly common feature of online life, both for teens and adults.
  8. Made-up news and misinformation has sparked growing concern.
  9. A majority of Americans see gender discrimination as a problem in the tech industry.
  10. Americans’ views about tech companies have turned far less positive in recent years.

No surprises, really. But useful to have empirical evidence.

See Source for details.


Quote of the Day

Twenty years ago we searched for islands of digital access in a sea of meatspace—homes, offices, internet cafes; now we seek equally scattered pockets of protection from that connectivity, and those pockets are increasingly the products of conscious design.

  • From a nice essay by Drew Austin, who leaves his phone in the kitchen when he goes to bed.