Friday 17 September, 2021

Quote of the Day

”It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at only one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up it must be struck at both ends.”

  • Samuel Johnson

Hmmm… try telling that to some authors I’ve known.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Wailin’ Jennys | Bird Song


God, they are a wonderful group.

Long Read of the Day

Why Are Ebooks So Terrible?

Nice essay by Ian Bogost.

None of the world’s biggest economies are on track to meet their Paris Accords emissions targets

Surprise, surprise! This from CNN:

None of the world’s major economies — including the entire G20 — have a climate plan that meets their obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to an analysis published Wednesday, despite scientists’ warning that deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are needed now.

The watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analyzed the policies of 36 countries, as well as the 27-nation European Union, and found that all major economies were off track to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The countries together make up 80% of the world’s emissions.

The analysis also included some low-emissions countries, and found that the Gambia was the only nation among all 37 to be “1.5 compatible.” As the study only included a few smaller emitters, it’s possible there are other developing countries in the world on track as well.

We need my proposed Theory of Incompetent Systems — ones that can’t fix themselves.

The toxicity of Facebook

I write a weekly column about tech in the Observer, and every week before I sit down to write it I have a conversation with my editor about possible topics. Virtually every week one of the possible items is some new scandal related to Facebook. We’ve long past the point where anyone is surprised by this. There’s a kind of resigned acceptance that this is the kind of toxic outfit it is and nobody should expect anything good to come from it. And this is dangerous because it amounts to a passive, resigned acceptance that nothing can be done about this dangerous and corrupt organisation.

Fortunately, some media organisations have the stamina to keep monitoring the company. The Wall Street Journal’s has a new series delving into Facebook’s misleading handling of user-generated content. The evidence seems to have come from leaked documents which the Journal’s reporters have used to demonstrate how the company often says one thing about its policies only to secretly be doing another.

Since the WSJ is behind a non-porous paywall I went looking for a summary that wasn’t so that I could relay it here. I found a good summary on a Bloomberg site. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Facebook told its independent oversight board in June that a program designed to protect high-profile figures from having their posts mistakenly taken down only affected a “small number of decisions.” Turns out, Facebook’s programs in 2020 included at least 5.8 million users, some of them among the highest rungs of politics, popular culture and journalism, according to the Journal. Facebook employees said the system was specifically designed to avoid negative media attention.

  • As Facebook unveiled its plans to create a kids’ version of Instagram, its executives repeatedly said research shows the effects of social media on young users’ mental health were a mixed bag and that the platforms can play a positive role in their lives. However they downplayed the fact that their own internal research found that a third of teen girls said they felt bad about their bodies because of Instagram.

  • And when Facebook made a change to its news feed in 2018 to emphasise posts from friends and families, it concealed the fact that the change might also boost the platform’s lacklustre engagement numbers.

  • It also didn’t explain that one unfortunate byproduct of that change was that it made angry and more polarizing content more popular.

This is dishonesty and hypocrisy on an Olympic scale. And yet still supposedly respectable organisations are anxious to recruit Facebook as a ‘partner’ in their activities.

Take, for example, Cambridge’s wealthiest College, Trinity, convener of The ’Trinity Challenge’, described as

“a coalition of partners united by the common aim of developing insights and actions to contribute to a world better protected from global health emergencies.”

Guess who one of these ‘partners’ is. Don’t take my word for it — just go and check the website.

The naiveté of this is astonishing.

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