Thursday 4 February, 2021

danah boyd

danah, one of the foremost scholars of Cyberspace, particularly social media, speaking at the tenth anniversary of the Oxford Internet Institute.

Vaccine news

I’ve become (temporarily) a minor celebrity because I work with (mostly) much younger people and am therefore the first person they know who has actually had a vaccine jab. The most common question they ask is about side-effects.

I’ve had flu jabs for years and never experienced any side-effects. With the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab (the one I had) the most common side-effects (according to the NHS leaflet) are:

  • a painful, heavy feeling and tenderness in the arm where you had the injection. This tends to be worse around 1-2 days after the vaccine
  • feeling tired
  • headache
  • general aches, or mild flu-like symptoms

I had a few of these – specifically:

  • a light headache for a couple of days
  • a tired feeling for a day (which my workaholic superego regarded as sheer laziness)
  • one bout of a flu-like chill for a couple of hours
  • and one bout of mild overnight sweating

Otherwise situation normal (and not FU,for those who know about SNAFU).

The odd thing is that I felt rather reassured by all this. It suggested to me that my body was having to do some work. Which meant, I guess, that the vaccine was also doing its stuff: waking up my immune system.

Quote of the Day

”I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.“

  • Oscar Wilde

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Elgar | Nimrod | Barenboim | Chicago Symphony Orchestra


Long Read of the Day

 The Next Cyberattack Is Already Under Way

Historian Jill Lepore’s review of Nicole Pelroth’s  This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race.

Perlroth reports (and it’s hard to tell if this is hyperbole) that the N.S.A. has a hundred analysts working on cyber offense for every analyst working on cyber defense. In the fall, CISA dedicated itself to protecting the election. On Election Day, the agency issued updates every three hours. The goal, as CISA’s head, Chris Krebs, said, was for November 3rd to be “just another Tuesday on the Internet.” On November 17th, after Krebs again publicly declared the election to have been free and fair—he tweeted, “59 election security experts all agree, ‘in every case of which we are aware, these claims (of fraud) either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent’ ”— Trump fired him. The feared Election Day attacks never came, not only because CISA worked well but also, Perlroth suggests, because they were no longer necessary. “Our candidate is chaos,” a Kremlin operative told a reporter in 2016. That candidate stalked the nation in 2016 and again in 2020.

Lepore’s most recent book,  If Then: How One Data Company Invented the Future, about how we got to targeted advertising in elections, is also pretty good.

Democracy in decline

From today’s Washington Post

Across the world, democracy is in decline. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the London-based research and analysis group, quantified the decline with a report released Wednesday. The annual survey, which rates the state of democracy across 167 countries based on measures including electoral processes and civil liberties, found that just 8.4 percent of the world lived in a full democracy last year, while more than a third lived under authoritarian rule. The global average score fell to 5.37 out of 10 on the democracy index — the lowest rating since the EIU began the index in 2006.

Others have come to similar conclusions. Freedom House, a nongovernmental, nonpartisan advocacy organization established in 1941, released a report in October that found that the state of democracy and human rights had worsened in at least 80 countries since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no question that democracy is declining, but it’s harder to explain exactly why. One reason is the still-raging pandemic, a public health crisis that saw many nations impose unprecedented restrictions. “Confronted by a new, deadly disease to which humans had no natural immunity, most people concluded that preventing a catastrophic loss of life justified some temporary loss of freedom,” the Economist wrote this week in a summary of its sister organization’s index.

But the threat to democracy did not emerge with the coronavirus. Data from Freedom House shows that more than 100 countries have seen their levels of freedom decline since 2016, while only a handful have seen gains. The EIU’s global democracy index, meanwhile, has been dipping each year since 2015. What’s happening to democracies right now looks like less of blip — and more of a trend.

Grim news that rather reinforces my conviction that instead of regarding the post-war surge in democracy as confirming Fukuyama-type confidence in the triumph of the system, we should realise that historians may eventually come to see that what we complacently regarded as normal was, in the longer view of history, just a blip. Liberal democracy may turn out to have been a fragile creation, the product of a lucky convergence of historical circumstances. We were lucky to have it, and didn’t take sufficient care of it.

Are Private Messaging Apps the Next Misinformation Hot Spot?

Yes they are. But probably far less hot than when they’re on Facebook and YouTube. This exchange between Brian X. Chen and Kevin Roose of the New York Times is a useful exploration of whether it’s good that many unsavoury characters from the dregs of the internet are disappearing from big social platforms, or whether it’s dangerous to have them congregating in spaces where researchers, journalists and law enforcement can’t keep tabs on them as easily. It’s not long and worth reading in full.

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • New study cracks the case of why food sticks to centre of nonstick pans. Just in case you were wondering. Link
  • Why You Should Take Any Vaccine. By Zeynep Tufecki, consistently one of the wisest writers on the pandemic. Link
  • Does this video ring any bells for you? Sure did for me. Link

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