This is a provocative interview with Alex Stamos, “the former head of security at Facebook who now heads up the Stanford Internet Observatory, which does deep dives into the ways people abuse the internet”. His argument is that social media companies (like Twitter) sometimes try to hard to make the world better, which he thinks should be “resisted”.
I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I think we absolutely do need to be worried about misinformation. On the other, he does have a very good point about people being complicit in their own radicalisation. It’s complicated.
I think what has happened is there was a massive overestimation of the capability of mis- and disinformation to change people’s minds — of its actual persuasive power. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, but we have to reframe how we look at it — as less of something that is done to us and more of a supply and demand problem. We live in a world where people can choose to seal themselves into an information environment that reinforces their preconceived notions, that reinforces the things they want to believe about themselves and about others. And in doing so, they can participate in their own radicalization. They can participate in fooling themselves, but that is not something that’s necessarily being done to them.
The fundamental problem is that there’s a fundamental disagreement inside people’s heads — that people are inconsistent on what responsibility they believe information intermediaries should have for making society better. People generally believe that if something is against their side, that the platforms have a huge responsibility. And if something is on their side, [the platforms] should have no responsibility. It’s extremely rare to find people who are consistent in this.
Any technological innovation, you’re going to have some kind of balancing act. The problem is, our political discussion of these things never takes those balances into effect. If you are super into privacy, then you have to also recognize that when you provide people private communication, that some subset of people will use that in ways that you disagree with, in ways that are illegal in ways, and sometimes in some cases that are extremely harmful. The reality is that we have to have these kinds of trade-offs.
Marcus was the first to start gardening in the park, though he was quickly joined by friends and strangers. This isn’t the work of a casual amateur; Henderson has an Energy Resources Engineering degree from Stanford University, a Master’s degree in Sustainability in the Urban Environment, and years of experience working in sustainable agriculture. His Instagram shows him hard at work on various construction and gardening projects, and he’s done community development at organic farms around the world.
“Apparently,” comments [journalist David] Sirota, “we’re expected to be horrified by proposals to reduce funding for the militarized police forces that are violently attacking peaceful protesters — but we’re supposed to obediently accept the defunding of the police forces responsible for protecting the population from the wealthy and powerful.”
Sam Pizzigati (Inequality.org)
A lot of people have been shocked by the calls to ‘defund the police’ on the back of the Black Lives Matter protests. The situation is undoubtedly worse in the US, but I particularly liked this explainer image, that I came across via Mastodon:
Yet perhaps the most surprising feature of the revolt is that in-spite of the modern title, Peasants’ Revolt didn’t gain usage until the late nineteenth century, the people who animated the movement weren’t peasants at all. They were in many respects the village elite. True, they weren’t noble magnates, but they were constables, stewards and jurors. In short, people who were on the up and saw an opportunity to press their agenda.
I love reading about things I used to teach, especially when they’re written by interesting people about which I want to know more. This blog post is by Robert Winter, “philosopher and historian by training, Operations Director by pay cheque”. I discovered is as part of the #100DaysToOffload challenge, largely happening on the Fediverse, and to which I’m contributing.
Two people with beta thalassaemia and one with sickle cell disease no longer require blood transfusions, which are normally used to treat severe forms of these inherited diseases, after their bone marrow stem cells were gene-edited with CRISPR.
Michael Le Page (New Scientist)
CRISPR is a way of doing gene editing within organisms. sAs far as I’m aware, this is one of the first times it’s been used to treat conditions in humans. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Choose Your Own Fake News is an interactive “choose your own adventure” game. Play the game as Flora, Jo or Aida from East Africa, and navigate the world of disinformation and misinformation through the choices you make. Scrutinize news and information about job opportunities, vaccines and upcoming elections to make the right choices!
This is the kind of thing that the Mozilla Foundation does particularly well: either producing in-house, or funding very specific web-based tools to teach people things. In this case, it’s fake news. And it’s really good.
The immediate goal for governments and tech companies is to strike the right balance between privacy and the effectiveness of an application to limit the spread of Covid-19. This requires continuous collaboration between the two with the private sector, learning from the experience of national health authorities and adjusting accordingly. Latvia, together with the rest of Europe, stands firm in defending privacy, and is committed to respecting both the individual’s right to privacy and health while applying its own solutions to combat Covid-19.
Ieva Ilves (The Guardian)
This is an article written by an an adviser to the president of Latvia on information and digital policy. They explain some of the nuance behind the centralised vs decentralised contact tracing app models which I hadn’t really thought about.
Lévy walks are now seen as a movement pattern that a nervous system can produce in the absence of useful sensory or mnemonic information, when it is an animal’s most advantageous search strategy. Of course, many animals may never employ a Lévy walk: If a polar bear can smell a seal, or a cheetah can see a gazelle, the animals are unlikely to engage in a random search strategy. “We expect the adaptation for Lévy walks to have appeared only where they confer practical advantages,” Viswanathan said.
Liam Drew (QUanta Magazine)
If you’ve watched wildlife documentaries, you probably know about Lévy walks (or ‘flights’). This longish article gives a fascinating insight into the origin of the theory and how it can be useful in protecting different species.
One of AtmoSense’s first goals will be to locate and study phenomena at or close to Earth’s surface—storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mining operations and “mountain waves”, which are winds associated with mountain ranges. The aim is to see if atmospheric sensing can outperform existing methods: seismographs for earthquakes, Doppler weather radar for storms and so on.
This sounds potentially game-changing. I can see the positives, but I wonder what the negatives will be?
Desire paths aren’t anything new – the term has been traced back to the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who wrote of “lignes de désir” in his 1958 book The Poetics of Space. Nature author Robert Macfarlane has written more recently about the inherent poetry of the paths. In his 2012 book The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Macfarlane calls them “elective easements” and says: “Paths are human; they are traces of our relationships.” Desire paths have been created by enthusiastic dogs in back gardens, by superstitious humans avoiding scaffolding and by students seeking shortcuts to class. Yet while illicit trails may have marked the easier (ie shorter) route for centuries, the pandemic has turned them into physical markers of our distance. Desire paths are no longer about making life easier for ourselves, but about preserving life for everyone.
Amelia Tait (The Guardian)
I’ve used desire paths as a metaphor many times in presentations and workshops over the last decade. This is an article that specifically talks about how they’ve sprung up during the pandemic.
I love academia. Apparently researchers in psychology are using ‘hyperactive agency detection’ and a ‘Bullshit Receptivity Scale’ in their work to describe traits found in human subjects. It’s particularly useful when researching the tendency of people to believe in conspiracy theories, apparently:
Participants’ receptivity to superficially profound statements was measured using the Bullshit Receptivity Scale (Pennycook et al., 2015). This measure consists of nine seemingly impressive statements that follow rules of syntax and contain fancy words, but do not have any intentional meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”; “Imagination is inside exponential space time events”). Participants rated each of the items’ profoundness on a scale from 1 (Not at all profound) to 5 (Very profound). They were given the following definition of profound for reference: “of deep meaning; of great and broadly inclusive significance.”
To measure participants’ tendency to attribute intent to events, we asked them to interpret the actions portrayed by animated shapes (Abell, Happé, & Frith, 2000), a series of videos lasting from thirty seconds to one minute depicting two triangles
whose actions range from random (e.g., bumping around the screen following a geometric pattern) to resembling complex social interactions (e.g., one shape “bullying” the other). These animations were originally designed to detect deficits in the development of theory of mind.
I’ve no idea about the validity of the conclusions in this particular study (especially as it doesn’t seem to be peer-reviewed yet) but I always like discovering terms that provide a convenient shorthand.
For example, I can imagine exclaiming that someone is “off the Bullshit Receptivity Scale!” or has “hyperactive agency detection”. Nice.