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Elon, Twitter, and the future of social media

While I don’t think the guy who runs racist factories is necessarily the right person to buy a prominent social media company in order to “save democracy”, he’s right about one thing: if Twitter is to truly be a public square, the algorithm needs to be open sourced.

Over the years, there’s been a lot of chat about algorithms: how they’re designed to keep you on social media sites by filtering your feed for the kind of content that you want to see and interact with, rather than just showing you the reverse chronological list of all content you’ve subscribed to. It’s the mechanism that causes Facebook Pages to have to pay to have their posts actually reach their communities; it creates filter bubbles; it exacerbates power laws that help people with large communities reach even more people.

When we’re talking about algorithms on Twitter, though, the subtext is around the work the company has done on harassment and abuse. Accounts that regularly post hate speech are kicked off the platform, keeping vulnerable communities safer and making interactions on the site less toxic for everybody. To some (hint: their demographics are usually not the ones targeted for violence by these kinds of accounts) these are simply “differences of opinion”. That’s the kind of content that would be reinstated in a world with an open source algorithm. Don’t want nationalists on your feed? Use an algorithm that hides them.

And sure, maybe. The web as a whole works a bit like that, after all: if you’re not a white nationalist, don’t visit Stormfront or Truth Social. Those sites exist as niche underbellies where disaffected racists can spew their hatred without being disturbed by the rest of us. When that content crosses the line into illegality - at least, the content that’s observable, which is likely the tip of the iceberg - theoretically the police get involved. (The police themselves have a white supremacy problem, hence the theoretically.)

But speech isn’t simply speech. Speech has the power to organize, to rally, to build movements and cause both great positive change and great harm. Free speech maximalists like to quote Brandeis’s principle that the way to counter harmful speech is with more, positive speech. But past a certain point, once speech has brought together movements and those movements have taken to the streets, the way to counter it has been with armies and force. Long before that point, it’s doxxed activists, invited pipe bomb attacks at abortion clinics, and led to a man firing an AR-15 rifle in a family pizza joint. Racism and violence are not harmless differences of opinion; they are a cancer.

The First Amendment restricts the government’s power to limit speech and assembly. However, tweets are stored on Twitter; they’re entirely in the domain of a private company. Private companies have the right to make rules about what happens on their systems, at least until they become a common carrier. The content that is restricted on Twitter is not restricted in America; other sites exist where it can be posted. That those sites are markedly less popular - and that most hosting providers want to avoid any association with them, as is their right - says a lot about where American hearts generally really lie. When Twitter imposed stronger content moderation, the site began to grow faster.

Musk’s call for open algorithms is not unproblematic, for the reasons I’ve described. But if that’s what he really wants, the solution is a fully-decentralized protocol for social media: one that, like the web, isn’t owned by anybody, so there’s no central organization that can made decisions about allowable content or how the algorithm works. Everyone will be able to choose their own algorithm. It just won’t quite go how he, or other members of the nationalist-aligned, think it will.

As a web user, you probably use a web browser every day. There are tens or even hundreds to choose from, but you probably have never considered using Puffin or Redcore. Most likely, you’ve heard of three or four: Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge (which you might think of as Internet Explorer, even though they’re not the same), and Safari. You might not even know that Edge and Chrome have the same browser engine.

If social media becomes fully decentralized, there will be a handful of “social media browsers” (we’ll probably know them by another name) that people will ultimately used. They’ll compete on providing the friendliest experience and the least toxic environment. If there are other browsers that cater specifically to the nationalist experience, it’s likely that the mainstream browsers will refuse to peer, blocking access to them outright. This has already happened: most Mastodon instances refused to peer with Gab. For its part, Google removes listings to comply with local law, for example to remove Nazi sites in Germany.

That’s not to say that open sourcing is a bad thing: it’s a great thing. That choice between algorithms, the customization of how you receive content, would be a major boon for consumers. Making social media more like the web is a win for everyone.

But there’s no world where nationalists get what they want. If Twitter turns down the dial on its content moderation, the community becomes more toxic and turns more people away. A nationalist-friendly alternative will never become mainstream, as Gab, Truth Social, Minds, etc, have already shown us. If the community turns en masse to a decentralized, open source alternative, any broadly successful entry point to that network will need to incorporate a friendly experience that includes community protections.

Because what they want is for their ideology to be mainstream, and for their words to be heard as loudly as possible. In a world where most Americans support diversity - and where diversity is part of the fundamental DNA of the nation - that message is only going to spread so far. In America, you have the right to free speech, but you do not have the right to be heard. For that, your message actually has to resonate.

Elon is right to want to open source, but he’s wrong about the implications. The world is moving in a more inclusive, more compassionate direction, and there’s no going back. Nationalism and traditionalism are firmly party of the 20th century, and that is becoming an increasingly long time ago.

 

A tattoo is for life

As part of the ongoing mid-life crisis that brought me electric blue hair and a new car, I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo. Of course, if I’m going to mark my body, I’d like it to be the most meaningful (and potentially the nerdiest) image possible.

I have parameters. Given my family history, and the history of the twentieth century, I’d rather not use any kind of barcode, QR code (can you imagine?), or identifier. I also don’t really want words or any kind of quote. I thought about a waveform of my mother’s voice, but honestly, I don’t think she would have approved, and it feels a little like the 21st century equivalent of drawing “mom” in a heart. I qualify for a semicolon tattoo, but I don’t want one of those either.

Maybe an and gate? A symbol representing Earthseed’s God is change? A TARDIS? It all feels very stereotypical.

Maybe I’m just too fickle. It seems so permanent, and the me I am now is not the same person I’ll be in two, five, twenty years. On the other hand, I like the idea of marking life like rings in a tree.

Do you have a tattoo? Is it meaningful to you? What did you get?

 

The startup employee grinder

Startup culture as popularly described is a sham. You can read all the books you want on the subject, but the most successful companies build their culture from the ground up based on the same kind of learning cycle that they use on their customers. To succeed, you’re going to have to attract the best people - people who have a ton of options, many of which probably pay better than you do - and you’re going to have to find ways to keep them there.

Particularly in today’s market, if you’re not treating people well, they’re going to find something better. If you create a hustle-rich, competitive, aggressive environment that makes people feel like they’re under attack, they’re going to go find a place where they don’t. If you create a culture of long hours peppered with inflexible meetings, you’re going to lose the parents and carers who likely also happen to be your most experienced colleagues (as well as one where women, who largely still bear the brunt of parenting, are less likely to feel welcome). Your culture has to be one of deeply-held respect: not just of the expertise of every employee, but of what they bring as a three-dimensional human, and of their lives outside of work. If you think of people as a fungible resource, they’re going to feel it.

There’s no glory in working nights and weekends, and there’s nothing laudable about asking people to do so. Startups are a marathon, not a sprint. All your employees have lives beyond work. None of them are anywhere near as invested - in the literal, company-ownership sense, but also emotionally - as you are. As a founder, you might be burning the candle at both ends, but when the startup exits, you have the most to gain. Generous options help here, but if employees don’t feel like they have a strong say in the direction of the company, they’re little more than a lottery ticket from their perspective; a get-rich-quick scheme. If they lose trust in you, if they don’t have enough options to make a meaningful difference in their lives even in the event of an exit, or if the option price is so high that executing them is out of reach, or if there aren’t meaningful triggers, any kind of motivating factor that options could have brought is lost.

Even for founders, those long days come with diminishing returns: most knowledge workers can muster six hours of focused work at best. After that, anyone’s work is low-quality. In a small team, that means you’ve got to focus on building the smallest, simplest thing you can: a clearly-defined plan you know you can execute well with the time, team, and resources at your disposal. Because all of those things come at a premium, built-in ways to fail fast and learn quickly are incredibly important. A growth mindset and a nimble approach are more important than an “agile” one: paint-by-numbers scrum ceremonies aren’t going to save you, but short work sprints built around learning loops might.

That also means optimizing your workday for flow: removing meetings and interruptions so people can actually get work done. (Talking in meetings isn’t work; at best it’s a tactical huddle, and at worst it’s the performance of doing work.) As Steve Galevski put it in HBR a few years ago:

By cultivating a flow-friendly workplace and introducing a shorter workday, you’re setting the scene not only for higher productivity and better outcomes, but for more motivated and less-stressed employees, improved rates of employee acquisition and retention, and more time for all that fun stuff that goes on outside of office walls, otherwise known as life.

People have to think and reflect on their work to do it at a high quality. To be able to do that, they need time, emotional safety, and rest. If you create an environment of constant interruptions, long hours, and a lack of emotional safety, you’re shooting yourself in the foot and then some. Yet that’s exactly what a lot of startup porn advocates for, and where work has begun to go during the pandemic: a world where you can’t escape work, with numerous interruptions, long hours, and an underlying aggressive culture of hustle.

What modern startup employees are looking for is an inclusive place where they can do great work, live well, be treated with respect, and be compensated accordingly. It’s not hard, as long as you stop to really think and care about them. The catch is that many founders don’t.

 

Known and Idno

Rewriting software from scratch is usually a terrible idea. But I’m thinking about it.

The Known open source codebase is now 9 years old; a PHP kludge that I wrote while my mother was recovering from a double lung transplant still powers my site and many others. It became the foundation of my second startup, and is still an open source project today. But there were a number of years when I didn’t pay attention to the codebase, and there’s a lot to unpick.

Meanwhile, the hosting landscape has completely changed. It used to be that you’d buy some space with a shared host and upload files via (S)FTP; these days virtual hosts are commonplace and getting easier to use. There are one-click installation buttons for Heroku and other hosts.

I’d like to clean PHP Known up, and I’m trying my best in between all the other things that are going on in my life. Probably that should mostly be about getting to another stable release: a lot of the architecture has been changed (by other developers) and a lot of users are having trouble installing it. So bringing that back to accessibility would be nice.

I also want to fix import / export, so that people can take their Known content and use it elsewhere. A lot of folks, rightly, would like to migrate to WordPress or Ghost in particular. They should be able to do that with ease.

But I also like the idea of going back to basics with Idno, the underlying platform, and thinking about it again. The original core idea was that you could create a stream of arbitrary content, set fine-grained permissions on it, and both post to it and consume from it in a bunch of different ways. If you wanted to post via the web, great; via a webhook, API endpoint or common standard like Micropub, also great. Likewise, reading via the web, JSON, RSS, MRSS, ActivityStreams, and so on would all be easily possible. Permissions would limit both reading and writing to a customizable set of people, from everyone on the internet down to one person.

That’s not really where Known ended up going, but I still find that potentially interesting as a project. Instead of PHP, I’d be more inclined to write it as a Node service these days (or use it to learn something I’m less familiar with, like Go).

I wish I had more time to work on these sorts of projects. But it’s something I’d love to figure out how to fit in: I want to clean Known up, and return to Idno as a way to write scalable streams of arbitrary content. In the meantime, it’s fun to think about.

 

Some afternoon phishing

I just (almost) got phished! It’s a little embarrassing, but I’m hopeful that sharing this will help others.

I got a pretty call on our landline (yes, we still have one) telling us we were about to have our power disconnected for non-payment. They had our address, PG&E account number, and account name.

To deal with the issue quickly, they had me call a separate 877 billing number. It sounded like PG&E: they had the call system set up and a convincing-sounding address check.

We genuinely had a late payment, because the account was in my mother’s name, and I didn’t get the notification. So I asked to make an emergency payment to prevent the disconnection. Everything up to this point sounded legitimate, except that they hadn’t seen my previous payment in their account system - and I just brushed it off as being a legacy business not having its shit together. Because PG&E is legendarily awful, I was prepared for the information they gave me to not quite add up. Were it a professional, modern organization, it would have been harder to convince me.

It was only when they tried to get me to Zelle a payment to an individual that I became suspicious, asked some verification questions, and disconnected the call. Even then, I didn’t consider it beyond the bounds of possibility that PG&E had a super-janky payment system for emergency payments, so I was worried. But yes, to date, the power has not been disconnected.

I didn’t give them any payment or personal information. But they clearly had some of mine already, so I’m going to be checking my accounts and resetting some details.

I’ve been involved in a few projects that involve sensitive information and vulnerable communities (and a few others that involve potentially large sums of money). My own security stance directly affects the people I’m involved with. These attackers just wanted some money, but there are others who could easily want to harm others by getting through me. This was a wake-up call that wherever I think I’m at with my security mindset and practices, I need to do more.

Obviously, I feel like an idiot. It also made me realize how much PG&E’s shoddiness added to my vulnerability. If I felt that it was a company I could trust to do the right thing, I would have cottoned on far earlier in the process. But when a company already feels like a scam when it’s operating its day-to-day business, it’s really hard to distinguish an imposter. It’s another reason for every company to operate at a very high quality, and to only pick very high quality suppliers (and to not allow undemocratic monopolies in California’s energy markets).

 

Happy birthday, Ma

Happy birthday, Ma. I miss you.

This time last year I booked an AirBnb in Pacific Grove, right on the bay, because you had talked about wanting to visit Monterey and be by the water. It was a hard trip for you, but I’m so glad we did it.

I’m so glad we did a lot of things.

During the pandemic, I was with you most of the time. We had a ritual at the end of the night where I would help you walk up the six steps to your bedroom, help you into bed, and then help you brush your teeth if you weren’t feeling strong enough to do it in the bathroom. Sometimes, I would lie on the bed and we’d talk, although I know it eventually got too hard to hold up a conversation. I treasured those times. Most of all, I think about the hug we’d have at the top of the stairs; the feeling of your skin as I kissed your head.

I’m glad for the walks we would take in the small park near the house. I’d drive you down and pack your rolling walker with the built-in seat, and we’d stroll together, at your pace. Sometimes we’d just walk to the end of the road and back. But we’d talk and be together, just us. You’d ask me to time how long it took to get to the corner, and it was always shorter than you expected. You were so strong.

And even when you were tired and struggling, you were my mother. You worried that I worked too hard, and spent too long at work. At the time, I was frustrated with you; I’d fought hard to build a career from nothing. But what you were saying came from a place of love, and you were right. I’d fallen into a trap that a lot of people fall into, and you could see it. You worried about my health, my well-being, and my future, even when you had so much else to worry about.

I hear your advice every day. I try and live up to it and carry it with me. The last year has been untethered: after ten years of that journey with you, everything feels wrong. It’s like one of those movies where the protagonist wakes up and the world has changed around them in unsettling ways, but here there’s no key; there’s no way to get back. The mirror dimension is the world now. I’ve made weird knee-jerk decisions just to fill the void. I haven’t been exercising. I sleep poorly. I’m trying to practice what you wanted for me - it was all about being healthy, living a good life, standing up for myself and setting good boundaries - but right now I feel like I’m not there. I’m trying.

When we were lying on your bed, we talked a lot about how you wanted your death to go. We were all very clear about what you wanted, and I’m so sorry that it didn’t happen that way. You didn’t want to be in the hospital, surrounded by tubes and machines. You wanted to be in your home, surrounded by us. The hospital worked with us to bend the covid restrictions so we could all be with you, but we couldn’t take you home. You needed too much oxygen; I don’t remember if we explained that to you, but I hope we did. “It’s all happening so fast,” you told us. That last week was a waking nightmare and I wish I’d been smarter in it.

What happened next, in palliative care, will be with me for the rest of my life. I didn’t know how it would be. I don’t know if I (we) could have steered those last days to be different, but it was exactly what you didn’t want, and I’m going to be sorry forever. You were there for me in so many ways for so many years and then, when it really counted, I couldn’t give you what you needed. You didn’t have agency in the way you left. It’s unforgivable. I don’t know if I will ever get to a point where I can forgive myself, or if I should.

I hoped I would dream about you; that I’d get to talk to you in some form, even if I knew it was more me than you. I have dreamt about you, but every time, even now, you’ve been in pain. I just want to tell you I love you one more time. I want to tell you I’m sorry.

I have all these videos of you. We recorded your life story over a few different sessions, which I’m afraid to say I still haven’t stitched into one video and shared with everyone. Maybe I’ll do that today; it seems like a fitting celebration of your life. I have videos of you at your singing recitals - it’s still incredible to me that you joined a singing class post lung transplant. I even have two videos, one before your lung transplant and one more recently, of you telling me you love me. I’m glad to have them, and to hear your voice and remember. But playing them also feels like listening to an echo: another ripple from a giant hole that has been torn out of the universe.

You were so game. You made the decision to move to Europe when you were pregnant, because that would be a better place to raise a baby. You gave birth in a foreign country where you didn’t really speak the language, thousands of miles away from your family. And it worked; it all worked out. You moved to England and made Oxford your home, only moving back to California so you could help care for my Oma. I felt so privileged to do the same to help care for you; you had shown me the way. Life is an adventure: it’s exciting. We’re capable of doing, and dealing with, so much. A good life means building and enjoying and thriving on your own terms, not consuming some template that other people have set out for you. There’s no comfort in sameness.

You were amazing. So many people have families that value conformity, or wealth, or tradition. Mine valued humanity, ethics, and building a meaningful life from first principles. You modeled that for me incredibly from the moment I was born. My horizons were broad and my world was big. No idea was off-limits to discuss; nothing was off-limits to explore; you never told me to follow a set path or do something because that was just how it was done. You were never parochial; never petty or small-minded. You fought for equality before I was born, literally on the streets and in courtrooms, and fought for it in everything you did as I grew up. You were smart and fierce and kind and silly and patient and loving.

Thank you. I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry.

 

My indieweb real estate website (part one)

One of the things a realtor will often do for you when you’re selling a house is to set up a website for it. It’s often built by the people who take the photos, and is created to a set template. It turns out there are a handful of services that exist to do just that: host a single-page site that showcases your home.

We’re selling our family home in Santa Rosa - the one my parents lived in for a decade - and I’m a web developer. Don’t get me wrong, these are nice sites, and we’ll probably set one up. But I’m also going to set up my own. Because of course I am. It sounds like fun, and I want to have fun with it, but wouldn’t it be great if it brought in the buyer?

I’m giving myself a few restrictions:

It’ll be a hand-rolled static site. No frameworks for the HTML, JS, or CSS, and no pre-set templates: just me, a text editor, and some design tools. It’s a home with shared ownership - everyone gets a say on the content and design - but I’m going to build it.

It needs to get an A for SEO, site performance, and security.

And it needs to be up over the next two weeks. There’s a lot going on, so this is a bit of a challenge.

Wish me luck. And hey, if you’re in the market for a three bedroom, two and a half bathroom single-family home in the heart of wine country …

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: March, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for March, 2022. This was an intense month, so a shorter list than usual.

Streaming Media

Severance. My kind of science fiction: darkly satirical, with a dramatic vice that closes with each new episode. Really beautifully done.

Notable Articles

Business

Epic Games Acquires Bandcamp as 'Fortnite' Maker Expands Into Music. “Bandcamp will play an “important role in Epic’s vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more,” the games company said. According to Bandcamp, under its revenue model artists receive net an average of 82% of every sale.” Fascinating!

Equal Pay Day: What can transparency laws do to the gender pay gap? “After years of little progress toward pay equity, more and more states and localities are passing pay transparency laws that eliminate the secrecy around salaries and could be a powerful tool for eliminating the gender pay gap.”

More Employees Are Saying That Tesla’s Factory Is Horrifically Racist. “One single mother said she was excited to work for Tesla but was fired because she made a complaint about Black workers being call the N-word on the assembly line. According to the report originally published in the LA Times, other employees were also called racial slurs and insults and penalized for telling management.”

Climate

In a US first, California will pilot solar-panel canopies over canals. “India already has solar panels over canals, but the mile-long Project Nexus in California’s San Joaquin Valley will be the first of its kind in the US.” Go Turlock!

Crypto

Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets. “We must take strong steps to reduce the risks that digital assets could pose to consumers, investors, and business protections; financial stability and financial system integrity; combating and preventing crime and illicit finance; national security; the ability to exercise human rights; financial inclusion and equity; and climate change and pollution.”

Ukraine Is Selling NFTs to Finance Its Military. “While it might seem like a weird attempt to gin up funds, Ukraine claims to have raised more than $54 million so far through cryptocurrency donations in order to help fund war and relief efforts in the embattled country. So there’s definitely something to be said for jumping on the crypto train to raise money.”

The (Edited) Latecomer's Guide to Crypto. “Here, a group of around fifteen cryptocurrency researchers and critics have done what the New York Times apparently won’t.”

Exxon Mobil reportedly gets in on Bitcoin mining. “Exxon Mobil has begun a pilot program to set up Bitcoin miners at an oil well in North Dakota. The project reportedly runs off 18 million ft³ of natural gas that would otherwise be flared.” Oh, great.

Culture

MC Hammer ‘Will Beat Yo' Ass’—and Other Hard Tales of the MTV-Friendly Rapper. “Serch claims the $50,000 hit was confirmed by fellow Def Jam artist Eric B., and was supposed to be carried out by the Los Angeles crips. In a later interview, Serch said fear and anger over the incident has never left him.”

Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” Adjusted for Late-Stage Capitalism . “Working 8 to 6, but they call you after hours / Barely gettin’ by, lots of crying in the shower / You might prequalify, won’t even hurt your credit / Ran out of sick days—well, I hope y’all don’t catch it”

Grimes Reveals Y, Her New Baby Daughter With Elon Musk, in Cover Interview. Come for the secret baby, stay for an interview that makes Grimes seem like a pretty cool person.

The case for induction cooking. “But for all the sexiness of cooking with gas (a concept bolstered by aggressive lobbying and advertising from the natural gas industry), it has been shown to be catastrophic for the environment, emitting potent greenhouse gases like methane into the atmosphere. Worse, a recent study demonstrated that 75 percent of these emissions occur when the stove is off.” This is mostly about how amazing induction is for cooking - I’m envious.

Notable Sandwiches #20: The British Rail Sandwich. “The British Rail sandwich is not really a sandwich at all, but rather a category of sandwiches—modest constructions of hard-boiled egg, cheese and tomato, pressed luncheon meat, tongue, boiled ham, cucumber, prawns, etc., offered on the trains traversing Britain’s many kilometers of railway, particularly (though not exclusively) during the four-and-a-half decades in which it was operated by the her majesty’s government.” Ah, memories.

Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing. “When Will Smith stormed onto the Oscar stage to strike Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s short hair, he did a lot more damage than just to Rock’s face. With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community.”

Media

Google is releasing an open source harassment filter for journalists . “Harassment Manager also lets users download a standalone report containing abusive messages; this creates a paper trail for their employer or, in the case of illegal content like direct threats, law enforcement. For now, however, there’s not a standalone application that users can download. Instead, developers can freely build apps that incorporate its functionality and services using it will be launched by partners like the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”

Politics

California reparations for slavery descendants only. “After more than six hours of debate Tuesday, California’s reparations task force voted that only Black Californians who can prove a direct lineage to enslaved ancestors will be eligible for the statewide — and first-in-the nation — initiative to address the harms and enduring legacy of slavery.” Progress.

Science

Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank. “Here, we show that the negative associations between alcohol intake and brain macrostructure and microstructure are already apparent in individuals consuming an average of only one to two daily alcohol units, and become stronger as alcohol intake increases.” Drinking any amount of alcohol shrinks your brain.

Dual use of artificial-intelligence-powered drug discovery. “An international security conference explored how artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for drug discovery could be misused for de novo design of biochemical weapons. A thought experiment evolved into a computational proof.” Nightmare fuel.

Crows possess higher intelligence long thought primarily human. “Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals.”

Society

How COVID pressure led single moms to turn to coliving with other adults. “The move to cohabitation eased a significant amount of pressure for Villagomez-Morales at a time when parents, but especially single parents, were being squeezed on all sides — by child care, loss of work and extreme burnout. That, mixed with a housing market that has become increasingly inhospitable to low-wage people, and especially moms, has more single parents looking into the benefits of cohabitation to ride out the pandemic.”

After George Floyd’s murder, police built a secretive surveillance machine that lives on. “We found evidence of a complex engine of surveillance tailor-made for keeping close tabs on protesters and sharing that information among local and federal agencies, regardless of whether the subjects were suspected of any wrongdoing.”

Tatiana Perebyinis and two children identified as those seen dead in viral Lynsey Addario photo from Ukraine. “Photos flashing on his Twitter feed showed four people lying next to a World War II memorial just outside Kyiv after they were fired on by the Russian military. One of them was his wife, and two were his children.” Pure horror.

Mark and Lily Osler: Governor’s order on transgender youth cruel, short-sighted. “Because Gov. Abbott has moved to threaten transgender kids by criminalizing the kind of support they need, it’s time for Lily and me to tell this part of our family story and to address the harm Gov. Abbott is doing.”

In most states, over half of all women of color earn less than a living wage. “In nine states, 50 percent or more of all women workers are earning less than $15 an hour. But in 40 states, 50 percent or more of all women of color — Black women, Latinas, Native American women and Asian American and Pacific Islander women — are earning below a living wage. In 23 states, 60 percent or more of all women of color have hourly earnings under $15.”

What Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination means to Black women. “At the start of this week’s hearing, The 19th spoke to people who gathered on the steps of the high court about what her historic journey to the most powerful bench in the United States means.”

These Companies Are Clamoring for Women's Dollars As They Help Tank Pro-Women Legislation. “Companies clamoring for women’s dollars are making huge donations to politicians and political action committees specifically designed to tank legislation aiming to lift women and families out of poverty, according to new research obtained by Jezebel.”

Technology

Twitter Wants to Reinvent Itself, by Merging the Old With the New. “Now, over a decade later, Twitter is reversing course. The company is pursuing the sort of decentralization Mr. [Blaine] Cook championed. It is funding an independent effort to build a so-called open protocol for social media. It is also weaving cryptocurrency into its app, and opening up to developers who want to build custom features for Twitter.” Quite a lovely piece about decentralization.

The web is for everyone: Our vision for the evolution of the web. “We believe to make the web a better place we need to focus our work on these nine areas.” From Mozilla.

EU's Digital Markets Act will require Apple to open iMessage. “European regulators on Thursday revealed their plan to rein in the anti-competitive practices of Big Tech and fundamentally remake how some of the world’s most powerful companies do business. The rules, which target tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Meta and Google, are far-reaching and would have huge ramification for those companies’ software and services.” Good.

Is tech still failing Black communities? Data says yes. “There was just a 1% increase in representation of Black workers in technical roles at large tech companies between the years of 2014 and 2021, according to the report titled State of Tech Diversity: The Black Tech Ecosystem.”

Facebook paid Republican strategy firm to malign TikTok. “In October, Targeted Victory worked to spread rumors of the “Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge” in local news, touting a local news report on the alleged challenge in Hawaii. In reality, no such challenge existed on TikTok.”

 

Art from the artist

Note: I've been using the term "outsider art" incorrectly, and didn't realize it was problematic. I've lightly edited this piece and will be mindful of this going forward. I apologize to the artists I incorrectly categorized.

I bought a Jean Smith painting the other day.

Jean is the lead singer of Mecca Normal, which was one of the early riot grrrl bands (see also: Bikini Kill). More recently, she’s started to make her paintings available online for a hundred dollars each in support of opening the Free Artist Residency for Progressive Social Change. Daily, she posts a painting, and commenters try and buy one.

She could easily sell them for multiples of the asking price, but this is more interesting: accessible, sold directly, and as indie as it comes.

As the New York Times wrote a few years ago:

For once, social media is helping a creative economy be more equitable. The artist earns what she wishes to earn, with plenty left over to give away. And for less than it would cost to frame a dorm-room poster, you can have a daily encounter with the sublime.

I’d vastly prefer this than some establishment art setup, with all its attendant schmoozing and gatekeeping. It’s one reason why I’m also a big fan of the Creative Growth Art Center. For me, good art changes perspectives and lets you think about the world from a new angle; it’s hard to do that if it comes squarely from the mainstream.

And for me, it has to be physical. Is digital art interesting? Sure. But I’m so embedded in the digital that I’m fascinated with the physicality of physical work. My friend Sadie makes these incredible stained glass pieces, which come straight from the heart, and sometimes literally are hearts. They’re beautiful, and they bend light and cast shadows and take up space.

I’m so wrapped up in virtual space that people who can have this sort of effect on real space are magicians to me. I love it, and I suppose I’m a little bit envious, too. But I’m lucky to be able to collect their work and support what they do, at least in a small way. The openness and bravery it takes to create art is an inspiration to me, and the pieces themselves are often transformative. I’m grateful to have that in my life.

I’m loathe to criticize NFTs in themselves, because people are genuinely creating in that space (and on blockchains that don’t have a negative climate effect). But it’s not really for me. Instead, I’m excited to receive a genuine Jean Smith canvas, or a genuine Sadie Robison sculpture. I’m delighted by the underlying humanity and awed by the skill. And I’m always looking for more.

 

AI-written blog posts are spam

AI tools let you write articles very quickly without adding much value.

The software analyses existing content and then rewrites the information in a way that’s meant to be engaging or makes it easy for search engines to find.

But when you read an article written by AI, you can tell that it’s lacking something. There’s no real emotion or understanding of the subject.

If you want to create content that converts, it needs to be relatable and emotionally engaging. You need to show your customers that you understand their struggles and are willing to help them solve their problems.

AI-generated articles and videos are growing in popularity. They are cheap to make and easy to scale. But they will never be able to tell stories that matter.

The most obvious use case for AI is to create fake news. Spam content has been a problem on the internet since the beginning of the World Wide Web. The need for scale pushed automated bots to generate posts, which were then filled with ads.

AI takes this to the next level, by making it easier and cheaper to create fake news than it is to write real news.

But who cares about fake news? It's not like people read it. Nobody believes it!

The problem with AI-generated articles isn't that they are fake, but that they are mediocre. The purpose of writing is not just about sharing your thoughts with others; it's about adding value.

AI-generated articles are not the future of journalism. They are content spam.

For the past year, I’ve been writing articles on Medium. Some of them have become pretty popular. However, over time, I have come to resent the platform because it promotes content written by AI.

Medium is not alone in this problem. It’s a systemic problem that affects all platforms that allow machine-generated content to be posted unchecked.

Writing 1000 articles in 30 seconds is the type of thing that makes VCs and journalists excited about “AI-first” companies and how these companies will “disrupt” a traditional industry like publishing.

But for the rest of us, we need to be worried about our media ecosystem getting filled with this type of content. And we need tools that recognize content written by AI and mark them as such or as spam.

 

This entire blog post was written by an AI writing tool.

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