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Meta’s Broken Promises: Systemic Censorship of Palestine Content on Instagram and Facebook

"Meta’s policies and practices have been silencing voices in support of Palestine and Palestinian human rights on Instagram and Facebook in a wave of heightened censorship of social media amid the hostilities between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups that began on October 7, 2023."

This includes posts about human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch found that this censorship was "systemic and global", and often led to removal of content that didn't contravene any content policy.

This isn't new: "In a 2021 report, Human Rights Watch documented Facebook’s censorship of the discussion of rights issues pertaining to Israel and Palestine and warned that Meta was “silencing many people arbitrarily and without explanation, replicating online some of the same power imbalances and rights abuses that we see on the ground.”"

Following that and other reports at the time, Meta promised to address these concerns. It appears that it's fallen far short of doing so.

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10 blogs for your newsreader

I really like this: a starter pack of blogs to follow if you're new to RSS. Some of them are new to me (and others have familiar authors but seem to have fallen off my list). What better way to start the new year on the internet than subscribing to independent writers again?

One of my projects in the new year is to put together a blogroll - something I'm now convinced every website should have, so that readers can discover new subscriptions organically from people they're already reading.

Perhaps, though, a blogroll is the wrong model, and it should be a regular post like this? That could be fun - Follow Friday for blogs. Hmm.

Anyway, these are great, and I'm grateful to Matt Webb for kicking this off.

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Big Fedi, Small Fedi

I like this breakdown of different positions on the open social web: a broad set of things that people who want a big fediverse advocate for, and one for people who want a smaller, safer fediverse.

I'm mostly in the "big fedi" camp. I want the open social web to be as wide and varied as the web itself: a place where any kind of community can erupt and be compatible with all the other communities and still have its own rules and culture. I want supporting fediverse technologies to be as obvious a need as supporting HTML, used by everyone from hobbyists to giant megacorporations.

That doesn't mean that giant megacorporations are my favorite kinds of entities at all. But I think we all gain when open standards are widely supported. A rising tide lifts all groups.

Overall, I guess the answer, for me, is "both". We need the big wide fediverse. But we also need safety and protection, particularly for vulnerable communities. Growth for growth's sake is not a goal; supporting and empowering is.

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Rest of World’s best stories from 2023 - Rest of World

Technology news tends to center on the global north, but the implications of technology are global. Rest of World does a wonderful, necessary job shining a light on those stories.

What I particularly appreciate about its coverage is that it's not just critical (although there certainly are critical stories - don't skip learning about nickel mining or the economic effects of digital nomads). There are stories of technology-driven empowerment here too, often in surprising ways.

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The Stories that Made Us Jealous in 2023

If the Markup is jealous of another newsroom's coverage, you know the stories are good: the Markup has consistently been the most important outlet for investigative technology journalism.

There's a special mention here for 404 Media, which has also been a fantastic addition to the tech ecosystem. I'm grateful that both exist. Both outlets need our support.

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Untangling Threads

A sober breakdown of what it may mean for Meta's new social network to finally join the open social web (aka the fediverse).

For many people, this has been a hard pill to swallow: while it's clear that Meta has been a human rights disaster, its embrace of open social web protocols is a vindication and (if you'll pardon the double meaning of the term) a platforming of that movement that may lead to the accelerated growth of the open social web itself.

I would like to see more social networks - both new and established - join the open social web. The biggest thing that worries me is having a single whale in the room that can, in effect, dictate the evolution of the protocols in its favor. A multi-polar social web would be a much more user-centric place (just as the web is at its best when there are multiple major browsers).

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Verified Accounts on X Are Thriving As They Spread Israel-Hamas Conflict Misinformation

"An investigation by ProPublica and Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism shows how false claims based on out-of-context, outdated or manipulated media have proliferated on X during the first month of the Israel-Hamas conflict."

"[...] We also found that the Community Notes system, which has been touted by Musk as a way to improve information accuracy on the platform, hasn’t scaled sufficiently. About 80% of the 2,000 debunked posts we reviewed had no Community Note. Of the 200 debunked claims, more than 80 were never clarified with a note."

So here's the problem. The question is, on a massive online service, what exactly can be done about it.

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Flipboard on the fediverse: how the company is rebuilding with ActivityPub and Mastodon

Flipboard is making its entire platform fediverse-compatible, allowing anyone on any fediverse platform (eg Mastodon, Pixelfed, and eventually Threads) to follow content shared there.

"By March Flipboard says it plans to allow anyone on the platform to open their account to the fediverse and allow any Flipboard user to follow any fediverse account from within the Flipboard app. At that point, Flipboard will essentially be an ActivityPub-based platform like Mastodon or Pixelfed but with an interface designed for reading articles instead of bite-sized posts. It’ll be the biggest thing in the fediverse — at least until Threads shows up for real."

Extremely cool. And this is still only the beginning.

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Marketing Company Claims That It Actually Is Listening to Your Phone and Smart Speakers to Target Ads

This story seems a little suspect, but still worrying:

"A marketing team within media giant Cox Media Group (CMG) claims it has the capability to listen to ambient conversations of consumers through embedded microphones in smartphones, smart TVs, and other devices to gather data and use it to target ads."

The official website almost reads like a Yes Men parody of online advertising - and could well be. It could also be a "fake door" test by CMG. I would be surprised if this was legal or permitted by device vendors like Amazon or Google (which is not to say that I trust either of them).

It's hard to imagine that something this egregious could actually be real. Of course, if it was real, it should have been shut down yesterday.

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Starting a test where posts from Threads accounts will be available on Mastodon

Threads is starting its initial real fediverse integration (as it launches into the EU). Exciting times.

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Rethinking levels, promotions and salaries

I've been thinking a lot about leveling engineers lately, and I like this system that Sarah Milstein implemented at Daily very much indeed.

Sarah's just started a coaching practice for engineering leaders, which sounds wonderful to me.

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AI, and everything else

It's reassuring to see Benedict Evans have a lot of the same business questions as everybody else about AI - What actually is this? What will it look like? Will OpenAI be a gatekeeper? Albeit no mention of the ethical issues that are also a hugely important part of understanding the space.

I also found it helpful to see AI hype measured against crypto hype, which reveals how different they actually are.

And, finally, the "everything else" portion is also fascinating, not least because it reveals (through an e-commerce) that most peoples' lives have returned to normal after the covid lockdowns.

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Meta/Threads Interoperating in the Fediverse Data Dialogue Meeting

Really good to hear about this meeting at Meta about joining the fediverse. It sounds like development is continuing apace; I really appreciate the transparency.

I have to admit that I feel a pang of FOMO. This is such an important movement and moment in time for the web.

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Designing Mastodon’s reply safety features

An interesting breakdown not just for people interested in Mastodon - but for anyone who cares about safety on any community platform.

These kinds of prompts turn out to be really useful, with measurable impacts, if they're done right. It's great that an open source project is doing this in the open; we can all learn from what happens next.

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Spoutible Introduces Cross-Posting to Mastodon and Bluesky

This is something, but it would be nice to see real ActivityPub support in a way that would allow Spoutible profiles to be first-class profiles on the fediverse.

Still, the nice thing about building in support for Mastodon and BlueSky is that - unlike when I built support for Twitter et al into Known years ago - the networks physically can't shut off or charge for the APIs.

Open networks allow for integration like this without incurring deep supplier risk, as well as much deeper integrations that plug users directly into the networks. All for free.

I'm looking forward to Threads joining the party, too.

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Harvard Gutted Initial Team Examining Facebook Files Following $500 Million Donation from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Whistleblower Aid Client Reveals

"Harvard University dismantled its prestigious team of online disinformation experts after a foundation run by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $500 million to the university, a whistleblower disclosure filed by Whistleblower Aid reveals."

If this is true, it's damning: essentially a payment to shut down academic investigation into harm caused by Facebook. There should be a firewall between research and payments like this; no donor should ever have the ability to shut down a line of research.

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The Chimeralogists

I see myself very clearly in this post, which is a somewhat rare and lovely thing.

I've called myself a technologist for over a decade, but the definition in this post is better than anything I've offered. Thank you, Robin.

Also, this:

"The past few decades have been stormy from a technological point of view, and much has been tossed about in the waves. It makes sense that a job specialising in plotting a course through technology would become necessary. The storm isn't over. If you want to actively navigate rather than just be pushed around by the wind, a technologist is what you need."

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Why We're Dropping Basecamp

Duke University Libraries says "no" to 37 Signals based on DHH's blog posts:

"When we enter into business with a company whose boss takes delight in the mass layoffs of tech workers because it disempowers those who might speak out against their company keeping a list of non-Anglophone names that some members of the team find hilarious, we have a decent sense of who we’re dealing with."

This move away from Basecamp on ideological grounds is, I think, something to be applauded. I'd love to see more of these kinds of public statements. Because the more of them there are, the less likely a company is to embrace the kind of racist libertarianism that 37 Signals has been so proud to broadcast.

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Elon Musk tells advertisers: ‘Go fuck yourself’

If Elon Musk seems to be acting more like a politician than a businessman, then I think it has to be on purpose. This was an awkward exchange that played to an audience on X rather than the one that was in the room.

X is not a business in any real sense. He is losing revenue dollars hand over fist, seemingly in search for clout from a particular set of people.

And it goes without saying that the views he's spreading are noxious: right-wing, exclusionary, knee-jerk, and often at odds with inclusive causes. It's perfectly possible that he's just letting an unstable mental state play out in public. Or he's just become a right-wing wingnut in the Trumpian tradition. Regardless of the underlying cause, he's doing a lot of damage.

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FCC Moves Slowly To Update Definition Of Broadband To Something Still Pathetic

Upgrading the broadband standard is good, although I agree that the new, improved speed benchmarks are still really substandard.

Almost all US households have broadband, although in reality, for many of them the internet is very slow. I wonder if this is one of the reasons that most internet traffic takes place over a phone, beyond the convenience of that form factor: a 4G connection, for many people, is faster than their home internet.

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Effective obfuscation

Molly White explores why effective altruism and effective accelerationism are such dangerous ideologies - selfishness disguised as higher-minded philosophies.

"Both ideologies embrace as a given the idea of a super-powerful artificial general intelligence being just around the corner, an assumption that leaves little room for discussion of the many ways that AI is harming real people today. This is no coincidence: when you can convince everyone that AI might turn everyone into paperclips tomorrow, or on the flip side might cure every disease on earth, it’s easy to distract people from today’s issues of ghost labor, algorithmic bias, and erosion of the rights of artists and others."

I strongly agree with the conclusion: let's dispense with these regressive ideologies, and the (wealthy, privileged) people who lead them, and put our weight behind the people who are doing good work actually helping people with real human problems today.

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Origin Stories: Plantations, Computers, and Industrial Control

"The blueprint for modern digital computing was codesigned by Charles Babbage, a vocal champion for the concerns of the emerging industrial capitalist class who condemned organized workers and viewed democracy and capitalism as incompatible."

"Babbage documented his ideas on labor discipline in his famous volume On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, published a year before Britain moved to abolish West Indian slavery. His work built on that of Adam Smith, extolling methods for labor division, surveillance, and rationalization that have roots on the plantation."

File this - all of this - under "things about the industry I've worked in for 25 years that I absolutely didn't know". How can we build on a better foundation?

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Matt Mullenweg on Tumblr's downsizing

This is a great post from Matt: in response to a leak, he re-posted the full leaked content and added transparent context. Exactly how it should be done.

I wish, like many, that this wasn't the reality for Tumblr. But it's likely that it's too set in another era of the web, and it was too neglected by its previous owners. Automattic is a great company that makes sense as an acquirer, and they spent $100M to try and turn it around. That they ultimately couldn't is not an indictment of them.

Kudos also for not letting go of the team, and simply finding other places for them to go in the org - again, exactly how it should be done, even if it almost never is.

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We're sorry we created the Torment Nexus

"Speaking as a science fiction writer, I'd like to offer a heartfelt apology for my part in the silicon valley oligarchy's rise to power. And I'd like to examine the toxic role of science fiction in providing justifications for the craziness."

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Mark Zuckerberg ignored teen and user safety warnings from Meta executives

Over time, I think it's becoming more and more likely that Zuckerberg will step down. I strongly suspect he'll be replaced by Adam Mosseri, whose Instagram and Threads products have been doing very well for Meta (in contrast to Zuckerberg's metaverse shenanigans).

In any event, if he really did veto proposals to protect teens' mental health, it's a pretty damning indictment of his leadership.

Now that the internet's growth is at the other end of the S-curve and we're societally more comfortable with technology and its implications, I think we're likely to see more 2000s-era CEOs replaced with people who have a more nuanced, less exponential-growth-led approach.

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