Tag Archives: Internet

I negazionisti usano la pandemia per costruire un mondo più disuguale

Il sociologo Keith Kahn-Harris ha scritto uno dei testi più affascinanti sul negazionismo. In Denial: the unspeakable truth (uscito nel Regno Unito nel 2018) distingue tra negazione e negazionismo. La negazione è un processo individuale che rimanda al rifiuto psicologico di accettare come vero un fatto assodato. È una specie di processo di rimozione che ricorda il tentativo di ignorare una verità scomoda il più a lungo possibile. Il negazionismo, invece, non si limita a rimuovere la realtà ma ne costruisce una alternativa. In questo senso è un processo più complicato, che chiama in causa le diseguaglianze e le strutture di potere della nostra società.

Esistono molti esempi di negazionismo: da quello che minimizza, o respinge, i rischi del riscaldamento globale, a quello che mette in discussione l’olocausto, fino al negazionismo dell’hiv, che ha portato un’ex presidente del Sudafrica come Thabo Mbeki a bloccare la fornitura di farmaci antiretrovirali causando la morte di circa 330mila persone, secondo uno studio di Harvard. Il negazionismo rivela la volontà di confutare fatti empiricamente accertati per costruire una società alternativa, a partire spesso da un desiderio inconfessabile.

Negli ultimi mesi il concetto di negazionismo è stato evocato in tutti i paesi colpiti dall’epidemia di covid-19. Per riprendere le categorie di Keith Kahn-Harris, anche in questo caso possiamo distinguere tra negazione e negazionismo. Raccontando l’aumento dei contagi in Africa, per esempio, la Bbc ha parlato di negazione per descrivere la reazione della popolazione di alcuni paesi. In Nigeria, dove il lockdown è stato introdotto ancora prima che il virus si diffondesse per evitare il collasso del sistema sanitario, queste misure sono state accolte con diffidenza dall’opinione pubblica. Molti hanno una sorta di rifiuto psicologico nell’accettare la pandemia come un problema reale.

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Posted by on July 15, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Wie Big Tech die Pandemie «lösen» will

Nie habe es «einen wichtigeren Moment» gegeben, verkündeten Apple und Google am 10. April gleichzeitig auf ihren Websites, um «an der Lösung eines der dringendsten Probleme der Welt zu arbeiten».

Die beiden Monopolisten teilten mit, gemeinsam eine Plattform für das sogenannte Contact-Tracing zu entwickeln – eine Technologie zur Nach­verfolgung von Corona-Infektionen via Smartphone. Man werde, so die Verheissung, «die Kraft der Technologie nutzen (…), um Ländern auf der ganzen Welt zu helfen». Mit anderen Worten: Die Ingenieure aus Kalifornien treten auf ein Neues an, die Menschheit zu retten, sie vom Schlechten zu erlösen. Frei nach dem Google-Motto: Don’t be evil – sei nicht böse.

Nur wenige Wochen zuvor hatte der Präsident der Vereinigten Staaten deutlich gemacht, dass auch er auf genau das vertraute. «I want to thank Google», erklärte Donald Trump auf einer Medien­konferenz. Danken dafür, dass dort «1700 Ingenieure» eine Website für ein flächen­deckendes Covid-19-Testing entwickelten. Auch er gab sich überzeugt, dass damit allen Menschen, überall, geholfen wäre: «We cover this country and large parts of the world.»

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Posted by on June 29, 2020 in Reportages


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Trump’s Executive Order Could Ruin the Internet Over a Twitter Beef

Over the past week, the president of the United States has been in a protracted meltdown after Twitter appended one of his outrageously false missives with a meekly-worded notification to “get the facts.”

On Thursday, the White House said, Donald Trump will fire back in what is essentially a deeply personal and petty fight with an executive order from the highest office in the land. The order, a draft of which was circulated on Wednesday night by content moderation expert Kate Klonick seeks to clarify section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to remove liability protection for digital communications services if they restrict content in a way that is “deceptive,” “pretextual,” inconsistent with the platform’s terms of service, or if it has been done without adequate notice or explanation, or without a “meaningful opportunity to be heard.”

Section 230 is a bedrock piece of internet legislation that allows service providers to engage in “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of content that it deems to be lewd, harassing, or just distasteful in some way, even if it is constitutionally protected speech. As far as legislation goes, the first subsection of 230 is concise and powerful: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

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Posted by on May 28, 2020 in North America


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Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet

In its first decade of life, the website appeared in as many punch lines as headlines. The Office‘s Michael Scott called it “the best thing ever,” because “anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject—so you know you are getting the best possible information.” Praising Wikipedia, by restating its mission, meant self-identifying as an idiot.

That was in 2007. Today, Wikipedia is the eighth-most-visited site in the world. The English-language version recently surpassed 6 million articles and 3.5 billion words; edits materialize at a rate of 1.8 per second. But perhaps more remarkable than Wikipedia’s success is how little its reputation has changed. It was criticized as it rose, and now makes its final ascent to … muted criticism. To confess that you’ve just repeated a fact you learned on Wikipedia is still to admit something mildly shameful. It’s as though all those questions that used to pepper think pieces in the mid-2000s—Will it work? Can it be trusted? Is it better than Encyclopedia Britannica?—are still rhetorical, when they have already been answered, time and again, in the affirmative.

Of course, muted criticism is far better than what the other giants at the top of the internet are getting these days. Pick any inflection point you like from the past several years—the Trump election, Brexit, any one of a number of data breaches, alt-right feeding frenzies, or standoffish statements to Congress—and you’ll see the malign hand of platform monopolies. Not too long ago, techno-utopianism was the ambient vibe of the elite ideas industry; now it has become the ethos that dare not speak its name. Hardly anyone can talk abstractly about freedom and connection and collaboration, the blithe watchwords of the mid-2000s, without making a mental list of the internet’s more concrete negative externalities.

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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in Reportages



Black-Boxed Politics

Artificial intelligence captures our imagination like almost no other technology: from fears about killer robots to dreams of a fully-automated, frictionless future. As numerous authors have documented, the idea of creating artificial, intelligent machines has entranced and scandalized people for millennia. Indeed, part of what makes the history of ‘artificial intelligence’ so fascinating is the mix of genuine scientific achievement with myth-making and outright deception.

A certain amount of hype and myth making can be harmless, and might even help to fuel real progress in the field. However, the fact that ‘AI systems’ are now being integrated into essential public services and other high-risk processes means that we must be especially vigilant about combatting misconceptions about AI.

At various points throughout 2019, we saw users of Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s Siri being shocked to discover that recordings of their private family conversations were being reviewed by real living humans. This was hardly surprising to anyone familiar with how these voice assistants are trained. But to the majority of customers, who do not question the presentation of these systems as 100% automated, it came as a shock that poorly paid overseas workers had access to what were often intimate and sensitive conversations. Concerns about how such systems operate are only sharpened when we see contracts between Amazon and Britain’s National Health Service for Alexa to provide medical advice and, of course, to thereby have access to patient data.

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Posted by on February 26, 2020 in Reportages


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The Lines of Code That Changed Everything

Back in 2009, Facebook launched a world-changing piece of code—the “like” button. “Like” was the brainchild of several programmers and designers, including Leah Pearlman and Justin Rosenstein. They’d hypothesized that Facebook users were often too busy to leave comments on their friends’ posts—but if there were a simple button to push, boom: It would unlock a ton of uplifting affirmations. “Friends could validate each other with that much more frequency and ease,” as Pearlman later said.

It worked—maybe a little too well. By making “like” a frictionless gesture, by 2012 we’d mashed it more than 1 trillion times, and it really did unlock a flood of validation. But it had unsettling side effects, too. We’d post a photo, then sit there refreshing the page anxiously, waiting for the “likes” to increase. We’d wonder why someone else was getting more likes. So we began amping up the voltage in our daily online behavior: trying to be funnier, more caustic, more glamorous, more extreme.

Code shapes our lives. As the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has written, “software is eating the world,” though at this point it’s probably more accurate to say software is digesting it.

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Posted by on January 13, 2020 in Reportages



Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche

Draw me your map of utopia and I’ll tell you your tragic flaw. In 10 years of political reporting I’ve met a lot of intense, oddly dressed people with very specific ideas about what the perfect world would look like, some of them in elected office—but none quite so strange as the ideological soup of starry-eyed techno-utopians and sketchy-ass crypto-grifters on the 2018 CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise.

It happened like this.

Two months ago, an editor from BREAKER called and asked if I wanted to go on a four-day Mediterranean cruise with hundreds of crypto-crazed investors and evangelists. We’ll cover the travel, he said. Write something long about whatever you find, he said. It was 2 a.m. and I was over-caffeinated. I remember explaining that I know almost nothing about either cruises or blockchain, in the way that Sir Ian McKellen, in the criminally underrated series Extras, explains that he is not actually a wizard. Five days later I was at the port of Barcelona, boarding a ship. By which point it was way too late to wonder for the umpteenth time about my life choices.

I knew about bitcoin only as an investment vehicle favored by several essentially sweet nerds close to my heart—and I knew, too, that cryptocurrencies are the pet untraceable funding model of the far-right. I was told there would be an overall “Burning Man theme” to the adventure, guaranteed by the presence of Brock Pierce, the cryptocurrency mogul, former child actor, and one-man art installation about peer pressure. (More about him later.) I was anticipating evenings spent listening to crypto-hippies describe the angel-faced space elves they met when they took DMT. I was expecting to fetch water and painkillers for half-conscious corporate executives with dust in their perfect hair and no idea how to get home. I was expecting to get a bit carried away and end up shouting about the government and chalking poetry all over the walls. I was expecting to hear very rich men talk without blinking about tax planning and sacred geometry. I was expecting corporate-branded swimwear. I was expecting to meet smug Californian polyamorists, about whom smug European polyamorists like me are relentlessly judgy. Reader, all of these things transpired, but by the time they did they were a blessed relief.

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Posted by on January 13, 2020 in Reportages


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Southeast Asia leaps ahead in high-tech financial services

Bank customers in Asia are swapping their wallets for smartphones, using apps for everything from buying groceries to sending money home from abroad to investing.

Need a loan? Forget filling out paperwork and waiting in line for a bank teller. Now you can apply for credit on your phone and receive an answer almost immediately, thanks to screening that uses artificial intelligence. Financial services are increasingly available anytime, anywhere.

Emerging economies, where many people still do not have access to banking services, are “leapfrogging” the traditional style of retail banking and jumping straight to digitized financial services. For a growing number of people, a visit to a brick-and-mortar bank seems old fashioned.

“I put 70% of my salary into my electronic money account,” said Bayu Wicaksono, a 23-year-old engineer living in Jakarta. Most of the things he buys he pays for with e-money from Ovo using his smartphone.

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Posted by on December 16, 2019 in Asia, Economy, Uncategorized


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Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Is an Engine of Anti-Muslim Hate the World Over. Don’t You Care?

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

What happened to you?

Back in December 2015, you spoke out loudly and proudly against anti-Muslim hatred. “I want to add my voice in support of Muslims in our community and around the world,” you wrote in a post on Facebook, two days after then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country. “After the Paris attacks and hate this week,” you added, “I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others.”

The headline in the New York Times? “Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Reassures Muslim Users.”

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Posted by on December 13, 2019 in Uncategorized


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There’s only one way to take on big tech: by reining in big money and big state

2019 was a year we talked – a lot – about big tech. Alas, the much-expected “techlash” has not materialized: Silicon Valley still stands unscathed.

This might, of course, change in 2020, especially under a president like Elizabeth Warren. It’s easy to mistake her populist stance – let’s just break up the tech giants! – for some kind of leftism; it isn’t. Hers is a mere repetition of the (neo)liberal creed that well-policed, competitive markets will yield prosperity.

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Posted by on December 10, 2019 in North America


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