Talking corruption, technology, empiricism and fairness with the Bitcoin Podcast

I'm something of a Bitcoin skeptic; although I embrace the ideals of decentralization and privacy, I am concerned about the environmental, technological and social details of Bitcoin. It was for that reason that I was delighted to spend a good long time chatting with the hosts of the Bitcoin Podcast (MP3), digging into our points of commonality and difference; despite a few audio problems at the start, the episode (and the discourse) were both fantastic. Read the rest

1 in 14 Trump appointees is a former lobbyist, four times the rate under Obama

Trump Town is a Propublica/Columbia Journalism Investigations interactive database of everyone working in the Trump administration; the latest revision reveals that Trump has hired 281 former lobbyists to regulate the industries that used to sign their paychecks. Read the rest

Podcast: Why do people believe the Earth is flat?

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my Globe and Mail column, Why do people believe the Earth is flat?, which connects the rise of conspiratorial thinking to the rise in actual conspiracies, in which increasingly concentrated industries are able to come up with collective lobbying positions that result in everything from crashing 737s to toxic baby-bottle liners to the opioid epidemic. Read the rest

Why do people believe the Earth is flat?

I have an op-ed in today's Globe and Mail, "Why do people believe the Earth is flat?" wherein I connect the rise of conspiratorial thinking to the rise in actual conspiracies, in which increasingly concentrated industries are able to come up with collective lobbying positions that result in everything from crashing 737s to toxic baby-bottle liners to the opioid epidemic. Read the rest

Republic of Lies: the rise of conspiratorial thinking and the actual conspiracies that fuel it

Anna Merlan has made a distinguished journalistic career out of covering conspiracy theories, particularly far-right ones, for Gizmodo Media; her book-length account of conspiratorial thinking, Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power, is a superb tour not just through the conspiracies that have taken hold in American public discourse, but also in the real, often traumatic conspiracies that give these false beliefs a terrible ring of plausibility. Read the rest

The internet has become a "low-trust society"

Writing in Wired, Zeynep Tufekci (previously) discusses how the internet has become a "low-trust society," where fake reviews, fraud, conspiracies and disinformation campaigns have burdened us all with the need to investigate every claim and doubt every promise, at enormous costs to time and opportunity. Read the rest

To help the news business, subject Big Tech to antitrust -- but don't forget Big News's antitrust problem

The University of Chicago Business School's Promarket blog has run a transcript of former antitrust enforcer Sally Hubbard's June 11 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on June 11, 2019, where Hubbard discusses the ways that the monopolized and concentrated tech sector have eroded the margins of the news business, creating a "decline of American journalism." Read the rest

Karl Schroeder's "Stealing Worlds": visionary science fiction of a way through the climate and inequality crises

Karl Schroeder (previously) is literally the most visionary person I know (and I've known him since 1986!): he was the first person to every mention "fractals" to me, then "the internet" and then "the web" -- there is no one, no one in my circle more ahead of more curves, and it shows in his novels and none moreso than Stealing Worlds, his latest, which is a futuristic roadmap to how our present-day politics, economics, technology and society might evolve. Read the rest

Facebook's "celebration" and "memories" algorithms are auto-generating best-of-terror-recruiting pages for extremist groups

Facebook isn't very good at selling you things on behalf of its advertisers, so the company has to gather as much data as possible on you and use it keep you clicking as much as possible in the hopes of eventually scoring a hit with its targeting system, and that means that it often commits unwitting -- but utterly predictable -- acts of algorithmic cruelty. Read the rest

danah boyd explains the connection between the epistemological crisis and the rise of far-right conspiratorial thinking

Back in 2017, I started writing about the "epistemological crisis" ("we're not living through a crisis about what is true, we're living through a crisis about how we know whether something is true. We're not disagreeing about facts, we're disagreeing about epistemology"); danah boyd picked up on that theme later that year, making the connection between "media literacy" education and the crisis ("If we’re not careful, 'media literacy' and 'critical thinking' will simply be deployed as an assertion of authority over epistemology"). Read the rest

What's wrong with blaming "information" for political chaos

David Perell's 13,000 word essay, "What the Hell is Going On?" presents a reassuring -- and contrarian -- view on how our current dysfunction in politics, media, and business has come to pass, drawing on orthodox economic theories about "information asymmetry" in a way that makes the whole thing seem like a kind of adjustment period between a middling old world and a fine new one. Read the rest

German neofascists used Qanon to expand their reach

Germany's Alternative For Germany (AfD) party (previously) are an insurgent neofascist movement with ties to senior mainstream politicians and the country's super-wealthy would-be oligarchs; the party put on a hard push in the the 2018 Bavarian elections and their meme warfare was full of familiar voter-suppression tactics, from garden-variety disinformation to exhortations to stay home on election day. Read the rest

Study suggests that Flat Eartherism spread via Youtube

The rise in a belief that the Earth is flat is bizarre and somewhat frightening, a repudiation of one of the most basic elements of scientific consensus. Texas Tech University psych researcher Asheley R. Landrum attended a 2017 flat earth convention and interviewed 30 attendees to trace the origins of their belief in a flat earth, finding that Youtube videos were key to their journey into conspiracy theories; her findings were bolstered by a survey of more than 500 participants. Read the rest

Portrait of a fake news troll and the racist retiree who believes everything he writes

In the Washington Post, Eli Saslow profiles Christopher Blair, a 46-year-old "liberal" hoaxter whose Facebook group, "America’s Last Line of Defense," is full of far-right hoaxes that he creates and then reveals, in order to humiliate the Trumpist "taters" who spread them; and Shirley Chapian, a 76-year-old retiree who believes and repeats all the racist hoaxes Saslow creates and will not disbelieve them, even when Saslow reveals the gag. Read the rest

In America, the young find distinguishing fact from opinion easier than their elders

A recent Pew poll challenged subjects to distinguish between factual statements and statements of opinion in news articles; it found that there is a large gap in accuracy between 18- to 49-year-olds (32% of whom correctly labeled 100% of the facts, and 44% of whom correct labeled 100% of the opinions) and those aged 50 and up (20% correctly labeled all facts; 26% correctly labeled all opinions). Read the rest

A browser extension that checks web-pages for misleading and hoax images

Surfsafe is a browser extension that compares all the images you load in your browser to images that appear on "trusted news sites," fact-checking services, and Snopes, and pops up a tool-tip warning when you hover over known hoax images with links to more information. Read the rest