WeeklyTech #66

‘The Social Dilemma’ and the Bigger Dilemma

A few weeks ago after my wife and I put our boys to sleep, we pulled up the new Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.” Featuring a number of noted authors, scholars, tech leaders, and activists, the film helps explain the growing influence of algorithmic technology, especially in social media. 

Led by Tristan Harris, former design ethicist and president of the Center for Humane Technology, The Social Dilemma explores how these technologies are specifically designed to serve up a perfectly curated and addictive online world where companies profit from tracking our every digital interaction (often called surveillance capitalism).

The film focuses in part on the artificial intelligence (AI) technology behind the tools that drive our social-media feeds, email platforms, and most of our “smart” devices. As Harris explains, our concerns about AI are often centered on when it will overcome our strengths and outperform us in various tasks (“the singularity”), rather than focusing on how it has already overcome our points of weakness by fostering addiction and fueling dissent. Many of these systems control what you see in your social-media feed, when you receive notifications, and even what you type—all in order to modify your behavior, whether in what you buy or what you watch.

The Rundown

Governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict internet freedomMIT Technology Review

In at least 20 countries, the pandemic was cited as a reason to introduce sweeping new restrictions on speech and arrest online critics. In 28, governments blocked websites or forced outlets, users, or platforms to censor information in order to suppress critical reporting, unfavorable health statistics, or other content related to the coronavirus. In at least 45 of the countries studied, people were arrested as a result of their online posts about covid-19.

Facebook bans Holocaust denial contentThe Verge

Facebook has announced it will remove all content on its platform that “denies or distorts the Holocaust.” The company says this expansion of its hate speech policies is a response to what it calls “the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.”

YouTube bans misleading Covid-19 vaccine videosBBC

It said it would remove any suggestions that the vaccine would kill people, cause infertility, or involve microchips being implanted in people who receive the treatment. YouTube said it had already removed 200,000 dangerous or misleading videos about the virus since February.

Microsoft takes down hacking network with potential to disrupt electionCNet

The company filed a lawsuit in Virginia arguing that [the hacking network] Trickbot violated Microsoft’s copyrights by using its software code for malicious purposes. Microsoft has used this argument to take down other hacking operations in the past, but Trickbot is the largest one yet.

Facebook, Twitter limit reach of New York Post article about Hunter BidenCNet

Facebook and Twitter are limiting the reach of a New York Post article that alleges leaked emails show Joe Biden’s son introduced the Democratic presidential nominee to a Ukrainian energy executive, raising questions about how social networks fact-check political content. On Thursday, Senate Republicans said they plan to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to get some answers.