WeeklyTech #67

What is our role in social media renewal?

Social media can sometimes bring out the best in humanity. But more often than not, it shows the glaring friction and breakdown of civil discourse in our communities. Social media has become the main place for each of us to get the news, share our thoughts (and our hot takes), signal our political allegiances, and connect with others in the midst of ongoing social distancing and gathering restrictions. 

Layered on top of our social interactions, companies and brands have often joined the fray, seeking to signal their own political allegiances. This past week, Expensify CEO David Barrett sent an email to each of the company’s customers urging them to save our democracy by voting for a particular candidate in the upcoming election. While he is within his rights, this type of direct, political message ultimately leads to a growing breakdown of trust and normalcy in our society; it seems everything in our lives, even our expense report software, has become overly politicized.

A few clicks online reveal a number of theories as to why our civil discourse is at this low point. Some will argue that particular candidates or our perceived political “enemies” have fueled the flames of division and hatred online. Others blame the social media companies themselves for their content algorithms that often contribute to the spread of misinformation, half-truths, and red-hot political tensions. But it is far too easy and simplistic to scapegoat others. 

The Rundown

Pakistan lifts TikTok ban after just 10 days – The Verge

Pakistan has lifted its ban on TikTok, just 10 days after blocking the app on the grounds that it hosted “immoral” and “indecent” videos. Pakistan’s Telecommunication Authority (PTA) now says that TikTok has “assured” the agency that videos will be moderated “in accordance with societal norms and the laws of Pakistan.”

Facebook says it removed 120,000 posts for attempting to obstruct voting – The Verge

The social media giant [has] removed 120,000 posts across Facebook and Instagram for violating its voter interference policies and placed warnings on 150 million posts debunked by fact-checkers. [Facebook’s vice president for global affairs] said Facebook has used artificial intelligence that “made it possible to delete billions of posts and fake accounts, even before they are reported by users” and noted that the company has partnered with 70 media outlets, including five in France, to verify information.

The US government sues Google for alleged anti competitive abuses in search – CNN

In its complaint, the Justice Department makes sweeping allegations that Google has stifled competition to maintain its powerful position in the marketplace for online search and search advertising. It alleges in part that Google pays billions of dollars a year to device manufacturers like Apple, LG, Motorola, and Samsung and browser developers like Mozilla and Opera to be their default search engine and in many cases to prohibit them from dealing with Google’s competitors.

NY Post story goes massive on social media despite crackdowns – Axios

Facebook and Twitter’s frantic attempts to stop the spread of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story didn’t prevent the article from becoming the top story about the election on those platforms last week. The Post’s story generated 2.59m interactions (likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter last week — more than double the next biggest story about Trump or Biden.

A deepfake bot is being used to “undress” underage girls – MIT Technology Review

In June of 2019, Vice uncovered the existence of a disturbing app that used AI to “undress” women. Called DeepNude, it allowed users to upload a photo of a clothed woman for $50 and get back a photo of her seemingly naked. A new investigation has now found very similar technology being used by a publicly available bot on the messaging app Telegram.