WeeklyTech #85

David French on social media, free speech, and cultural division

JASON THACKER: David, thanks again for joining us on WeeklyTech. David and I had originally scheduled to record this podcast on January 6th, right as the riots and the assault on the United States Capitol began. Needless to say, our conversation is going to speak directly to the role of social media in this attack but also how we got to this point in society and what to do about it. 

David, to get started, can you tell us a little bit about your book “Divided We Fall” and why you decided to write it?

DAVID FRENCH: The first paragraph says it all as far as setting the stage for the book. It says that the continued unity of the United States of America cannot be guaranteed. And it gives a reason for that in that first paragraph: there is no truly important political, cultural, legal, social, or religious force that is pulling Americans together more than it’s pushing Americans apart. What I essentially do is I track all of these major trends that are pulling America apart, and I make an assertion that we can’t keep doing this. 

Interestingly, I finished the book towards the middle or end of March, right before the pandemic really had hit us fully, certainly before the contention and division around the election. Now several months later, I have to say that if anything, the themes of the book have started to emerge faster than I thought that they would.

The Rundown

30,000 U.S. organizations hacked by Chinese espionage unitAxios

At least 30,000 U.S. victims — including small businesses and local governments — have been hacked by a cyber espionage unit backed by the Chinese government, Krebs on Security reports. Hackers focused on stealing emails from victim organizations by exploiting flaws in the Microsoft Exchange Server, widely used by large companies and organizations.

How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformationMIT Technology Review

The Cambridge Analytica scandal would kick off Facebook’s largest publicity crisis ever. It compounded fears that the algorithms that determine what people see on the platform were amplifying fake news and hate speech, and that Russian hackers had weaponized them to try to sway the election in Trump’s favor. 

Amazon Won’t Sell Books Framing LGBTQ+ Identities as Mental IllnessesThe Wall Street Journal

Amazon’s decision comes as the nation’s largest tech platforms are under increased scrutiny regarding the decisions they make over which content is acceptable. The senators, in their letter dated Feb. 24, characterized Amazon’s decision to remove the book as a signal “to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms.”

NFTs, explainedThe Verge

At a very high level, most NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, like bitcoin or dogecoin, but its blockchain also supports these NFTs, which store extra information that makes them work differently from, say, an ETH coin.

The pandemic showed the limits of tech’s magicAxios

The coronavirus pandemic gave Silicon Valley’s profound self-confidence a good hard shake, presenting technologists with a host of problems that resisted quick fixes in code.

Apple said to deny Parler app back into App StoreCNet

Apple has reportedly told the social network Parler that it still can’t publish its app in the iPhone and iPad App Store. Apple banned the controversial social network, which is popular with extremists and conspiracy theorists, after insurrectionists attacked the US Capitol on Jan. 6.