Alek Minassian, the man who killed 10 people by driving a van down a busy street in Toronto on Monday, is a terrorist.
We know this because he told us so. On Tuesday afternoon, Facebook confirmed the authenticity of a post in his name, in which he pledged allegiance to something called the “Incel Rebellion.” This is not an organized militant group but rather an ideal developed by the so-called “incel” movement — an online community of men united by their inability to convince women to have sex with them. (“Incel” stands for “involuntarily celibate.”)
Some self-identified incels, as they call themselves, have developed an elaborate socio-political explanation for their sexual failures, one that centers on the idea that women are shallow, vicious, and only attracted to hyper-muscular men. They see this as a profound injustice against men like them, who suffer an inherent genetic disadvantage through no fault of their own. A small radical fringe believes that violence, especially against women, is an appropriate response — that an “Incel Rebellion” or “Beta [Male] Uprising” will eventually overturn the sexual status quo.
Minassian is not the first to turn these violent fantasies into reality. In 2014, a sexually frustrated man named Elliot Rodger killed six and wounded 14 in a shooting spree in Santa Barbara, California. He justified his actions in a lengthy and creepy manifesto sent to acquaintances and then widely shared online as retaliation against women as a group for refusing to provide him with the sex he is owed. This man has become a hero to many incels; the Toronto perpetrator praised him as the “Supreme Gentleman” (a term the California shooter coined for himself) in his Facebook post.
Only a tiny percentage of incels seem willing to turn to violence or terrorism and the movement isn’t a threat on the level of an al-Qaeda or ISIS. But it’s a new kind of danger, a testament to the power of online communities to radicalize frustrated young men based on their most personal and painful grievances.
The Facebook post “situates the attack as extremist and terrorist,” says J.M. Berger, an expert at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague. “Misogyny isn’t new, and ideological misogyny isn’t new. Having a distinct movement that is primarily defined by misogyny is [fairly] novel.”
When we talk about “incels,” we are not talking about all men who are not having sex. Instead, we are talking about a specific subculture of people in various internet forums — subreddits like r/braincels, the cruel troll chat forum 4Chan, and dedicated websites like incels.me.
Beyond their shared frustration with not having sex, the incel community is not monolithic. Many of them are simply sad and lonely men, suffering from extreme social anxiety or deep depression. Some of these moderate incels actively police the extremists in their midst; in a sympathetic 2015 profile, the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey reported that some incel forums were set up to automatically delete any posts referencing the California shooter.
But many incels have a much more sinister, and specific, worldview — one that the Southern Poverty Law Center sees as part of a dangerous trend toward male radicalization online. These incels post obsessively about so-called “Chads,” meaning sexually successful and attractive men, and “Stacys,” attractive promiscuous women who sleep with the Chads. Both are positioned as unattainable: The Chad is the masculine ideal, one incel men cannot emulate for reasons of poor genetics, while the Stacy is who every incel man wants to sleep with but cannot because they aren’t a Chad.
It’s this embrace of helplessness, of their certainty of their own sexual doom, that makes the more extreme incel communities so dangerous. Instead of trying to support each other and work through their issues as a group, the incels in certain communities allow their resentments to curdle. They see the world through the lens of entitlement; they are owed sex but cannot have it because women are shallow. This manifests in a deep and profound hatred for women as a group, which shows up on a very brief scan of some of the more extreme incel communities.
“I have sluts for managers,” one poster on the incel.me forum wrote. “Flat bitch with no ass and loud ugly black landwhale somehow with no ass either ... both brag about all the dick they suck.”
But it’s not just individual women that these radical incels hate: It’s society writ large, a society that allows their perceived sexual oppression to go on. The sexual revolution, in particular, comes in for hate: They believe women being freed to make their own sexual choices, rather than being married off to men and made subordinate, is the reason women can choose to sleep with attractive men and ignore the so-called incels.
This is how inceldom becomes a political doctrine: They see themselves as a class, oppressed by a social system that’s rigged in favor of other men. One post on an incel subreddit compared their worldview to Marxism, with incels playing the part of the proletariat and Chad the bourgeoisie. The natural corollary of this idea is clear: If the root of the problem is an unfair social system then there needs to be a revolution to change it.
This is where the idea of the “Incel Rebellion” that Minassian referenced comes from — sometimes called “Beta Uprising” on incel forums, a reference to beta males. There’s no centralized planning, no incel equivalent to of Osama bin Laden. There are just men on various online forums celebrating violence and forming a mutually supportive echo chamber that justifies harming others, especially women, in the name of the incel uprising.
“I do not blame Alek Minassian for what he did,” another poster on Incel.me writes. “I blame society for treating low status men like garbage. There will always be more rampages because of the way society treats us.”
Some of the reactions to the Toronto attack have been even more extreme. David Futrelle, a journalist who follows the incel movement on his site We Hunted The Mammoth, took screenshots of some of the most extreme pro-Minassian posts, in which posters call for more ERs (attacks like Elliot Rodger’s in California). Here’s one of the worst ones (highlights by Futrelle):
This is the stuff of terrorist incitement and recruitment. The appeal to male frustration in these communities is, as my colleague Aja Romano has written, serving as a kind of gateway. Men log on to complain about their loneliness and dating failures and end up getting sucked into a community that encourages them to blame women and society for their problems. And eventually, some of them decide to do something about it.
This is a terrorist movement. What can be done about it?
Terrorism is a notoriously difficult concept to define but the most widely accepted definition among scholars is that terrorism is a form of violence directed against civilians by a nonstate actor with the goal of achieving some kind of political end. By that standard, there is no doubt that the Toronto attack fits the bill. The perpetrator in Toronto wasn’t taking revenge on a specific woman who wronged him; he wanted to instill terror in society writ large as a means of furthering the incel rebellion against the sexual status quo.
“Morally, it is important to recognize such acts as terrorism,” Stephanie Carvin, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, tells me.
This is not a familiar type of terrorism. The groups we hear about the most tend to have more understandable political goals, like installing an Islamist regime or winning the right for their region to secede from a country. The incel rebellion has a much more amorphous end point; there’s no worked out vision for what success looks like, nor is there a chief ideologue working to come up with one. You just have a bunch of random internet forum posters pushing each other towards violence.
While extremist groups are quite commonly misogynistic and even recruit based on male sexual frustration, their ideologies almost never center on that fact. There have been mass acts of misogynistic violence before, as in 1989 shooting at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique that claimed the lives of 14 women, but there wasn’t a large online community providing an ideology that justifies the killer’s grievances. The incel turn toward violence is a unique phenomenon, at least in the modern era.
This creates a fairly difficult challenge for law enforcement agencies. On the one hand, there is a real terrorist threat from incel communities; it’s clearly not all talk. On the other hand, there are serious risks that come along with having American and Canadian law enforcement officials trawling Reddit for people to arrest.
“I’m not sure national security agencies are best placed to handle places like 4Chan,” Carvin says. “We want to keep the law narrow enough that we aren’t monitoring all different kinds of dissent.”
There’s also a serious identification challenge. Online communities are both full of empty talk and draped in irony, making it tough for social media companies and law enforcement officials to figure out who is a threat and who isn’t.
“[The perpetrator’s] post really highlights the challenges facing the social media companies. It read like a joke or nonsense,” Berger, the terrorism expert, tells me. “How are you supposed to evaluate something like that?”
Does this mean we should just throw up our hands and say that the radicalization of some young men toward violent misogyny is inevitable? No, of course not. Carvin suggests that social outreach programs, focusing on countering the sense of isolation that draws young men to these communities in the first place, might be a better idea than standing up a potential counter-incel task force at the FBI. (No such group is currently known to exist.)
But regardless of what the right solution is, we need to be clear-eyed about the type of challenge we’re facing. The internet makes it easier than ever for sad and angry people to find each other and develop communities with weird and dangerous ideologies. What we’re seeing right now is one of society’s oldest hatreds, misogyny, being reworked in real time to fit a specific group of men’s rage and pain.
It’s hard to recognize myself when I look back at that time of my life.
We called ourselves “the Constitution Defenders” and we wore anything that looked military: camouflage, civil war uniforms, tricorn hats. There were about a dozen of us, teenagers and even younger, and we met on Sundays after church and prepared ourselves for battle.
We lined up in the upper room of our church and saluted the Confederate flag, even though we were in a small town in Michigan. Then I stepped forward to make a speech, wearing hunting camo over a Confederate flag T-shirt. I was 13. When I was done, we pulled out our knives — K-Bars, Bushmans, Bowies — and practiced techniques from a manual.
We practiced like that every week until, when I was 14, a boy got stabbed with a sword. The blade sunk an inch and a half into his thigh, but his parents didn’t take him to the hospital; they were too suspicious of medical institutions and the risk of social services. The wound eventually healed after a mild infection.
It’s been a long time since I thought about militias. It’s been years since I’ve shot a gun, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really miss it. Politically, I’m generally progressive.
But in the Trump era, militias are making headlines again, and memories are flooding back with them. My family homeschooled, all our friends homeschooled, we all prioritized self-sufficiency. We lived in fear of a few looming specters: the Clintons, social services, martial law, gun control. We were taught that the liberal government was out to get our liberties and our faith.
One time at the library, a man approached my mom and asked if we were homeschoolers. I started gathering my little sisters, thinking he was from social services and we needed to make a run for it. He turned out to be a curriculum salesman.
These were the kind of fears we lived in, and we weren’t alone. In the ’90s, the Michigan Militia claimed 12,000 members and inspired militias throughout the country. Men in self-designed fatigues testified before the Senate and said the government needed a spanking. Gun sales skyrocketed, and so did the sales of pocket constitutions.
When I sat down to write this piece about my experiences, I started by pointing to all the obvious historical catalysts that set the movement in motion, the civilians killed by government agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas, and when Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law, expanding gun control in the US. These are the common militia talking points, but I realized it’s easier for me to recite them than to process the actual state of mind that once made me want to take up arms against the government.
Small towns like the one I grew up in are built on an economy of face-to-face trust. You see the same people every day, whether you’re going to work, pumping gas, or buying groceries. When you don’t ride the subway, when you’ve never worked in a company too big to meet the owner, you don’t learn to trust people you don’t personally know.
There’s something lovely and human about this “look a person in the eye and shake their hand” ecosystem, but it also contributes to small communities’ suspicion of the government — that faceless, unknowable entity. And it has a darker side. It primes a large chunk of America to distrust their elected officials, and it enables them to believe the worst about people of different races and religions they rarely actually encounter, whose humanity and struggles they never get the opportunity to see in real life.
It seems unbelievable now. But when you think that your president killed Vincent Foster, when you think that God instilled in you a duty to own guns and that the government is slowly eroding that right so that it can impose martial law, you start to lead a pretty suspicious life.
Meeting the leader of Michigan’s viral militia movement
Our family had half-a-dozen guns, far from an unusual number for a rural family. Our designated home-defense weapon was a consistently loaded Mossberg 20-gauge, and I knew from an early age that it was my job to use it if something went down when Dad wasn’t home. We openly discussed home intruder scenarios with the whole family, but the details of government-standoff strategies were just between me and Dad, like when to aim for the head because an agent might be wearing body armor.
I was 11 when Dad and I drove an hour north to the home and gunshop of Norman Olson, a retired Air Force officer, Baptist pastor, and controversial founder of the Michigan Militia. Instead of maintaining secrecy and seclusion, he welcomed the local news to training sessions. He wore his fatigues constantly. He went to an amusement park with Michael Moore on his show TV Nation. He organized the Michigan Militia in county-based brigades that he led from his headquarters, which was also a church that he ran, in Alanson, Michigan.
The militia movement was always decentralized. That’s how they wanted it, a movement driven by the people. But if there was one person who inspired and modeled for the militia activity in the ’90s, it was Norm.
Dad and I went to interview Norm, calling it homeschool “civics class.” Norm kept having to run out to the gunshop to help customers, so he set out stacks of books about Ruby Ridge and guerilla warfare tactics for us to look at. We briefly met his wife, who referred to Norm as “the commander.”
Norm seemed intelligent as he talked about issues like 9/11 (it wasn’t necessarily an inside job, but Bush definitely knew it was going to happen and didn’t stop it), the Oklahoma City bombing (probably orchestrated by the government to discredit the militia), and the Bush-Gore election contest (Norm had hoped Gore would win, because he might have been totalitarian enough to spark an actual revolution).
His rhetoric was conspiratorial but contained insights into real problems with the American system; Norm argued that white liberals contributed to racial poverty, and cited the Black Panthers as an inspiration for his movement. He was frightened by the militarization of local police and the increasing government surveillance that new technology made possible.
When we left I was excited. I had a Michigan Militia Wolverines patch signed by Norm Olson. I felt important. I felt that I could be part of returning America to what it was supposed to be.
Over the next few years, as I entered my teens, I was prepared to do just that.
I thought about the Second Amendment and states’ rights and revolution constantly. I imagined fighting in a revolution against the government. I envisioned standoffs in our house, in our woods, in our barn. I prepared for those situations, planning and practicing marksmanship faithfully.
The Michigan Militia never engaged in the government standoff they were prepping for. Some local groups did gather though: In 1994, three young men in Fowlerville, Michigan, were stopped by a police officer who discovered their car was full of weapons, including an AK-47 and more than 700 rounds of ammo. They also had a notebook that indicated they’d been monitoring police officers’ movements. The three men skipped bail, but 40 armed militiamen showed up at court in their place, publicly threatening to kill any police officer who tried to take away their guns.
If I had been called to join a standoff at that time, I probably would have taken my guns and gone.
Running the boys militia
Three years after interviewing Norm, I joined my first militia, the group of homeschooled teens that eventually ended in an accidental stabbing. I was 13, and my family joined a church of homeschooling families. After each service, while our mothers made lunch, boys as young as 10 trouped upstairs for militia meetings.
I ran to be militia commander in their next election, making speeches standing on a pew all about how I would turn the group into a legitimate militia that could protect our families. I appointed lieutenants and hold competitions for fitness, tactical knowledge, and marksmanship. We started bringing knives, guns, and tactical books to church.
Most of the adults in the church encouraged us. An older man sat me and my second-in-command down and warned us to prepare for the race war that was brewing in America, adding that black-on-white crime was criminally underreported by the liberal media. He also suggested that we might consider targeting abortion doctors, if we ever went beyond training exercises.
But after the stabbing incident spooked a bunch of our parents, they started pulling their kids out the group. After winning a few elections, I lost to a boy whose older brothers were in the real army.
Norm Olson had also lost an election. His new theory that the Japanese were responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing was too much for the rest of the militia, and he was replaced by a “moderate” from southern Michigan.
In Montana, a group called the Freemen defied the FBI and another standoff ensued. But the government seemed to have learned something. Nobody died. They just waited the Freemen out.
Norm showed up at the site of the standoff, as he had promised to show up anywhere people were resisting the government, but he found his services weren’t wanted, and spent most of his time sitting in a nearby diner.
Not long after that, he moved to Alaska, which he said was the last independent-thinking state left. Norm’s time in the spotlight was over.
Growing up and growing out
It’s hard to connect the dots between where I was then and where I am now, working in marketing in southern Pennsylvania and raising two hopefully non-violent sons. I didn’t wake up and have any sudden liberal epiphanies. Maturity comes slowly, but the ability to break your intoxicating addiction to paranoia comes with it.
By the time I was in my mid-teens, I was thinking more about changing the establishment from within. I decided I wanted to be a Supreme Court justice, instead of a revolutionary. I was still obsessed with politics and what I saw as an ever-encroaching government.
I went to college, moved around the country, met different types of people, and read a lot of books. At some point, I forgot to be afraid all the time. Over the years my paradigm shifted from actual war to culture war, then to wondering why there has to be a war at all. My days as an angry, armed young man faded into the past.
Sometimes I miss the simple certainty I felt back then, but it’s hard not to cringe when I remember the way I thought about people who thought and believed and even looked different from me. It’s easy to think of that as a different lifetime, a different world. But deep down, I know that kid wearing his Confederate shirt and sharpening his Bowie knife isn’t a separate person from who I am now. I think I distance myself from that version of myself so I don’t have to cope with knowing that that person was me.
I could chalk it up to immaturity — I was just a kid. But there are adults who do that stuff, men much older than I am now. So I believe we have to think long and hard about what makes people so scared and angry.
You can draw a line from the scared right-wingers of the ’90s to the scared right-wingers of Trump’s America, but it’s not a straight line. One thing has stayed the same: the insider information. The militia information mill used to run on scanned pamphlets, homemade comb-tooth books, and conservative talk radio. Now it runs on YouTube, Facebook, and, still, conservative talk radio. The message is the same: You can’t trust the media. You can’t trust the government. Only we understand what’s really going on.
And people are dangerous when they believe — like I did — that everyone else is either deceived or evil.
Daniel Southwell has worked as a farmhand, roofer, roughneck, roustabout, surveyor, promotional video producer, and freelance writer. He currently lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two sons.
The alt-right is obsessed with the 19th-century German philosopher. They don’t understand him.
“You could say I was red-pilled by Nietzsche.”
That’s how white nationalist leader Richard Spencer described his intellectual awakening to the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood last June. “Red-pilled” is a common alt-right term for that “eureka moment” one experiences upon confrontation with some dark and previously buried truth.
For Spencer and other alt-right enthusiasts of the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, that dark truth goes something like this: All the modern pieties about race, peace, equality, justice, civility, universal suffrage — that’s all bullshit. These are constructs cooked up by human beings and later enshrined as eternal truths.
Nietzsche says the world is in constant flux, that there is no capital-T truth. He hated moral and social conventions because he thought they stifled the individual. In one of his most famous essays, The Genealogy of Morality, which Spencer credits with inspiring his awakening, Nietzsche tears down the intellectual justifications for Christian morality. He calls it a “slave morality” developed by peasants to subdue the strong. The experience of reading this was “shattering,” Spencer told Wood. It upended his “moral universe.”
There is, of course, much more to Nietzsche than this. As someone silly enough to have written a dissertation on Nietzsche, I’ve encountered many Spencer-like reactions to his thought. And I’m not surprised that the old German philosopher has become a lodestar for the burgeoning alt-right movement. There is something punk rock about his philosophy. You read it for the first time and you think, “Holy shit, how was I so blind for so long?!”
But if you read Nietzsche like a college freshman cramming for a midterm, you’re bound to misinterpret him — or at least to project your own prejudices into his work. When that happens, we get “bad Nietzsche,” as the Week’s Scott Galupo recently put it.
And it would appear that “bad Nietzsche” is back, and he looks a lot like he did in the early 20th century when his ideas were unjustly appropriated by the (original) Nazis. So now’s a good time to reengage with Nietzsche’s ideas and explain what the alt-right gets right and wrong about their favorite philosopher.
The obsession with decline
In her recent book about the rise of the alt-right, Irish academic Angela Nagle discusses their obsession with civilizational decay. “They’re disgusted by what they consider a degenerate culture,” she told me in a recent interview.
Nietzsche made these same arguments more than 100 years ago. The story he tells in The Genealogy of Morality is that Christianity overturned classical Roman values like strength, will, and nobility of spirit. These were replaced with egalitarianism, community, humility, charity, and pity. Nietzsche saw this shift as the beginning of a grand democratic movement in Western civilization, one that championed the weak over the strong, the mass over the individual.
The alt-right — or at least parts of the alt-right — are enamored of this strain of Nietzsche’s thought. The influential alt-right blog Alternative Right refers to Nietzsche as a great “visionary” and published an essay affirming his warnings about cultural decay.
“Future historians will likely look back on the contemporary West as a madhouse,” the essay’s author writes, “where the classic virtues of heroism, high culture, nobility, self-respect, and reason had almost completely disappeared, along with the characteristics of adulthood generally.”
There is something punk rock about his philosophy. You read it for the first time and you think, “Holy shit, how was I so blind for so long?!”
Christianity is wrong, Christendom is right
In his interview with the Atlantic, Spencer, an avowed atheist, surprised Wood with a peculiar defense of Christianity: that the religion is false but it “bound together the civilizations of Europe.”
Spencer’s view is common among the alt-right. They have no interest in the teachings of Christ, but they see the whole edifice of white European civilization as built on a framework of Christian beliefs. From their perspective, Christendom united the European continent and forged white identity.
It’s a paradox: They believe the West has grown degenerate and weak because it internalized Christian values, but they find themselves defending Christendom because they believe it’s the glue that binds European culture together.
Last August, Vox Day, a prominent alt-right thinker (who often cites Nietzsche in his posts), laid out the central tenets of the alt-right in a post titled “What the Alt-Right is.” There are a number of revealing points, one of which reads:
The Alt Right believes Western civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement and supports its three foundational pillars: Christianity, the European nations, and the Graeco-Roman legacy.
Nietzsche accepted that Christianity was central to the development of Western civilization, but his whole philosophy was focused on convincing people that the West had to move beyond Christianity.
When Nietzsche famously declared that “God is dead,” he meant that science and reason had progressed to the point where we could no longer justify belief in God, and that meant that we could no longer justify the values rooted in that belief. So his point was that we had to reckon with a world in which there is no foundation for our highest values.
The alt-right skipped this part of Nietzsche’s philosophy. They’re tickled by the “death of God” thesis but ignore the implications.
“Nietzsche's argument was that you had to move forward, not fall back onto ethnocentrism,” Hugo Drochon, author of Nietzsche’s Great Politics, told me. “So in many ways Spencer is stuck in the 'Shadows of God' — claiming Christianity is over but trying to find something that will replace it so that we can go on living as if it still existed, rather than trying something new.”
The irony of racist Nietzscheans
The alt-right renounces Christianity but insists on defending Christendom against nonwhites. But that’s not Nietzsche; that’s just racism.And the half-baked defense of “Christendom” is an attempt to paper over that fact.
Nietzsche was interested in ideas, in freedom of thought. To the extent that he knocked down the taboos of his day, it was to free up the creative powers of the individual. He feared the death of God would result in an era of mass politics in which people sought new “isms” that would give them a group identity.
“The time is coming when the struggle for dominion over the earth will be carried on in the name of fundamental philosophical doctrines,” he wrote. By doctrines, he meant political ideologies like communism or socialism. But he was equally contemptuous of nationalism, which he considered petty and provincial.
Listening to Spencer talk about Nietzsche (and, regrettably, I listened to his Nietzsche podcast) is like hearing someone who never got past the introduction of any of his favorite books. It’s the kind of dilettantism you hear in first-year critical theory seminars. He uses words like “radical traditionalist” and “archeofuturist,” neither of which means anything to anyone.
Like so many superficial readers of Nietzsche, Spencer is excited by the radicalism but doesn’t take it seriously. Spencer’s rejection of conventional conservatism clearly has roots in Nietzsche’s ideas, but Spencer’s fantasy of a white ethnostate is exactly what Nietzsche was condemning in the Germany of his time.
“Nietzsche's way forward was not more [racial] purity but instead more mixing,” Drochon told me. “His ideal was to bring together the European Jew and the Prussian military officer. Spencer, I take it, only wants the latter.” Nietzsche, for better or worse, longed for a new kind of European citizen, one free of group attachments, be they racial or ideological or nationalistic.
Racists find affirmation in Nietzsche’s preference for “Aryan humanity,” a phrase he uses in several books, but that term doesn’t mean what racists think it means. “Aryan humanity” is always contrasted with Christian morality in Nietzsche’s works; it’s a reference to pre-Christian Paganism. Second, in Nietzsche’s time, “Aryan” was not a racially pure concept; it also included Indo-Iranian peoples.
People often say that the Nazis loved Nietzsche, which is true. What’s less known is that Nietzsche’s sister, who was in charge of his estate after he died, was a Nazi sympathizer who shamefully rearranged his remaining notes to produce a final book, The Will to Power, that embraced Nazi ideology. It won her the favor of Hitler, but it was a terrible disservice to her brother’s legacy.
Nietzsche regularly denounced anti-Semitism and even had a falling-out with his friend Richard Wagner, the proto-fascist composer, on account of Wagner’s rabid anti-Semitism. Nietzsche also condemned the “blood and soil” politics of Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman who unified Germany in 1871, for cementing his power by stoking nationalist resentments and appealing to racial purity.
So there’s no way to square Nietzsche’s philosophy with the racial politics of the alt-right, just as it wasn’t fair to charge Nietzsche with inspiring Nazism. But both of these movements found just enough ambiguity in his thought to justify their hate.
The alt-right renounces Christianity but insists on defending Christendom against nonwhites. But that’s not Nietzsche; that’s just racism.
Nietzsche as a mirror
Nietzsche liked to say that he “philosophized with a hammer.” For someone on the margins, stewing in their own hate or alienation or boredom, his books are a blast of dynamite. All that disillusionment suddenly seems profound, like you just stumbled upon a secret that justifies your condition.
He tells you that the world is wrong, that society is upside down, that all our sacred cows are waiting to be slaughtered. So if you’re living in a multiethnic society, you trash pluralism. If you’re embedded in a liberal democracy, you trumpet fascism. In short, you become politically incorrect — and fancy yourself a rebel for it.
Nietzsche was a lot of things — iconoclast, recluse, misanthrope — but he wasn’t a racist or a fascist. He would have shunned the white identity politics of the Nazis and the alt-right. That he’s been hijacked by racists and fascists is partly his fault, though. His writings are riddled with contradictions and puzzles. And his fixation on the future of humankind is easily confused with a kind of social Darwinism.
But in the end, people find in Nietzsche’s work what they went into it already believing. Which is why the alt-right, animated as they are by rage and discontent, find in Nietzsche a mirror of their own resentments. If you’re seeking a reason to reject a world you don’t like, you can find it anywhere, especially in Nietzsche.
Häromdagen höll jag åter en föreläsning om källkritik. En av bilderna utgörs av nio konkreta tips.
1. Vem står bakom sajten? Vad står det på sajtens "Om"-sida? Om ingen sådan finns så är redan det en varningssignal. Vad står det om sajten på Wikipedia? Vem har registrerat domänen?
2. Vem står bakom nyheten?Är en artikel i själva verket ett pressmeddelande? Som på sin höjd fått en lätt rewrite när redaktionen stuvat om texten en smula? Om ett omotiverat företagsnamn förekommer, som till exempel i klassikern "enligt en undersökning från [företag]...", så kan man vara säker på det. En intressant observation är att namnet tenderar att vara med någonstans vid det fjärde stycket. Precis i början vore lite väl uppenbart (givet att avsändaren inte vill att pressmeddelandet ska se ut som ett pressmeddelande), och i slutet riskerar det att redigeras bort.
3. Vad står det, egentligen?Undersökningar visar att väldigt många väldigt ofta delar artiklar utan att ha läst mer än rubriken. Ett hett tips för den blivande källkritikern: Läs mer än rubriken.
4. Går påståendet att kontrollera?Har någon mer skrivit om samma sak? Kanske med en annan vinkling? Leder slagningar till samma källa?
5. Vad visar kontrollen?Denna punkt kan ses som en logisk fortsättning av punkt 3: Om en artikel beskriver en vetenskaplig studie, läs studien. Det är mycket vanligt att en studie beskrivs av en journalist som missförstått studiden. När sedan artikeln får en rubrik av en rubriksättare som missförstått artikeln är förvirringen total.
6. Hur "märkvärdigt" är påståendet?Det finns en klassisk regel som formulerats av många personer genom tiderna, som Laplace, Thomas Jefferson m.fl., men vars mest berömda formulering kommer från Carl Sagan: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Denna punkt är ofta svårare än den ser ut. Många gånger kräver det lite eftertanke för att inse hur osannolik ett påstående är, särskilt när det så att säga rimmar med den egna världsbilden.
7. Vilken uppmärksamhet får påståendet?Folk har oerhört lätt för att tappa fokus och diskutera något annat än det påstående de tror att de diskuterar.
8. När skapades källan?Är nyheten du delar publicerad en dag eller en vecka gammal? Eller en månad, ett år eller ett decennium? Detta låter inte som någon tyngre fråga men felet är väldigt vanligt, särskilt som många sajter av någon anledning gärna gömmer undan publiceringsdatum (den sista tiden har en del blivit bättre på detta). En del artiklar är folk väldigt glada att dela år efter år, trots att de vederlagts gång på gång ... Se även bloggposten Kolla datum!
9. Bildgoogla!Utgörs nyheten/påståendet av en bild? Föreställer den verkligen vad som påstås? När har den tagits, var, och i vilket sammanhang? Ofta kan man snabbt och lätt få facit eller åtminstone goda hintar medelst en lika snabb som enkel bildgoogling.
When Noa Maxwell was four, his bohemian upper-middle-class parents, disillusioned with London, bought a farm in Herefordshire, where they began to live self-sufficiently – harvesting by horse, slaughtering pigs, curing bacon, making butter – while trying to find time to paint.
One day in 1976 they received a letter from a friend who was in India where he had found the meaning of everything. So Noa’s family – parents plus three children – went out to visit the ashram in Poona where the controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, was preaching his mix of eastern mysticism, western philosophy and free love, raising the consciousness and promising utopia to his orange-clad international followers.
My meeting with Noa, now 46, at a cafe in Notting Hill, west London, has come about because of the show. I wrote a positive review of it. It’s an extraordinary story – of mistrust and misunderstanding, power and politics, fear and loathing that escalated to attempted murder, terrorism and chemical warfare – exhaustively and objectively told. But I wanted to know more, about life in the cult, particularly for the children who can be seen running around in the background of shots. Noa tweeted me. He was one of them – first in Poona, then Oregon.
In Poona, Noa’s family soon agreed that this was their new life. After returning to the UK to sell the farm, they came back to India, Noa’s parents, Noa and his younger brother. His older one has a different dad and didn’t come, which would cause a lot of pain to his mum.
Noa remembers visiting Rajneesh to be given new sannyasin names and other kids running up and asking: “What’s your new name?” He couldn’t remember and had to ask his mum. Noa Maxwell’s new name was Swami Deva Rupam.
Soon Noa’s mum was living in one place in the ashram, his dad somewhere else, and Noa was in the kids’ hut. “We had been a tight, 70s middle-class family, and within a very short period that family unit was ripped up,” he says.
The children’s hut was an octagonal bamboo structure with bunks. Noa and the other kids – from Australia, Germany, America – were pretty much left to their own devices. There was a school, “run by this crazy English hippie called Sharma with long blond hair and a guitar and we would sing ‘We all live in the orange submarine’. I don’t know how much it mattered if we were in school or not. When I eventually did get back to this country when I was 10 I couldn’t read anything or write anything, or do two plus two.”
He did learn how to smoke. And at the age of six he got accidentally stoned by eating hash cake.
The most shocking bit of the Netflix documentary is a clip of a film taken by a German inside the Poona ashram of what seems to be a violent orgy inside a padded room. Noa never saw this type of thing but he did witness some freaky behaviour and emotion. Laughter was a way of saying “I’m OK with my feelings,” and one night thousands of people suddenly started laughing hysterically, crying with laughter. Noa was certainly aware of the sex. “You could hear people having orgasmic sex all the time. All night, like mating baboons, gibbons.”
And he knew his parents had different partners. Was that upsetting? “I never showed upset. The narrative – particularly from my dad – was: this is fantastic, you’re fantastic. So I showed fantastic. I know my mum was struggling. She has said since she was already massively questioning what we’d done. They were notionally still together but we weren’t living as a family unit.”
In some ways the independence Noa had has stood him in good stead, he says. “But if you have no boundaries in your life the world is quite scary.” Boundaries – or lack of them – is something that comes up again and again.
He says he can understand the appeal of Rajneesh, the aura of the man, the extraordinary voice, his charisma. “But I think without doubt he was deeply culpable, guilty of neglect of his people and did massive damage to many of them.”
He doesn’t like seeing pictures of him. And he has fundamental problems with the message. “For me, the meaning of my life is about family, family relationships, and that was blatantly disregarded in the idea that these kids are just going to be happy growing up in this wild place.”
In some ways it’s hard to connect this engaging, articulate man sipping a macchiato in Le Pain Quotidien with the tearaway hippy child running wild, free of shoes and boundaries, in India. But there is something in his eyes, a look that says: yeah, we’ve seen a bit, in our time.
After Noa and his family had spent about four years in Poona, and amid increasing tension between the ashram and the Indian authorities, Rajneesh and his followers moved to the US and set up a commune on a ranch in Wasco County, Oregon. This is where Wild Wild Country picks up the story. The star/villain of the Netflix show is Rajneesh’s personal assistant/lieutenant, Ma Anand Sheela, who was instrumental in the rapid creation of Rajneeshpuram, a new city in the middle of nowhere and an extraordinary human feat.
Noa’s memory of Sheela is that she was confident, funny, cool. “But I also knew, because I would hear from my parents, that she was ruthless, and I think it was clear the power she had.”
His dad had a run-in with Sheela over chickens, after which he was immediately taken off farming duties (which he knew a lot about), and put on fire-tower watch. Noa’s mum looked after cows. Neither of them were part of Sheela’s inner circle.
Noa remembers the crazy, fevered work that was being done. And the elements, being colder in winter than he had ever experienced, and brutally hot in summer. Again, he lived with the other kids, running wild, trying to jump on to ice blocks floating on the river, killing snakes, putting spiders and wasps into cassette boxes to see which would kill which. In many ways it was brilliant.
He has one sad memory. “There was one night when we got hold of a barrel of beer and we were just necking the beer on and on, and suddenly for the first time I got really drunk. If you think about it, aged 10, it’s a bit early. Then I just started wailing for my mum and dad, I just wanted them.”
He says they – the kids – were probably a little bit more advanced with sex, too. “Not madly, well it depends who, but I think we probably were a bit further ahead. We were further ahead with everything.”
Much of the documentary centres on the antagonism between the sannyasins and the Wasco County locals. “They were the enemy,” Noa says. “Stupid, conventional, conservative people.”
The sannyasins thought they were better than everyone else, and that comes over in the documentary. Noa was amazed, when he did get out, meeting a friend of his mum’s for example, that she could be articulate and emotionally intelligent. “I thought unless you were a sannyasin, that was impossible, you would just be a kind of drone.”
He thinks the series focuses too much on the conflict between sannyasins and rednecks. “That is interesting, but the inside story is more interesting – of how you end up with lots of intelligent middle-class people like my family going into where they got to, the heart of darkness. How does that happen? It’s like an ideal is bigger than reality and can make you lose your sense of justice and what’s right in the world.”
Noa wasn’t aware at the time of the scandals that feature in the series – an immigration fraud that involved sannyasins going off to get married in various parts of the country so that they could stay in the US, the poisoning of 751 people in the town of The Dalles, through contamination of salad bars at local restaurants, and another shocking episode where they bussed in a load of homeless people in order to win a county election. In fact, Noa had left by the time these events had taken place, although he did remember seeing the homeless people at the ashram, on the other side of a chainlink fence, on a visit back to see his father.
Why would he know what was going on? He was a kid, and this was his life. But he noticed the increased tensions and power struggles and that there were more and more guns about the place. “By that time, you kind of knew it was cranky; everything was cranky, there was massive paranoia about Aids and about the world coming to an end.”
“My parents said: 'What do you want to do?' And I said: 'I want to go to school and learn things'
When, in 1993, Waco happened, and the compound of cult leader David Koresh was stormed by the FBI, leading to 76 fatalities, it affected Noa profoundly. He suddenly realised that something like that could have happened to them.
Noa’s mother ended up wanting out – she had been uncomfortable even in Poona. They had come back to Britain, the marriage was over; she was going to stay in Norfolk, his dad was returning to Oregon and Noa and his brother were given a choice. “I remember sitting in the back of the car and they said: ‘What do you want to do?’ I said: ‘I want to stay and go to school and learn things.’” Noa’s brother made the same decision.
That has been Noa’s response to his “weirdo” childhood, to go diametrically opposite to everything he experienced. “I wanted to as be normal as possible, I made a lot of choices that would give me something solid.”
He says it was a good thing he got out when he did. “If I’d stayed longer I think the disengagement with the real world would have become more accentuated. That’s the sense I get from kids who stayed longer. I imagine it was hard to assimilate back and a lot of them ended up deeper in that kind of fringe world.”
It wasn’t easy, going to the local comprehensive. He still went by the name of Rupam, which he didn’t change for a long time, out of loyalty to his dad. But he was good at fitting in, adapting. He said his Indian name was because his dad had farmed in India. No mention of ashrams.
There had been press reports about the sex cult, the guru with all the Rolls Royces. Noa began to realise how weird it was, and he didn’t want to be associated with that. But he was way behind, and he was getting into trouble, not because he was rebellious but because he was finding it hard to exist in the real world.
His grandmother then paid for him to go to a hippy vegetarian private school, which encouraged Noa’s desire to become an actor. One day, the headmaster called a special assembly because there were some very dangerous people coming to town, a sex cult called the sannyasins. A warning video was shown, and guess what the opening shot was? A closeup of Noa’s face. Thankfully, because of his wild hair and the fact that it was taken a few years before, no one recognised him.
The sannyasins carried on, in various locations, in various factions, after the end of Rajneeshpuram and after the end of Rajneesh. His father is still very much involved with them. Noa’s mother’s feelings about it are dominated by pain and guilt.
And Noa? It’s a strange mix of both resentment and gratitude. He’s done his fair share – “a massive share” he says – of different sorts of therapy to deal with a childhood with no boundaries, how scary that is, how power can be abused and how emotions can get out of control. And he’s very wary of gurus.
Yet he says he acquired a good deal of understanding about people from his time in the cult, which has been invaluable. He did become an actor, using the name Rupam Maxwell – his last role was in Emmerdale, where he played racy young aristocrat Lord Alex Oakwell from 1997-98.
Then he went into coaching. He now advises clients on personal impact, teaching them to harness their natural strengths for pitches, presentations and media appearances. Again, he says he likes the linear structure of working with law and accounting firms, with their boundaries and rules. He says the basis of what he does is about authenticity, and however misguided it was, that’s what the people in Poona and Oregon were after, too. After our coffee, he’s going to Geneva for a meeting.
He is married. His wife is from “a really good Irish Catholic background, and I love that”. They have three children, aged 17, 16 and nine.
What kind of father is he? “Not as good as I think I am. My older kids now tell me about times I was too angry with them when they were young and all that kind of stuff. But that, for me, is first and foremost in my life: family, being supported by your mother and father in a way that says I’m there to help you grow into this world.”
He has talked about the ashram with them. He feels relaxed and able to now, and says they are understanding, insightful, balanced. “Now they’ll probably go and join a cult,” he adds.
The day that Denis Nikitin, a Russian neo-Nazi who claims he once kept a framed photograph of Joseph Goebbels in his bedroom, took part in his first street fight, his mother made him a packed lunch. During the past 12 years, the Moscow-based MMA fighter has become a rising star of the far right, after brawling his way up through the ranks of one of Russia’s top hooligan firms. But on that day, Nikitin says, he was like a schoolboy on his first field trip; his mother, who thought her 22-year-old son was going to watch a football match, filled his rucksack with food and warm clothes.
Nikitin took a six-hour bus ride to the match, but he had not bought a ticket. (His fellow hooligans joke that, in the past decade, he has been inside a football stadium fewer than five times.) Since his family had moved from Moscow to Germany a few years earlier, his interests had narrowed to far-right politics and violence. Nikitin’s local “team” was visiting Hamburg – a city whose left-wing supporters were a favourite target of the far-right Cologne hooligans. Nikitin’s hobbies just happened to intersect at football.
At around midnight, as two buses carrying Cologne’s supporters approached Hamburg, someone shouted: “They’re here.” Through the window, Nikitin saw around 30 Hamburg hooligans in front of the vehicle. It seemed odd – the 90-odd Cologne hooligans on the buses greatly outnumbered the men outside. It would not be a fair fight. Nikitin disembarked, ran to a nearby bush, and set his rucksack beneath the branches. Then he looked up. On the guardrail of an overlooking footbridge he saw a line of silhouettes – at least 70 men, to add to the 30 in front of the coaches. An ambush, then.
Nikitin remembers running toward the Hamburg hooligans. He picked out his first target and, from behind, landed a flying punch. As the man twisted in shock, Nikitin realised he had struck one of his own side. “Oh, fuck,” he shouted, “sorry, sorry, sorry, man.” The fight was chaotic; in the dark it was difficult to pick out team colours, badges or scarves. With the panic of a person who wants to immediately put right a wrong after it is made, Nikitin jumped on another silhouette and began striking him in the head. This, too, was a Cologne supporter.
Blushing under his balaclava, Nikitin waited for some kind of sign. Moments later it came. One of the Hamburg hooligans came running at him, screaming abuse. Nikitin, wearing gloves lined with metal pellets, landed a sucker punch on the screamer. As the man fell to the ground, Nikitin readied a follow-up blow. Before it connected, a rival supporter pulled off Nikitin’s balaclava, and began pummelling his face. Nikitin broke free and started running for the buses, over ground scattered with fallen phones and wallets. Back at the road, only one vehicle remained; the other driver had fled.
As the remaining bus pulled away, Nikitin looked at the men around him, their faces streaked with browning blood, and felt a surge of euphoria. It had not gone unnoticed that he was one of the last men to get back on board. In his leaders’ nodding approval, Nikitin experienced the first flush, not just of belonging, but of something close to a calling. “The media pretends that people like me will end up alone in prison, or as an alcoholic, or depressed,” he told me last year. “This is considered your inevitable fate as a Nazi football hooligan. It is a lie.”
In the summer of 2016, the Russian football hooligan, previously a provincial sort of bogeyman, padded on to the international stage at the European Championship in France. On 10 June, an estimated 150 Russians descended on Marseille’s Old Port. They moved in orderly phalanxes, greeting any England supporters they ran into with extravagant violence. One England fan had his Achilles tendons sliced. Two English men were left in a coma, one of whom was left paralysed on the left-hand side of his body (his alleged assailant, wanted for attempted murder, was arrested in Germany in February). Another man reportedly travelled home on the Eurostar with glass from a shattered bottle still lodged in his neck.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Ch Supt Steve Neill, of Northumbria police, one of several officers deployed from England to aid French police that day, told Sky News. “The Russians came with serious intent to carry out barbaric violence. They were highly organised, very effective. We saw football hooliganism on a different level.” One Russian hooligan who took part in the fighting later told a French news agency: “The English always say they are the main football hooligans; we went to show that the English are girls.”
Some Russian politicians claimed their country had been disproportionately singled out by the media and authorities (two English fans were jailed for their part in the violence). The deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, then Russia’s sports minister, went so far as to call it a “set-up”. Other Russian public figures praised the hooligans for promoting a powerful, unassailable vision of their country to the world. “I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,” tweeted Igor Lebedev, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament. “Quite the opposite: well done lads, keep it up!”
At first, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, smirkingly questioned how 200 Russian supporters could see off “a few thousand Englishmen”. But the Kremlin was also aware that these same men could embarrass the nation if mass violence erupts at the 2018 World Cup, a tournament Russia will host for the first time – and the government belatedly tried to distance itself from the hooligans. After a meeting with the leaders of his own security agencies, Putin publicly stressed “the need to learn from the French experience”. Russian police gained new powers that class even minor offences, such as setting off fireworks at football games, as acts of terrorism.
According to Russian newspaper reports, in December 2016, more than 100 police officers and members of the FSB, Russia’s security service, raided hooligans’ homes. Arrests duly followed, including that of Alexei Yerunov, the leader of the FC Lokomotiv firm Vikings, who had already spent several months in a French prison before returning to Russia. In all, more than 200 hooligans have been issued with court orders banning them from football matches till the end of the World Cup.
Hooliganism came relatively late to Russian football, emerging in the early 1990s as a self-conscious copy of the decades-old English example – with its vicious firms, favoured clothing labels and racist chants. In a country emerging from the Soviet gloom in search of a new, assertive identity, hooliganism seemed to offer young men like Nikitin a shot of steadying nationalism, as well as a hypermasculine community that provided status and belonging. Hooliganism also presented something of a career path through the ruins of the post-Soviet economy. Politicians, especially on the far right, saw Moscow’s football thugs as a possibly forceful group of disenfranchised voters – and began to court these young men, laying on free transport to away games, paying members to work as bodyguards or street muscle, and even offering the occasional well-paid role as a party official.
In time, imitation of the English developed into a new culture of thuggery. In Among the Thugs, the defining book on England’s hooliganism, published in 1990, the writer Bill Buford characterised the football yob as the “fatty manifestation of gallons and gallons of lager and incalculable quantities of bacon-flavoured crisps”. The Russians, by contrast, set down their beers and began training in earnest, not only at the gym, but also in covert fights staged in local forests, where young hooligans from rival teams would scrap in the dawn mist.
It was at one of these gatherings, after an invitation from a fellow gym-goer, that Nikitin met his first hooligans, and began to learn the art of the mob brawl, first through observation, then participation. Like many of his peers, as Nikitin grew in confidence, he began to compete in and even organise MMA tournaments. Collectively, the Russian hooligans were becoming more professional. “At some point, Russian hooliganism shifted away from amateurism,” he told me when we met last autumn. In turn, fights became more deadly: in November 2017 a 30-year-old man died after his neck was broken during a clash between hooligans affiliated to teams Sibir Novosibirsk and Yenisey Krasnoyarsk.
It was this well-trained force that debuted with such brutality on the international stage in Marseilles. And as the World Cup draws closer, pressure on Russian hooligans has intensified further. The Kremlin panicked after the broadcast of a BBC documentary last year called Russia’s Hooligan Army – in which the then-leader of the Spartak firm, Gladiators, Vasily “The Killer” Stepanov, was secretly filmed saying that the Moscow hooligans were Putin’s foot soldiers. Some of the men interviewed for the programme said it contained factual errors (Nikitin was assigned to the wrong firm, for instance, and Stepanov claims his views were misrepresented) – but in Russia, as one senior hooligan told me, it was “like a bomb had gone off”.
Russian police issued a call for anyone featured on the documentary to report to local stations in order to sign forms stating that they were coerced by the BBC to lie on camera. (At a match the following month, Spartak fans unfurled a panoramic banner that mimicked the BBC logo, alongside the words “Blah Blah Channel”.) Last year, the Kremlin assigned an FSB agent to each of the 11 clubs in Moscow, where they work with a fan liaison officer – usually a senior hooligan from each firm – in an attempt to control their members.
For hooligans who have for years had the backing of the authorities, both tacit and explicit, this reversal feels like a betrayal. “For 10 years we were supported by the government,” said Alexander Shprygin, who took part in hooligan fights starting in 1994, and who chartered a plane and flew a cadre of Russian hooligans to Marseille in 2016. “After France, the government stopped supporting us.”
But the obsessive focus on violence at the World Cup – not least from UK tabloids – has overshadowed the real significance of Russian hooliganism. For two decades, Russia’s firms have been a machine for recruiting and radicalising young men to the far right, which has seeded racist ideology at the centre of the country’s football culture. They may have been forced underground, but Russia’s powerful firms are not likely to vanish – and their influence will take decades to erase. “After the summer,” Shprygin told me, “everybody will forget about us.”
Shprygin was turned away from his first football match at the age of nine. He had come to watch his team, FC Dynamo, play at the Central Dynamo Stadium in Moscow, but unaccompanied children were denied entry. So the next week, he convinced an older man outside the gates to pose as his father. Once inside, he recalled, Shprygin was immediately attracted to the loudest and most fanatical supporters – the ultras – and began to regularly sit among them.
Young, isolated and with few career prospects, Shprygin was the ideal hooligan recruit. In August 1993, when he was 14, one of the older men approached him with news of a plan to found one of Russia’s first firms: Blue White Dynamite. As its membership grew, BWD’s members began to seek out and attack rival ultras. At first, these clashes, usually staged in Moscow’s vaulted subway stations, were modest. But when fans of Moscow’s best-known club, Spartak, formed a rival firm, the violence escalated in both severity and scope; skirmishes sometimes involved 500 participants. “By 1995, every Moscow football club had a firm,” recalled Shprygin. “The fights became much larger.”
As the numbers swelled, smaller firms broke off from the larger groups, creating a network of distinct, yet interlinked gangs. Today, the largest of the Russian capital’s 11 football clubs, Spartak Moscow, has three major firms – Union, Shkola and Gladiators – each with an associated youth division. Beyond these, a constellation of smaller splinter groups operate under the Spartak umbrella. One senior hooligan estimates that there are as many as 500 active members of Spartak-affiliated firms. By collaborating with one another as the need arises, Spartak’s firms are able to raise a small army under their team’s banner.
This collective power was first demonstrated in 1999, when Spartak played an away game against Saturn Ramenskoye. When Spartak conceded its first goal in the 23rd minute, violence began to bubble in the stands: jostling grew into a few fistfights and, eventually, a full-scale riot. For the first time in Russian football history, the match was stopped due to fighting in the stands. Footage of the event shows some police beating Spartak fans in the head with batons, while others struggle to pull their colleagues away.
In August 1998, Shprygin, who was by then editor of Dynamo’s fan magazine, claims he received a message on his pager asking him to call a mysterious number. It was a meeting request from a prominent rightwing opposition politician. The next day Shprygin claims he visited the State Duma, the lower house of the federal assembly of Russia. In the lobby, he saw one of the hooligan leaders from Spartak Moscow. The pair were ushered into the politician’s office and offered jobs as his assistants.
Shprygin’s role was to act as a liaison between the politician and the firm, who would routinely provide security for his party. “We were never fists of the party, per se,” Shprygin explained, when we met in a football-themed pub in Moscow. But, he claims, they would provide the politician with security, and in return, his party would pay for buses and trains to take the hooligans to away fixtures. No money changed hands, but Shprygin says the expectation was clear: the fans would thereafter vote for the party in elections, and fight when called upon.
The arrangement proved useful for Shprygin’s career. In 2007, at the behest of the FSB, he says, he founded a group called the Union of Russian Fans. Despite his rising fortunes in politics at the time (Shprygin has been photographed with Putin on at least three separate occasions, before his alleged involvement in the Marseille violence led to his arrest) Shprygin continued to be actively involved in street violence. Shortly after founding the union, Shprygin and other members of his firm were invited by a far-right group of skinheads to meet up in a local park. The plan, it was explained, was to attack hip-hop concertgoers as they left a venue. “Rap is black music,” Shprygin told me, by way of explanation. “So we went to the park and we waited.” That night he took part in his first street violence aimed at people outside of football.
Shprygin’s progression is common. “Many ultras are sympathetic to radical nationalists and some even take part in their activities,” said Mikhail Akhmetiev, a professor at Sova, a Moscow-based thinktank that studies nationalism and racism in Russia. “The former head of Spartak’s Fratria fan community, Ivan ‘Combat’ Katanaev, and the head of the Gladiators firm Vasily ‘The Kille’” Stepanov are involved in ultra-conservative activities,” he said. In recent years there has been a marked increase in so-called “white wagon” attacks, where groups of racists wearing surgical masks and balaclavas board trains and attack anyone of non-Slavic descent. A 2014 report from Sova reports that white wagon operations are committed “at least partly by football supporters”, and are “more likely to occur on match days”. For young men who, like Shprygin, become entranced by the older fans at matches, the route to radicalisation is quick and clear, and there has been no shortage of political entities eager to co-opt and leverage these fans.
For Nikitin, hooliganism is inextricable from far-right activism. After he returned to Russia in the 2000s, radicalised by his time fighting in German hooligan circles, he became increasingly involved in violence against immigrants. He split his time between fighting hooligans and attacking minorities in the streets. When, during one of our meetings in Moscow last year, I asked Nikitin whether there was a difference between hooligan violence and racist violence, he told me to switch off my recorder. “If we kill one immigrant every day, that’s 365 immigrants in a year,” he said, after agreeing that I could record again. “But tens of thousands more will come anyway. I realised we were fighting the consequence, but not the underlying reason. So now we fight for minds, not on the street, but on social media.”
Football, with its tribal communities and martial symbolism, has long been a battleground for minds. A draft Home Office paper on English football hooliganism, published in October 2000, described the atmosphere at England’s international fixtures as like “watching a football match during a Nuremberg rally” – a hostile climate that was decades in the making. In 1981, for example, the National Front published a magazine about music and sport that included a section titled the League of Louts, in which football hooligans were invited to compete to have their club labelled the most racist in Britain. Readers were encouraged to hurl bananas on to the pitch whenever a black player was fielded. As Derek Holland, an organiser for the far-right group, once put it, the aim of targeting football fans was to “win the hearts and minds of young people”.
“The old National Front thing was that you didn’t count England goals that were scored by black players,” explains Mark Perryman, a British academic and author of Hooligan Wars. “In the 70s there was a generalised racism and xenophobia which was a reflection of the popularity of the National Front, which had a strong base in certain clubs.” Some football hooligans became members of neo-Nazi organisations at the time, such as Combat 18, while, in the early 1990s, members of the Headhunters, one of Chelsea’s best-known firms, would provide muscle for fascist events. It was only following sustained anti-fascist campaigns at English clubs that racist violence around football began to subside.
In Russia, hooligan racism did not generally face this kind of organised ideological opposition. “There were far more of them than there were of us,” says Maxim Solopov, a journalist who took part in anti-fascist clashes with Russian hooligans between 2006 and 2010. Without the intervention of police, anti-fascists like Solopov took the fight to the streets, placing informants in each of the different fan groups. “They would tell us where their groups were going to appear,” he said. “The first rule was to engage first. We were always trying to instigate the fights, to give us an advantage.”
The first street fight Solopov attended, in autumn 2006, took place in central Moscow, outside the offices of the ministry for internal affairs. “We had girls acting as lookouts,” he recalled. “When the hooligans arrived, a row of antifa approached them with gas pistols.” Solopov, who was standing in the second line, broke a bottle over the head of a neo-Nazi. “Time collapsed,” he told me. “Ten seconds felt like for ever. I could see everything that was happening, every tiny detail.” The far-right hooligans, he says, were wielding knives. “The hooligans were attacking people not merely to scare, but to kill,” he said.
Without any concerted challenge from clubs, rightwing extremism in Russian football has endured. Nazi imagery remains rife on the terraces, according to a 2017 report from Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare), a network of groups set up to combat discrimination in and around the game: “Football fans use other neo-Nazi symbols such as the Celtic cross, SS Totenkopf and the symbols of rightwing Slavic neopaganism.” Sightings of historical Nazi slogans, such as “My honour is loyalty” – the motto of the SS – and “Jedem das Seine” (“To each what he deserves”, a German proverb written above the gates of the Buchenwald concentration camp) are also common.
The same report notes that, during the 2015-16 season, xenophobic attacks at matches “increased significantly”. In May 2017, the head of the Russian Football Union disciplinary committee, Artur Grigoryants, claimed there had been “no racist manifestations” during the 2016-17 season – but the authors of the Fare report clarified that “in fact he meant that there were no monkey chants”. (If true, even that moratorium was short-lived: last month there were monkey chants directed toward black French players at a friendly match in St Petersburg.)
To change the international perception of Russian football fans, the Kremlin has hired PR agencies that have planted so-called gentle fans who distribute sweets, warm tea and blankets at matches and post cheery selfies on Instagram. Despite these public displays, some believe that the government continues to support hooligans in private. “It’s true that the government is trying to clean up the image of football ahead of the World Cup,” says Solopov. “But they are far more concerned that something like the Ukrainian revolution might happen here, and that, if it does, the rightwing hooligans will take to the streets against the authorities. So in private, they still support violent fan groups. I believe that political power remains in the hands of the rightwing fans.”
The appointment of a so-called fan liaison officer in every club shows that the Kremlin believes it can control the hooligans. “The clubs appoint real hooligan leaders hoping they can keep the hooligans under control at important matches,” says Pavel Klymenko, who works for Fare. It is not clear the extent to which the system is effective, or even how it works.
It may be difficult for the state to control what it earlier turned a blind eye toward. “The state believed that [hooligan groups] were an organised force that could be used to maintain order,” said Yuri Abrashov, a former police colonel who is now the executive director of Event Safety, a government body that organises stewarding at sporting events. “But these groups made promises that were not being fulfilled.”
Despite the FSB monitoring, the bans and other efforts to crack down on far-right hooligan activity, there is still a legitimate risk of violence at the World Cup. “There might not be any pre-planned organised attacks because the hooligans are afraid of the security services,” says Klymenko. “But the way their structures work means it is not that easy to control everyone.”
On a drenched October afternoon, 40 minutes outside the centre of Moscow, near the dour Rostokino train station, I accompanied Nikitin along the railway tracks and down a slicked incline, into the woods, to a popular location for hooligan forest fights. Though bareknuckle fistfights were outlawed by the Bolsheviks in 1917, in recent years hooligans have resurrected the nationalistic tradition of Russian forest fighting, known as Stenka nu Stenka. The practice, which provides a relatively low-risk entry point for young fighters to join the hooligan ecosystem, has spread throughout Europe, and forest fights are now part of hooligan culture from Ukraine to Switzerland. “You sometimes hear of fatalities,” says Nikitin. “But I don’t believe anyone has died. That said, I recently had to help a guy whose lung had been punctured.”
When Nikitin first heard about forest fights, he had no interest in football or violence (he was, he admits, “into breakdancing”). “It seemed so stupid,” he says. “Surely it’s just idiots who have nothing better to do.” Then, when he was 23, a friend at his local gym invited Nikitin to a forest fight. “He seemed like a normal guy, so I become interested. I started asking him questions and he told me that it’s the best hobby anyone can pursue.” Nikitin, who says he rarely fought at school, was a natural. “I liked the atmosphere, the adrenaline, the need to be alert.”
Nikitin is broad-set and with a network of scars on his forehead. As we walked, he kept one hand in the chest pocket of his bomber jacket, where he kept a knife. We tripped along a mud path till eventually, a few hundred metres past the treeline, Nikitin stopped and gestured toward the clearing we had come to look at.
Here, Nikitin explained, every few weeks in the early morning, 30 or so men will gather. They arrive in separate groups, divided according to the football team they each support (in chaotic street fights the hooligans use a codeword to show which side they are on), and huddle at either end of the clearing to discuss tactics. After a while, the men form two opposing lines, 20 metres apart. Some limber up on the spot; others hold tins of ammonia to their noses, to heighten their senses. Around the clearing stand other, older men, their arms crossed, watching what’s happening with the keenness of talent scouts. Some will film the action, to be reviewed later – footage occasionally appears on YouTube.
A whistle blows and the two groups pad toward each other. They move slowly at first, clapping their hands to show that they are not carrying weapons, before speeding to a sprint. The lines smash into each other, before peeling off into one-on-one skirmishes. Some fighters go down easily, perhaps hoping to avoid serious damage. Their lack of ambition is noted by the watching scouts; they will never again be invited back. Others crumple with real injuries. After just a few minutes, it becomes clear which side still has fighters standing, and has won. Some limp home or off to hospital. Those who have proven their talent for violence in the forest may be invited into the firm, and, from this boot camp, on to the street.
When his family returned to Russia in the late 2000s, Nikitin began to look for a new team and firm. The owner of a clothing store, to whom Nikitin sold Thor Steinar clothing, a German label closely associated with neo-Nazi groups, asked if he would like to join a Spartak firm, which was due to fight another team from St Petersburg. “But before that fight took place, another of my friends invited me to fight for another team, CSKA,” he recalled. “So I just started fighting for the other side. I never gave a shit about football teams, you know?”
Once a hooligan has chosen his team, however, there can be no switching. When one Spartak hooligan switched sides a few years ago, his previous firm threateningly unfurled a giant banner bearing his name and face at the next match. At CSKA, Nikitin soon began to rise through the ranks. In 2016, he received his pin, a badge of honour awarded for long and effective service that, he estimates, only 20% of the team’s hooligans have received.
While we waited for a car back to central Moscow, as night fell, Nikitin claimed that a forest fight would often be the mere start of the day’s violence. “After a forest fight, I would often say to the guys: ‘OK, who wants to go kick some immigrants?’” he recalled. “Most of them would reply: ‘Yeah, we can do that.’”
A few days later, at a Viking-themed restaurant in central Moscow, his knife resting on the table, Nikitin explained that, in recent months, his interest in street violence has lessened as he has come to realise it is an ineffective way to disseminate and implement his views. “Across Europe hooliganism is on the extreme rise right now,” he says. “But in Russia, it’s in decline” – thanks in part to the unwanted attention of this summer’s World Cup.
To help inspire a new generation of football hooligans, Nikitin launched his own clothing label, White Rex, which is marketed to hooligans and neo-Nazis. (In 2013, a convicted criminal who calls himself Tesak wore a White Rex shirt in a video he filmed of himself attacking a gay man.) From the gym, to the forest, to the street, Nikitin’s far-right ideology has been nurtured and intensified by football hooliganism. And now through his own business, he’s promoting these values to younger men, some of whom he hires to model his clothes.
Just as racism’s grip on English football has slowly loosened since the 1990s, attitudes may eventually shift in Russia as well, but it could take decades to undo what the hooligans have helped create. A few people suggested to me that attitudes among the youngest fans may already be starting to change. “Some are losing interest in the rightwing movement,” says Solopov, the former anti-fascist demonstrator turned journalist. “They want to just follow football. It’s happening slowly, but they are becoming apolitical.”
But these young fans will grow up in a footballing culture steeped in nationalist racism and promiscuous violence. The present crackdown on Moscow’s hooligans may halt the violence that put Russia’s firms in the spotlight. But the obsessive fixation on whether English fans will be met by gangs in Volgograd risks missing the much larger story: the hooligans, with the opportunistic backing of the government that’s now trying to bring them under control, have promoted and normalised the racism of the far right.
On a lazy, sunny October afternoon, Spartak’s second team jogged on to the field to face off against Luch Vladivostok. A couple of haggard sports journalists squinted unsmilingly at their notepads. In front of them, a seated line of elderly men in identikit beige sports jackets sipped from water bottles. Behind the Vladivostok goalkeeper, a platoon of young Spartak fans, arranged in neat rows, started up a braying chant.
There were maybe 15 boys here, between the ages of 12 and 17; trainee ultras who showed up to support the trainee-players on the field. The Spartak fans cycled through about five chants. Some of the precariously held tunes I recognised as English football chants, rewritten with loosely scanning Russian words. Others sound like old Soviet folk-songs. The singing was led by Arkady (not his real name), a boy with an unlovely yet muscular voice and a Beatles-ish mop. He rocked on his heels, head back, eyes closed, almost prayerfully, while the other boys followed his cues.
The half time whistle blew and, finally, the Spartak boys fell quiet, and settled into their plastic chairs. An announcer politely asked, through the crackling tannoy, that supporters refrain from shouting racist slogans. Arkady is, by his own admission, a Spartak superfan. “I stand in the apolitical part of the stadium,” he said. “The firms and forest fights aren’t for me. Too many of those guys have been banned from coming to matches.”
But boys like Arkady have learned what it means to be a football fan in a climate defined by men like Nikitin and Shprygin. In the second half, Spartak’s standout player was Sylvanus Nimely, a 19-year-old striker from Liberia, one of only two black players on the field – who showed untiring commitment even after his side was reduced to 10 men. At one point, when Nimely streaked forward with the ball, a Vladivostok player slid in from behind and the Liberian international crumpled to the ground, rolling in agony on his back as his teammates clustered around. Arkady whispered something conspiratorial to his crew. Then he leaned back and emitted a low “Ooooooh.” The note gathered and grew in volume as each boy in turn added his voice to the crescendo. And then, in unison, with faces as clean as cherubs, they began to sing a racist song.
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The small fishing village of Houtouwan on the Chinese island of Shengshan has been abandoned since the 1990’s. Due to increased competition with nearby Shanghai and a depleted fishing supply, residents were forced to find work in other towns, leaving their own coastal village to the whim of Mother Nature.
Today the ghost town is only visited by tourists curious to see the vine-wrapped homes and other buildings swallowed by untamed greenery. Shanghai-based photographer and videographer Joe Nafis visited the area last year with fellow photographer Dave Tacon. It took them nearly 36 hours to reach the village due to lack of ferries or connection with other towns in the area. Once in town, Nafis explored the area on foot, as well as from above with his drone.
“Using the drone to explore the village first was a good idea as the paths were not well maintained and overgrown,” Nafis tells Colossal. “Some of the buildings were in tatters, while others looked like they were going through a remodel. It was all very strange. On the Sunday there were a few tourists, about ten to fifteen, and then on Monday we were the only people in the village other than the three to four that still lived there.”
You can view drone footage from the photographer’s visit to the overgrown village in the video below. He recently released an aerial time lapse video focusing on Shanghai’s urban development over the last seven years on his website, and more video-based projects by Nafis can be found on his Instagram and Vimeo. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
In 2016, KrebsOnSecurity exposed a network of phony Web sites and fake online reviews that funneled those seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction toward rehab centers that were secretly affiliated with the Church of Scientology. Not long after the story ran, that network of bogus reviews disappeared from the Web. Over the past few months, however, the same prolific purveyor of these phantom sites and reviews appears to be back at it again, enlisting the help of Internet users and paying people $25-$35 for each fake listing.
Sometime in March 2018, ads began appearing on Craigslist promoting part-time “social media assistant” jobs, in which interested applicants are directed to sign up for positions at seorehabs[dot]com. This site promotes itself as “leaders in addiction recovery consulting,” explaining that assistants can earn a minimum of $25 just for creating individual Google for Business listings tied to a few dozen generic-sounding addiction recovery center names, such as “Integra Addiction Center,” and “First Exit Recovery.”
The listing on Craigslist.com advertising jobs for creating fake online businesses tied to addiction rehabilitation centers.
Applicants who sign up are given detailed instructions on how to step through Google’s anti-abuse process for creating listings, which include receiving a postcard via snail mail from Google that contains a PIN which needs to be entered at Google’s site before a listing can be created.
Assistants are cautioned not to create more than two listings per street address, but otherwise to use any U.S.-based street address and to leave blank the phone number and Web site for the new business listing.
A screen shot from Seorehabs’ instructions for those hired to create rehab center listings.
In my story Scientology Seeks Captive Converts Via Google Maps, Drug Rehab Centers, I showed how a labyrinthine network of fake online reviews that steered Internet searches toward rehab centers funded by Scientology adherents was set up by TopSeek Inc., which bills itself as a collection of “local marketing experts.” According to LinkedIn, TopSeek is owned by John Harvey, an individual (or alias) who lists his address variously as Sacramento, Calif. and Hawaii.
Although the current Web site registration records from registrar giant Godaddy obscure the information for the current owner of seorehabs[dot]com, a historic WHOIS search via DomainTools shows the site was also registered by John Harvey and TopSeek in 2015. Mr. Harvey did not respond to requests for comment. [Full disclosure: DomainTools previously was an advertiser on KrebsOnSecurity].
TopSeek’s Web site says it works with several clients, but most especially Narconon International — an organization that promotes the rather unorthodox theories of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction.
As described in Narconon’s Wikipedia entry, Narconon facilities are known not only for attempting to win over new converts to Scientology, but also for treating all substance abuse addictions with a rather bizarre cocktail consisting mainly of vitamins and long hours in extremely hot saunas. Their Wiki entry documents multiple cases of accidental deaths at Narconon facilities, where some addicts reportedly died from overdoses of vitamins or neglect.
A LUCRATIVE RACKET
Bryan Seely, a security expert who has written extensively about the use of fake search listings to conduct online bait-and-switch scams, said the purpose of sites like those that Seorehabs pays people to create is to funnel calls to a handful of switchboards that then sell the leads to rehab centers that have agreed to pay for them. Many rehab facilities will pay hundreds of dollars for leads that may ultimately lead to a new patient. After all, Seely said, some facilities can then turn around and bill insurance providers for thousands of dollars per patient.
Perhaps best known for a stunt in which he used fake Google Maps listings to intercept calls destined for the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, Seely has learned a thing or two about this industry: Until 2011, he worked for an SEO firm that helped to develop and spread some of the same fake online reviews that he is now helping to clean up.
“Mr. Harvey and TopSeek are crowdsourcing the data input for these fake rehab centers,” Seely said. “The phone numbers all go to just a few dedicated call centers, and it’s not hard to see why. The money is good in this game. He sells a call for $50-$100 at a minimum, and the call center then tries to sell that lead to a treatment facility that has agreed to buy leads. Each lead can be worth $5,000 to $10,000 for a patient who has good health insurance and signs up.”
This graph illustrates what happens when someone calls one of these Seorehabs listings. Source: Bryan Seely.
Many of the listings created by Seorehab assistants are tied to fake Google Maps entries that include phony reviews for bogus treatment centers. In the event those listings get suspended by Google, Seorehab offers detailed instructions on how assistants can delete and re-submit listings.
Assistants also can earn extra money writing fake, glowing reviews of the treatment centers:
Below are some of the plainly bogus reviews and listings created in the last month that pimp the various treatment center names and Web sites provided by Seorehabs. It is not difficult to find dozens of other examples of people who claim to have been at multiple Seorehab-promoted centers scattered across the country. For example, “Gloria Gonzalez” supposedly has been treated at no fewer than seven Seorehab-marketed detox locations in five states, penning each review just in the last month:
A reviewer using the name “Tedi Spicer” also promoted at least seven separate rehab centers across the United States in the past month. Getting treated at so many far-flung facilities in just the few months that the domains for these supposed rehab centers have been online would be an impressive feat:
Bring up any of the Web sites for these supposed rehab listings and you’ll notice they all include the same boilerplate text and graphic design. Aside from combing listings created by the reviewers paid to promote the sites, we can find other Seorehab listings just by searching the Web for chunks of text on the sites. Doing so reveals a long list (this is likely far from comprehensive) of domain names registered in the past few months that were all created with hidden registration details and registered via Godaddy.
Seely said he spent a few hours this week calling dozens of phone numbers tied to these rehab centers promoted by TopSeek, and created a spreadsheet documenting his work and results here (Google Sheets).
Seely said while he would never advocate such activity, TopSeek’s fake listings could end up costing Mr. Harvey plenty of money if someone figured out a way to either mass-report the listings as fraudulent or automate calls to the handful of hotlines tied to the listings.
“It would kill his business until he changes all the phone numbers tied to these fake listings, but if he had to do that he’d have to pay people to rebuild all the directories that link to these sites,” he said.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT FAKE ONLINE REVIEWS
Before doing business with a company you found online, don’t just pick the company that comes up at the top of search results on Google or any other search engine. Unfortunately, that generally guarantees little more than the company is good at marketing.
Take the time to research the companies you wish to hire before booking them for jobs or services — especially when it comes to big, expensive, and potentially risky services like drug rehab or moving companies. By the way, if you’re looking for a legitimate rehab facility, you could do worse than to start at rehabs.com, a legitimate rehab search engine.
It’s a good idea to get in the habit of verifying that the organization’s physical address, phone number and Web address shown in the search result match that of the landing page. If the phone numbers are different, use the contact number listed on the linked site.
Take the time to learn about the organization’s reputation online and in social media; if it has none (other than a Google Maps listing with all glowing, 5-star reviews), it’s probably fake. Search the Web for any public records tied to the business’ listed physical address, including articles of incorporation from the local secretary of state office online.
Seely said one surefire way to avoid these marketing shell games is to ask a simple question of the person who answers the phone in the online listing.
“Ask anyone on the phone what company they’re with,” Seely said. “Have them tell you, take their information and then call them back. If they aren’t forthcoming about who they are, they’re most likely a scam.”
In 2016, Seely published a book on Amazon about the thriving and insanely lucrative underground business of fake online reviews. He’s agreed to let KrebsOnSecurity republish the entire e-book, which is available for free at this link (PDF).
“This is literally the worst book ever written about Google Maps fraud,” Seely said. “It’s also the best. Is it still a niche if I’m the only one here? The more people who read it, the better.”
Okvalificerade arbeten som bara innehåller enkla, repetitiva moment var något vi förknippade med gamla tiders industrijobb. Som att stansa samma hål i en plåt 800 gånger per dag, eller liknande.
Det digitala samhället har dock inte befriat oss från lågbetalda och monotona jobb. Men nu handlar det till exempel om att för några ören klicka på bild efter bild efter bild som innehåller en bil, eller något annat objekt – med syftet att träna ”AI”, dvs maskinlärnings-algoritmer, med basdata.
Viktigt att komma ihåg att även en låg ersättning kan vara en viktig inkomst i fattiga delar, och även ett enformigt jobb är bättre och säkrare än många alternativ.
Men kommer inte även dessa jobb att försvinna snart? Kanske inte: så länge priset kan pressas ner kan det förmodligen löna sig att fortsätta använda människor. Riskkapitalisten som intervjuas i artikeln ser att människor kommer att finnas med i AI-utvecklingen ”for a long, long, long time to come”. Och han ser ”billions of dollars of opportunity” i att låta lågbetalda människor driva AI.
*Kom ihåg definitionen av digital arbetsmiljö: alla förhållanden i arbetet där man styrs av eller interagerar med digitala system.
Last Friday something truly remarkable happened: a public company that had grown its valuation from $539 million to nearly $7 billion in seven years announced it was changing its business model. The company was Zillow, and the stock market quickly put a price on how big of a risk the company was taking; from CNBC:
Zillow shares plunged 9 percent on Friday after the online real estate database company announced it will begin buying and selling homes, a capital-intensive endeavor. With Zillow’s new program, announced on Thursday, home sellers in the test markets of Phoenix and Las Vegas will be able to use Zillow’s platform to compare offers from potential buyers — and Zillow. When Zillow purchases a home, it will aim to quickly flip the home, making updates and repairs and listing it as soon as possible. An agent will represent Zillow in each transaction.
“We’re entering that market and think we have huge advantages because we have access to the huge audience of sellers and buyers,” Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff said on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.” “After testing for a year in a marketplace model, we’re ready to be an investor in our own marketplace.”
But investors are less enthusiastic. Flipping homes, a model that’s being utilized by start-up Opendoor, is very different than operating an internet marketplace. It carries additional risk associated with buying and selling homes and requires a hefty investment in operations. And it also potentially puts Zillow in direct competition with the realtors on its platform. Zillow sank $5, or 9.3 percent, to $48.77 as of mid-day on Friday, knocking more than $900 million off its stock market value.
That’s a lot of money to bet on…well, what exactly? What kind of company is Zillow today, and what kind of company does it hope to be in the future?
Demand-driven multi-sided networks that result in decreasing acquisition costs
This allows Aggregators to leverage an initial user experience advantage with a relatively small number of users into power over some number of suppliers, which come onto the platform on the Aggregator’s terms, enhancing the user experience and attracting more users, setting off a virtuous cycle of an ever-increasing user base leading to ever-increasing power over suppliers.
Not all Aggregators are the same, though; they vary based on the cost of supply:
Level 1 Aggregators have to acquire their supply and win by leveraging their user base into superior buying power (i.e. Netflix).
Level 2 Aggregators do not own their supply but incur significant marginal costs in scaling supply (i.e. Airbnb or Uber).
Level 3 Aggregators have zero supply costs (i.e. App Stores or social networks)
Where, then, does Zillow fit? It certainly has the hallmarks of an Aggregator: users go to Zillow directly to look for homes, Zillow incurs zero marginal costs to serve those users, and the company has created a two-sided market where its suppliers (home sellers) are incentivized to come onto the platform on Zillow’s terms in order to reach Zillow’s end users, thus making the platform more attractive to those end users.
The question of supply is more complicated; in North America real estate listings are gathered in hundreds of local multiple listing services (MLSs) run by local realtor associations, and access is restricted to brokers in that local region. Redfin got access to those listings by becoming a broker itself, but Zillow, at least at the beginning, relied on brokers uploading listings themselves — which they were willing to do, thanks to the userbase Zillow had already built up thanks in part to its Zestimate house valuation tool.
This was Aggregation Theory in action: gain users with a new kind of user experience, then leverage that user base to get suppliers to come onto your platform on your terms, further improving the user experience. And, eventually, Zillow was able to parlay that user base into direct access to those MLS services, first via the owners of Realtor.com, and then, when they pulled the agreement, via local MLSs and brokers directly who understood how important it was to stay on Zillow.
Interestingly, this means that Zillow arguably started out as a Level 3 Aggregator, and then stepped down to a hybrid of Level 1 and Level 2: cutting all of those deals is expensive, and the company does pay for the data, but it’s not exclusive by any means. And this, by extension, gets at why Zillow, despite having so many of the characteristics of an Aggregator, just doesn’t seem nearly as important as companies like Netflix or Airbnb or Facebook: it has accommodated itself to the real estate industry; it hasn’t transformed it.
The Real Estate Media Company
The first sentence in Zillow’s S-1 was its mission statement: “Our mission is to build the most trusted and vibrant home-related marketplace to empower consumers with information and tools to make intelligent decisions about homes.” In 2014, though, the company coined a new description for itself: a “real-estate media company.”
The occasion was the purchase of Trulia: both companies made money selling ads to real estate agents eager to get their listings at the top of the two real estate aggregators that were the top two starting points for real estate searches; by emphasizing they were both media companies Zillow could claim they both had many competitors and weren’t competitive with real estate agents all at the same time.
It also had the benefit of being true (until last week). The real estate business in North America has long been an expensive quagmire, for reasons I laid out when Zillow bought Trulia:
While real estate transactions in the aggregate are very frequent, for individual buyers and sellers they are very rare. Thus there is little incentive to push for a simpler solution.
A real estate transaction is usually the largest transaction most buyers and sellers will undertake, which makes them very risk averse and unwilling to try an unconventional service.
There is a lot of regulation and paperwork associated with a real estate transaction, where assistance is very valuable. And, as just noted, transactions are rare, which means there is little incentive to learn how to deal with said regulations and paperwork on your own.
Combine the reticence of consumers to push for change with the local realtor association-controlled MLSs, and a willingness by realtors to punish anyone changing the status quo (by not showing a house, or pointing out flaws that would kill a sale), and the best outcome for Zillow was to be an aggregator but not an integrator: the company was completely removed from the purchase process.
Integration and Aggregation
This gets at why Zillow, for all of its success, seems so underwhelming compared to other Aggregators. One of the key theories underpinning Aggregation Theory is Clayton Christensen’s Conservation of Attractive Profits, which I explored in the context of Netflix while developing the theory:
The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits1 [was] first explained by Clayton Christensen in his 2003 book The Innovator’s Solution:
Formally, the law of conservation of attractive profits states that in the value chain there is a requisite juxtaposition of modular and interdependent architectures, and of reciprocal processes of commoditization and de-commoditization, commoditization, that exists in order to optimize the performance of what is not good enough. The law states that when modularity and commoditization cause attractive profits to disappear at one stage in the value chain, the opportunity to earn attractive profits with proprietary products will usually emerge at an adjacent stage.
That’s a bit of a mouthful, but the example that follows in the book shows how powerful this observation is:
If you think about it in a hardware context, because historically the microprocessor had not been good enough, then its architecture inside was proprietary and optimized and that meant that the computer’s architecture had to be modular and conformable to allow the microprocessor to be optimized. But in a little hand held device like the RIM BlackBerry, it’s the device itself that’s not good enough, and you therefore cannot have a one-size-fits-all Intel processor inside of a BlackBerry, but instead, the processor itself has to be modular and conformable so that it has on it only the functionality that the BlackBerry needs and none of the functionality that it doesn’t need. So again, one side or the other needs to be modular and conformable to optimize what’s not good enough.
Did you catch that? That was Christensen, a full four years before the iPhone, explaining why it was that Intel was doomed in mobile even as ARM would become ascendent.2 When the basis of competition changed away from pure processor performance to a low-power system the chip architecture needed to switch from being integrated (Intel) to being modular (ARM), the latter enabling an integrated BlackBerry then, and an integrated iPhone four years later.3
More broadly, breaking up a formerly integrated system — commoditizing and modularizing it — destroys incumbent value while simultaneously allowing a new entrant to integrate a different part of the value chain and thus capture new value.
This is exactly what is happening with Airbnb, Uber, and Netflix too.
This is the original piece of Aggregation Theory that was missing from last year’s Defining Aggregators: it is one thing to sit on top of an existing industry and, well, be a media company/lead generation tool. There have been a whole host of businesses that did exactly that, and while there is plenty of money to be made, without some sort of integration into the value chain of the industry itself they simply aren’t transformative. To put it another way, aggregation doesn’t transform value chains; integration does.
Why aggregation matters is that it is the means by which new integrations are achieved:
Netflix leveraged its position as an aggregator of video content into the integration of the customer relationship and content creation, undoing the integration of linear channels and content creation
Airbnb/Uber and other similar services integrate the customer relationship with the driver/homeowner relationship, undoing the integration of cars/property with payment
Google and Facebook integrated content discovery with advertising, undoing the integration of editorial and advertising
More broadly — and this really gets at why Zillow is different — Aggregators that change industries (including Aggregator-like Amazon and Apple that deal with physical goods) integrate the customer relationship with however it is their industry generates revenue; Zillow, on the other hand, was completely divorced from the home selling-and-buying process.
The Threat to Zillow — and the Opportunity
Again, not all companies need to be Aggregators, and as I noted at the beginning, Zillow has become a very successful company by getting half-way there. And, to return to that Daily Update about their purchase of Trulia, I didn’t think it was even possible for them to go all the way:
So then, perhaps this deal isn’t anticompetitive, but rather the key to building a company big enough to finally shake up the homebuying process? That’s Brad Stone’s argument in Bloomberg Businessweek…But remember, Zillow/Trulia are marketing tools; who is paying for that tool? Stone has the answer in the next paragraph:
The companies, which rely on advertising from real estate agents for the bulk of their revenues, are being careful about how they discuss the future of their combined efforts.
What Stone characterizes as “careful” I characterize “prudent” and “truthful”, because let’s be honest: Zillow/Trulia are not going to bite the hand that feeds them. Nor should they! It would be irresponsible to their shareholders, employees, and all their other stakeholders. It’s very easy to fantasize about disruption; it’s much more productive to simply follow the money. (This is why Redfin is the more interesting company in this space; they use their own network of real estate agents. It’s also why they are much smaller, despite having had a head start.)
This is why last week’s news was such a surprise, to me anyways; granted, Zillow had been experimenting with facilitating sales to investors, but to fundamentally change your capital structure, margin profile, and compete with your customers in one fell swoop feels like something else entirely — and Wall Street agreed!
I can, though, see where Zillow is coming from: no one thinks the North American real estate market is the way it is because that is somehow optimal or good for consumers; the only folks that benefit from the status quo are real estate agents that continue to collect 6% of the purchase price even as their responsibilities, particularly in the case of the buying agent, run in the opposite direction of their incentives. Zillow did well to capture a portion of that 6% for itself through its realtor ad model, but that only meant that Zillow was as dependent on the status quo as the realtors.
To be sure, Zillow has long been a better bet than Redfin, which has admirably IPO’d with a business that basically adds a tech layer (and thus superior lead generation) to a traditional real estate agency; the reality is that simply adding a tech layer doesn’t change industries — that requires new business models. This, though, is where Opendoor, the startup I wrote about in 2016, is compelling: buying houses with the click-of-a-button solves a major problem for sellers, the most disadvantaged party in the entire value chain under the status quo (and thus the most open to something new). And, by definition, it means the company (and competitors like OfferPad) are involved with the transaction that drives the value chain — the actual buying and selling of homes.
Make no mistake, the business model is risky, but that is another way of saying the potential return is massive as well: truly becoming a market maker for an industry that does $900 billion worth of transactions every year has massive upside. And, by extension, massive downside for the status quo — which again, includes Zillow. That is one reason to act.
Even so, that might not have been enough for Zillow to make such a shift: remember, this is a public company accountable to shareholders, and sometimes doubling down is the most prudent course of action. That, though, is why I spent so much time discussing integration: there is a massive amount of upside for Zillow in this move as well.
Remember, Zillow is in nearly every respect already an Aggregator: it is by far the number one place people go when they want to look for a new house, and at a minimum the starting point for research when they want to sell one. They own the customer relationship! What has always been missing is the integration with the purchase itself — until last week. Zillow is making a play to be a true Aggregator — one that transforms its industry by integrating the customer relationship with the most important transaction in its respective value chain — by becoming directly involved in the buying and selling of houses.
The Zillow Experiment
This absolutely could go sidewise: Zillow is already being hammered in the stock market — investors aren’t generally fans of high-margin companies entering low-margin businesses, with huge amounts of volatility risk to boot. Moreover, Zillow is embracing a model that, should it be successful, tears down the status quo: this will not only enrage Zillow’s customers, but also endanger Zillow’s primary revenue stream.
Here, though, Zillow’s status as an almost-Aggregator looms large: we now have years’ worth of evidence that realtors will do what it takes to ensure their listings appear on Zillow, because Zillow controls end users. It very well may be the case that realtors will find themselves with no choice but to continue giving Zillow the money the company needs to disrupt their industry.
I will certainly be watching closely: how Zillow fares will result in lessons that may be applicable broadly. Think of Spotify, for example: I was a bit bearish on the company last month because of the power of Spotify’s suppliers; the bull case is that Spotify’s ownership of the customer relationship will allow the company to build out the capability to sidestep the record labels even as the record labels can’t punish Spotify because they need them. That’s exactly what Zillow is testing right now: just how much power comes from being an Aggregator, and how much an industry can be transformed when that power is wielded.
Later renamed the Law of Conservation of Modularity
As I’ve noted, the iPhone is in fact modular at the component level; the integration is between the completed phone and the software. Not appreciating that the point of integration (or modularity) can be anywhere in the value chain is, I believe, at the root of a lot of mistaken analysis about the iPhone in particular
You killed the messenger. But you won’t kill the message.
Over the past six months 45 journalists from 15 different countries have been working in secret to complete and publish investigations by the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed on 16 October 2017.
Cooperation is without a doubt the best protection. What is the point of killing a journalist if 10, 20 or 30 others are waiting to carry on their work? Whether you’re a dictator, the leader of a drug cartel or a corrupt businessman, exposure of your crimes is your biggest fear. Journalists are the enemy of the corrupt ecosystem that you have constructed. But what if this exposure becomes global, and the message amplified? Wherever you go, you will be questioned by the world’s press. Whatever you are trying to hide will be magnified.
And this is the mission of our new international platform, Forbidden stories: a network of journalists who are ready to take over whenever a journalist is imprisoned or assassinated. The idea is to ensure the survival of stories.
The 45 journalists who collaborated on the Daphne Project, including reporters from the Guardian, have one clear goal: to inform the public about corruption and money-laundering in Malta, within the European Union, drawing on evidence that Daphne Caruana Galizia courageously revealed over the course of 30 years.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murderers must know they failed. They took the life of a 53-year-old journalist and mother of three children. But whoever ordered her murder, wherever they may be today, has lost. In the coming days, the latest investigations that she was working on will be shared with millions of citizens around the world.
The Daphne Project is the first Forbidden Stories cross-border investigation – a venture I started to envisage three years ago, after a tragic event.
‘Censorship is depriving millions of people of information that is fundamental for their societies and their future'
On 7 January 2015, my office neighbours, the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, were massacred by terrorists from Yemen’s al-Qaida branch. The office of the press agency where I am working, Première Lignes, was just opposite Hebdo’s. By chance, I arrived at the office a few minutes after the assailants had left. As I reached the offices of Charlie Hebdo, I was faced with the horror of seeing colleagues lying suddenly silent, motionless, dead.
In 20 years of work I have covered several conflicts, including Iraq and Kashmir. I’ve investigated dictatorships. But this time it had happened in my close environment. Journalists killed for their drawings. This experience convinced me of the need for a “journalistic” response to crimes committed against the press. To defeat censorship through collaborative journalism.
In creating our platform, we have been inspired by similar initiatives. In 1976 the American journalist Don Bolles was killed when his car exploded in Phoenix, Arizona. In the days that followed, Investigative Reporters & Editors brought together 38 journalists from around the US to finish the investigation that the Arizona Republic journalist had started. In 2015, when the investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was locked up in Azerbaijan, a dozen colleagues from the Organised Crime Corruption Reporting Project also pursued her investigation into the corruption and tax evasion of the ruling family in Baku. Just as courageous were the journalists from the Brazilian nonprofit organisation, ABRAJI, who carried on the work started by the reporter Tim Lopez, who was burned alive in 2002 by drug traffickers in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.
In 2018, journalists continue to be murdered for their work on toxic waste trafficking, tax evasion, corruption and human rights violations. This censorship is depriving millions of citizens of information that is fundamental for their societies and the future of their countries.
It’s up to us journalists to ensure a “Streisand effect” for these investigations that have been suppressed. In 2002, when the singer, Barbara Streisand filed a complaint to remove images of her Malibu home from a website site about erosion of the Californian coast. Filing a complaint was a huge mistake. Not only did the Californian court rule in favour of the defendant, but the very process that Streisand had started attracted curious eyes. After her lawsuit, the site in question had been visited 400 000 times, whereas before she filed a complaint it had had only had six visits, two of them from her own lawyers. The Streisand effect is at the very core of Forbidden Stories: journalism to defend journalism. With this kind of solidarity, we can ensure that investigations survive.
• Laurent Richard is a journalist at Premières Lignes Télévision, and the founder of the Forbidden Stories platform
Dela! Tagga! Gilla! Med den nya föreslagna spellagen blir det enklare för företag att anordna tävlingar i sociala medier. Men hur lätt är det att vinna? Under två veckors tid deltog jag i alla tävlingar jag kunde hitta.
Min redaktör föreslår att jag ska delta i alla tävlingar jag hittar i sociala medier och skriva om det.
– Jag vill att det ska vara hundraplus tävlingar, säger hon.
Det låter ju som ett kul jobb. Jag säger ja.
Jag scrollar igenom mina flöden – det dyker inte upp några tävlingar. Jag ber kompisar och kollegor att tagga mig i alla de ser. Lite tips får jag men det räcker inte.
I den här takten kommer jag inte hitta några hundraplus tävlingar. Jag googlar ”tävlingar på internet” och hittar en portal där det läggs upp nya tävlingar varje dag. Yes.
Första dagen deltar jag i ett tjugotal tävlingar. Jag tävlar om en brandbil i plast, Legofilmen, ett headset, en resa till Maldiverna, biljetter till Skansen och fyra förpackningar te.
Tävlingarna ställer olika krav: vissa kräver att man hittar på slogans, dikter och ramsor medan andra går ut på att man ska följa företagens konton i sociala medier, dela inlägg, tagga kompisar eller typ infoga en ros-emoji i kommentarsfältet.
Jag bakar en tårta
Jag vill ha en svårare utmaning och hittar en tävling som går ut på att man ska baka en tårta. Kravet är att man ska använda ett särskilt strössel och priset är ett presentkort på köksmaskiner på 3 000 kronor.
Jag har aldrig i mitt liv bakat en tårta så jag frågar min kollega Thomas om tips.
– Du mosar banan och blandar med vispad grädde och kakao. Sen lägger du smeten på färdiga sockerkaksbottnar, säger han.
Konkurrensen är hård: 600 personer deltar redan i tävlingen på Instagram. För att jag ska ha en vinstchans inser jag att tårtan måste pimpas.
När jag ser konkurrenternas tårtor blir jag först lite modfälld. Jag säger till Thomas att jag är rädd att tårtan inte kommer funka.
– Näe, den är ingen vinnare, men den är god, säger han.
Tårtan gör dock inte succé i fikarummet, efter en vecka måste halva tårtan slängas. Själv kan jag inte uttala mig om smaken – jag är vegan.
Thomas påstår att jag har förstört hans tårta.
– Alltså tårtan ska bara bestå av den där geggan gjord på grädde, kakao och bananer. På den får man ha bananer, alternativt chokladströssel. INGET ANNAT.
”Varifrån kommer den plötsliga tävlingsmanin?”
Vanligtvis är jag ytterst sparsam med att dela saker i sociala medier. Jag interagerar och publicerar sällan saker men följer med stort intresse vad alla andra gör. En typisk sociala medier-stalker.
Min redaktör säger att jag kan skapa ett alias att tävla med om jag vill. Men jag skippar det eftersom jag misstänker att det kan minska mina vinstchanser. Jag delar alla tävlingar jag hittar på min tidslinje och taggar människor vildsint.
Folk börjar snart fråga vad jag håller på med.
Jag äter tacos med två vänner som känner till mitt tävlingsprojekt. De berättar att de träffade en gemensam kompis som var mycket frågvis kring mitt tävlande.
– Hon sa: ”varför tävlar Lo så jävla mycket?”. Hon trodde att du hade dåligt med pengar eller något.
Bryter mot reglerna
Enligt Facebooks regler får företag inte ställa krav på att tävlingsdeltagare ska dela inlägg på sin tidslinje, eller tagga sina vänner. Ändå är det över 50 av tävlingarna jag deltar i som ställer just det kravet.
Jag mejlar Facebooks presstalesperson.
– Den här regeln finns för att det annars skulle drabba andra användare negativt, då deras respektive nyhetsflöden och tidslinjer skulle svämma över av tävlingar, skriver Anton som inte vill uppge sitt efternamn utan tycker att jag ska referera till Facebook istället.
Anton säger att Facebook försöker göra det lättare att anmäla tävlingar som bryter mot reglerna.
– När något anmäls till Facebook granskar vi ärendet och tar bort allt som bryter mot våra gemenskapsregler.
Tävlingar som bryter mot lotterilagen
Facebooks regler är ju en sak, men vad säger lotterilagen? Är de här tävlingarna ens lagliga?
I den här artikeln har jag (slarvigt) använt ”tävlingar” som ett paraplybegrepp som innefattar både tävlingar och lotterier. Det finns nämligen en skillnad mellan dem.
Ett lotteri definieras av att slumpen avgör vem som vinner ett pris. Det kan till exempel gå ut på att du bara måste dela ett inlägg, tagga kompisar, infoga en emoji eller besvara en faktafråga. Företag får inte hålla i lotterier. Enbart ideella föreningar kan ansöka om att få hålla i lotterier.
En tävling innebär att deltagaren måste uppvisa en prestation för att vinna, där hen kan särskilja sig från andra. Det kan röra sig om att deltagarna ska hitta på en slogan, behöver skriva en dikt eller en motivering för varför just de ska vinna. Det är tillåtet för företag att hålla i tävlingar.
Trots detta översvämmas mitt flöde alltså av lotterier. Under 2016 fick Lotteriinspektionen in 893 tips på illegala lotterier och förra året var siffran 422.
– Det är det vi får in absolut mest tips om, säger Josefin Aronsson på Lotteriinspektionen som bara fört statistik över detta i två år.
– Det kan vara konkurrerande företag eller allmänheten som ringer. Det kan vara folk som tycker det är störande att det kommer upp lotterier i deras flöde.
Lågt prioriterat brott
Om Lotteriinspektionen får in ett tips om att ett företag anordnar ett illegalt lotteri kan de ingripa – men det är ”en bedömningsfråga från fall till fall”, enligt Aronsson.
I ringa fall blir det sällan någon dom. Bryter ett företag mot lagen upprepade gånger är det mer troligt att Lotteriinspektionen hör av sig. Men det blir ofta skriftlig information om lotterilagen, sällan en polisanmälan.
Men vad är det då för mening att folk hör av sig till er, om ni inte går vidare med fallen rent juridiskt?
– Att skriva och informera är mer effektivt. Om vi skulle polisanmäla dem istället så är risken ganska stor att polisen inte har tid att prioritera ärendet, och då skulle det ju inte hända någonting.
– Lotteriinspektionen har inte möjlighet att lägga alla sina resurser på Facebook, säger Aronsson.
Istället prioriteras den sortens illegalt spelande som har stor social och ekonomisk påverkan. Det kan röra sig om illegala spelautomater, pokerspel och pyramidspel där deltagarna riskerar att bli av med en insats.
Regeringen vill legalisera fler lotterier
Den som är irriterad på lotterierna nu, kanske inte gillar att regeringens förslag om en förändrad spelmarknad med stor sannolikhet träder i kraft, 1 januari 2019.
Den nuvarande lotterilagen kommer i så fall ersättas av en ny spellag som innebär att det inte längre kommer krävas ett särskilt tillstånd för att få lotta ut priser. Det skulle alltså bli fritt fram för företag att göra det, även i sociala medier, så länge lotterierna inte kostar pengar.
Reglerna går tillbaka till 30-talet
Förklaringen till att företag inte tillåts ordna lotterier på sociala medier idag går faktiskt tillbaka till 30-talet.
Företag förbjöds att hålla ”gratislotterier”. Man ansåg att även om det inte kostade något så krävdes en annan slags insats för att delta: deltagarens tid och energi.
Idag ansöker ideella organisationer om tillstånd för att hålla i lotterier av Lotteriinspektionen, men på 40-talet fick de vända sig till självaste kungen – då Gustav V.
Men finns det inte en risk att lotterierna fullkomligen exploderar på sociala medier då?
Jag försöker få tag i civilminister Ardalan Shekarabi (S) som har lagt fram lagförslaget. Hans pressekreterare Matilda Glas säger att de ska svara på mitt mejl. Inget svar kommer.
Men så en dag ser jag Shekarabi och Glas på en etiopisk lunchrestaurang vid S:t Eriksplan. Jag ser min chans och går fram.
– Det här är en privat lunch, vi har inte tid att prata nu. Men mejla oss, säger Glas.
– Det var bra att du frågade i alla fall, säger Shekarabi som nog ser hur besviken jag blir.
Jag krigar vidare
Jag fortsätter tävlandet. Bland annat fajtas jag om:
En flaska med 0,5 liter apelsinolja
För att kunna vinna en flaska måste man:
Gilla företagets sida och inlägget.
Tagga en vän.
Ni kanske undrar vad apelsinolja är för något?
Det gjorde jag med.
Jag googlar, tack Wikipedia:
”En eterisk olja, ett rengöringsmedel som ofta förekommer i till exempel simhallar. Oljan kan användas till det mesta från att rengöra räcken till att rensa avlopp”.
Kyckling och matchande förkläde
När en matbutik lottar ut en ny sorts majskyckling och ett matchande förkläde är jag genast där och tävlar. Tillsammans med 91 andra Facebookanvändare.
En vegokompis markerar min tävlingskommentar med en arg emoji. Fan, nu kan jag säkert inte vinna längre.
Blommiga strumpor i plast
Jag tävlar om ett par svartvita duschstrumpor. ”Perfekt för dig som jobbar som undersköterska/ vårdbiträde!”.
De får en like och en delning.
Fler tycks tänka som jag. Över 1 800 personer deltar i tävlingen.
Vem har mina uppgifter nu?
I slutet av min tävlingsperiod briserar Facebookskandalen med Cambridge Analytica. För den som missat vad det handlar om så anklagas analysföretaget för att ha samlat in personlig information om 50 miljoner Facebookanvändare. Datan ska ha använts för att skapa avancerade profiler av användarna som fick riktat pro-Trump-material skickat till sig under det amerikanska valet.
Jag nojar jag lite: vad har jag egentligen lämnat ut för uppgifter om mig själv den senaste tiden? Vill jag ens veta? Och hur kommer tävlandet användas för att påverka mig?
Jag ringer upp Jonas Lejon, expert på IT-säkerhet för att få svar.
– All annonsering man gör på nätet vill man ju rikta in på den målgrupp som man är informerad om. Det är det man gjort med Cambridge Analytica, säger han.
Från 2014 blev det svårare att få tillgång till information från folks profiler. Då började man med Open Graph, vilket innebar att användarna själva fick bestämma vad som skulle vara offentligt och vad som skulle vara privat av innehållet på deras profiler. Frågan är dock hur upplysta Facebookanvändarna är om detta.
– Majoriteten av användarna vet kanske inte vad de delar med sig av. Man måste hjälpa dem att göra rätt val, säger Lejon.
Och det är fler än jag som har drabbats när jag delat grejer på Facebook.
– När du lämnar ifrån dig information på Facebook, lämnar du även ifrån dig information om dina vänner. Delar man med sig av information till ett företag så delar man också med sig av den informationen till deras samarbetspartners, säger Lejon.
Vilka är då de värsta uppgifterna att dela med sig av vid tävlingar, lotterier och quiz?
– De som identifierar dig som person. Typ personnummer, adress och registreringsnummer till bilen.
Med andra ord: exakt de uppgifter som jag på sistone har lämnat ut otaliga gånger. Kul.
Medborgares rättigheter stärks med GDPR
Den 25 maj i år införs GDPR – en EU-lag som syftar till att stärka integriteten för individer på internet. Bland annat anger den att alla företag som samlar in information måste inhämta samtycke avseende vad de delar med sig av.
Den innebär också att när man inte använder tjänster så kan man begära att informationen ska bli raderad. Det kommer även gälla till exempel Facebook då de gör affärer i Europa.
Så nu gäller det för företag att ställa om, och snabbt få grepp om hur de får – och inte får – hantera personuppgifter. Bryter man mot lagen kan det bli minst sagt svindyrt, eller vad sägs om 20 miljoner Euro?
Men nu till det viktiga, hur går det med mitt tävlande?
Det tar någon vecka men sen trillar första vinsten in. Yes!
Duschtvål och dagkräm.
För att delta i den här tävlingen skulle man motivera varför man ville vinna. Jag skrev så här:
Jag vinner även ett kit för att bleka tänderna.
En av mina framtänder är gjord av plast. Den riktiga tanden slogs ut när jag var liten och föll omkull efter att ha försökt kana ner för ett istäckt berg.
Därför kan jag inte använda tandblekningen. Jag vill inte ha tänder i olika färg. Men jag vann!
Zara Larsson berättar på Instagram att hon lottar ut biljetter till sin spelning på Berns. Det är en privat spelning där endast personer som vunnit biljetter via sociala medier får komma samt vänner och familj.
Man måste ladda upp en instabild med Zara Larsson-filter för att delta. Så det gjorde jag.
Och jag vinner!
Men trenden att jag inte får användning för mina vinster håller tyvärr i sig. Jag har redan en grej bokad den kvällen så jag ger bort biljetterna till en kollega. Här är ett foto från spelningen:
Jag lovar att sluta spamma er nu
Jag vann alltså 3 tävlingar av 129. Det tog mig ungefär tio timmar att delta i tävlingarna. Jag är ingen matematiker men priserna jag vann hade ett värde på cirka 1500 kronor.Jag tjänar alltså 116 kronor i timmen på att tävla.
Det är lite oklart om mitt tävlingsresultat är bra eller dåligt. Jag vet heller inte hur stor påverkan jag själv haft på resultatet. Hur gör man egentligen för att bli bra på att tävla på sociala medier? Fortfarande ett mysterium.
Men jag har fått ta mig en funderare: har jag verkligen tillämpat ”sund eftertanke” som säkerhetsexperten rekommenderade mig?
Nej, det kan man nog inte påstå.
När jag tävlat har jag många gånger lämnat ut just de uppgifter som Jonas Lejon angav som de allra känsligaste: fullständigt namn, personnummer och adress.
Vad som kommer hända med mina uppgifter nu vet jag inte. Men jag ska i alla fall sluta med sociala medier-tävlingar nu.
A leading editor at Hungary’s state television network punched the air in jubilation as he took a phone call on Sunday evening. Shortly afterwards, his subordinates realised what he had been told: Viktor Orbán had secured a resounding victory in the parliamentary election.
Orbán and his Fidesz party achieved a third consecutive supermajority in the Hungarian parliament after a campaign primarily fought on an anti-migrant platform. International monitors would later complain about the campaign’s “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric” and note that public television “clearly favoured the ruling coalition, at odds with international standards”.
The Guardian spoke to several employees of the taxpayer-funded MTVA network to hear the inside story of how its channels pumped out government messaging, and at times false stories, with the goal of winning support for the prime minister’s anti-immigration message.
The journalists recalled how the network would focus on negative stories about refugees and migrants, linking them to crime and terrorism.Even on the eve of polling, there was no letup, as the M1 channel incorrectly reported a van driving into a crowd of people in Münster, Germany, as an Islamist terrorist attack.
“I’d never experienced anything like that, even at MTVA: it was a clear lie,” said one of the journalists, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The government message that millions of dangerous migrants are waiting to enter Hungary is reinforced on TV and thousands of billboards across the country.
The Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros, who has put billions of dollars into promoting civil society in central and eastern Europe, is portrayed as being part of a plot with Brussels and the political opposition to destroy Hungary by letting in foreigners.
“I think it created an atmosphere of fear. Pavlov reflexes have been created for words like danger, terrorism, migrants, opposition, Soros and Brussels,” the journalist said. News programmes regularly show archive footage from 2015 of migrants walking in Budapest, clashes between refugees and riot police at the Hungary-Serbia border, or terrorist attacks in Europe.
“Tolerance is regularly criticised, while anti-immigration sentiment is presented as the only valid opinion,” the journalist said.
The journalists believe the anti-migrant messages often come directly from the government. People who work on stories directly involving Orbán receive a list of keywords to use. “Sometimes the editor will come into the office on the phone and dictate a whole story to us, word for word. We do not know who is on the other end of the phone,” said one.
Documents sent in error to junior MTVA staff and seen by the Guardian appear to confirm direct governmental involvement. Editorial directives produced by staff at the prime minister’s office are cut and pasted to give journalists talking points with which to carry out character assassinations of Hungarian citizens who are openly critical of the government.
One directive produced by the office last year targeted the activist Márton Gulyás, as well as a former Green party MPand a university professor. Another document focused on Soros.
An evening of debate organised by Gulyás entitled “resistance, disobedience – without violence” is spun as proof that Gulyás was preparing for unrestand clashes with police.
“It was completely ridiculous,” Gulyás said, recalling the subsequent coverage. “We had these plans to protest against the government, but our intentions were of course completely non-violent. But pro-Fidesz outlets were constantly accusing us of creating violence and scandals.”
When asked about the government directives, a spokesperson for Orbán said the government does not answer media queries as it has no control over the media. MTVA did not respond to a request for comment. The state-run media conglomerate has an annual budget of about 80bn forint (£223m).
Over the past eight years, the government has moved to consolidate its hold over Hungarian print, TV and radio networks, with many media resources being bought by government-linked figures.
Origo.hu, a popular news website, is one of many resources that changed hands, moving from a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom to ownership by the son of the governor of Hungary’s central bank.
András Pethö, who was the deputy editor but left in 2014 to co-found a new wesbite, direkt36.hu, said: “It was a really good place to do journalism, but then they started putting pressure on us to ignore certain stories. We didn’t comply, and my editor was forced out.
“I looked at Origo in the weeks before the election, and every second story had the word migrant in the headline.”
Meanwhile, the government-friendly media largely ignores corruption scandals that broke in the run-up to the election involving leading Fidesz figures.
Orbán has four more years to rule, with a two-thirds majority in parliament that allows him to change the constitution, and there are fears that the government may move against the remaining islands of critical media. The final edition of the daily, Magyar Nemzet, one of the few outlets to run critical stories before the election, was on Wednesday. The newspaper’s owner, a businessman who fell out with Orbán, decided to stop funding it.
In the aftermath of the vote, TV2, a television channel owned by a government-friendly businessman, ran a report naming 24 alleged Soros agents, including Gulyás, independent journalists and NGO leaders. On Wednesday, the pro-government weekly Figyelő also ran a list of supposed Soros agents.
The journalists said they had decided to speak out “from a sense of decency and truth”, and said some state TV employees were thinking of resigning after the election result.
“I felt terrible, because I could see that we can and did influence people,” said one. “Some of us had reassured ourselves that nobody watches us, that we don’t matter. It turns out that we do – awfully.”
Jag har arbetat med reklam i 20 år. Jag har alltså arbetat som säljare i 20 år. Ingen har så dåligt självförtroende som reklamen. Ingen har så gott självförtroende som reklamen. Jag står på en tunnelbaneperrong någonstans i Stockholm och Guldägget gör reklam för sin tävling, på stortavlorna över spåret, genom att visa bilder och fråga om det är reklam eller konst. Det är mer än gott självförtroende, det är hybris. Vi är säljare som skäms för att sälja. Så vi rationaliserar och vi tar i så vi skiter ner oss. Vi jämför oss helt fräckt med Leonardo da Vinci och Christer Strömholm.
”Detta är konst”, säger vi. ”Och detta är reklam.” Som vore det besläktat på något sätt, bara för att båda använder bilder. Som fanns där ett slags själslig connection. Mest deprimerande är den bakomliggande analysen, så banal som den framstår: Om människor inte gillar reklam så låt oss visa hur fin den kan vara. Då blir ju vi som konst, va?
Reklam och konst är som toppig giftspindling och trattkantarell. Till det yttre kan de vara så lika att det är svårt att skilja dem åt. Men en av dem förstör dina njurar och den andra är supermumsig på en toast.
Estetiken kan vara densamma. Etiken kan det inte. Det är så att säga grundpremissen.
Så här dåligt självförtroende har reklamen: Förra sommaren gjorde Sveriges Annonsörer en reklamkampanj med budskapet ”Reklam inte bara störande”. Där ber reklamen om ursäkt för att den finns samt säger att ”den betalar för teveprogrammen du ser, så att du slipper”.
Tänk om man skulle göra reklam för något annat än reklamen, med den approachen. ”Produkt X – inte bara värdelös.” ”Visst hatar många Y, men inte bara.”
Reklamen säger samtidigt ”detta är (nästan) konst” och ”vi är inte bara sämst”. Jag är säljare och det är okej. Men reklamen är snarare neurotiker än säljare. Den ber om sympati men skulle behöva terapi. Den skulle behöva sluta jämföra sig med annat, sluta vara så jävla ängslig och bekräftelsetörstande. Sluta upp med att hela tiden känna att den behöver motivera sin existens. Tror en säljare att hen är konstnär? Troligtvis inte. Säljaren skiter i konsten. Gör raketen, dansar med en näve i luften och klingar i en klocka så det skallrar i kontorslandskapet.
Se och lär, Guldägget och Sveriges annonsörer.
Disclaimer: Min favoritreklam, alla kategorier, är Four Days in LA, Versaces kampanj för höstkollektionen år 2000. Den består av bilder tagna av fotografen Steven Meisel och motiven är rika, olyckliga människor. Den är nästan chockerande, för den är så osympatisk och sorglig. Som en medveten parodi på det exkluderande i lyx. Det är också ett av mina favoritkonstverk. Bilderna har ställts ut på gallerier, utan Versaceloggan. Men det blir bättre konst med loggan. Kampanjen är så att säga undantaget som bekräftar regeln.
Faktiskt.se planerad svensk webbsajt för faktagranskning av nyheter. Sajten öppnas i april 2018 och är ett samarbete mellan bland andra Sveriges Television, Sveriges Radio Ekot, Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter och Mittmedia. Faktiskt.se ska inte ha en gemensam redaktion, utan de deltagande redaktionerna ska faktagranska var för sig.
Redan innan sajten öppnat lades en fejkad kopia ut. Samma namn men en annan toppdomän, snarlik logga – allt för att folk ska ta fel. Jag gjorde det själv, innan jag blev upplyst om att sajten hänvisar till källor som Michael Zazzio (jfr bloggposten om kolloidala silver-duon, Storkvackarna Sultan och Zazzio) och InfoWars, att den ju var lite väl ryssvänlig, med mera.
Hur tar man reda på om en sida är "äkta"? Eller åtminstone vilka som ligger bakom dem?
När det gäller ogenerade varumärkesstölder så skyltar skojarna naturligtvis inte med sina uppgifter på den annars obligatoriska Om-sidan. En enkel metod som fungerade här var att göra en s.k. whois-slagning på eurid.eu. Den sajten håller reda på alla .eu-domäner, vilka som registrerat dem, när osv.
Huruvida Faktiskt.se kommer att leverera när den väl öppnar är naturligtvis en helt annan sak.
It turns out cryptocurrencies and blockchains have a few problems.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are constantly in the news, as is the blockchain technology behind them.
If, like me, you don’t really understand these things, it’s hard to know what to make of all this. Is Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, the future or will this experiment gradually fade away like a historical footnote? Are cryptocurrencies actually decentralized or are they controlled by small groups of people? Are they fraud-proof or can they be manipulated by insiders?
To get some answers, I reached out to Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at UC Berkeley. Weaver teaches a course on blockchainsand seems to think the technology is, at best, misguided and, at worst, a fraud. So I asked him to lay out his case in the simplest possible terms.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
I don’t really understand Bitcoin or blockchains, and my sense is that I’m not alone. So let’s start with a basic question: What is a blockchain?
It depends on what you mean. There are private blockchains, which is a 20-year-old technology that somehow causes idiots to throw money at it, and then you have public blockchains, which is supposed to be a decentralized record-keeping structure but, in reality, is both centralized and horribly inefficient. The use of private blockchains is pretty varied because there’s nothing new and it’s an old idea. The use of public blockchains is basically limited to cryptocurrencies.
You say that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin aren’t decentralized, and yet people are enamored with these currencies precisely because they believe they’re decentralized. What are they missing?
None of the cryptocurrencies are truly decentralized. They’re actually centrally controlled by the miners, who can basically rewrite history at will.
I’m not sure we can understand who the miners are unless we understand how Bitcoin works. Can you walk me through this?
Imagine we have a public square that has written down everyone’s bank balance, and if I want to send you some money, I basically write a check to you and post it in the town square. The miners gather up all these unconfirmed checks and carve them into stone tablets that then go into the public square.
So if I sent you a check and you want to see that it’s good, you just look on the stone tablets and confirm that it’s good. Think of the miners as the record-keepers who manage all of this. They validate the checks, create them into a bundle (called a block), and then they get paid for their role in the process. These miners are the de facto central authority in cryptocurrency exchanges.
There are plenty of people who see cryptocurrencies, however flawed, as a step in the right direction because they at least take power away from governing authorities and give individuals more freedom. But you seem to think this is bullshit. Why?
Well, there are multiple arguments. These systems require an obscene amount of energy to function. And the blockchains are not decentralized and they’re not efficient, so that undercuts the two main points in their favor. But the cryptocurrencies don’t work either, because they don’t actually work as currencies.
What do you mean they don’t work as currencies?
The rationale for these things is that there’s no central authority, which means no one can block or undo a transaction. And so far at least, it’s true that transactions aren’t blocked. But why do you need such a system? Because you’re doing a transaction that a central authority would otherwise block, like paying off a hitman or buying drugs.
If that’s what you need money for,the cryptocurrencies are the only game in town. But if you don’t need to buy drugs or hitmen, the cryptocurrencies are vastly less efficient. I mean, look at the volatility of Bitcoin and other digital currencies — they’re all over the place. So if you go to one of the few legitimate merchants that take Bitcoins, they aren’t actually taking Bitcoins. They’re using a service that allows them to price in dollars, and that service immediately sells the Bitcoins and deposits the dollars with the merchants. So there’s a mandatory conversion step.
If I want to buy something with Bitcoin, I don’t like that the price is bouncing up and down either. So I have to turn my dollars into Bitcoins and then do the transaction, and that is a remarkably costly process. That, in my opinion, is not a system that works.
It appears that Bitcoin’s main accomplishment is that it allows people to buy things clandestinely, only in an absurdly inefficient way.
Correct. But if you want to buy something you don’t want people to know about, you can just use a pre-paid credit card. There’s still no need for Bitcoin.
You also say that all cryptocurrencies are plagued by frauds that were banned in the 1930s. Can you explain?
Cryptocurrency exchanges are not like regular stock exchanges. In a stock market exchange, stocks are all tied to together so the prices are very close. These Bitcoin exchanges are unregulated entities that allow all sorts of things that are outright frauds. For example, in a regular stock exchange, you’re not allowed to trade with yourself because that’s price manipulation. But that’s a regular occurrence on these cryptocurrency exchanges.
Some of these cryptocurrency exchanges are accused of front-running as well, which means the people who run them are using their access to see what customers want to trade and then trading ahead of them to get an advantage. There are also plausible claims about insider trading in various cryptocurrency exchanges. I could go on, but you get the point.
Do you see a cryptocurrency emerging in the future that is more viable than what we’ve seen so far?
Well, in order to make a cryptocurrency work, you need stability. The value has to hold. So what you need is an entity that will take, say, dollars, and give you cryptodollars one-for-one and vice versa. But we know what these institutions are; they’re called banks and they use banknotes. And if you build a cryptocurrency that way, you’ve got one of three choices.
One, you act like a regulated financial entity like PayPal or Venmo and don’t allow the criminality. So where’s the novelty there? Two, you become like a wildcat bank from the 1800s and issue banknotes that aren’t backed, but then you run the risk of a bank run and your value going to zero. So what’s the point? Or you have a cryptocurrency that actually is banked by money, and doesn’t allow criminal activity, but that’s been tried before; it was called Liberty Reserve, and it was shut down for money laundering in 2013 by the US government.
Is yours a minority opinion in the world of cryptocurrency?
Yes, because there’s a self-selecting bias. Most people who think this is bogus simply walk away. Those who are believers are believers. Very few people have followed it like I have for five years and still find it ridiculous, but that’s because I’m an academic and I have the space to do it and I find parts of it, especially the criminality, interesting. But the arguments in defense of this stuff are getting loonier and loonier.
According to this review from The Economist, the book goes into some detail about the ideological beliefs of Vladimir Putin in his quest to undermine Western democracy. A favorite thinker of Putin’s, a Revolution-era philosopher named Ivan Ilyin, advocated for a Russian monarchy while another, Lev Gumilev, believed that nations draw their power from cosmic rays?
Also present in Mr Putin’s thinking is an even more extreme anti-liberal ideology: that of Lev Gumilev, who thought that nations draw their collective drive, or passionarnost (an invented word), from cosmic rays. In this bizarre understanding of the world, the West’s will to exist is almost exhausted, whereas Russia still has the energy and vocation to form a mighty Slavic-Turkic state, spanning Eurasia.
The result, according to Snyder:
What these ways of thinking have in common, Mr Snyder argues, is a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers, which sets aside the need to observe laws or procedures, or grapple with physical realities. The spiritual imperative transcends everything, rendering politics, and the pursuit of truth in the ordinary sense, superfluous or even dangerous.
You can see where the election of Donald Trump — with his own “quasi-mystical belief in the destiny” of himself and without “the need to observe laws or procedures” — is a welcome ally/patsy for Putin.
On YouTube, there’s a long tail of content that pretty much guarantees the inclusion of every potential human interest. There are skate videos, makeup tutorials, and backyard surgical removals of blackheads. And yet the presentation of a lot of this content — especially when it’s trying to attract a large audience — is remarkably similar. Everywhere you look, there’s YouTube Face.
The Face is hard to miss once you first spot it: an exaggerated expression, an overreaction to a given video’s subject, typically conveying heightened states like disgust, anger, or ecstasy. The assault of a bad smell; a bite of something intensely sour; a faked orgasm; an elbow to the guts.
YouTube Face is most prominent in the preview images for videos. It surrounds whatever video you’re watching in a big grid of emotion. Here’s one, attached to an instructional video for driving stick shift:
And another, for an irate video game nerd:
And another, for a roundup of bad albums:
And yet another, a collection of PG-rated body horror:
Taken cumulatively, there’s a surreal, Lynchian quality to the images. Few things could ever be exciting enough to elicit these kinds of reactions, and no one could possibly be this expressive. Sowhat’s wrong with these people? Were their brains tenderized?
No, worse. YouTube Face is clickbait, attaining human form.
Like nearly everything on the contemporary web, YTF is the result of a series of matryoshka-ish financial incentives. The basic economic goal of YouTube, a subsidiary of the holding company Alphabet, Inc. — formerly Google, Inc. — is to get users to stare at videos for as many waking hours 1 as possible, so that they can be served ads tailored to their supposed interests.
To minimize overhead costs and ensure that an enormous amount of videos are uploaded, the burden to create content is placed upon the YouTube community. As encouragement, the company offers a small percentage of its ad revenue 2 back to eligible users, based upon the number of views their videos get. More views, more money.
Naturally, tropes begin to form. As certain channels gain popularity, others bite their style and techniques, trying to replicate their success. Vloggers begin to incorporate bright colors; large Impact font captions; talk in the same exact weird cadence — “Hey guys! BlackheadDigger420 here, sorry I haven’t posted in a while…” — aka YouTube Voice.
At some point, a user discovered that a catchy preview image tended to trigger potential viewers’ curiosity enough that they clicked through more frequently. Most likely this notion was inspired by other forms of clickbait (in style, it seems to be a mix of ~2012 Facebook newsfeed viral garbage with generic chumbox aesthetics). Then another user discovered that including a facial reaction tended to boost views further (perhaps manipulating some kind of primal feeling of empathy or morbid curiosity in the pain of others?). Over time, view count metrics gradually pushed these facial reactions into more exaggerated expressions, making everyone look like extras in a Soundgarden music video.
The aesthetic seems to have been largely popularized by the “reaction video” genre. There’s The Fine Bros, who make videos of old people reacting to new things, and young people reacting to old things. Their ~1,500 videos have received over six billion views.
There’s also The Try Guys over on BuzzFeed Video. They are guys who try things, and then react to them. Their videos have received over one billion views.
Other popular channels outside of the reaction genre also use the aesthetic. Pewdiepie, for one:
Perhaps strangest of all, reaction videos have spawned an odd meta-genre: people reacting to reactions:
And people reacting to reactions of reactions:
Getting attention on social media platforms requires creating content designed to perform well within their ecosystems. Everything must contort to please the almighty Algorithmic Gods. It requires some guesswork, as these algorithms exist at such an ever-increasing scale and complexity that even their creators don’t — can’t — understandthem. The Algorithm Gods work in mysterious ways.
We’re also witnessing tactics common to the advertising industry, especially those of late-night infomercials, being utilized autonomously by individuals. People simulate the behavior of corporate brands, while corporate brands simulate people 4, hiring teams of flacks to help make something like, I don’t know, fracking seem “authentic” and “cool.”
So begins the Great Brand Singularity. Corporations, humans, and machines merging in a banal orgy of commerce. The tech is currently primitive, but it’s easy to imagine scrolling through some future feed and seeing the faces of long-deceased relatives digitally grafted onto advertisements for #FappuccinoHappyHour; close friends suddenly revealed to be replicants working for foam mattress startups; augmented reality Pillsbury Doughboys stalking us on late night walks home, their soft footsteps squishing confidently along.
Given the general trajectory of things, it seems unlikely that humanity will be exterminated by a vengeful AI, as some tech luminaries predict. No — we’ll all just be rendered into one giant sentient ad for subscription cosmetic boxes.
Yikes! But what do you guys think? Let me know in the comments below, and please take a sec to like and share my article
After four hours of questioning, it was California Senator Kamala Harris’s turn to question Mark Zuckerberg. She immediately honed in on whether Facebook users are considered a priority in the company. Specifically, she asked about internal Facebook conversations in 2015, back when the company first learned that Cambridge Analytica had violated its terms of service to access user information. Why didn’t Facebook choose to notify users who had been affected?, she asked. “I wasn’t in a lot of meetings on the subject,” Zuckerberg said.
When Harris pressed further and asked whether there was a meeting in general, Zuckerberg couldn’t speak to it. He only spoke of the “conversation in company at the time,” and the ultimate outcome, which was to ban Cambridge Analytica from the platform.
Facebook's decision not inform users, as Zuckerberg tells it, may have happened only through neglect. Zuckerberg admitted moments later that Facebook leaders did have a meeting about the matter, but couldn’t speak to when the meeting was, who was in it, or exactly how this decision was made. He claimed he didn’t know.
The exchange could support the notion that Zuckerberg doesn’t stay involved in the decisions he purports to care the most about — ones involving users and the community — within the company that he founded and runs. The exchange may be a more accurate reflection of Zuckerberg’s priorities in a time of crisis: dealing with developers and the business side. The platform is built to collect and distribute user information useful to advertisers as efficiently as possible—a model which expressly concerns business over the safety and experience of Facebook users.
Zuckerberg’s rhetoric during questioning was steadfast in continuing to characterize Facebook as a platform for the people. After all, did you know he started the company in his dorm room? It wants to bring people closer together and foster a sense of “community.” But Facebook only began the comprehensive “audit” of Cambridge Analytica two weeks ago, as reports came out from The New York Times and the Guardian. Only this week have users begun to find out whether their information was used by the data analytics firm.
Multiple people have postulated that Zuck was in fact not the most qualified person to speak before Congress, or speak on live TV about Cambridge Analytica—a sentiment that Zuckerberg would definitely like people to believe. As Congress and Zuckerberg discuss taking steps to potentially regulate Facebook users’ right to privacy and ownership of their own data, Zuckerberg has stated again and again that he plans to cooperate and that he is not opposed to “smart” regulation. But at the end of the day, Zuckerberg’s response to Senator Harris reinforces the idea that within Facebook, users simply aren’t a priority over the company’s own practices of damage control.
Social media sites are littered with seemingly innocuous little quizzes, games and surveys urging people to reminisce about specific topics, such as “What was your first job,” or “What was your first car?” The problem with participating in these informal surveys is that in doing so you may be inadvertently giving away the answers to “secret questions” that can be used to unlock access to a host of your online identities and accounts.
I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of regular readers here would never respond — honestly or otherwise — to such questionnaires (except perhaps to chide others for responding). But I thought it was worth mentioning because certain social networks — particularly Facebook — seem positively overrun with these data-harvesting schemes. What’s more, I’m constantly asking friends and family members to stop participating in these quizzes and to stop urging their contacts to do the same.
On the surface, these simple questions may be little more than an attempt at online engagement by otherwise well-meaning companies and individuals. Nevertheless, your answers to these questions may live in perpetuity online, giving identity thieves and scammers ample ammunition to start gaining backdoor access to your various online accounts.
Consider, for example, the following quiz posted to Facebook by San Benito Tire Pros, a tire and auto repair shop in California. It asks Facebook users, “What car did you learn to drive stick shift on?”
I hope this is painfully obvious, but for many people the answer will be the same as to the question, “What was the make and model of your first car?”, which is one of several “secret questions” most commonly used by banks and other companies to let customers reset their passwords or gain access to the account without knowing the password.
This simple one-question quiz has been shared more than 250 times on Facebook since it was posted a week ago. Thousands of Facebook users responded in earnest, and in so doing linked their profile to the answer.
Probably the most well-known and common secret question, “what was the name of your first pet,” comes up in a number of Facebook quizzes that, incredibly, thousands of people answer willingly and (apparently) truthfully. When I saw this one I was reminded of this hilarious 2007 Daily Show interview wherein Jon Stewart has Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on and tries to slyly ask him the name of his first pet.
Almost 5,000 Facebook users answered this common password reset secret question.
Womenworking.com asked a variation on this same question of their huge Facebook following and received an impressive number of responses:
Here’s a great one from springchicken.co.uk, an e-commerce site in the United Kingdom. It asks users to publicly state the answer to yet another common secret question: “What street did you grow up on?”
More than 500 Facebook users have shared this quiz with their network, and hundreds more shared the answer using their real names and links to their profiles.
This question, from the Facebook account of Rving.how — a site for owners of recreational vehicles — asks: “What was your first job?” How the answer to this question might possibly relate to RV camping is beyond me, but that didn’t stop people from responding.
The question, “What was your high school mascot” is another common secret question, and yet you can find this one floating around lots of Facebook profiles:
Among the most common secret questions is, “Where did you meet your spouse or partner?” Loads of people like to share this information online as well, it seems:
This common secret question has been shared on Facebook almost 10,000 times and has garnered more than 2,300 responses.
Here’s another gem from the Womenworking Facebook page. Who hasn’t had to use the next secret question at some point? Answering this truthfully — in a Facebook quiz or on your profile somewhere — is a bad idea.
Incredibly, 6,800 Facebook users answered this question.
Do you remember your first grade teacher’s name? Don’t worry, if you forget it after answering this question, Facebook will remember it for you:
I’ve never seen a “what was the first concert you ever saw” secret question, but it is unique as secret questions go and I wouldn’t be surprised if some companies use this one. “What is your favorite band?” is definitely a common secret question, however:
Giving away information about yourself, your likes and preferences, etc., can lead to all kinds of unexpected consequences. This practice may even help turn the tide of elections. Just take the ongoing scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly collected data on more than 50 million Facebook users without their consent and then used this information to build behavioral models to target potential voters in various political campaigns.
I hope readers don’t interpret this story as KrebsOnSecurity endorsing secret questions as a valid form of authentication. In fact, I have railed against this practice for years, precisely because the answers often are so easily found using online services and social media profiles.
But if you must patronize a company or service that forces you to select secret questions, I think it’s a really good idea not to answer them truthfully. Just make sure you have a method for remembering your phony answer, in case you forget the lie somewhere down the road.
Many thanks to RonM for assistance with this post.
Under questioning by Roger Wicker, a Republican senator from Mississippi, Zuckerberg revealed that not even Facebook’s CEO has a firm grasp on what information Facebook collects on people to target them with ads.
Wicker: “There have been reports that Facebook can track the user’s internet browsing activity even after that user has logged off of the Facebook platform. Can you confirm whether or not this is true?”
Zuckerberg: “Senator, I want to make sure I get this accurate. So it’d probably be better to have my team follow up afterwards.”
Wicker: “You don’t know?”
Here is a more precise answer: Yes, Facebook can track people’s internet browsing activity even after they have logged off of Facebook.
Facebook even updated its Cookies Policy last week to clarify that the company is able to collect “information about your use of other websites and apps, whether or not you are registered or logged in,” according to the revised policy that was published on April 4.
The previous version of Facebook’s Cookies Policy was less clear. That version specified that Facebook could still collect information about people using its own website and apps whether they or not they are registered users or logged in to Facebook but did not specify if that was the case for non-Facebook sites and apps.
Early into Tuesday’s hearing, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley asked Zuckerberg if Facebook has been able to identify companies that have improperly accessed Facebook user data other than Cambridge Analytica and CubeYou, which were both brought to Facebook’s attention by news outlets. Zuckerberg had to equivocate. He reiterated that Facebook is investigating who else may have improperly access data about Facebook’s users but did not include an important caveat that he has admitted elsewhere: Facebook may not succeed in completely containing that data.
Facebook’s questionable competence as steward of its data has raised another question that’s consequential not just Facebook but all of digital advertising: do Facebook and its ilk need to be regulated in the U.S. as they will soon be in Europe when the General Data Protection Regulation takes effect in late May?
Last week Zuckerberg said that Facebook would adopt policies and controls in countries outside of Europe that would be similar to those required under GDPR, and he repeated that commitment on Tuesday.
Coinciding with Tuesday’s hearing, Democratic senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal introduced a bill that would appear to be the closest U.S. equivalent to GDPR, if passed into law. The CONSENT Act — the Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions Act — would make it harder for companies like Facebook to collect people’s information by requiring them to ask people to opt in to such data collection and usage.
Blumenthal teased the bill during Tuesday’s hearing and asked Zuckerberg if he would agree to asking people to opt in rather than opting them in by default when they use Facebook. Zuckerberg hedged. “I think that that certainly makes sense to discuss, and the details matter a lot,” he said.
Zuckerberg also hedged when repeating that Facebook is open to being regulated in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal “if it’s the right regulation,” he said. However the conditions of any regulation may not be up to Facebook.
“If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix the privacy invasions, then we are going to have to, we the Congress,” said Bill Nelson, a Democratic senator from Florida. “How can American consumers trust folks like your company to be caretakers of their most personal and identifiable information? And that’s the question.”
An old guy with a handlebar mustache, tattoos visible on his upper arms, says something in an animated tone. A younger man wearing a baseball cap speaks back while gesturing. The old man shouts. A chair flies through the air. Finally, the old man is yelling, red in the face, while pointing in an aggressive manner.
Each panel comes complete with text, and makes for a mini debate — proposition, rebuttal, reaffirmation, second rebuttal, and a final statement.
The resulting memes — based on a scene from the reality TV series American Chopper, which stopped airing in 2010 — aren’t always all that legible. But suddenly, they are everywhere on social media, illustratingeverything from the difficulties of pet ownership to the intricacies of the gender wage gap.
More broadly, in an era of performative social media dunking and tribalism run amok, the Chopper offers a lighthearted way to demonstrate that you actually understand the viewpoints of people on both sides of an issue. And beyond demonstrating your personal virtuosity, dialectic — the argument between two opposing points of view — turns out to be a fairly effective way to convey ideas and information, one that dates back to Plato’s famous dialogue but can be difficult to replicate in conventional media formats.
The American Chopper format touches on important cultural themes about class, money, politics, and reality television that are relevant to 2018. And by forcing the meme author to sympathetically engage with both sides of an argument, it manages to disrupt some of the most dysfunctional elements of online discourse.
American Chopper, explained
The meme derives from a reality television show, American Chopper, that aired on the Discovery Channel and then later its sister network TLC between 2003 and 2010.
The show focused on Orange County Choppers, a custom motorcycle manufacturing company located in the town of Newburgh, New York, in the Hudson Valley. The stylistic differences and vocal arguments between the show’s main protagonists, Paul Teutul Sr. (known as “Senior”) and his son (known as “Paulie” or “Junior”), was the central driving force of the show for most of its run. But after one particularly heated argument in 2008, Junior left both the program and the chopper shop to start his own business.
The Teutuls then returned in a somewhat different format with a show called American Chopper: Senior vs. Juniorthat detailed the rivalry between their two shops. It was canceled after two seasons, but a rebooted version of the show is scheduled to come out this May — with the producers doubtless hoping the meme will have enough staying power to still be around at the premiere.
The central joke of the Chopper meme is to reimagine this scene as a heated disagreement about a highbrow topic rather than a profane dispute about work schedules.
The Chopper meme implicates Trump-era class politics
Part of what makes the meme work is that you don’t actually need to be familiar with the show to read the facial hair and cap as class signifiers. At the same time, the dispute is clearly taking place in an office setting — reflecting the reality that the Teutuls are wealthy business owners and television stars rather than struggling workers.
This dichotomy between economic status and the sociocultural aspects of “class” has become a hallmark of the Trump years, in which political disagreements between white Americans have come to be deeply polarized between the more and less educated even while the policy orientation of the GOP remains overwhelmingly focused on the wealthy.
The Teutuls are, in this sense, the perfect Trump-era Republicans — a couple of lowbrow regular guys who happen to be incredibly rich business owners who’d probably appreciate a big tax cut for pass-through income. They’re the social and political antithesis of the young, debt-burdened recent college graduates living in expensive cities and struggling to make a living in creative fields — the sort of people who’ve been enthusiastically creating and sharing the Chopper meme.
Just imagine these two arguing about effective communications strategies for an elite aquarium:
But it’s also just a damn good way to communicate.
Socratic dialogue is a good way to teach
A person looking to write a column on the gender wage gap from a progressive perspective often faces a dilemma. Do you focus on the broad headline facts — which are striking and don’t receive the level of attention in public debate that they deserve — even though people with a more conservative view have a well-known objection to the standard characterization of the gap? Or do you delve into a more sophisticated version of the debate, knowing that you’ll immediately lose a large share of the audience?
The meme functions, in this sense, as a miniature version of one of Plato’s dialogues. Rather than a conventional prose argument, in these books, Plato gives us drama, with Socrates debating one or more fellow Athenians to eventually reach his conclusion. The dialogue format makes the line of argument more memorable and allows for the simultaneous presentation of a clear thesis and a deeper understanding of the issues.
As Stephanie Carvin of Carleton University says, the memes aren’t just funny — they turn out to be genuinely informative.
After all, one hallmark of the Chopper meme is that for a given instance of it to be any good, the author needs to genuinely understand Junior’s stance and present a coherent and sympathetic version of it — an attitude that is antithetical to much of current social media practice.
Chopper memes are an antidote to the social media dunk contest
The dialectical form of instruction contrasts with a pattern of interaction and debate that is all too common on the modern-day internet: Rather than engage with each other’s ideas, debate participants simply “dunk” on the remarks of others, aiming to receive praise from their followers.
Michael Grunwald, for example, promoted his lengthy essay on Scott Pruitt’s real record at the Environmental Protection Agency with a brief and necessarily oversimplified tweet.
The environmental journalist Rebecca Leber then quote-tweeted Grunwald, arguing that his tweet was missing crucial context about the full scope of Pruitt’s activities.
you can't talk about Pruitt's lasting damage without talking about how he's attacking science & expertise, pursuing buyouts & restructuring offices, and his pulling back on state work. An incomplete picture to focus on EPA's regulatory rollback alone. https://t.co/uJsX58Ud1g
The reality of this unnecessarily contentious back-and-forth is that Grunwald’s article does note all the things Leber accused him of downplaying, but it’s also clearly true that Grunwald is downplaying that stuff in favor of his core thesis: “The truth is that Scott Pruitt has done a lot less to dismantle the EPA than he — or his critics — would have you believe.”
A more dialectical presentation would reveal a disagreement over points of emphasis. Leber and Grunwald are both smart people and skilled writers who are very familiar with the relevant issues here, and no doubt either of them could write a Chopper meme that lets Junior make some good points.
Instead, they shouted at each other unproductively, just like the father-son duo at the heart of American Chopper.
And that’s the beauty of the Chopper meme — by giving the author a degree of distance from the argument, it allows us to transcend the tendency of online debate to degenerate into precisely the kind of chair-throwing pointlessness that it depicts.
Jag var en väldigt tidig Spotify-användare, tack vare en mailgrupp som jag var med i med glada entreprenörer som kände andra glada entreprenörer.
2009 var det stor Spotify-hype i Sverige, efter att tjänsten öppnat för allmänheten i oktober 2008. Jag jobbade som lärare i interaktionsdesign på dåvarande Växjö universitet och hade haft lite samarbete med Spotify runt en designövning.
En dag postade Rikard från den gamla mailgruppen bilder från när han hade varit och hälsat på en polare på Spotify. Jag hade tråkigt och drömde om de coola företagen som jag ville jobba för, och som inte låg i Växjö. Jag tittade på Rikards bilder och föreställde mig företagskulturen. Rikard hade tagit bilder på en massa ställen, till och med i serverrummet. Där är all musiken tänkte jag. Och så tänkte jag att det var konstigt att han fick plåta där – på mina gamla arbetsplatser hade det inte varit möjligt.
I bakgrunden på bilden från serverrummet såg jag några etiketter. Jag laddade ner bilden och förstorade den maximalt. Då kunde man läsa namnet på servern, typ http://s341.spotify.com.
I princip alla såna servrar ligger ju bara på det interna nätet, men the hacker spirit (som jag normalt inte har, så låt oss kalla det rastlöshet) fick mig att lägga in servernamnet i webbläsaren.
Jag fick upp en kataloglistning, så där teknisk med underkataloger med benämnda med två hexadecimala bokstäver 00 till ff. Jag blev chockad över att ha hittat något, men förstod inte vad. Jag klickade på en länk i högen och fick en likadan listning. Klickade igen, och där fanns de: mp3-filerna.
Jag minns att jag bara satt och stirrade. Jag insåg då att de förstås kunde se i sina serverloggar att mitt IP-nummer hade varit där, men jag kunde inte tänka mig att någon hade satt en speciell övervakning på en sådan server. De skulle hitta mig först senare.
Det var omöjligt att motstå frestelsen att ladda ner en fil. Den hade ett sånt där hopslumpat hexadecimalt filnamn också, men all metadata fanns med och filen var spelbar, inte krypterad.
Vad skulle jag göra? Ringa Aftonbladet och skicka dem namnet på servern, eller maila Spotify och informera om luckan?
Det tog mig trekvart att bestämma mig. Det fanns så mycket rolig musik på Spotify, ständigt tillgänglig, och om en sådan säkerhetsmiss kom ut skulle de stora skivbolagen kanske kräva att de skulle stänga ner. Och vad skulle jag vinna på saken? En artikel i Aftonbladet, och sen skulle jag bli känd som den som sabbade Spotify? Jag skulle inte ens komma i TV.
Jag hade ju haft kontakt med Spotify tidigare och mailade dem. Det tog fem minuter och sen kom det ett brev där de tackade så hemskt mycket för att jag hört av mig. Säkerhethålet var stängt.
I recently received an email from Netflix
which nearly caused me to add my card details to someone else’s Netflix account.
Here I show that this is a new kind of phishing scam
which is enabled by an obscure feature of Gmail called “the dots don’t matter”.
I then argue that the dots do matter,
and that this Gmail feature is in fact a misfeature.
Finally I’ll suggest some ways the Gmail team can combat such scams in future.
But first, I’ll show you the email:
“Odd,” I thought, “but OK, I’ll check.”
The email is genuinely from netflix.com,
so I clicked the link.
It logged me in and took me
to an “Update your credit or debit card” page,
which is genuinely hosted on netflix.com.
No phishing here.
But hang on, the “Update” page showed my declined card as **** 2745.
A card number I don’t recognize.
Checking my records, I’ve never seen this card number.
What’s going on?
I finally realized that this email is to email@example.com.
I normally use firstname.lastname@example.org, with no dots.
You might think this email should have bounced,
but instead it reached my inbox,
because “dots don’t matter in Gmail addresses”:
If someone accidentally adds dots to your address when emailing you,
you’ll still get that email.
For example, if your email is email@example.com,
you own all dotted versions of your address:
Netflix does not know about this Gmail “feature”.
Externally, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com are different identities,
and should have their own Netflix accounts.
I signed up for Netflix account N1 backed by firstname.lastname@example.org in 2013.
But in September 2017, someone, let’s call her “Eve”,
created a new Netflix account N2, backed by email@example.com.
Eve has access to account N2 because she set its password when signing up,
but I also have access to the account because I own firstname.lastname@example.org,
and so I can follow the password reset process for this account.
I did so.
Eve loves her TV!
She’s watched 587 titles in six months,
all from her “Android Device” in Alabama.
She watched three seasons of Trailer Park Boys over a single day in October.
She consumed nearly every day until 22nd March,
when Netflix put her account “on hold” due to payment failure.
Eve had paid for these shows.
She paid $13.99 every month for her Premium plan,
until February when her card **** 2745 (also billed to Huntsville, Alabama) was declined.
Perhaps this was all a mistake?
Perhaps Eve is actually one of the twelve James Fishers in Huntsville, AL,
and perhaps he typed his email address in wrong when he signed up months ago.
Netflix doesn’t do any email address verification when you sign up;
you can start watching shows straight away.
But perhaps this was not a mistake but a scam.
I was almost fooled into perpetually paying for Eve’s Netflix access,
and only paused because I didn’t recognize the declined card.
More generally, the phishing scam here is:
Hammer the Netflix signup form
until you find a gmail.com address which is “already registered”.
Let’s say you find the victim jameshfisher.
Create a Netflix account with address james.hfisher.
After Netflix applies the “active card check”, cancel the card.
Wait for Netflix to bill the cancelled card.
Then Netflix emails james.hfisher asking for a valid card.
Hope Jim reads the email to james.hfisher,
assumes it’s for his Netflix account backed by jameshfisher,
then enters his card **** 1234.
Change the email for the Netflix account to email@example.com,
kicking Jim’s access to this account.
Use Netflix free forever with Jim’s card **** 1234!
Where is the security flaw here?
Some would say it’s Netflix’s fault;
that Netflix should verify the email address on sign up.
But using someone else’s address on signup only cedes control of the account to that person.
Others would say that Netflix should disallow the registration of firstname.lastname@example.org,
but this would force Netflix and every other website
to have insider knowledge of Gmail’s canonicalization algorithm.
Still others would say that Netflix’s “update your payment details” email
should force a manual login,
instead of using an authenticated link.
Some blame lies with Netflix,
but I believe the main problem lies with Gmail,
and specifically Gmail’s “dots don’t matter” feature.
The scam fundamentally relies on the Gmail user responding to an email
with the assumption that it was sent to their canonical address,
and not to some other address from their infinite address set.
Some Gmail power users might claim:
“The dots-don’t-matter feature is great.
I get ownership of an infinite set of email addresses!”
But firstly, no one wants this infinite set of email addresses.
Those who really want infinite addresses already have the “plus labelling” feature:
I also own email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org et cetera.
Plus labelling has similar scam potential, but some legitimate use cases.
But I have certainly never wanted email@example.com,
and John Smith never wanted firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have never asked someone for her email address only for her to reply,
“it’s email@example.com, but feel free to add the dot wherever you like.”
Each Gmail user has one email address that they think of as theirs;
all the others are mistakes.
Not only do Gmail users not want these extra addresses,
most are not even aware that they have these addresses.
I’m sure my parents are unaware that they own an infinite set of email addresses.
They won’t know this,
because Google have never told them,
and this is not how email works anywhere else.
Even the most technically minded Gmail power user refers to “my email address”,
not to “my infinite set of email addresses”.
Even those Gmail users who are aware of their infinite set of addresses
are probably unaware of the scams that this exposes them to.
We teach people about “phishing” due to emails from dodgy email addresses,
but we don’t teach people anything about phishing due to emails to dodgy addresses.
Nevertheless, the result is the same:
the victim loses money to someone else.
And even in the rare case that a Gmail user is aware of their infinite set of addresses,
and they’re aware of the phishing attacks that this can expose them to,
this user is unlikely to pick up on it,
because the user interfaces of Gmail and Inbox don’t hint anything about a possible scam.
In fact it barely even acknowledges that the email was to a non-standard address.
The only clue in the screenshot above is that the interface says “to james.hfisher”,
instead of “to me”.
Finally, Gmail users should be able to opt out of dots-don’t-matter.
I wish for any mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org to bounce instead of reaching my inbox.
The dots-don’t-matter feature should be disabled by default for any new Google accounts,
and eventually retired.
This article has spread around the web.
I’ll do a full follow-up soon.
In the meantime, here are some links:
For decades, consumer advocates and media watchdogs have warned about the dangers of media consolidation and the nation’s obsession with often-mindless merger mania. And for just as long, many consumers and tech analysts ignored those warnings, clearly bored by concerns that such consolidation harms quality local reporting, competition, and quality discourse.
They’re paying attention now.
Sinclair’s planned $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune would give it ownership of more than 230 broadcast stations, reaching 72 percent of the American public. Given that the broadcaster has been widely criticized for “news” that tends to be facts-optional on a good day, the company’s expansion efforts have seen renewed criticism in light of America’s disinformation problem.
Opposition to Sinclair’s blockbuster deal is bipartisan. Democrats argue the merger will allow a broadcaster with a tendency toward hyperbole to further mislead the American public. Republicans worry that the merger will have a profoundly negative impact on the ability of smaller news outlets to make inroads in a market already dominated by giants.
“A free and diverse press, a bedrock principle of American democracy, will be crippled by this proposed merger,” Conservative-leaning Newsmax said in a filing with the FCC opposing the deal (Newsmax’s CEO, Chris Ruddy, is a close Trump ally.)
“The level of media concentration proposed by this transaction will homogenize the content available to U.S. consumers, eliminate unique viewpoints, and reduce press diversity, especially in the delivery of local news,” Newsmax added.
In December, Pai’s FCC voted to eliminate a cap that prevents any one broadcaster from reaching more than 39% of the nation. Pai also made quick work of a 77-year-old rule that required broadcasters keep a local studio in the towns they service to encourage community participation, as well as rules preventing broadcasters from owning more than two TV stations and one radio station in the same market.
All of the rules have been used for decades to protect local news outlets and regional journalism from monopoly harm. But much like we saw during his extremely-unpopular net neutrality repeal, Pai isn’t moved by criticism or hard data, insisting that his policies are simply an attempt to modernize outdated regulations.
“The media ownership regulations of 2017 should match the media marketplace of 2017,” Pai proclaimed last year, adding that he was “dragging the broadcast rules into the digital age.”
"Every element of our media policy is custom-built for the business plan of Sinclair Broadcasting"
But consumer advocates, competitors, media watchdogs and Pai’s fellow Commissioners have been quick to point out that “old” rules don’t automatically equate to “bad” rules, and that Pai’s simply pandering to massive media and telecom monopolies (not exactly a new tactic for arguably one of the least popular individuals on the internet.)
“Every element of our media policy is custom-built for the business plan of Sinclair Broadcasting,” Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told The Daily Beast last month. “That is stunning, it is striking, and it looks like something’s wrong. And I’m not the only one to think that. We’re burning down the values of media policy in this agency in order to service this company.”
Of course mindless mergers and acquisitions mania has been a bipartisan obsession for years, and much like the man that chose him to run the FCC, Pai is simply taking long-standing cronyism and revolving-door-regulation to the next level.
Time and time again, both parties tend to sign off on massive mergers, often applying only meaningless conditions that companies tend to ignore with limited repercussions. More often than not, said mergers result in higher prices and a litany of consumer harms, none of which get remembered by the time the next megadeal approval rolls around.
In this case, consumer advocates have already been warning that Sinclair hopes to dodge any remaining media consolidation limits by using partner shell companies to hoover up any remaining assets the government tries to prevent “Sinclair” proper from acquiring.
Deal critics hope that the FCC’s investigation forces Pai to recuse himself from the vote, or that hard data will somehow force Pai to reconsider approving the company’s megamerger when it comes up for a vote later this year. But given the FCC’s obvious disdain for hard data and the public welfare witnessed during the net neutrality repeal, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people willing to hold their breath.
It was not a dumb idea. It may have even been the right idea at the time.
That is: With no printing costs and the ability to reach a much larger audience, publishing — the kind that had been traditionally supported by a combination of direct consumer dollars and advertising — could be supported by advertising alone. If so, it would be a huge win/win: Free information for the world and strong businesses with global reach.
It wasn’t obvious 20 years ago that by going down that road, publishers — who traditionally differentiated on brand, quality, and audience — were entering a commodity business that would be dominated by software and scale. And, even if it was, was there a better option? Getting money from consumers over the internet wasn’t easy back then. Entering a credit card was a lot of friction, and no one trusted it. Besides, publishers were getting paid. Advertisers still cared about brand and context. And, really, how bad was a little banner ad? It’s not like they were taking over your screen and tracking you across the web. And certainly they weren’t influencing what was getting published. It was an okay trade-off for access to great content (most of which was paid for by print ad money anyway).
The only thing that went wrong was the inevitable. Business always optimizes for where the money comes from, and advertisers weren’t in it for the public good. Which means they eventually got the better end of the deal, with the rest of us suffering through an experience that was necessarily compromised.
That story has played out. It will continue to play out for years — free, cheaply produced content isn’t disappearing. It will just get worse. But there will also be an abundance of non-free, non-cheaply produced content that an increasingly large and discerning audience is hungry for.
Look at the renaissance in television — it was driven by a better (non-advertising) business model. Even though there’s still plenty of free, ad-supported TV. A hundred million households pay Netflix alone for delicious, differentiated, ad-free fare. Look at music. At one point, the sky was falling in that industry because everyone was downloading music for free. Yesterday, Spotify went public and is worth $30B, helping the labels bounce back with them.
With both TV and music, the consumer offering is far superior to anything we had before, and there are more options for creators. (True, musicians at the top aren’t making as much as the glory days — but far more musicians are making some money, and it’s way easier than ever to get your music out to a fanbase.) This is the power of a differentiated, competitive market — increasing quality and convenience for consumers, and riches for the winners.
There are three arguments you typically hear against the TV and music/publishing analogy:
This is silly. It might not be as big as entertainment, but the global demand for information — I’m talking news, journalism, analysis, opinion, essays, instruction, etc. — is not small. There are certainly some people who only will pay for entertainment, but the people who have the most money care about understanding the world and their place in it.
This also doesn’t make a lot of sense. People value time, convenience, and quality. People read more than ever. And books are still a multi-billion dollar market.
This is true and would be a problem if you also assume: They will continue to be able to get it for free and/or the thing they’re asked to pay for is the same as they’d get for free.
People are not dumb. But their information diet has been subsidized by print ad revenues and no-longer-sustainable digital CPMs for a lot of years. It will be painful, especially for publishers, to ween off that drug. But supply and demand will kick in. As paywalls go up (and, inevitably, many publishers go out of business), there’s just going to be less great stuff to get for free.
Will people just lower their standards? Perhaps. In fact, our standards have been gradually lowering for years. We’ll read crap on the web we wouldn’t have put up with in print. But as advertising gets replaced with better business models (subscription, inevitably), people will see they can expect more. No one was clamoring to pay more for TV before The Sopranos came around. (People subscribed to HBO for the second-run movies.) No one even imagined such TV. Now we can’t stand to sit through ads or crappy content. The same thing will happen.
There is — and probably always will be — a surplus of free content. But that’s like saying there’s a surplus of free food in the dumpster behind the alley. Some of it may be perfectly good, but most of us would rather pay for something more reliable and convenient if we’re able. And many people will pay a lot for something superior.
This is the case in media — TV and music, as mentioned, but also video games and radio make billions per year from consumers who can access free alternatives. But it’s also the case in every other market, from coffee to clothes. People choose the level and style they want and are willing to pay for — and providers compete to get their business.
The reason quality — of content and experience — has gone down in publishing, not up, despite the power of competition and technology, is because publishers are competing for advertiser dollars, not audience dollars. Business model is gravity. Once publishers are competing for audience dollars, the product they produce will get dramatically better.
This is not to say that every publisher just needs to start charging a subscription, and people will run for their credit cards. (Monthly recurring revenue FTW 💸!) The average thinking, reading person reads from dozens of sources per month. Even if they were very cheap, there will be subscription fatigue. Cognitively, and economically, people will be able to rationalize a handful of content subscriptions at most (in addition to their 2–3 music/TV subscriptions).
Outlets that are very big in terms of content volume/frequency or that have superfans will be able to make subscriptions work — see NYT and The New Yorker. Or that have very low costs and a niche audience — see Stratechery.
That leaves out the vast majority of publishers in the world. If everyone had a digital wallet in their browser and was willing to do micropayments as they cruise around the web, that might be a solution. But that’s very unlikely. And, it’s not clear how to design that to create a healthy feedback loop (i.e., keep click bait and popularity from being rewarded over quality).
There is a likely solution, though. And it’s, again, demonstrated by other media types. There’s a reason we don’t subscribe to TV shows or our favorite bands individually: 1) It would be a pain in the butt. 2) It would be a much worse deal. We pay for bundles, which give us access to lots of options. It’s great, and it will be great for published content, as well.
There won’t be a Spotify of publishing — with literally everything you want. But there will be a Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, etc. — each with a substantial amount of things you want. You might also have your superfan subscriptions (Patreon-based individuals), and your company-expensed subscriptions (The Information), but most consumers will have one or two of the big bundles.
Publishers generally don’t like this idea, but I think it will actually be good for creators, as well as consumers. In the same way that Spotify gets a lot more money from consumers to record labels and musicians than they could on their own. Netflix does the same for studios and show producers. Both pay for marketing, discovery, and technology infrastructure that allows creators to do their job. (The fact that small publishers have to be experts in technology, and distribution, and, now, funnel optimization, is a huge drain.)
Who will offer these bundles? Well, Apple just bought one. So far, Google and Facebook are talking about helping publishers charge subscriptions individually, but I’d expect a bundle down the road as publishers get comfortable with it. Startups like Blendle are developing alternatives. And of course, Medium has a growing bundle of thousands of independent writers and publishers. In the end, the best convenience and value for the consumer will win.
And at the same time, writers and publishers who offer high-value, differentiated content that competes for its ability to drive revenue from consumers, not just eyeballs, will win, as well.
In Europe, if there's a webpage with information about you that you don't like — because it's either inaccurate or just too personal — you can make Google hide it from search results. Google has done exactly that with more than 1 million pages in Europe. It's part of a growing legal movement in Europe that grants people "a right to be forgotten" on the Internet.
In the U.S., however, even in the most dire cases, the law doesn't protect people that way.
Jeff Ervine had a great career. He was chief operating officer of a hedge fund that managed over $1 billion, and then he started his own fund.
But in 2010, things took a dark turn. After some professional contacts overseas told him to check out Google search results about him, he was shocked by what he discovered: The first result when he searched his name was a website called Con v. Con. He clicked on it and saw a picture of himself, dressed in a tuxedo, standing beside his wife, who was in an evening gown.
The site warned that Ervine was actually a con artist who tried to trick a "know nothing" kid into a "sweet heartdeal."
"It was very dark," he recalls.
The author of the website, a 26-year-old named Hakan Yalincak, wanted to take down Ervine for having helped the law put the young man behind bars.
The two had first met years earlier, when Yalincak and his parents wanted to set up a fund to invest their money. They came to Ervine for help. They were accompanied by what seemed like just the right cast of characters: Their lawyers were from an elite Chicago firm; their bankers vouched for the millions in their accounts; New York University, where Yalincak was a student, was going to name a building on West 4th Street in Manhattan after the family.
But little things bothered Ervine from the beginning. Subtle social cues seemed off. Unlike other rich people, these folks didn'ttalk about fancy schools or vacation destinations. Nor was there any name-dropping — social norms he had gotten used to in his dealings with the filthy rich.
"That's part of their bravado and their egos," Ervine says. "But the Turks and Caicos never came up. Art Basel never came up."
Then one night, Ervine met the family for dinner at a Victorian house converted into a farm-to-table restaurant in the New York area. After dessert, Yalincak said his driver would be coming to get him. But out on the curb, Ervine spotted him jumping into a beat-up cab.
"The hair stood up on the back of my neck," Ervine says.
He called a friend — a military veteran with contacts at the FBI — and soon the bureau unearthed a suspicious legal trail and launched a criminal investigation. In that case, Ervine handed over the information he had collected on the family and spoke with law enforcement.
He thought the matter was over. Yalincak was convicted of fraud, sentenced to 42 months in prison and then deported.
But from Turkey, he wanted to make Ervine pay for his actions. The website Con v. Con was designed to destroy Ervine's reputation.
At first Ervine shrugged it off. But then prospective clients and partners kept bringing it up. "I'd spend the first 15 minutes explaining the story" in every meeting, he says. It had happened right after the financial crisis and the Bernie Madoff scandal — not a great time to try to explain yourself.
Ervine knew he couldn't talk any sense into his attacker. But he assumed he could get Google on his side. He had lawyers fax and mail a letter to Google's chief counsel, with a simple request: Please stop highlighting this site in search results. Google ignored the request. Ervine was shocked.
"You are helpless and you're hopeless. And what can you do? It's like slut-shaming or anything else that goes on on the Internet today," he says.
Googleholds the position that in the U.S., it's not obligated to remove defamatory content or lies from search results. It'll consider it if there is a court finding. Even then, it's really up to Google's discretion. So Ervine's lawyers sued the website creator. It took more than a year — to establish jurisdiction, to serve the papers overseas and to win the case.
The final court hearing was extraordinary. Judge James Holderman, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, apologized to Ervine on behalf of the American justice system. "You, in my opinion, have done everything right — you have been a model citizen, you have assisted your government in exposing and prosecuting fraud on other people — and then you are victimized," he said for the court record. "I wish I could do more."
Ervine's lawyers rushed to Google with the judgment. And then it took a few months for Google to respond that yes, the company would help; then another month to actually do it.
No wonder that winning didn't feel like victory for Ervine.
In fact, even after Google stopped listing the defamatory site, the search page added a disclaimer — in red letters — that Ervine's results had been altered. It looked like he had something to hide, not like Google had made the mistake of highlighting false information. This warning remained in effect for months, even though it doesn't appear any longer.
"There's no humanity or kindness in Google. It's not about anyone else. It's all about Google," Ervine says.
NPR submitted a summary of his case to Google for response. A spokesman said he isn't certain why even after Ervine won his judgment it took Google so long to take down its reference to the malicious website. And then the spokesman added: "We don't comment on individual cases."
Ervine's lawyer Charles Lee Mudd Jr., who has represented dozens of Americans defamed online, says, "It truly happens to be a wild world on the Internet."
But in Europe, it's a different world. In response to new privacy rules imposed by the EU, Google has buried more than 1 million pages on that continent because the subjects of those pages say that the content is unreliable or simply too personal. In the U.S., no such "right to be forgotten" exists.
Ervine says his reputation was damaged and it hurt his career. Today, he is building a tech company called Bridg-it, to protect people like him who have been attacked online. He doesn't want anyone else to pay like he did. All told, Ervine spent about $100,000 in legal fees. In Europe, he would have just filled out a form.
Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg isn’t the first human flashpoint for conspiracy theorists—he’s not even the first school shooting survivor to become one—but the 17-year-old does have a strategy for dealing with them.
It appears to be this: Call bullshit with abandon.
“I don’t care,” Hogg said. “I don’t. I have bigger, more important things to focus on than these stupid conspiracies that aren’t true in any way, shape or form, have no validity, and don’t hold their weight. At all … these people are going to keep trying to take us down but that’s how we know what we’re doing matters … whenever someone tries making a change that matters, and a change for the better, there’s always someone that tried stopping them.”
Pointing out the absurdity of the threats and conspiracy theories has acted as somewhat of a buffer. “These people have no fucking life. To go after a witness of a school shooting, it’s pathetic, and as my dad was saying, it’s fucking weird,” he said.
This attitude is consistent with Hogg’s previous declarations. He’s gone after everyone from former sheriff and noted media hated David Clarke—he said “You disgust me” after Clarke tweeted that the Parkland teens were connected to George Soros— to Fox News host Laura Ingraham and her advertising revenue. He chalks this approach up to his age, which is both encouraging (today’s teens know how to harness and handle the internet better than any of us) and depressing (this is likely the only version of the internet they’ve experienced.)
“[We’re] the generation of 9/11, the recession, cyberbullying, and school shootings,” he said. “We’ve had to live around that and through that our entire lives. We’ve had to learn to deal with these sick fuckers that are saying this stuff, that are out there, claiming that we’re not real people, claiming that we’re actors—and we know not to let this stuff online affect us.”
(The attitude may also come from his mother, who at one point said, in reference to online threats made against her family, “You fucked with the wrong mama bear.”)
“To the people that are out there that actually believe what he says, do some fucking research and show me some credible evidence to what he’s saying about me.”
Hogg brings up several incidents—he said an “NYPD officer” showed up in his DMs and called him a “little bitch”—but he reserves particular ire for Alex Jones, the face of InfoWars and an infamous conspiracy theorist who has floated the idea that Sandy Hook was a hoax.
“The lovely man that is Alex Jones, who believes that water turns people gay, sells snake oil, which, by the way, great snake oil, it’s called Jones brand snake oil … he’s a conspiracy theory-peddling alt right fuck who doesn’t do any research,” Hogg said. “Honestly, the guy’s pretty smart in the sense that he’s able to fool all these Americans—well over two million—into believing all the crazy shit he says, just so he can sell them stuff.”
Part of the reason Hogg and his activist classmates have stuck out so much is because they have an unusually sophisticated grip on what makes movements like this successful. It’s notable that they’re viewed as beacons of light, because in some ways, they’ve proven themselves adept at recognizing humanity’s darker impulses.
“There was a short time when I was like, ‘oh god, this is like, scary and stuff,’ but then I realized, this is great advertising,” he said of the conspiracy theories. “It’s keeping us in the press, it’s keeping us relevant, and it’s continuing our story.”
“I think this is somewhat of a problem with platforms, and it always will be, in the sense that you can’t control every single person that makes these things,” Hogg said at another point. “But the power in politics and the power in media lies with the advertisers and the people that actually give you money."
“To the people that are out there that actually believe what he says,” he added, “do some fucking research and show me some credible evidence to what he’s saying about me.”
In some ways, it’s refreshing to hear these kinds of zero-tolerance statements—particularly given that the call to boycott Laura Ingraham’s advertisers was met with a whole lot of bad-faith hand-wringing—though they can come across as perfectly clipped soundbites.
But given that this sort of fear-mongering is likely to happen again (and again, and again, as long as massacres like Parkland continue), Hogg and the other teens have helped create a new kind of blueprint for how to respond. Jones, Clarke, and Ingraham aren’t the only attention-grabbers anymore.
As brands, agencies and publishers scramble to get their data collection, usage and storage situations in line with European regulations, few have gotten their email newsletter subscriber operations into a GDPR-compliant state, either by securing affirmative consent for use of subscribers’ data or by updating their email onboarding process so people give consent when they subscribe.
Some haven’t done it because they have their hands full with other facets of GDPR compliance. Others haven’t because they’re still trying to figure out if their current situations are, in fact, acceptable under the regulations. Others are waiting for third-party providers to deliver tools to help navigate the problem. Still others are reluctant to do anything that could put a meaningful dent in their newsletter subscriber counts.
“This is definitely a risk,” said Brad Schorer, the president and CEO of data and marketing consultancy Digital Segment. “They need to prepare to have the steps in place to allow for their readers to opt out of the newsletter and/or be able to produce the level of detail on them that the publisher has in house.”
A common misconception about the GDPR is that it is for European companies. In fact, the GDPR covers any company that collects data from European Union citizens, which is to say most every publisher. Publishers have liability if they have any EU citizens on their email newsletter lists. Under GDPR rules, publishers must be able to point to a specific date when a reader affirmatively consented to have their data used by publishers. That covers all email subscribers, not just those acquired after the GDPR takes effect on May 25.
Most publishers don’t have those dates on file, particularly for email subscribers they’ve had for years, which presents them with an uncomfortable choice: Send an email asking European newsletter audiences to opt back in, risking a percentage of their subscriber base dropping out, or do nothing and hope the law is enforced for bigger violations.
“Any communication to consumers always entails the possibility of losing readerships due to opt-outs for any number of reasons,” Schorer said.
Many publishers also have to figure out how to get readers to actively consent, a break from the user experience templates that readers have been trained to expect in recent years. “It’s difficult to funnel people into signing up as it is,” said one source who oversees newsletter operations at one large publisher. “Now, we have to go completely out of the way to make sure consent is explicit by not having pre-checked boxes. Users have learned behavior that assumes boxes will be checked, and now we will have to teach them new behavior.”
Yet many American publishers draw sizable chunks of their audience from outside the U.S. Just over 10 percent of The Washington Post’s digital subscriber base, for example, is based abroad. The New York Times said 14 percent of its 2.6 million digital subscribers reside abroad, though that number does not exactly correspond with its 13 million email newsletter subscribers; the Times does not break out the country of origin of newsletter subscribers.
Some publishers are trying to be proactive, despite the minimal risk to their business from being GDPR-compliant. At Morning Brew, a business-focused newsletter publisher with 180,000 subscribers and an open rate that hovers around 45 percent, just 3 percent of its subscriber base resides in Europe. But the company decided to add a double opt-in system to its newsletter onboarding program, in part because it minimizes bad actors taking advantage of its referral program and in part because it sees upside in adapting its system in ways that emphasize transparency and privacy.
Morning Brew is still trying to confirm that every facet of its business is GDPR-compliant, but it said it expects to be by next month. “The way we justified it is we need to do right by our readers,” Morning Brew co-founder Alex Lieberman said.
Ad agencies using data to retarget publishers’ audiences is nothing new. But multiple publishers said they’re getting more frequent, onerous demands from ad agencies wanting to get their hands on that audience data.
Sometimes agencies merely ask for the audiences’ social media IDs so the agency could retarget them on Facebook, using people’s Facebook’s IDs. Of greater concern to publishers is when the agency asks for all the IP addresses of people targeted by a campaign, which would permit the agency to retarget them elsewhere using its data management platform. Increasingly, publishers say, the agencies are asking for permission to use this data in perpetuity.
Publishers said Publicis agencies including Spark and GroupeConnect are the most aggressive, requiring that publishers accept clients’ pixels for campaign analysis and retargeting, but that they’re increasingly getting similar demands from other agencies.
A Publicis agency document sent to a publisher as recently as January said it requires the media partner to accept a pixel for the advertiser to use for attribution analysis and audience segmentation. “We’re also looking to build partnerships with publishers that will allow pass back of impression and click data for targeting/retargeting purposes. In this scenario, we’d look to potentially retarget users who were exposed to our ad on site A (your site) within our DSP,” the document read.
A Publicis Media spokesperson said this language isn’t common in the holding company’s contracts. “We take data privacy very seriously and adhere to all applicable privacy laws and regulations,” the company said in a statement. “Consistent with long-standing industry practice, campaign information is used to help advertisers better understand how their advertising is performing and to optimize relevancy. We do not use publisher first-party audience data with the intention of finding these audiences elsewhere.”
It’s legitimate for the advertiser to use tracking pixels for attribution purposes, following a consumer to understand what led someone to take an action on an ad, said one publisher, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution by agencies. But “I’m not OK with thinking because you served an ad on our site, you own our audience,” the publisher said. The other worry is the agency will use the audience data for other clients. This publisher will only agree to let the agency use the audience data for attribution purposes, but that puts the burden on the publisher to keep track, and often the publisher finds the agency is using the tags for retargeting.
Publishers and agencies alike see the asks as part of a wider story about agencies under siege. Agencies, squeezed by other companies trying to horn in on their business and clients who are cutting their fees, are scrambling to prove their worth to clients by showing they have differentiated data and targeting capabilities. Steve Buors, CEO of Reshift Media, said the programmatic dashboards that agencies use are flawed, leading agencies to lean on publishers. “Because the dashboards are mostly using third-party data, there is a certain degree of invisibility of using the programmatic dashboard these days,” he said. The question then becomes: Who owns the consumer data in the first place?
“We’re seeing more requests for access to publishers’ first-party data,” said David Spiegel, CRO of Inverse. “Everyone’s trying to claim they should own the data in the marketing relationship. It’s an aggressive ask, so hopefully publishers are considering the ramifications.”
Publishers say they try to push back against these requests. The anonymous publisher exec said if the publication has a strong relationship with the client, the exec can do an end run around the agency and call the client directly and complain, and that puts a stop to the problem. That can work if the publisher is a must-buy for the advertiser. But it’s a matter of who has the bargaining power and how much ad revenue is at stake. And long term, the publisher worry is that if they give over their data to win an agency’s business, they’ll be contributing to their own irrelevance. Already, many advertisers have sought to fully own the branded content that publishers create for them.
Evan Krauss, svp of global sales at Ranker, has gotten audience data requests with greater frequency from clients and agencies alike where, for example, an advertiser might want to reach women 25-34 and add Ranker’s data on movie enthusiasts to its data set. “Let’s say we saw it twice in the fourth quarter; we saw it 15 times in Q1,” he said of these data requests.
“Agencies are looking to built up their proprietary DMPs,” he said. “We have a lot of unique data; we have people voting specifically for things they like or don’t like. But if someone is buying heavy movie enthusiasts on Ranker and they can buy them anywhere else for cheaper, that means they don’t have to come to Ranker as much. Our theory is we have enough value, but it has a yellow flag up.”
Now that consumer privacy has been thrust to the forefront with the revelations that Facebook user data was misused, and with the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation starting May 25, publishers are finding their voice in pushing back. “GDPR provides us a backstop to say we can’t let you pixel people because they haven’t given consent to all the ways you’re using data,” the unnamed publisher said. That’s more effective with global campaigns, since the GDPR requires companies to get consent to collect data on European consumers, but U.S. agencies are less GDPR-aware, the publisher said. “U.S. agencies don’t realize the extent of the issue and the penalties,” this person said.
Some agencies look askance at this whole practice and question its efficacy in the first place. Buors said Reshift doesn’t often ask publishers for their first-party data, saying brands’ data is of higher quality. Eric Smith, executive director of innovation at Mediassociates, said his agency uses a publisher’s audience data to optimize a campaign, not to retarget, and the agency values the publisher relationship and believes a campaign loses value when it targets people off the publisher’s site anyway.
“There’s not a need to steal or clone or misuse publishers’ data,” Smith said.