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04 Jun 08:25

How Instagram’s algorithm works

Instagram users were missing 70 percent of all posts and 50 percent of their friends’ posts before the app ditched the reverse chronological feed for an algorithm in July 2016. Despite backlash about confusing ordering, Instagram now says relevancy sorting has led to its 800 million-plus users seeing 90 percent of their friends’ posts and spending more time on the app.

Yet Instagram has never explained exactly how the algorithm chooses what to show you until today. The Facebook-owned company assembled a group of reporters at its under-construction new San Francisco office to take the lid off the Instagram feed ranking algorithm.

Instagram product lead Julian Gutman explains the algorithm

Instagram’s feed ranking criteria

Instagram relies on machine learning based on your past behavior to create a unique feed for everyone. Even if you follow the exact same accounts as someone else, you’ll get a personalized feed based on how you interact with those accounts.

Three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed:

  1. Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.
  2. Recency: How recently the post was shared, with prioritization for timely posts over weeks-old ones.
  3. Relationship: How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos.

Beyond those core factors, three additional signals that influence rankings are:

  • Frequency: How often you open Instagram, as it will try to show you the best posts since your last visit.
  • Following: If you follow a lot of people, Instagram will be picking from a wider breadth of authors so you might see less of any specific person.
  • Usage: How long you spend on Instagram determines if you’re just seeing the best posts during short sessions, or it’s digging deeper into its catalog if you spend more total time browsing.

Instagram mythbusting

Instagram’s team also responded to many of the most common questions and conspiracy theories about how its feed works. TechCrunch can’t verify the accuracy of these claims, but this is what Instagram’s team told us:

  • Instagram is not at this time considering an option to see the old reverse chronological feed because it doesn’t want to add more complexity (users might forget what feed they’re set to), but it is listening to users who dislike the algorithm.
  • Instagram does not hide posts in the feed, and you’ll see everything posted by everyone you follow if you keep scrolling.
  • Feed ranking does not favor the photo or video format universally, but people’s feeds are tuned based on what kind of content they engage with, so if you never stop to watch videos you might see fewer of them.
  • Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app.
  • Instagram doesn’t downrank users for posting too frequently or for other specific behaviors, but it might swap in other content in between someone’s if they rapid-fire separate posts.
  • Instagram doesn’t give extra feed presence to personal accounts or business accounts, so switching won’t help your reach.
  • Shadowbanning is not a real thing, and Instagram says it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions.

Today’s Instagram whiteboard session with reporters, its first, should go a long way to clearing up misunderstandings about how it works. When people feel confident that their posts will reach their favorite people, that they can reliably build a public audience, and that they’ll always see great content, they’ll open the app more often.

Yet on the horizon looms a problem similar to what Facebook’s algorithm experienced around 2015: competition reduces reach. As more users and businesses join Instagram and post more often, but feed browsing time stays stable per user, the average post will get drowned out and receive fewer views. People will inevitably complain that Instagram is trying to force them to buy ads, but it’s a natural and inevitable consequence of increasingly popular algorithmic feeds.

The more Instagram can disarm that problem by pushing excess content creation to Stories and educating users about how the feed operates, the less they’ll complain. Facebook is already uncool, so Instagram must stay in our good graces.

30 May 06:23

Scenes from an abandoned village in the Japanese mountains

by Lee

Finding abandoned buildings outside Tokyo isn’t difficult. Head out into the countryside, or pass through one of Japan’s many faded towns, and there are long-disused structures almost everywhere. Many of them, it has to be said, aren’t the least bit interesting— well, not on the inside, anyway. Invariably filled with junk, or simply stripped bare, they offer little in the way of exploration. Also, a good number of them are understandably sealed shut, so even if they do contain intriguing little time capsules, they remain frustratingly out of reach.

Every now and again, however, it’s possible to stumble upon something very different. Like the abandoned village below. Some of its structures have been demolished. Others have simply collapsed. But those it was possible to enter offer up a fascinating, and at the same time rather sad look at the lives of those who once lived there.

Background wise, there used to be a mine in the area; an enterprise that was presumably the settlement’s biggest employer, and very likely the reason why many people moved there in the first place. Being up in the mountains, forestry work and other rural occupations also helped sustain the settlement. But the closure of the mine in 1980 understandably seems to have been the death knell for the small outpost. An idea further reinforced by calendars in several of the properties displaying that very same year. The demise, however, was a slow and drawn out one, as some people did stay on — for a surprisingly long time too. The most recent sign of habitation being a not at all distant 2012.

Details regarding the actual inhabitants, on the other hand, are far more hazy. For reasons unknown, they left behind a staggering amount of stuff, and yet oddly it tells us more about who they loved and lost, rather than any specifics regarding what they did, or indeed how they lived their lives. Intriguing titbits that hint at a lot, and yet at the same time give very little away. So, with no more facts available, and wild speculation or educated guesswork the only options, here is what we found without any further commentary.

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

24 May 10:47

A Redesigned 1Password 7 for Mac Enhances Watchtower and Adds Flexibility to Vaults, App Login Support, and More

AgileBits has released 1Password 7 for Mac, a significant update that is free to subscribers but also available as a standalone download. I’ve used 1Password since I started using a Mac. The app has always been the best way to store passwords for websites, and for years, that’s primarily how I’ve thought of it.

There’s been more to 1Password than just password storage for a while now though, and what sets this update apart is the depth of those other features and the ease with which they can be incorporated in your everyday computing life. That’s important because it doesn’t take much friction for someone to get lazy about security.

1Password 7 is a comprehensive update that touches every corner of the app. The app will still be familiar to long-time users, but features like Watchtower and Vaults have been extended with new capabilities that are worth exploring if you haven’t in a while. 1Password also works better than ever with app logins. There are dozens of other changes big and small that along with a design refresh that make 1Password 7 an excellent update.

Watchtower

Watchtower started as a service to let users know when they should change a password because it had been compromised. The feature still does that, but with 1Password 7, Watchtower does much more.

You’ll find Watchtower in 1Password’s left-hand sidebar where it lives in a dedicated section. Clicking on Watchtower in the sidebar expands reveals each of its components. Right at the top are ‘Compromised Logins’ and ‘Vulnerable Passwords,’ which securely compare your logins and passwords against the enormous database maintained at haveibeenpwned.com without transmitting your passwords to anyone. If a site has had a data breach that may have compromised a login or password you use, you’ll find it here.

Watchtower also analyzes your database for reused and weak passwords. With 1Password and macOS’s abilities to generate random strong passwords, there’s no reason to use the same passwords on multiple sites or create short crackable passwords. These sections of Watchtower serve as a comprehensive audit of your password past, which simplifies the process of updating to strong, unique passwords if it finds vulnerabilities.

These days there isn’t a good excuse for a website to not be using https for logins, but you may still have logins stored in 1Password from before https became commonplace. Those logins have a separate section in Watchtower, so you can revisit the sites and switch over to secure login pages where available.

Watchtower also analyzes your logins and highlights ones where two-factor authentication (2FA) is available. Using 2FA hasn’t always been easy on some sites, so I’m guilty of having avoided it longer than I should have for some of the websites I visit. 1Password makes updating your logins on those sites easy by identifying them and improves the login process with single-use passcodes that can be generated by 1Password for iOS itself.

Finally, Watchtower proactively analyzes credit cards, passports, and other items in your vaults that have expiration dates, alerting you of the need to update or replace them. Credit cards tend to auto-renew, but this is particularly handy for passports or anything else the requires you to renew them manually.

Vaults

Vaults are how you organize the information stored in 1Password. For example, you may want to set up a separate vault for logins and passwords that you share with someone else or create different 1Password vaults for personal and business data. With 1Password 7, full drag and drop support makes vaults easier to manage.

All of your 1Password vaults are visible in the app’s redesigned sidebar. New vaults can be created by clicking the ‘New Vault’ button, from the File menu, or by dragging an item onto the sidebar button from another vault. Each vault can be named, have a description, and an icon. 1Password has added 38 icons you can choose from, or you can drag in an image of your own. I’m not a big fan of the icons, but it’s just as easy to drag in my images, so it’s not a big deal.

Every item stored in 1Password can be moved between vaults by merely dragging it from one to another. If you’d rather copy something to another vault, hold down the Option key while dragging it just as you would with a file in the Finder.

App Support

1Password 7 has improved the login process for apps too. I switch email and Twitter clients a lot to test different apps, and whenever I do, it required jumping back and forth between the new app and 1Password to log into my accounts. 1Password 7 eases this process by detecting the app you’re using so when you click on the 1Password menu bar app, it’s already suggesting the login credentials to use.1 Copy and paste or drag and drop your username and password into the app’s text fields, and you’re all set. It’s not quite as easy as the ability to autofill and log into a website, but it’s a big improvement nonetheless.

However, one thing I don’t like about the updated menu bar app, which AgileBits calls 1Password mini, is that it’s difficult to know how to resize and move the window at first. There is very little chrome along the top of the window, and what’s there is the same color as the window’s background providing no visual affordance indicating which parts are draggable.

Everything Else

There are many other changes to 1Password 7 the impact of which will depend on how you use the app. However, there are so many small improvements that I expect in aggregate, they will be significant to most users.

The design of 1Password has been refreshed throughout. In addition to the features I’ve already mentioned, the sidebar now sports a dark look that looks fantastic, focuses users on selected items, and fits in well with apps like Slack, which feature a similar three-pane, dark sidebar design. The sidebar can also be collapsed to a narrow strip of icons, which is a welcome addition for users with smaller screens. There are plenty of days when I’m on my 13” MacBook Pro, that tucking away most of the sidebar makes a lot of sense.

Secure notes now support rich text formatting using Markdown syntax too. Markdown text isn’t styled as you edit, but after you click ‘Save,’ the Markdown syntax is replaced by its rich-text equivalent. Password fields also feature a new typeface, which is a variant of one of my favorites: Courier Prime. The new typeface called Courier Prime Bits is designed to make it easy to distinguish between characters like a one, lower case ‘l,’ and a pipe character for those times when you find yourself typing in a password manually.

Another handy feature that’s been added to 1Password is pop-out floating windows. There’s a button in the top right-hand corner of the window (or use Command + O) that takes the content in the rightmost pane and pops it out into a floating window. It’s a nice addition for times when you have information stored in 1Password that you need to refer to frequently while working in another app.

Also worth mentioning among many other changes is that 1Password 7 also adds:

  • Support for nested tags that are created by typing a ‘/‘ between tags as you add them
  • A handy quick open command (Command + K) that works a little like Alfred, allowing you to type a quick search for an item, hit return and jump straight to the entry
  • Spotlight integration
  • Handoff support

Conclusion

Here’s the thing about an app like 1Password: most of the time all you want is to get into and out of the app as quickly as possible. It’s a speed bump on the way to some other work you need to get done but that’s locked behind a password. 1Password has always excelled at slowing you down as little as possible whether you’re using its browser extension, menu bar app, and the main app itself. 1Password 7 goes even farther down the same path than its predecessors with features like making the app login process nearly as seamless as logging into a website, adding nested tagging and quick open features, as well as supporting macOS technologies like Handoff and Spotlight.

However, although those are welcome features, the focus of this update is a little different. Greater vault flexibility and a more robust Watchtower are more about managing your passwords and other information. Both features make it easier than ever to organize your sensitive data and evaluate the safety of the passwords you create. It’s a combination that makes auditing the security of your passwords and managing things like shared passwords easier than ever and worth another look if you haven’t tried that aspect of 1Password in a while.

Security is a more important part of computing than ever before. Still, nothing is more frustrating than doing the right thing by using unique, long, random passwords only to have them slow you down when you need to get something done or finding out that your super-secure password has been compromised by an online service. 1Password 7 combines an ease of use that reduces the friction of using secure passwords with the tools needed to manage them and ensure your logins always remain secure.

1Password 7, which requires macOS Sierra or later, is a free update to subscribers to individual, family, team, and business plans and can be downloaded from the Mac App Store or directly from AgileBits. 1Password 7 is also available for purchase as a standalone license for users who are not subscribers. Because of the difficulty of working around Apple’s lack of upgrade pricing on the Mac App Store, standalone licenses are available only from AgileBits where they are $49.99 per user, per platform for a limited time, after which they will increase to $64.99. The update is also free to anyone who purchased a standalone license after March 27, 2018. 1Password 7 for Windows will be available next week.

24 May 07:45

Släpp de ockulta marknadskrafterna fria

by fthunholm

Abdul Al-Hazred är namnet på den jemenitiske poet som år 731 nedtecknade den ohyggliga och förbjudna boken Necronomicon, efter att ha irrat runt i öknen i tio år. Boken är central i det mytiska universum som författaren H P Lovecrafts skapade. Al-Hazred dog genom att bli levande uppäten, av osynliga väsen, på en marknad i Damaskus. Och när vi ändå pratar om araber, låt oss backa bandet till 2010.

Kommer du ihåg sverigedemokraternas reklamfilm inför valet det året? Den visade en hord av kvinnor i burka, med barnvagnar, som springer ner en stackars strävsam, etniskt svensk, pensionär med rullator. En berättarröst säger att all politik handlar om prioriteringar och du som röstar väljer mellan att dra i pensionsbromsen eller i invandringsbromsen. Kvinnorna var som en lavin, som en flodvåg av bidragsslukande biomassa. Pensionären var skröplig men stolt.

TV4 vägrade sända filmen. Jan Scherman hänvisade som ansvarig utgivare till både demokratiparagrafen i radio- tv-lagen och förbudet mot hets mot folkgrupp i yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen.

I ett mejl till partifolket skriver Jimmie Åkesson om filmen att den” illustrerar vad vi menar att valet (borde) handla om – konflikten mellan välfärd och mångkultur. Precis som vi säger i filmen, handlar all politik om prioriteringar – vi kan inte ge allt till alla och då väljer vi svensk välfärd framför massinvandring.”

Då är vi tillbaka i 2018 igen. Och Åkessons retorik används, nästan ordagrant, av justitieminister Morgan Johansson, när han skryter om att unga i Skåne fått gratis kollektivtrafik – tack vare att sossarna dragit i invandringsbromsen.

Mitt Europa bygger inga murar osv.

Jag hoppas att socialdemokratin, vad fan den ens är för något idag, gör exakt samma karriär som Abdul Al-Hazred. Att den först spenderar tio år i Roba El Khaliyeh-öknen, omgiven av tjutande demoner. Och sedan förtärs, av osynliga monster, om inte på en marknad i Damaskus, så kanske Kiviks marknad.

Eller bostadsmarknaden.

21 May 11:07

Östermalms eget Guantanamo

by fthunholm

DN skriver i en rubrik att ”I co-living kollektivet K9 på Östermalm i Stockholm bor 52 vuxna”. Därefter följer en artikel som provocerar mig så till den grad att jag kommer på mig själv med att leta efter en gaffel att hugga i min mjälte. Tack och lov sitter jag inte i köket så jag hittar ingen gaffel. Men jag blir skrämd av min reaktion och jag undrar varför jag reagerar som jag gör.

Kanske är det för att femtiotvå vuxna människor i ett co-living community lajvar alternativt boende och till exempel hyr poddar om fem kvadrat för 6 500 kr i månaden. Kanske är det mitt fördomsfulla antagande att alla femtiotvå kan ringa sin farsa och lösa ett eget boende vilken dag som helst i veckan.

Och visst, exakt den där sortens anglifierade jag-jobbar-på-google-lingo är ju något för Haag-tribunalen att ta tag i. Jag vill bara ta folk som pratar så och släpa ut dem i skogen, ställa dem framför ett träd, och ropa åt dem att visa trädet lite jävla RESPEKT.

Men – så hittar jag exakt vad det är som provocerar.

En av de boende säger att ”i hippiekollektiven var man beroende av varandra för lägre hyra och att laga mat ihop. Man ville vara del av en grupp för att man inte hade en egen identitet. Här är alla individualister men väljer att vara del av en grupp för att det ger mer än bara självförverkligande, en känsla av gemenskap”.

Och det är inte det att personen saknar koll, men ändå sågar grupper av människor, som alla med stor säkerhet hade mer vitala personligheter än subjektet i fråga. Nej, det är det sista ledet. Det om att gemenskap är något utöver självförverkligande.

I Maslows behovstrappa är gemenskap på trappsteg tre av fem och självförverkligandet högst upp. Men för boende co-living kollektiveti K9 på Östermalm i Stockholm är självförverkligandet något banalt och självklart. Det är som att andas, ungefär.

Detta är människor som förhåller sig till jantelagen, som gryningspyromanen förhåller sig till brandskydd.

De bor ihop för att de är så otroliga, unika personligheter. För att samhället utanför inte kan hantera hur sköna de är. De kallar det co-living kollektiv, men det är mer som ett fängelse. Ett fängelse för samvetsfångar. Ett Guantanamo för digital natives som gillar networking och städhjälp.

Skjut mig.

21 May 08:43

This Is Not a Review of Lars Von Trier's Repulsive 'The House That Jack Built'

the-house-that-jack-built-review.png

By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 16, 2018 |

By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 16, 2018 |

the-house-that-jack-built-review.png

This is not a review. I left The House That Jack Built after 100 minutes, at a moment when the central character began to cut off the tits of a woman he called ‘Simple’, having previously drawn incision lines around her breasts with a marker he made her get for him and then psychologically tortured her. The moment I left was when I turned my face away from the sight of the breast being cut off, but could still hear the amped-up sound of a blade sawing into flesh and the screams of a woman - and, in turning away, met the eyes of the woman sitting next to me, who was also averting her eyes from the violence onscreen; and, having cowered with her for two seconds, I decided to leave before I was put through more funny games.

This is not a review. I did not see the whole final act of The House That Jack built, and so will not discuss Lars Von Trier’s use of sets or his direction of actors. I will not critique his cinematography. I will not dissect his dialogue in the opening scene, and the ways it helps to establish character and plot.

This is not a review. When I left The House That Jack Built, it was because I could no longer remember why I was doing this anymore. I could suddenly not recall why films did this; I could not remember why the torture, abuse and murder of women was a subject matter, to be assessed by me after being made to endure it. Being in Cannes for the film festival shows you that you can pick anything for the subject of your film — anything at all — so it does bear asking why Von Trier has chosen to depict, say, a woman made to witness the brutal death of her children, and then be shot herself, in the face, in unsparing close-up. Filmmaking — and indeed all art — involves a contract between the creator and the beholder: the creator makes an offer, which the beholder, by watching, accepts. Harold Pinter and Michael Haneke have written plays and films which hinge on this agreement, far better than Von Trier: works that call into question the moral acquiescence of the audience, the collaboration of the spectator in the barbarity depicted onscreen. Von Trier blithely, or perhaps stupidly, asks us to accept the very terms of his film, and to judge the movie on what he has set out to do — namely, to accept that the violence depicted here, the torture and abuse, can be a parable for Von Trier’s own abusive behaviour towards women, and the way his films have enacted, again and again, the suffering of women. But I do not have to accept those terms; we do not have to collaborate with Von Trier in deeming this a subject. And, incidentally, the abuse of women is a poor metaphor for the abuse of women.

This is not a review, but a genuine attempt to understand how violence has been so normalized, how we can have become so blasé about terror and aggression. I’m writing because when I recoil from brutality, when I flinch from people being dragged screaming across floors or beaten in the face, I am in the minority, and my friends and colleagues are not tormented, but in fact are surprised by my feebleness and may even rejoice in the bloodsport, in the game-playing. This is not a plea for bowdlerized films, or films that reject power dynamics and violence, that hide from politics; we live in a world of violence, and movies must also reflect this, and can use shock to alarm and subvert and of course delight. I understand the visceral kick that film offers when it sports around with death. But I am still early in my filmgoing career and already sick of heartless men playing loveless games; of the way, for men who have never been at risk of attack, who have no reason to fear the world, the violence on this planet can be simply another playground to have fun in.

In Jackie Brown, there’s a scene where Robert De Niro’s character shoots Bridget Fonda’s character dead because he is so frustrated with her and wants to shut her up. I think of this scene when I see films sometimes, because I aim to consider the artistic merit of films, and I believe it is artistically less good to kill your character than to let her speak.

I don’t want to watch any more films in which all the female characters are killed.

Imagine you’re looking at a blank page, which is the beginning of your screenplay, the beginning of everybody’s screenplay. You can write anything here, whatever you want. You roll your sleeves up, give a Carrie Bradshaw look into the middle distance, which is where you find all your best ideas, and begin writing. Your film, which is to be staged by a crew, voiced by actors and recorded on film for the purposes of being seen in the world: what will it be? You can write a film that requires the dead bodies of women to be arranged in comical poses, as an arch metaphor for your own tyranny — or you can write something else. You choose.

Follow Caspar Salmon on Twitter.


Review: Anton Chekhov's 'The Seagull,' With Annette Bening, Elisabeth Moss, Saoirse Ronan, and Corey Stoll | Canadian Doctor Shot by Israeli Sniper Shows Up in Comments to Prove Story's Credibility




18 May 12:10

Old memories, accidentally trapped in amber by our digital devices

by Jason Kottke

Part of what humans use technology for is to better remember the past. We scroll back through photos on our phones and on Instagram & Flickr — “that was Fourth of July 5 years ago, so fun!” — and apps like Swarm, Timehop, and Facebook surface old locations, photos, and tweets for us on the regular. But sometimes, we run into the good old days in unexpected places on our digital devices.

Designer and typographer Marcin Wichary started a thread on Twitter yesterday about “UIs that accidentally amass memories” with the initial example of the “Preferred Networks” listing of all the wifi networks his computer had ever joined, “unexpected reminders of business trips, vacations, accidental detours, once frequented and now closed cafés”.

Digital Memories

Several other people chimed in with their own examples…the Bluetooth pairings list, the Reminders app, the list of alarms, saved places in mapping apps, AIM/iChat status message log, chat apps not used for years, the Gmail drafts folder, etc.

John Bull noted that his list of former addresses on Amazon is “a massive walk down memory line of my old jobs and places of residence”. I just looked at mine and I’ve got addresses in there from almost 20 years ago.

Steven Richie suggested the Weather app on iOS:

I usually like to add the city I will be travelling to ahead of time to get a sense of what it will be like when we get there.

I do this too but am pretty good about culling my cities list. Still, there are a couple places I keep around even though I haven’t been to them in awhile…a self-nudge for future travel desires perhaps.

Kotori switched back to an old OS via a years-old backup and found “a post-breakup message that came on the day i switched phones”:

thought i moved on but so many whatifs flashed in my head when i read it. what if i never got a new phone. what if they messaged me a few minutes earlier. what if we used a chat that did backups differently

Similarly, Richard fired up Google Maps on an old phone and was briefly transported through time and space:

On a similar note to both of these, a while ago I switched back to my old Nokia N95 after my iPhone died. Fired up Google Maps, and for a brief moment, it marked my location as at a remote crossroads in NZ where I’d last had it open, lost on a road trip at least a decade before.

Matt Sephton runs into old friends when he plays Nintendo:

Every time my friends and I play Nintendo WiiU/Wii/3DS games we see a lot of our old Mii avatars. Some are 10 years old and of a time. Amongst them is a friend who passed away a few years back. It’s always so good to see him. It’s as if he’s still playing the games with us.

For better or worse, machines never forget those who aren’t with us anymore. Dan Noyes’ Gmail holds a reminder of his late wife:

Whenever I open Gmail I see the last message that my late wife sent me via Google chat in 2014. It’s her standard “pssst” greeting for me: “aye aye”. I leave it unread lest it disappears.

It’s a wonderful thread…read the whole thing.

I encounter these nostalgia bombs every once in awhile too. I closed dozens of tabs the other day on Chrome for iOS; I don’t use it very often, so some of them dated back to more than a year ago. I have bookmarks on browsers I no longer use on my iMac that are more than 10 years old. A MacOS folder I dump temporary images & files into has stuff going back years. Everyone I know stopped using apps like Path and Peach, so when I open them, I see messages from years ago right at the top like they were just posted, trapped in amber.

My personal go-to cache of unexpected memories is Messages on iOS. Scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the list, I can find messages from numbers I haven’t communicated with since a month or two after I got my first iPhone in 2007.

Digital Memories

There and elsewhere in the listing are friends I’m no longer in touch with, business lunches that went nowhere, old flames, messages from people I don’t even remember, arriving Lyfts in unknown cities, old landlords, completely contextless messages from old numbers (“I am so drunk!!!!” from a friend’s wife I didn’t know that well?!), old babysitters, a bunch of messages from friends texting to be let into our building for a holiday party, playdate arrangements w/ the parents of my kids’ long-forgotten friends (which Ella was that?!), and old group texts with current friends left to languish for years. From one of these group texts, I was just reminded that my 3-year-old daughter liked to make cocktails:

Digital Memories

Just like Sally Draper! Speaking of Mad Men, Don’s correct: nostalgia is a potent thing, so I’ve got to stop poking around my phone and get back to work.

Update: I had forgotten this great example about a ghost driver in an old Xbox racing game.

Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together — until he died, when i was just 6.

i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.

but once i did, i noticed something.

we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.

and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.

See also this story about Animal Crossing. (via @ironicsans/status/996445080943808512)

Tags: Marcin Wichary
17 May 11:08

★ The End of Third-Party Twitter Clients?

by John Gruber

“Apps of a Feather” — a joint statement from the developers of several top third-party Twitter clients:

After August 16th, 2018, “streaming services” at Twitter will be removed. This means two things for third-party apps:

  1. Push notifications will no longer arrive
  2. Timelines won’t refresh automatically

If you use an app like Talon, Tweetbot, Tweetings, or Twitterrific, there is no way for its developer to fix these issues.

We are incredibly eager to update our apps. However, despite many requests for clarification and guidance, Twitter has not provided a way for us to recreate the lost functionality. We’ve been waiting for more than a year and have had one reprieve.

This antipathy to third-party clients is especially confounding considering that Twitter recently dropped support for their own native Mac client. As far as I’m aware, once this comes to pass next month, there will be no way to receive notifications of Twitter DMs on a Mac. None. (Twitter’s website doesn’t even support Safari’s desktop notification feature.) That’s just wacky.

Twitter management obviously wants to steer people to their first-party mobile app and desktop website. I get that. But they already have that: the overwhelming number of Twitter users use exactly those products to access the service. What Twitter management seems to be missing is that many of its most influential users — including yours truly, yes — have been on the platform a long time and have a high tendency to be among those who not just use, but depend upon third-party clients.

To me this is like finding out you’re now required to access email entirely through a web browser. Sure, lots of people already do it that way and either prefer it or think it’s eh, just fine, who cares — but a lot of others hate it and find it completely disruptive to longstanding workflows.

Twitter isn’t explicitly saying that they’re shutting down third-party clients, but I don’t know that it’s feasible for them to exist if they don’t have access to these APIs. It’s like breaking up with someone by being a jerk to them rather than telling them you’re breaking up.

I urge Twitter to reconsider this decision. Third-party clients account for a relatively small part of the Twitter ecosystem, but it’s an important one. Twitter may not care about a native Mac client, but the users of these apps, and the developers who make them, certainly do.

03 May 12:50

Fredrik Strage: Rockys snöpliga sorti påminner om sista ”The Sopranos”

Förra veckan meddelade Martin Kellerman att han lägger ner sin självbiografiska serie ”Rocky” efter 20 år. Han vet inte vad han ska göra i stället. Kanske ska han börja virka. ”Jag kan drömma om att en dag slappna av och bara virka”, säger han i sin sista intervju, gjord på det södermanländska torp dit han flytt undan alla krav (DN 29/4).

 Vi som lusläst ”Rocky” vet att han bodde på en fårfarm som liten och kan en hel del om virkande (eller som han en gång rappade i en serie om ull: ”Don't you step to me talking about garn, niXXa. What you know about that? I know all about that.”). Han har varit nere med hemslöjd sedan dag ett.

Här är sista strippen med Rocky 

Det finns ingen författare, död eller levande, som jag citerar lika ofta som Martin Kellerman. När någon frågar vad som går på på bio svarar jag: ”En slovensk road movie om en totalförlamad dvärg som blir kär i sin spinninginstruktör.” När folk flyttar ihop kan jag inte låta bli att säga: ”Du hade blivit kär i Yassir Arafat om han hade en tvåa på Odenplan.” Och jag kan inte äta kräftor utan att tänka på att ”vad man än slänger för vidrig skit från fisk eller skaldjur så är det alltid en göteborgare som tycker att det är det göttaste”.

Läs mer: Martin Kellerman: ”Jag vill tänka ut något nytt att bygga 

Enligt DN-intervjun slutar Martin Kellerman delvis eftersom serien blivit mindre lönsam. Men 2005 sa Rocky att han ”förmodligen tjänar fyra gånger mer än en bankdirektör”. Med andra ord lär han fortfarande vara stenrik jämfört med andra svenska serietecknare, en yrkesgrupp som måste donera blod för att ha råd att handla på Lidl. Det händer att läsare dyker upp i serien och klagar på att den var roligare i slutet av nittiotalet. ”Skriv mer om när du var arbetslös och bodde på en vind”, sa en av dem. Men faktum är att skämten i Rocky snarare peakade när han lyxade till det med vindsvåning, stadsjeep och ett oändligt globetrottande. Om jag någon gång får flyga business class ska jag också utbrista: ”Ur vägen, simpla pöbel.”

 ”Man måste ta en dag i taget”, är det sista Rocky säger i den sista seriestrippen, där han ligger på gräsmattan utanför sitt torp. Det är en snöplig sorti, inte olik sista avsnittet av ”The Sopranos” som också klippte av historien utan att avsluta den. Jag vill veta hur det gick för alla i serien: papegojan Mange, partygrodan Smacks, rådjuret Edith, tigern Tommy, råttan Klasse, katten Maja.

Läs mer: Efter 20 år: Martin Kellerman lägger ner Rocky 

Den senare blev min Rocky-favorit när hon, som var receptionist, lurade i folk på Berns att hon var delfinskötare, Säpo-agent och popstjärna i Japan. Hon spred odödliga livsvisdomar: ”Man vet att man inte är redo för barn när man tror att man är gravid och tänker att man ska sluta festa men så kommer man på att det är Dieselfest och så tänker man äh vad fan.”

Den alltmer introverta stämningen i serien (för ett par månader sedan handlade en stripp helt och hållet om att Rocky lyssnade på golvplankornas knirrande och knarrande) tyder på att Martin Kellerman behöver semester. Jag kan till och med acceptera ett karriärbyte om Filminstitutet lyckas få honom att skriva alla svenska filmmanus. Men att tvåtusentalets främsta dialogförfattare bara skulle sitta och virka känns som slöseri.

 Den nu 44-årige hunden konstaterade en gång att han ärvt bra gener från sin farmor: ”Hon har blivit rånad i Bryssel, släpats efter tunnelbanan i Stockholm. Hon är som Steven Seagal, min farmor. Hard to kill!” Om Rocky lever lika länge som henne har han 54 år kvar. Han borde inte tillbringa den tiden i ett torp, utan vara ute bland människor och skildra dem som bara han kan.

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26 Apr 07:55

Incel, the misogynist ideology that inspired the deadly Toronto attack, explained

by Zack Beauchamp
Toronto attack: the scene of the crime.

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.”

Incel, explained

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):

 David 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?

Alek Minassian, toronto

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.

And 10 people in Toronto just died as a result.

25 Apr 13:32

My teen years were spent in radical right-wing groups. The paranoia was intoxicating.

by Daniel Southwell

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.


First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

25 Apr 10:54

The alt-right is drunk on bad readings of Nietzsche. The Nazis were too.

by Sean Illing

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.

Alt Right Figure Richard Spencer Holds News Conference In Washington, D.C. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks to select media in his office space on August 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia.

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.”

A man makes a slashing motion across his throat twoard counter-protesters as he marches with other white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' during the 'Unite the Right' rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A man makes a slashing motion across his throat toward counterprotesters as he marches with other white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and members of the alt-right during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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.

25 Apr 08:57

9 tips för källkritik på nätet

by Hexmaster
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.

24 Apr 13:44

Growing up in the Wild Wild Country cult: ‘You heard people having sex all the time, like baboons’

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.

Rajneesh, who died in 1990, and his sannyasin movement, have found themselves in the public eye again in recent weeks thanks to the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country. The much talked-about series focuses on the community they established in Oregon after they were forced out of India in 1981, and how they got on with the locals. (Short answer: not well.)

The guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in a still from Wild Wild Country
The guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and sannyasin devotees in a still from Wild Wild Country. Photograph: Netflix

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.

dynamic meditation by the followers of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh cult in Rajneeshpuram in central Oregon.
Feeling the force … dynamic meditation by the followers of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh cult in Rajneeshpuram in Oregon. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Ma Anand Sheela of the Rajneesh sect poses for a mugshot in Mulnomah County, Oregon in 1985.
Bhagwan’s personal assistant/lieutenant Ma Anand Sheela of the Rajneesh sect poses for a mugshot in Mulnomah County, Oregon in 1985. Photograph: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

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'

In 1986, Sheela pleaded guilty to attempted murder and electronic eavesdropping within the commune, as well as her part in the immigration fraud and poisoning incidents, and was given a prison term along with two other leaders.

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.

24 Apr 13:38

The rise of Russia’s neo-Nazi football hooligans

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.

Russian supporters attack England fans after a European Championship match in Marseille, 2016
Russian supporters attack England fans after a European Championship match in Marseille, 2016. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

“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.

Spartak Moscow fans hold a giant banner during a game against Lokomotiv Moscow.
Spartak Moscow fans with an anti-BBC banner during a game against Lokomotiv Moscow, 2017. Photograph: Tass/PA

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.”

Maxim Solopov
Maxim Solopov. Photograph: Pete Kiehart

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.”

A field and stand of trees used for organised fights on the outskirts of Moscow
A field and stand of trees used for ‘forest fights’ on the outskirts of Moscow. Photograph: Pete Kiehart

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.

Fans chant during a game of Spartak’s second team.
Fans chant during a game of Spartak’s second team. Photograph: Pete Kiehart

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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19 Apr 08:45

An Aerial Tour of an Abandoned Chinese Fishing Village by Joe Nafis

by Kate Sierzputowski

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)

    

19 Apr 08:43

A Sobering Look at Fake Online Reviews

by BrianKrebs

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.

A search of the company’s domain name registration records can give you an idea of how long its Web site has been in business, as well as additional details about the the organization (although the ability to do this may soon be a thing of the past).

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.”

17 Apr 12:10

AI:s lilla hemlighet: det drivs av människor

by Jonas Söderström


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.

”Digital microwork” utförs främst i fattiga delar av världen. Artikeln AI’s dirty little secret: It’s powered by people (5 mars 2018) visar fascinerande bilder av digital arbetsmiljö* i Venezuela och Indonesien.

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.

17 Apr 07:03

Zillow, Aggregation, and Integration

by Ben Thompson

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?

Zillow and Aggregation Theory

Last fall I refined Aggregation Theory by Defining Aggregators. To quickly summarize, I wrote that Aggregators as a whole share three characteristics:

  • A direct relationship with users
  • Zero marginal costs to serve those users
  • 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

The PC is a modular system whose integrated parts earn all the profit. Blackberry (and later iPhones) on the other hand was an integrated system that used modular pieces.
The PC is a modular system whose integrated parts earn all the profit. Blackberry (and later iPhones) on the other hand was an integrated system that used modular pieces. Do note that this is a drastically simplified illustration.

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.

Commoditizing an incumbent's integration allows a new entrant to create new integrations -- and profit -- elsewhere in the value chain.
Commoditizing an incumbent’s integration allows a new entrant to create new integrations — and profit — elsewhere in the value chain.

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.

  1. Later renamed the Law of Conservation of Modularity
  2. I have my differences with Christensen, but as I’ve said repeatedly my criticism comes from an attempt to build on his brilliant work, not tear it down
  3. 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
16 Apr 08:53

When a reporter is murdered, we must take over their investigation | Laurent Richard

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

16 Apr 08:19

Jag deltog i 129 tävlingar i sociala medier. Var det värt det?

by Lo Suter

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.

Så här kan jag se ut när jag skriver motiveringar till obskyra tävlingar. Bild: Jacob Nyström  

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.

Enkelt.

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. 

Jag och tårtan in the making. Bild: Jonatan Loxdal.

Ta-daa: 

Mönstret blev, helt omedvetet, till ett peacetecken! Är juryn pacifistiskt lagda måntro? Bild: Jonatan Loxdal.

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.

Ser ni min tårta i flödet?! 

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. 

Mamma och vänner skriver

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.

Min bror och en bekant skriver också

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?

Josefin Aronsson, handläggare inom arbetsgruppen illegalt spel på Lotteriinspektionen

– 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.
  • Dela 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.

Jonas Lejon

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.

 

Vilken disneyprinsessa är du? 

Quiz har också blivit uppmärksammat som ett sätt för företag att få tillgång till information om individer. Det kan ske genom att man tvingas godkänna att företaget ska få tillgång till din profil när du tar reda på jätteviktiga saker som ”vilken Disneyprinsessa är du?” eller ”vad gjorde du i ditt förra liv?”. 

Kanske har du nån gång gjort något av de där quizen på Facebook, typ "Vilken är din RIKTIGA ålder?" eller "Vem är du i…

Publicerat av KIT den 10 maj 2017


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 män.

Bild: Lo Suter

För att delta i den här tävlingen skulle man motivera varför man ville vinna. Jag skrev så här:

Tandblekningskit 

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 biljetter

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. 

Jag på ett Zara Larsson-filter. 

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:

Zara Larsson på Berns. Bild: Erica Lascelles 

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.

Innan alla blockar mig.

13 Apr 09:02

Hungarian journalists admit role in forging anti-migrant 'atmosphere of fear'

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 MP and 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 unrest and 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.”

13 Apr 08:31

Yo neurotiska reklamen, sluta va så neurotisk

by fthunholm

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.

12 Apr 07:25

Faktiskt och faktiskt inte

by Hexmaster
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.
- IDG: Faktiskt.se

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.
12 Apr 07:23

Why Bitcoin is bullshit, explained by an expert

by Sean Illing
A visual representation of the digital Cryptocurrency, Bitcoin on December 07, 2017 in London, England. Cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Lightcoin have seen unprecedented growth in 2017, despite remaining extremely volatile.

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 blockchains and 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.

Sean Illing

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?

Nicholas Weaver

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.

Sean Illing

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?

Nicholas Weaver

None of the cryptocurrencies are truly decentralized. They’re actually centrally controlled by the miners, who can basically rewrite history at will.

Sean Illing

I’m not sure we can understand who the miners are unless we understand how Bitcoin works. Can you walk me through this?

Nicholas Weaver

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.

Sean Illing

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?

Nicholas Weaver

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.

Sean Illing

What do you mean they don’t work as currencies?

Nicholas Weaver

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.

Sean Illing

It appears that Bitcoin’s main accomplishment is that it allows people to buy things clandestinely, only in an absurdly inefficient way.

Nicholas Weaver

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.

Sean Illing

You also say that all cryptocurrencies are plagued by frauds that were banned in the 1930s. Can you explain?

Nicholas Weaver

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.

Sean Illing

Do you see a cryptocurrency emerging in the future that is more viable than what we’ve seen so far?

Nicholas Weaver

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.

Sean Illing

Is yours a minority opinion in the world of cryptocurrency?

Nicholas Weaver

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.

12 Apr 07:05

Vladimir Putin’s “quasi-mystical beliefs” and the rebound of authoritarianism

by Jason Kottke

You might remember Yale historian Timothy Snyder from his 20 lessons on fighting authoritarianism (which he turned into a short bestselling book, On Tyranny). Snyder has a new book out called The Road to Unfreedom that covers the rebound of authoritarianism first in Russia and then in Europe and America.

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.

See also Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West: “Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on ‘taking over the world’ and Putin is literally crossing shit off.”

Tags: books   Donald Trump   politics   Russia   The Road to Unfreedom   Timothy Snyder   Vladimir Putin
12 Apr 06:34

Your Pretty Face is Going to Sell

by Joe Veix

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. So what’s wrong with these people? Were their brains tenderized?

No, worse. YouTube Face is clickbait, attaining human form.

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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.

As the video market saturates, various techniques lose their power, and the attention arms race escalates. Video creators seek increasingly extreme tactics, in form as well as content. YouTube stars fake murdering their friends for a prank, for example, or filming dead bodies for shock value. 3

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:

And theneedledrop:

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’tunderstand them. The Algorithm Gods work in mysterious ways.

This has odd and often unexpected effects on the physical world. Restaurants attempt to create Instagram-friendly environments with nauseatingly kitschy interior designs. Hamburger buns are glazed to make them more aesthetically appealing. Extremist political campaigns are won partially on the strength of their shitposting. Perhaps the emergence of YTF hints at one of the many ways these algorithmic forces might begin to shape our physical appearances.

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 🙂

11 Apr 06:34

Today Zuckerberg made it clear he doesn’t care about users

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.

11 Apr 06:28

Don’t Give Away Historic Details About Yourself

by BrianKrebs

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.

11 Apr 06:25

Under questioning, Zuckerberg doesn’t help digital advertising’s creepy reputation

by Tim Peterson

Mark Zuckerberg did little to help defuse digital advertising’s “creepy because it’s complicated” reputation during a congressional hearing on April 10 in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. He may have even inflamed it.

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?”

Zuckerberg: “I know that people use cookies on the internet and that you can probably correlate activity between sessions. We do that for a number of reasons, including security and including measuring ads to make sure the ad experiences are most effective, which of course people can opt out of. But I want to make sure that I’m precise in my answer, so let me follow up with you.”

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.

We use cookies if you have a Facebook account, use the Facebook Services, including our website and apps (whether or not you are registered or logged in), or visit other websites and apps that use the Facebook Services (including the Like button or our advertising tools).

Zuckerberg’s apparent uncertainty about how Facebook tracks people outside of its walled garden to target them with ads compounds the issue facing digital advertising in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The more light that is shone on the tracking and targeting that goes on, the more aware people become of the shadows.

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.”

The post Under questioning, Zuckerberg doesn’t help digital advertising’s creepy reputation appeared first on Digiday.