Start Up No.1459: what’s Trump without big social media?, Boeing pays $2.5bn to settle 737 Max charge, Apple Car running slow, and more


The US politician Matt Gaetz will tell you this is definitely someone from antifa, because it’s… antifa/cial recognition? CC-licensed photo by EFF Photos on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Another week. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Trump is losing his social media platforms • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

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For years, being able to use Facebook and Twitter as his personal battering rams has been one of Mr. Trump’s biggest political assets. He is an inveterate poster who uses these apps to pick fights, settle scores, promote conspiracy theories and disseminate disinformation, and who has faced remarkably few consequences for doing so. He has more than 100 million combined followers on the platforms, and his posts routinely generate more engagement than those of any other public figure.

Mr. Trump would still find ways to reach his followers without Facebook and Twitter, of course. There would still be Fox News, Newsmax, OANN and legions of pro-Trump partisans willing to repost his messages. Newspapers and cable news stations, which have long treated anything a president said as inherently newsworthy, might not be able to resist giving Mr. Trump airtime and attention even when he is a private citizen. And he has expressed interest in starting his own digital media empire, where he could set his own rules.

The most obvious short-term move for Mr. Trump, after a Twitter and Facebook ban, would be to move to one of the “alt-platforms” such as Parler and Gab, where many of his most ardent followers have flocked after being kicked off more mainstream apps. (On Wednesday night, Gab’s chief executive, Andrew Torba, said he was “in the process of connecting with President Trump’s team” about setting up the president’s account.)

But these apps are small and culturally insular, and wouldn’t likely satisfy the president’s desire for a mass audience.

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What Trump does is a process I call “social warming” (book available for preorder!) – driving polarisation and outrage, denying truth, aided by social media and its algorithms. But once you shrink his reach (or the networks’ reach), you dramatically lessen the impact. At least, that’s my hypothesis.
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Rep. Matt Gaetz’s antifa-detecting facial recognition story is complete nonsense • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

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In a speech during the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden, Gaetz claimed there was “some pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company” that some Capitol rioters were actually “members of the violent terrorist group antifa.” (Antifa is not a single defined group, does not have an official membership, and has not been designated a terrorist organization, although President Donald Trump has described it as one.)

Gaetz attributed this claim to a short Washington Times article published yesterday. That article, in turn, cited a “retired military officer.” The officer asserted that a company called XRVision “used its software to do facial recognition of protesters and matched two Philadelphia antifa members to two men inside the Senate.” The Times said it had been given a copy of the photo match, but it didn’t publish the picture.

There is no evidence to support the Times’ article, however. An XRVision spokesperson linked The Verge to a blog post by CTO Yaacov Apelbaum, denying its claims and calling the story “outright false, misleading, and defamatory.” (Speech delivered during congressional debate, such as Gaetz’s, is protected from defamation claims.) The Times article was apparently deleted a few hours after Apelbaum’s post.

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There’s some truly incredible wishful thinking going on there. Deluded too. Surely it would be antifa-cial recognition, though?
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DC live updates: New Capitol fence in place; D.C. police identify three who died during riots • The Washington Post

Julie Zauzmer:

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The secretary of the Army and the chief of D.C.’s police force acknowledged Thursday that they did not expect President Trump’s supporters to try to enter the Capitol building, despite extensive online conversations in which far-right groups publicly discussed their plans to do just that.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said a breach of the Capitol was not in his “wildest imagination.”
D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said, “There was no intelligence that suggested there would be a breach of the U.S. Capitol.”

When that breach did occur, the Capitol Police called D.C. police to help, and eventually the D.C. National Guard moved in to help. But Bowser pointed out Thursday that her hands were tied in calling in the National Guard — unlike the governors of states, Bowser cannot summon the Guard on her own but must seek the approval of the Pentagon.

If D.C. became a state or if Congress approved a bill giving the mayor less restricted powers, Bowser said, “We wouldn’t have to clear a deployment plan with the secretary of the Army. We could be nimble in how we change it.”

McCarthy said the increased Guard presence and the new fencing around the Capitol will last past the inauguration, and Bowser warned that violence might continue even longer.

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To which everyone on all of social media said “you were able to infiltrate all sorts of underground organisations and yet this one which was getting T-shirts printed and for which the president and his cronies laid out a timetable, you couldn’t see coming?”

Truly shows the gap between old thinking and new thinking which includes the online space.
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Boeing charged with 737 Max fraud conspiracy and agrees to pay over $2.5bn • Department of Justice

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The Boeing Company (Boeing) has entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice to resolve a criminal charge related to a conspiracy to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) in connection with the FAA AEG’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane.

Boeing, a US-based multinational corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells commercial airplanes to airlines worldwide, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) in connection with a criminal information filed today in the Northern District of Texas. The criminal information charges the company with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Under the terms of the DPA, Boeing will pay a total criminal monetary amount of over $2.5bn, composed of a criminal monetary penalty of $243.6m, compensation payments to Boeing’s 737 MAX airline customers of $1.77bn, and the establishment of a $500m crash-victim beneficiaries fund to compensate the heirs, relatives, and legal beneficiaries of the 346 passengers who died in the Boeing 737 MAX crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

“The tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world’s leading commercial airplane manufacturers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General David P. Burns of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

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Bear in mind that this is essentially all down to software:

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As Boeing admitted in court documents, Boeing—through two of its 737 MAX Flight Technical Pilots—deceived the FAA AEG about an important aircraft part called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that impacted the flight control system of the Boeing 737 MAX. Because of their deception, a key document published by the FAA AEG lacked information about MCAS, and in turn, airplane manuals and pilot-training materials for U.S.-based airlines lacked information about MCAS.

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Biggest ever fine for what is essentially a software bug?
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Apple’s Tesla killer won’t ship for at least half a decade • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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The Cupertino, California-based technology giant has a small team of hardware engineers developing drive systems, vehicle interior and external car body designs with the goal of eventually shipping a vehicle. That’s a more ambitious goal than in previous years when the project mostly focused on creating an underlying self-driving system. The company has also added more ex-Tesla Inc. executives to the project.

Still, some Apple engineers on the project believe the company could release a product in five to seven years if Apple goes ahead with its plans. The car is nowhere near production stage, the people said, though they did warn timelines could change. They asked not to be identified discussing sensitive, internal work. The majority of the team is currently either working from home or at the office for limited time, slowing the company’s ability to develop a full vehicle. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

…A key differentiator would be Apple’s ability to integrate its self-driving system, a pricey initiative that has spurred the company to develop its own software, sensor hardware and chip technologies. The goal is to let a user to input their destination and be driven there with little or no other engagement, according to the people familiar with the project.

…Apple has continued to investigate building its self-driving car system for a third-party car partner rather than its own vehicle, the people said, and it could ultimately again abandon its own car efforts in favor of this approach.

The company first set out to build an electric car in 2014, hiring hundreds of hardware engineers for the effort before rapidly paring it back around 2016 to focus on the self-driving car system. From 2016 through 2019, Apple cut hundreds of workers from the team. However, it kept some hardware engineers with expertise in car components who either stayed on the car project or worked on other initiatives.

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The label “Tesla killer” is just absurd. This sounds like a concept, but what’s Apple really going to bring to the party that multiple others can’t?
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Leaked documents show how China’s army of paid internet trolls helped censor the coronavirus • ProPublica

Raymond Zhong, Paul Mozur, Aaron Krolik, and Jeff Kao:

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In the early hours of Feb. 7, China’s powerful internet censors experienced an unfamiliar and deeply unsettling sensation. They felt they were losing control.

The news was spreading quickly that Li Wenliang, a doctor who had warned about a strange new viral outbreak only to be threatened by the police and accused of peddling rumors, had died of COVID-19. Grief and fury coursed through social media. To people at home and abroad, Li’s death showed the terrible cost of the Chinese government’s instinct to suppress inconvenient information.

Yet China’s censors decided to double down. Warning of the “unprecedented challenge” Li’s passing had posed and the “butterfly effect” it may have set off, officials got to work suppressing the inconvenient news and reclaiming the narrative, according to confidential directives sent to local propaganda workers and news outlets.

They ordered news websites not to issue push notifications alerting readers to his death. They told social platforms to gradually remove his name from trending topics pages. And they activated legions of fake online commenters to flood social sites with distracting chatter, stressing the need for discretion: “As commenters fight to guide public opinion, they must conceal their identity, avoid crude patriotism and sarcastic praise, and be sleek and silent in achieving results.”

The orders were among thousands of secret government directives and other documents that were reviewed by The New York Times and ProPublica. They lay bare in extraordinary detail the systems that helped the Chinese authorities shape online opinion during the pandemic.

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Long and detailed. Though China faces new problems: it’s locked down a city in northern Hebei province (Shijiazhuang, about 300km from Beijing) after recording 63 cases of Covid. That sucker ain’t going away.
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The Big Thaw: how Russia could dominate a warming world • ProPublica

Abrahm Lustgarten:

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A great transformation is underway in the eastern half of Russia. For centuries the vast majority of the land has been impossible to farm; only the southernmost stretches along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, including around Dimitrovo, have been temperate enough to offer workable soil. But as the climate has begun to warm, the land — and the prospect for cultivating it — has begun to improve. Twenty years ago, Dima says, the spring thaw came in May, but now the ground is bare by April; rainstorms now come stronger and wetter. Across Eastern Russia, wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat. It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.

Around the world, climate change is becoming an epochal crisis, a nightmare of drought, desertification, flooding and unbearable heat, threatening to make vast regions less habitable and drive the greatest migration of refugees in history. But for a few nations, climate change will present an unparalleled opportunity, as the planet’s coldest regions become more temperate. There is plenty of reason to think that those places will also receive an extraordinary influx of people displaced from the hottest parts of the world as the climate warms. Human migration, historically, has been driven by the pursuit of prosperity even more so than it has by environmental strife. With climate change, prosperity and habitability — haven and economic opportunity — will soon become one and the same.

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Swings and roundabouts, winners and losers. How weird if Russia is able to transform from a giant supplier of fossil fuels to a giant supplier of food – over which it will of course wield its power. (Via John Naughton.)
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In India, smartphones and cheap data are giving women a voice • WIRED

Yasaswini Sampathkumar:

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Mallika, like 200 million other women in India, is illiterate. In the past few years though, millions of Indian women have gone online thanks to cheaper smartphones and mobile data, and apps that let them communicate using sounds and images. Anecdotal evidence suggests the phones are empowering many women to access information, build networks, and participate in markets.

For Mallika, the ability to use smartphones visually and orally has been a game changer. The internet is no longer sealed off with written words. She uses photographs and audio memos to communicate with friends and family, and voice commands to look for videos.

“I can tap on the picture of Annan (what she calls Thanaraj) and send him an audio message,” she says. Before getting the phone, she had to travel by foot over mountains to enter Madurai and interact with Thanaraj—her single point of contact with the outside world. “The phone connects her directly to the people who can help her,” says Thanaraj. “I am no longer the only person she speaks to.”

Mallika is part of a WhatsApp group where she shares videos and photographs of the forest with local journalists. Illegal logging is a persistent problem. “Sometimes teak or sandalwood trees go missing,” she says. “I take pictures and compare them to older photographs.” She shares the photos with rangers and forest officials. In case of a confrontation, “my husband videotapes the skirmish to protect me. We send the video along with a voice message to the journalists’ group.” She also watches videos of activists in other parts of India.

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People were astonished a few years ago when Apple added the ability to include short voice messages in iMessage. But it turned out that was in high demand in China. Similarly in India: voice is hugely important as a command mechanism. And not only for women.
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Giuliani to senator: ‘try to just slow it down’ • The Dispatch

Steve Hayes:

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At approximately 7 p.m., Giuliani called newly sworn-in Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a staunch Trump ally, imploring him to stall the process. “I want to discuss with you how they’re trying to rush this hearing and how we need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you,” Giuliani said in a voicemail. “And I know they’re reconvening at 8 tonight, but it … the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow—ideally until the end of tomorrow. I know McConnell is doing everything he can to rush it, which is kind of a kick in the head because it’s one thing to oppose us, it’s another thing not to give us a fair opportunity to contest it.”

Giuliani tells Tuberville that McConnell wants to narrow the objections to just three states and explains that the Trump team wants to object to 10. “So if you could object to every state and, along with a congressman, get a hearing for every state, I know we would delay you a lot, but it would give us the opportunity to get the legislators who are very, very close to pulling their vote, particularly after what McConnell did today.”

The problem for Giuliani? He left his message on the voicemail of another senator, who shared it with The Dispatch. 

It’s not clear whether Giuliani—who opens the call by referring to himself as “the president’s lawyer”—was directed to call Tuberville by President Trump. Requests for comment to Giuliani’s cell phone and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows went unanswered. One longtime Trump adviser still talking to top White House officials says Trump is in constant communication with Giuliani. Asked if such a call is something Trump would know about, he said: “Oh, yeah, 100 percent.” 

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You know, I have a sneaking suspicion about how that whole Four Seasons Total Landscaping thing came about, and who was responsible.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1459: what’s Trump without big social media?, Boeing pays $2.5bn to settle 737 Max charge, Apple Car running slow, and more

  1. I feel like we’ve crossed some sort of threshold here in America over the past few days. Not to be alarmist, of course things have been worse at times over the past 250 years (Civil War, Great Depression, etc). Unfortunately, that strikes me as a very low bar (hey, the world isn’t as bad as WWII!).

    But we just had billionaire media oligarchs ban *The President* of the country, to general cheering from the intelligentsia, over fears of further violence from his electorally defeated rival political faction. Wow.

    “If It Happened There” style writing is seeming more insightful than ever (“Civil unrest rocked the capital of Maerica today, as loyalists of the defeated Red-party caudillo Rumpt overran the legislature. Although quickly repulsed by security forces, the event sent shock waves through the country’s professional class, who overwhelmingly support the internationally recognized winner, Blue-party Oje Diben. Many of the country’s media barons were quick to react, cutting off Rumpt as part of the events. …”).

    And we’re a long way from Internet/censorship/damage/blah-blah-blah.
    I always opposed that cliche, but these days talking about that feels like opposing the idea that flying machines would make war impossible.

    • Is your concern about the actions of the rioters/domestic terrorists/white supremacists/(delete as required), or the billionaire oligarchs? A president has so many methods of getting a message out to the public, and that remains whether or not they have a social media account. TV addresses. Fox and Friends phone-ins. Press releases. White House press conferences. Videos hosted on whitehouse.gov.

      If you’re concerned about the path the US is going down.. well, yes. No disagreement there.

      • My concern is while talk of “Civil War II, this time Red vs Blue” is hyperbole right now, I worry we just took a step closer to having it be reality. A step. Not there yet, by far, it’s still a significant way off. But with all the necessary qualifiers and nuance and hedges put in, we’re still measurably, significantly, nearer to it after this week than last week.

        The actions of the billionaire oligarchs are part of this process. It’s straight-up the sort of actions which take place in any government instability: Which parts of the elites support which political factions? The point isn’t if some media barons are dispositive in the conflict, given the opponent side may have many other resources. It’s that these oligarchs are trying to disrupt communications of the leader of the opposite faction (whether it’s 100% effective or not is a different question – note you yourself argued above the practice seems to be at least partially effective overall “But once you shrink his reach … you dramatically lessen the impact”).

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