Start Up No.1586: talking about social warming, the internet’s missing register, breaking Twitter addiction, how Ever Given was freed, and more


In India, a number of people have been arrested on suspicion of dispensing fake vaccines consisting of saltwater. CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Back to work? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Charles Arthur: ‘We have this tribalism built into us that is fuelled by outrage’ • Independent.ie

Mary McGill:

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His thesis is straightforward and well-supported. Like global warming, social warming, an unintended consequence of the rapid transformation of our communications systems in the digital age, has the potential to upend delicate ecosystems that govern human life, from the media to politics to interpersonal relationships.

This ‘warming’ is driven by a number of factors. Chief among them is the rise of the smartphone combined with the proliferation of social media platforms designed to commandeer attention. These connect people but also divide them, enabling the circulation of information as never before but with little to no quality control. The results are destabilising, producing masses of the internet’s hallmark emotion: outrage.

“We have this tribalism built into us that is fuelled by outrage,” Arthur says. Online, this instinct is stoked by algorithms designed to promote what is attention-grabbing rather than what is true, exploiting the human weakness for rubbernecking. Of all the sentiments expressed on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook it is outrage, Arthur says, “that travels fastest”.

This is harmful, especially when it comes to phenomena such as fake news. But as it keeps eyeballs on screens, thus fulfilling the demands of the attention economy, companies are often slow to act. “The people who run the social networks don’t mind if people are a bit outraged,” says Arthur. “They don’t mind because that keeps them on the social networks.”

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It was great speaking to Mary. Did you know this is now a book? OK, I may lay off at some point. (Mary has also written a book, coming out this month: “The Visibility Trap: Sexism, Surveillance and Social Media“.)
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the register • Oblomovka

Danny O’Brien, all the way back in October 2003, before there were social networks, and when the blogging platform LiveJournal was the Big Thing on the block:

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Most people have, in the back of their mind, the belief that what they say to their friends, they would be happy to say in public, in the same words. It isn’t true, and if you don’t believe me, tape-record yourself talking to your friends one day, and then upload it to your website for the world to hear.

This is the trap that makes fly-on-the-wall documentaries and reality TV so entertaining. It’s why politicians are so weirdly mannered, and why everyone gets a bit freaked out when the videocamera looms at the wedding. It’s what makes a particular kind of gossip – the “I can’t believe he said that!” – so virulent. No matter how constant a person you are, no matter how unwavering your beliefs, something you say in the private register will sound horrific, dismissive, egotistical or trite when blazoned on the front page of the Daily Mirror. This is the context that we are quoted out of.

But in the real world, private conversations stay private. Not because everyone is sworn to secrecy, but because their expression is ephemeral and contained to an audience. There are few secrets in private conversations; but in transmitting the information contained in the conversation, the register is subtly changed. I say to a journalist, “Look, Dave, err, frankly the guy is a bit, you know. Sheesh. He’s just not the sort of person that we’d ever approve of hiring.”. The journalist, filtering, prints, “Sources are said to disapprove of the appointment.”.

Secrets have another register. They are serious (even when they are funny secrets). We are both implicated when we share a secret. We hide it from the world. Secrets don’t change register – when they are out, they preserve their damaging style.

On the net, you have public, or you have secrets. The private intermediate sphere, with its careful buffering. is shattered. E-mails are forwarded verbatim. IRC transcripts, with throwaway comments, are preserved forever. You talk to your friends online, you talk to the world.

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(Many thanks to Lloyd for the pointer to this, which captures why when Facebook offers “privacy” controls it befuddles people.)
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Fake vaccines may have been given to thousands in India, police say • The New York Times

Hari Kumar:

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As India intensifies its vaccination effort amid fears of another wave of the coronavirus, officials are investigating allegations that perhaps thousands of people were injected with fake vaccines in the financial capital, Mumbai.

The police have arrested 14 people on suspicion of involvement in a scheme that administered injections of salt water instead of vaccine doses at nearly a dozen private vaccination sites in Mumbai over the past two months. The organizers, including medical professionals, allegedly charged between $10 and $17 per dose, according to the authorities, who said they had confiscated more than $20,000 from the suspects.

“Those arrested are charged under criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery,” said Vishal Thakur, a police officer in Mumbai.

More than 2,600 people came to the camps to receive shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured and marketed in India as Covishield. Some said that they became suspicious when their shots did not show up in the Indian government’s online portal tracking vaccinations, and when the hospitals that the organizers had claimed to be affiliated with did not match the names on the vaccination certificates they received.

“There are doubts about whether we were actually given Covishield or was it just glucose or expired/waste vaccines,” Neha Alshi, who said she was a victim of the scam, wrote on Twitter.

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India is rife with medical scams, the story notes, and they’ve really been running riot during the pandemic. Meanwhile it’s still reporting 5,000 cases per day and 1,000 deaths per day – probably still a significant undercount; the total death toll there is likely close to 1.6 million.
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A Twitter addict realizes she needs rehab • The Atlantic

Caitlin Flanagan got her husband to change her password so she couldn’t log in, as a means of going cold turkey:

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We know on an intellectual level that social-media platforms are addictive. Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, admitted as much in 2017 when he confessed that the site had been designed to exploit human “vulnerability” and to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.” We know this; we talk about it; we worry about children, or Cambridge Analytica, or Q, or any other damn thing except for ourselves. We don’t want to admit that each one of us has given a huge corporation untrammeled access to the delicate psychology that makes us who we are.

On the other hand … after about a week I wanted back in. I knew the place was still hopping, because friends would email me updates that drove me wild with the need to comment. The writer Naomi Wolf was permanently banned from Twitter for her imperious anti-vaxxing during my absence. It was as though Twitter had thrown a cloth over her parrot cage—the chattering suddenly stopped, and she was silent.

But I had thrown a cloth over my own parrot cage, so I couldn’t crow about it.

Someone sent me news that the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had written about “leprechaun economics” and the Irish ambassador to America had taken the bait and complained. It was a cultural moment that (in my opinion) screamed out for Caitlin Flanagan, but where was she? I texted the editor of this magazine: “Paul Krugman’s after me lucky charms!” The editor texted back, “I wish I knew what this meant.” I tried patching through to Old Media, sending the Times a letter to the editor in which I directed Krugman to W. B. Yeats’s Fairy and Folktales on the Irish Peasantry and its menacing description of leprechauns as “sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms,” suggesting that he should watch his back. Crickets from the Times. Did I even exist anymore?

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GETTR: Trump ally accounts hacked on July 4 launch day • Business Insider

Joshua Zitser and Dominick Reuter:

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GETTR, the new social media platform set up by allies of former President Donald Trump, still has several unresolved security bugs a day after it was hacked on its July 4 launch.

The platform’s most popular verified users, mostly former Trump aides, had their accounts compromised on Sunday and GETTR’s official support page was also targeted.

Jason Miller, who founded the platform and was formerly a spokesperson to Trump, had his page taken over.

The accounts of Mike Pompeo, Steve Bannon, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Harlan Hill, Sean Parnell, and the pro-Trump broadcaster Newsmax were also hacked.

All of these account’s profiles were changed to show the same message: “@JubaBaghdad was here 🙂 ^^ free palestine ^^.”

The accounts were first hacked around 8:30 a.m. EST on Sunday, and the majority of the profiles returned to their previous state by 10 a.m. EST.

On Monday, @JubaBaghdad told Insider that although GETTR fixed the initial bug he said he used in the attack, he was still able to scrape user data from individual accounts, including email addresses and birth years. He confirmed this by sharing details of a test account that Insider set up.

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I guess the next thing will be for them to get hit by ransomware – though that would imply that the hackers though they had some money, which feels unlikely if they couldn’t red-team their network before launching it.
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Chinese-owned firm acquires UK’s largest semiconductor manufacturer • The Guardian

Mark Sweney:

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The UK’s largest producer of semiconductors has been acquired by the Chinese-owned manufacturer Nexperia, prompting a senior Tory MP to call for the government to review the sale to a foreign owner during an increasingly severe global shortage of computer chips.

Nexperia, a Dutch firm owned by China’s Wingtech, said on Monday that it had taken full control of Newport Wafer Fab (NWF), the UK’s largest producer of silicon chips, which are vital in products from TVs and mobile phones to cars and games consoles.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling and the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, told CNBC on Monday that he would be very surprised if the deal was not being reviewed under the National Security and Investment Act, new legislation brought in to protect key national assets from foreign takeover.

“The semiconductor industry sector falls under the scope of the legislation, the very purpose of which is to protect the nation’s technology companies from foreign takeovers when there is a material risk to economic and national security,” he said.

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has previously said that the government was monitoring the situation closely, “but does not consider it appropriate to intervene at the current time”.

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The sale price isn’t believed to be big – around £60m ($85m) – but there’s a lot of significance in the UK’s (tiny) biggest semiconductor fab being sold. Not that most people would have known the UK had a semi fab.
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PSA: there’s another wacky Wi-Fi network that will nuke your iPhone • Macworld

Michael Simon:

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After warning you a couple of weeks back about a weird Wi-Fi network that will permanently disable your iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection, there’s another one. Twitter user Carl Schou discovered that the network %secretclub%power will completely annihilate your iPhone’s ability to connect to Wi-Fi.

This new network is something of a variation on the original explosive Service Set Identifier (SSID). The original network was a seeming string of letters and the% symbol—%p%s%s%s%s%n—but as you can see in the new network, there’s a common denominator: %p and %s. It’s unclear if they both need to be used, but one or both of those couplets are seemingly the culprits and it doesn’t seem to matter where they are in the SSID. So stay away from them.

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It feels like there’s a neverending array of network names and messages that will completely hose your iOS device in some way or another.
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How the billion-dollar Ever Given cargo ship got stuck in the Suez Canal • Bloomberg

Kit Chellel, Matthew Campbell, and K Oanh Ha:

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The rest of the world swiftly lost interest in Suez once the Ever Given was freed. But for [Captain Mohamed] Elsayed [Hassanin] and his pilots [at the Suez Canal Authority, which controls traffic flow], the crisis was far from over. A significant proportion of international trade was riding on getting the backlogged vessels cleared. The SCA team worked day and night to move them through, transiting as many as 80 ships daily. Elsayed knew that having tired, overworked pilots on the job increased the risk of accidents, but felt he had little choice. A few days after the Ever Given was freed, an SCA boat sank and an employee died, illustrating the dangers of working in a marine chokepoint under severe strain.

Clearing the queue took six days. Afterward, Elsayed returned to his home in Alexandria to see his family, his first break in more than two weeks.

In The Hague, [Keith] Svendsen, the APM Terminals executive, had been preparing for a huge wave of cargo, trying to boost capacity any way he could. The company had agreed with unions to extend working hours, deferred maintenance that would take cranes out of action, and cleared storage space to accommodate thousands of extra containers. Rushing cargo through would reduce APMT’s already slim margin for error. “It’s like a Tetris game where there’s no blank space,” Svendsen said.

The biggest problem emerged in Valencia, in southern Spain. The port’s storage areas were already mostly full, piled with Spanish goods awaiting shipment. As containers came in, the volume of boxes became unmanageable. For a time, APMT had to activate a last-resort option, telling customers it could take in outgoing wares only just before they were scheduled to be loaded onto a ship. It would require a month of 24/7 shifts to bring the Valencia terminal back toward normal.

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This is written very sequentially, and so hides the key point: if the blockage had gone on for two weeks, world trade would have been hugely screwed. The refloating was only possible because there was a full moon at close approach less than a week after the grounding: that raised tides exceptionally high. It could otherwise have taken up to four weeks – or longer.
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Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey opposed plans to cut new home emissions • The Guardian

Robert Booth:

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Taylor Wimpey, one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders, opposed government plans to slash carbon dioxide emissions from new homes by at least three-quarters and argued against heat pumps, which are proposed as a replacement for gas boilers, one of the UK’s biggest causes of greenhouse gases.

The company, which typically builds about 15,000 new homes a year, told a consultation that a target of cutting CO2 emissions from new homes by 75% to 80% from 2025 was “too high” and argued that heat pumps would be too expensive and would disappoint customers with their performance.

Its position was revealed through a freedom of information request by Unearthed, the investigations arm of the environmental charity Greenpeace. Housing accounts for 15% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, and that does not include electricity produced in power stations. Natural gas burned for heating and cooking is the main contributor.

It placed Taylor Wimpey in a small minority of only 2% of such responses to the government consultation into its future homes standard. The majority said the target was not ambitious enough.

Barratt, Berkeley and Thakeham homes all supported the target, as did the Home Builders Federation, which represents housebuilders, according to the response released under environmental transparency laws.

Greenpeace claimed it showed the housebuilder tried to derail an important climate policy, but Taylor Wimpey strongly denied this and said it was identifying challenges about the practical implementation of the cuts.

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If you’re building a new house, then a heat pump makes perfect sense: you install underfloor heating and make an airtight design and it’s toasty in winter, cool in summer. But people would rather stick with what they’ve always done.
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Elon Musk just now realizing that self-driving cars are a ‘hard problem’ • The Verge

Andrew Hawkins:

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I, for one, am all for [Elon] Musk taking as long as he wants with the release of [Tesla “Autopilot”] V9. Let the cake bake for as long as it needs, in my opinion, especially after viewing videos like the one to just come out of China of a Tesla Model 3 in Autopilot utterly failing to take a sharp turn and crashing into a ditch.

An anonymous Twitter user who uses the handle @greentheonly to post “hacks” of Tesla’s Autopilot, recreated the scenario to demonstrate how the company’s driver assist feature struggles with these sharp turns. With an overlay of Tesla’s Autopilot display running in the corner of the screen, greentheonly shows how the vehicle “actually outputs various alerts before the eventual ‘take over we are giving up.’” Other times, the car actually slows down enough and manages to take the turn safely.

A system that fails to take a sharp turn in “half the cases” should not inspire a great amount of confidence! Quite the opposite actually. The number of open investigations into vehicle crashes involving Tesla Autopilot seems to be growing in inverse relation to customer expectations about Musk’s ability to deliver on the promises he’s been making (and breaking) for years now.

Musk isn’t alone in coming to the realization that self-driving cars are hard. Nearly the entire industry was predicting that by now ours roads would be swarmed with self-driving cars, only to later admit they underestimated how complicated it was to get cars to drive themselves safely and reliably.

To which we can now say to Musk, “Welcome to the party, pal.”

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The video is quite something. What’s weird is that the car doesn’t seem to take any input from the mapping software that would be able to tell it that there’s a huge turn coming up. Separate systems? The “Autopilot” seems incapable of doing properly sharp turns, which is a bit of a disadvantage in real life.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified


You can order Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.


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