Start Up No.1628: Facebook insurrection posts vanish, Reddit bans antivaxxers, Google Play revenue revealed, and more

Which other one-hit wonder would you pair with Gangnam Style? An AI can help you with the mix and cut the video too. CC-licensed photo by Republic of Korea on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. No, not a prime. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Thousands of posts around January 6 riots go missing from Facebook transparency tool • POLITICO

Mark Scott:


Scores of Facebook posts from the days before and after the January 6 Capitol Hill riots in Washington are missing.

The posts disappeared from Crowdtangle, a tool owned by Facebook that allows researchers to track what people are saying on the platform, according to academics from New York University and Université Grenoble Alpes.

The lost posts — everything from innocuous personal updates to potential incitement to violence to mainstream news articles — have been unavailable within Facebook’s transparency system since at least May, 2021. The company told POLITICO that they were accidentally removed from Crowdtangle because of a limit on how Facebook allows data to be accessed via its technical transparency tools. It said that the error had now been fixed.

Facebook did not address the sizeable gap in its Crowdtangle data publicly until contacted by POLITICO, despite ongoing pressure from policymakers about the company’s role in helping spread messages, posts and videos about the violent insurrection, which killed five people. On Friday, U.S. lawmakers ordered the company to hand over reams of internal documents and data linked to the riots, including details on how misinformation, which targeted the U.S. presidential election, had spread.

It is unclear how many posts are still missing from Crowdtangle, when they will be restored, and if the problem solely affects U.S. content or material from all of Facebook’s 2.4 billion users worldwide. The academics who discovered the problem estimate that tens of thousands of Facebook posts are currently missing.


It’s hard not to feel suspicious about this, because Facebook was insistent that the attacks on January 6 weren’t organised through it; a plethora of evidence to the contrary would be embarrassing, to say the least.
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Reddit bans anti-vaccine subreddit r/NoNewNormal after site-wide protest • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:


Reddit has banned anti-vaccine and anti-mask subreddit r/NoNewNormal and has quarantined 54 other subreddits associated with COVID denial. A week ago, the company’s CEO said in a post that Reddit was meant to be a place of “open and authentic discussion and debate,” even for ideas that “question or disagree with popular consensus.” In today’s post, the company has clarified its rules with regard to health misinformation.

The subreddit NoNewNormal has been cited by many in the Reddit community as a source of vaccine misinformation, and it was known for “brigading” other subreddit’s discussions by butting in on conversations about COVID or related policies in other communities. NoNewNormal was the source of 80 such brigades in the past month, according to Reddit security, and the behavior continued after the community was warned, leading to its ban. The community had previously been quarantined. For the 54 other subreddits that have been quarantined, Reddit warns potential visitors that medical advice should come from doctors rather than forum members.

Reddit, along with other social networks and online marketplaces, has struggled with misinformation about COVID treatments in recent weeks. The platform has rules that seek to address the concerns but admits how it was interpreting and enforcing those rules hasn’t been clear. In today’s announcement, it stated that it classifies health misinformation as “falsifiable health information that encourages or poses a significant risk of physical harm to the reader.”


Medical advice from doctors rather than forum members. What a radical idea.
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This is the moment the anti-vaccine movement has been waiting for • NY Times

Tara Haelle is a science journalist who has been writing about the anti-vaccination “movement” for some time:


As the coronavirus began pushing the nation into lockdown in March 2020, Joshua Coleman, an anti-vaccine campaigner who organizes anti-vaccine rallies, went on Facebook Live to give his followers a rallying speech. He laid out what he thought the pandemic really was: an opportunity.

“This is the one time in human history where every single human being across this country, possibly across the planet, but especially in this country, are all going to have an interest in vaccination and vaccines,” he said. “So it’s time for us to educate.”

By “educate,” he meant to spread misinformation about vaccines.

The approach that Mr. Coleman displayed in his nearly 10-minute-long appearance — turning any negative event into a marketing opportunity — is characteristic of anti-vaccine activists. Their versatility and ability to read and assimilate the language and culture of different social groups have been key to their success. But Mr. Coleman’s speech also encapsulated a yearslong campaign during which the anti-vaccine movement has maneuvered itself to exploit what Mr. Coleman called “a very unique position in this moment in time.”

Over the last six years, anti-vaccine groups and leaders have begun to organize politically at a level like never before. They’ve founded state political action committees, formed coalitions with other constituencies, and built a vast network that is now the foundation of vaccination opposition by conservative groups and legislators across the country.


This answers the question of who is pushing and how, though the question of why it finds resonance with people still seems tricky. I’d love to know whether there’s something in Americans’ flawed belief in “freedom” (for which read: selfishness) that makes them more susceptible to these beliefs, along with a political system that is utterly broken through its reliance on money for success.
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Google Play app store revenue hit $11.2bn in 2019, lawsuit says • Reuters

Paresh Dave:


Alphabet Inc’s Google generated $11.2bn in revenue from its mobile app store in 2019, according to a court filing unsealed on Saturday, offering a clear view into the service’s financial results for the first time.

Attorneys general for Utah and 36 other U.S. states or districts suing Google over alleged antitrust violations with the app store also said in the newly unredacted filing that the business in 2019 had $8.5bn in gross profit and $7bn in operating income, for an operating margin of over 62%.

The figures include sales of apps, in-app purchase and app store ads. Google told Reuters the data “are being used to mischaracterize our business in a meritless lawsuit.”


You start to understand why Google and Apple are so keen to keep hold of their grip on their app stores.
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We can pull the plug on the lab leak theory • The Editorial Board

Lindsay Beyerstein:


if there were a lab leak, the IC [US intelligence community] would be as well-positioned to prove it as anyone in the world. The IC’s expertise is uncovering secrets, and if covid leaked from the WIV, there are a lot of people keeping secrets. Scientists at the WIV would know. Elements within the Chinese government would probably know, too — either because they were monitoring the institute the whole time or because their own investigations later uncovered it. China has a lot of raw data about the earliest phase of the pandemic that it’s not sharing with the rest of the world. Lab leakers speculate that China is hiding the data because they’re covering up a lab leak, but there are many possible motives for secrecy, starting with the fact that China is a leading purveyor of conspiracy theories that a lab in the United States leaked covid. 

If anyone were keeping the secret of a lab leak, IC’s job would be to hack, bug, wheedle or bribe that secret loose. So far, they’ve come up short. It’s been almost two years. Not a shred of concrete evidence has emerged to tie covid to a lab. The unclassified summary tacitly admits as much. The one agency arguing for a lab leak reached this conclusion based on “the inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses.” They’re not claiming to have eyewitness accounts, intercepts, genomic analyses or anything specific to back up this hunch. 

Even if bat coronavirus research is risky in the abstract, a lab can’t leak what it hasn’t got. There’s no evidence the WIV ever had covid or any virus similar enough to covid to genetically engineer it from spare parts. Last month, the IC revealed they were using supercomputers to mine a database of viral sequences that the WIV took offline in September, but apparently those efforts haven’t panned out. 

Meanwhile the body of scientific evidence pointing to natural origin continues to expand. More and more viruses similar to covid-19 are being found in the wild. The emergence of increasingly infectious covid variants casts doubt on the lab leak boosters’ claim that covid was pre-adapted to be maximally transmissible to humans. The fact that covid can infect species as different as otters and tigers is further evidence it’s a natural virus.


Beyerstein is commenting in the aftermath of the publication late last week of the wholly inconclusive IC report on the origins of SARS-Cov-2.

(TEB isn’t the editorial board of anything, it’s a site in its own right.)
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‘I guess I’m having a go at killing it’: Salman Rushdie to bypass print and publish next book on Substack • The Guardian

Shelley Hepworth:


[Rushdie’s] novella, titled The Seventh Wave, is also linked to film. The 60,000 word text, which has now been slashed to 35,000 words, is about a film director and an actor slash muse written in the style of New Wave cinema, with “disjunctions and crash cuts and gangsters”.

“The infallible test of anything I write is embarrassment,” Rushdie says. “If I’m embarrassed to show it to you, then it’s not ready.

“There comes a point where I’m not embarrassed to show it and actually I’m kind of eager to show it. After the complete rethinking of this text – compressing, condensing, cutting, changing the narrative line somewhat – now I like it.”

It will be a digital experiment in serialising fiction (“the way [it] used to be published, right at the beginning”) with new sections coming out approximately once a week over the course of about a year, he says.

A surprising number of the classics were originally serialised: Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers is the best known example, but there is also Madame Bovary, War and Peace, and Heart of Darkness. Rushdie references the experience of Samuel Richardson, who serialised his novel Clarissa in 1748.

“His readers expected that she would, in the end, fall in love with the guy. But then he rapes her. Richardson had quite a lot of correspondence from readers who said that, in spite of that terrible act, they still wanted what they would consider to be a happy ending – and he very determinedly would not give it to them.

“I’ve never had that before, to be publishing something where people can say things about it while it’s going on.”

Is he open to the idea of feedback from readers shaping the story?

“It would have to be a very good suggestion,” he says. “But it does sometimes happen that somebody says something about a character, which you hadn’t thought about when you were writing it … If somebody were to say, for instance, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, I want to hear a bit more about that’, then maybe I’ll give them a bit more about that.”


I wonder, I really wonder, about the quality of comments that Rushdie will get on his Substack. And what price he’ll charge. Of course Stephen King tried this too, in 2000, but abandoned it, complaining that “most internet users seem to have the attention span of grasshoppers”. Plus ça change…
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Social Warming is my latest book: why social media is driving everyone a little mad, even if they don’t use it – and how to fix it.

How Facebook relies on Accenture to scrub toxic content • The New York Times

Adam Satariano and Mike Isaac:


Accenture has taken on the work — and given it a veneer of respectability — because Facebook has signed contracts with it for content moderation and other services worth at least $500m a year, according to The Times’s examination. Accenture employs more than a third of the 15,000 people whom Facebook has said it has hired to inspect its posts. And while the agreements provide only a small fraction of Accenture’s annual revenue, they give it an important lifeline into Silicon Valley. Within Accenture, Facebook is known as a “diamond client.”

Their contracts, which have not previously been reported, have redefined the traditional boundaries of an outsourcing relationship. Accenture has absorbed the worst facets of moderating content and made Facebook’s content issues its own. As a cost of doing business, it has dealt with workers’ mental health issues from reviewing the posts. It has grappled with labor activism when those workers pushed for more pay and benefits. And it has silently borne public scrutiny when they have spoken out against the work.

Those issues have been compounded by Facebook’s demanding hiring targets and performance goals and so many shifts in its content policies that Accenture struggled to keep up, 15 current and former employees said. And when faced with legal action from moderators about the work, Accenture stayed quiet as Facebook argued that it was not liable because the workers belonged to Accenture and others.

“You couldn’t have Facebook as we know it today without Accenture,” said Cori Crider, a co-founder of Foxglove, a law firm that represents content moderators. “Enablers like Accenture, for eye-watering fees, have let Facebook hold the core human problem of its business at arm’s length.”


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RaveDJ • Music Mixer

OK, so this uses AI to mix songs found on YouTube and/or Spotify. And it’s pretty good. Can definitely recommend Gangnam Style Touch This which is a mashup of.. oh, you worked it out.

Some of the mixes are more than two hours long, if you need some background music.
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Ben Dugan works for CVS. His job is battling a $45bn crime spree • WSJ

Rebecca Ballhaus and Shalini Ramachandran:


Ben Dugan sat in an unmarked sedan in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood one day last September waiting for the CVS to be robbed.

He tracked a man entering the store and watched as the thief stuffed more than $1,000 of allergy medicine into a trash bag, walked out and did the same at two other nearby stores, before loading them into a waiting van, Mr. Dugan recalled.

The target was no ordinary shoplifter. He was part of a network of organized professionals, known as boosters, whom CVS had been monitoring for weeks. The company believed the group responsible for stealing almost $50 million in products over five years from dozens of stores in Northern California. The job for Mr. Dugan, CVS Health Corp.’s top investigator, was to stop them.

Retailers are spending millions a year to battle organized crime rings that steal from their stores in bulk and then peddle the goods online, often on Inc.’s retail platform, according to retail investigators, law-enforcement officers and court documents. It is a menace that has been supercharged by the pandemic and the rapid growth of online commerce that has accompanied it.

“We’re trying to control it the best we can, but it’s growing every day,” said Mr. Dugan.

The Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, a trade association, which Mr. Dugan heads, estimates that organized retail theft accounts for around $45bn in annual losses for retailers these days, up from $30 billion a decade ago. At CVS, reported thefts have ballooned 30% since the pandemic began.

Mr. Dugan’s team, working with law enforcement, expects to close 73 e-commerce cases this year involving $104m of goods stolen from multiple retailers and sold on Amazon.


“Oh but you’re just blaming the internet”. Sure, but the internet has removed the role of the fence from the steal-sell-resell operation. And that’s a problem if Amazon can’t or won’t verify suppliers.
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Twitter launches Super Follows on iOS • The Verge

Kait Sanchez:


Twitter is starting to roll out Super Follows, its new feature that lets users charge for subscriber-only content. Creators can set their tweets to go out to Super Followers only, and the tweets will appear in the timelines of just those subscribers. The feature, announced in February, is currently only available on Twitter’s iOS app and is limited to a test group of people in the US who applied to try it out.

iOS users in the US and Canada can Super Follow accounts that are in the initial test group. Super Followers are identified to creators by a badge that appears under their name when they reply to tweets. Twitter plans to roll out the feature on iOS in more countries in the coming weeks and says it will be available on Android and the web soon.

Super Follows users can charge $2.99, $4.99, or $9.99 a month, with payments processed through Stripe. Twitter says users can earn up to 97% of subscription revenue after third-party fees, until they reach a lifetime earnings limit of $50,000 across all Twitter monetization products. After hitting that limit, Twitter says users can earn up to 80% of revenue after third-party fees.

People who don’t have the Super Follows feature can apply for a waitlist under the monetization tab in the Twitter app. To be eligible, people need to have at least 10,000 followers, be at least 18 years old, have tweeted 25 times in the last 30 days, be in the US, and comply with Twitter’s Super Follows policy.


The example Twitter offers of a Super Follower tweet being drafted is “Skincare Q+A exclusive for my super followers! Ask me anything.”

Unclear to me whether those outside your “super follow” group see any of the conversation – guessing not? A strange new form of gated community online. It’s like flipping between being a protected account or not, as you like. And charging.

Suspect it’s going to be super-popular with a certain class of influencers. (I don’t think that includes me, but if you think it should, send money.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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