Start Up No.1646: Instagram pauses plans for kids version, anti-vaxxers infest Clubhouse, China faces power shortage, and more

Guess which is the latest app to hit a billion (monthly) users? CC-licensed photo by Solen Feyissa on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Fill ‘er up! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.

Facebook is ‘pausing’ work on Instagram kids app after widespread criticism • The Verge

James Vincent:


Instagram says it’s “pausing” development of what’s been dubbed “Instagram Kids” — a version of the photo-sharing app aimed at children under 13. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri announced the news in a blog post on Monday, saying that the Facebook-owned company would continue to work on parental-supervised experiences for younger users.

In a blog post and series of accompanying tweets, Mosseri blames the media and critics for misunderstanding the purpose of the app. “It was never meant for younger kids, but for tweens (aged 10-12),” he writes. In a separate tweet, he adds that news of the project “leaked way before we knew what it would be. People feared the worst, and we had few answers at that stage. It’s clear we need to take more time on this.”


Related: Facebook is going to publish two internal slide decks from its research into how Instagram affects teens’ mental health. First to Congress, then to the public. Mysterious how difficult it seems to be. Though one slide was released, and seems to portray Instagram as not wholly negative.
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Doctors are being forced off Clubhouse by anti-vax harassment • Vice

Sophia Smith Galer:


[Siyab] Panhwar is part of a group of doctors who have tried their best to counter misinformation on Clubhouse, which has about 2 million weekly active users. Many were excited when Clubhouse first came on the scene; emergency physician Dr Rocky Jedick in Utah created a club with other doctors called The Evidence Base to provide, as the name suggests, an evidence-based approach to answering difficult questions. 

But soon, he realised that Clubhouse rooms were spiralling out of control. He recalled the controversial evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein one day telling almost 1,500 listeners that Ivermectin was “100% effective as COVID prophylaxis,” and that health agencies restricting access to this medicine were “killing millions.” Weinstein has 59,000 followers on the app.

Now, many of the doctors are fed up. “Most of us have decreased our time on Clubhouse,” said Dr Danish Nagda from St. Louis, “especially in COVID rooms because anti-vaxxers are actively disruptive on the stage. I have reported account after account with zero feedback or actions taken from Clubhouse.”


Again and again you’ll see the same patterns in unmoderated systems like this: the people who have the time to waste will spend it harassing those who don’t, until the latter group gives up because they have more important things to do. It’s repeated again and again – essentially, a version of Gresham’s Law (bad money drives out good) for information when there’s no reward for providing good information.
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China power outages close factories and threaten growth • The New York Times

Keith Bradsher, in Dongguan, eastern China:


The outages have rippled across most of eastern China, where the bulk of the population lives and works. Some building managers have turned off elevators. Some municipal pumping stations have shut down, prompting one town to urge residents to store extra water for the next several months, though it later withdrew the advice.

There are several reasons electricity is suddenly in short supply in much of China. More regions of the world are reopening after pandemic-induced lockdowns, greatly increasing demand for China’s electricity-hungry export factories.

Export demand for aluminum, one of the most energy-intensive products, has been strong. Demand has also been robust for steel and cement, central to China’s vast construction programs.

As electricity demand has risen, it has also pushed up the price of coal to generate that electricity. But Chinese regulators have not let utilities raise rates enough to cover the rising cost of coal. So the utilities have been slow to operate their power plants for more hours.

In the city of Dongguan, a major manufacturing hub near Hong Kong, a shoe factory that employs 300 workers rented a generator last week for $10,000 a month to ensure that work could continue. Between the rental costs and the diesel fuel for powering it, electricity is now twice as expensive as when the factory was simply tapping the grid.

“This year is the worst year since we opened the factory nearly 20 years ago,” said Jack Tang, the factory’s general manager.


China also outlawed bitcoin mining last week. If this is the start of a big power crunch, the supply chain problems will only worsen.
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Petrol station chaos worsened by motorists filling up with wrong fuel • The Guardian

Gwyn Topham:


The chaos on Great Britain’s petrol station forecourts has been worsened by hundreds of panicking motorists filling their tanks with the wrong kind of fuel, breakdown services have reported.

With queues snaking hundreds of metres from some filling stations – and tension building between motorists in places [fisticuffs have been filmed at more than one place – CA] – more than five times as many people as usual in the UK have mistakenly put diesel in their petrol engine or vice versa.

Misfuelling can cause significant damage to cars, and motorists are advised to not switch on the ignition at all once they realise their mistake – meaning such breakdowns potentially block the already crowded forecourts. Hapless drivers also need to have their tanks fully drained while the contaminated fuel has to be jettisoned.

The AA said it had attended 250 such incidents over the weekend compared with an average of 20-25 on an average day. The breakdown company has a fleet of specialist “fuel assist” vans to deal with this type of incident. Should the driver not immediately notice their mistake, large amounts of smoke can come from the exhaust, and the engine is apt to misfire and cut out. Using petrol in a diesel car is the more serious mistake in terms of possible damage.


I have put petrol into a diesel car (a long time ago). The moment of realisation is appalling. It must be a million times worse if you’re on a forecourt filled with angry drivers.
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TikTok reaches 1 billion monthly users • CNBC

Jessica Bursztynsky:


TikTok revealed Monday it has 1 billion active global users, indicating steady growth of the short-form video app.

TikTok, which is privately held and owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, has reported a surge in users over the past few years, with a large amount of its US audience joining amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

TikTok said it had about 55 million global users by January 2018. That number grew to more than 271 million by December 2018 and 507 million by December 2019. The company reported nearly 700 million monthly active users in August 2020.

In comparison, Facebook said in the second quarter it had 3.51 billion monthly users across its family of apps, up from 3.45 billion in the first quarter.

Still, the company launched one of the most successful short-form video apps, with many of its large tech competitors racing to recreate their own versions. Facebook launched its TikTok clone, Instagram Reels, broadly last August. Snap announced a similar feature called Spotlight last year. Google’s YouTube launched its competitor, Shorts, last September.


That’s pretty much straight-line growth: adding about 30m users per month consistently for nearly three years. It’s naturally going to run out of people who want or like its format at some point, but there’s plenty of headroom yet. Facebook should be worried: TikTok has brought the NewsFeed idea of “an algorithm for attention” to a new peak.
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Goldman Sachs, Ozy Media and a $40m conference call gone wrong • The New York Times

Ben Smith:


the Zoom videoconference on Feb. 2 that [media company] Ozy arranged between the Goldman Sachs asset management division and YouTube was supposed to be about [a $40m investment by GS in Ozy]. The scheduled participants included Alex Piper, the head of unscripted programming for YouTube Originals. He was running late and apologized to the Goldman Sachs team, saying he’d had trouble logging onto Zoom, and he suggested that the meeting be moved to a conference call, according to four people who were briefed on the meeting, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal details of a private discussion.

Once everyone had made the switch to an old-fashioned conference call, the guest told the bankers what they had been wanting to hear: that Ozy was a great success on YouTube, racking up significant views and ad dollars, and that Mr. Watson was as good a leader as he seemed to be. As he spoke, however, the man’s voice began to sound strange to the Goldman Sachs team, as though it might have been digitally altered, the four people said.

After the meeting, someone on the Goldman Sachs side reached out to Mr. Piper, not through the Gmail address that Mr. Watson had provided before the meeting, but through Mr. Piper’s assistant at YouTube. That’s when things got weird.

A confused Mr. Piper told the Goldman Sachs investor that he had never spoken with her before. Someone else, it seemed, had been playing the part of Mr. Piper on the call with Ozy.


You’ve probably already worked out which company the faker worked for; the excuse provided for their presence on the call is wonderfully modern. The phrase “Potemkin village” appears in the piece, though “house of cards” might have served as well.
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Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith pleads guilty on North Korea sanctions charge • Decrypt

Liam Frost:


Griffith [aged 38] was arrested in November 2019 after traveling to the North Korean capital Pyongyang and giving a talk at a blockchain conference there. Facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison over conspiracy to violate the Emergency Economy Powers Act, Griffith reportedly took a plea deal [on the first day of his trial] that would see him face a maximum of six and a half years in prison.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York argued that Griffith violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act that prohibits exporting goods, services, or technology to North Korea.

In a statement, US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman later alleged that Griffith “provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.”

“Griffith jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime,” Berman explained.

Apart from giving “valuable information” to the North Korean audience, Griffith also entered the country in April 2019 without approval from the US—despite being warned about traveling to the country, the criminal complaint also alleged.


Quite a dramatic example of thinking that the law won’t apply to you because you’re doing libertarian technology, maaaan, and that asking forgiveness rather than permission always works. North Korea was completely aware of the benefits of cryptocurrency for evading sanctions well before that, of course, but that doesn’t make Griffith any less foolish. Sentencing in January 2022.
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DeversiFi says user funds are safe after $23.7m gas fee blunder • CoinDesk

Andrew Thurman:


Decentralized exchange DeversiFi is looking to calm user jitters after a simple ERC-20 token transaction somehow cost the platform $23.7m in fees.

The transaction occurred early Monday morning and was flagged two hours later on Twitter. The transaction was for $100,000 in stablecoin Tether – a ERC-20 token transfer that, at the time of writing, should have cost under $5.

While early reports indicated that the transaction originated from centralized exchange Bitfinex, DeversiFi’s tweet seems to indicate that it was an internal transaction. Both Etherscan and on-chain analytics service Nansen have the originating address labeled as belonging to Bitfinex, and the address holds nearly $1.5bn in ETH – orders of magnitude more than DeversiFi’s $45m in total value locked, per DeFi Pulse.


If you squint, you can see how an “internal transaction” that charges gazillions for a tiny transaction could be a wonderful opportunity for fraud – either money laundering (dirty money comes in, big fee gets oopsie-charged, repayment is in “clean” money which can wash back out) or simple fraud where you charge absurd amounts. One difference, I suppose, is that it’s harder to hide these things with blockchain operations. That assumes that enough people are watching – though if you get caught then all you say is that it’s an internal error and user funds are safe, exactly the same as you’d say if it were an innocent error.

The fact that Bitfinex was involved has made a lot of people suspicious.
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NBC gets super aggressive in YouTube TV dispute • The Verge

Jon Porter:


NBC is one of several NBCUniversal channels running prominent banner ads on YouTube TV streams, warning customers that they could lose access over a carriage dispute with Google. The banner lists over a dozen channels that could disappear if a deal isn’t reached by Wednesday, September 30th, and directs customers to an NBCU-owned website offering various ways to pressure Google. These include a pre-written tweet directed at YouTube TV, links to Google’s customer support, and a tool to find alternative providers.

“Attention YouTube TV Customers,” the banner, which runs roughly every 10 minutes, reads, “YouTube may drop 14+ channels including NBC, Telemundo, USA, SYFY, Brave, Oxygen, MSNBC, NBCSN, CNBC, GOLF Channel, and E!. Go to and tell YouTube TV not to drop your favorite channels.”

…Responding via a blog post, Google says negotiations are ongoing and that it’s seeking the “the same rates that services of a similar size get from NBCU” and for YouTube TV to be treated like “any other TV provider.” Google added that if it’s unable to reach an agreement it’ll drop its US prices by $10 (bringing its monthly price down from $64.99 to $54.99) while NBCU’s lineup is off the service. Google says that customers are free to cancel anytime and can sign up for Peacock separately for $4.99 a month.


America-only (and look at those prices!), though what I find notable here is that YouTube TV has been drawn into being Just Another TV Service, at the mercy of the content providers and begging to be treated as a little minnow, rather than an arm of a company that could swallow some of the TV providers without burping.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s video pushing a single charging standard dated from 2009, and wasn’t made by the EU – it was created by a guerilla marketing agency trying to get a contract. You can read more about the EU’s proposal in this Twitter thread. Or the Wikipedia page.

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