Start Up No.1657: why TikTok is underestimated, Facebook’s secret blacklist, America’s supply chain trouble, steak as champagne?, and more


Might a revised version of Magsafe make a return in the new MacBook Pros expected to be unveiled next week? After all, the new iMacs got it. CC-licensed photo by gordon mei on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Mm, tasty. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


One billion TikTok users understand what Congress doesn’t • The Atlantic

Evelyn Douek:

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TikTok is not a passing fad or a tiny start-up in the social-media space. It’s a cultural powerhouse, creating superstars out of unknown artists overnight. It’s a career plan for young influencers and a portable shopping mall full of products and brands. It’s where many young people get their news and discuss politics. And sometimes they get rowdy: In June 2020, TikTok teens allegedly pranked then-President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign by overbooking tickets to a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then never showing.

That humiliation seemed to be one reason Trump threatened to ban the app in August 2020. This briefly put TikTok in the spotlight. For a few months, serious debate raged about whether the app was a national-security threat. Its ties to China sparked fears that it might be forced to share data with the Chinese government or that the Communist Party could influence its content-moderation practices. What unfolded was a saga made for prime time, involving twists and turns, distraught teens, threats of retaliation from China, the departure of the company’s chief executive, and, bizarrely, the floating of Microsoft and Walmart as possible buyers for the app at some point. But then the whole thing just … petered out. As a Verge headline quipped in November, “TikTok Says the Trump Administration Has Forgotten About Trying to Ban It, Would Like to Know What’s Up.” When Trump forgot about TikTok, so, it seems, did the rest of us. As lawmakers appear to be preparing to haul Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg back before them yet again, TikTok’s CEO has never appeared. Can you even name him?

But TikTok is still the same app it was last year, when people were worked up about the threat it posed to national security. Only bigger.

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In the time to come, people are going to regret underestimating TikTok. Some people aren’t underestimating it, and yet they’re still going to regret tangling with it.
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Exclusive: Facebook’s secret blacklist of “dangerous” groups and people • The Intercept

Sam Biddle:

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A range of legal scholars and civil libertarians have called on the company to publish the list so that users know when they are in danger of having a post deleted or their account suspended for praising someone on it. The company has repeatedly refused to do so, claiming it would endanger employees and permit banned entities to circumvent the policy. Facebook did not provide The Intercept with information about any specific threat to its staff.

Despite Facebook’s claims that disclosing the list would endanger its employees, the company’s hand-picked Oversight Board has formally recommended publishing all of it on multiple occasions, as recently as August, because the information is in the public interest.

The Intercept has reviewed a snapshot of the full DIO list and is today publishing a reproduction of the material in its entirety, with only minor redactions and edits to improve clarity. It is also publishing an associated policy document, created to help moderators decide what posts to delete and what users to punish.

“Facebook puts users in a near-impossible position by telling them they can’t post about dangerous groups and individuals, but then refusing to publicly identify who it considers dangerous,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, who reviewed the material.

The list and associated rules appear to be a clear embodiment of American anxieties, political concerns, and foreign policy values since 9/11, experts said, even though the DIO policy is meant to protect all Facebook users and applies to those who reside outside of the United States (the vast majority). Nearly everyone and everything on the list is considered a foe or threat by America or its allies: Over half of it consists of alleged foreign terrorists, free discussion of which is subject to Facebook’s harshest censorship.

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It’s a subtle form of American imperialism – the soft power that envelops entirely.
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America is choking under an ‘everything shortage’ • The Atlantic

Derek Thompson:

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I visited CVS last week to pick up some at-home COVID-19 tests. They’d been sold out for a week, an employee told me. So I asked about paper towels. “We’re out of those too,” he said. “Try Walgreens.” I drove to a Walgreens that had paper towels. But when I asked a pharmacist to fill some very common prescriptions, he told me the store had run out. “Try the Target up the road,” he suggested. Target’s pharmacy had the meds, but its front area was alarmingly barren, like the canned-food section of a grocery store one hour before a hurricane makes landfall.

This is the economy now. One-hour errands are now multi-hour odysseys. Next-day deliveries are becoming day-after-next deliveries. That car part you need? It’ll take an extra week, sorry. The book you were looking for? Come back in November. The baby crib you bought? Make it December. Eyeing a new home-improvement job that requires several construction workers? Haha, pray for 2022.

The U.S. economy isn’t yet experiencing a downturn akin to the 1970s period of stagflation. This is something different, and quite strange. Americans are settling into a new phase of the pandemic economy, in which GDP is growing but we’re also suffering from a dearth of a shocking array of things—test kits, car parts, semiconductors, ships, shipping containers, workers. This is the Everything Shortage.

The Everything Shortage is not the result of one big bottleneck in, say, Vietnamese factories or the American trucking industry. We are running low on supplies of all kinds due to a veritable hydra of bottlenecks.

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Partly caused by demand from the stimulus cheques sent to all Americans, and partly by the delta variant in the supply regions.
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Steaks could soon become champagne-like luxury, says meat chief • Bloomberg Quint

Aine Quinn:

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The boss of Europe’s top meat processor said beef will become a luxury like champagne because of the climate impact of producing it.

“Beef is not going to be super climate friendly,” Danish Crown Chief Executive Officer Jais Valeur said in an interview with Danish newspaper Berlingske. “It will be a luxury product that we eat when we want to treat ourselves.”

Valeur said pork would be a more climate-friendly protein. Danish Crown is one of Europe’s largest pork producers, although it is also a player in the beef market.

Meat companies are coming under pressure to curb greenhouse gases, with 57% of all food industry emissions coming from making animal products, according to one study. Tackling methane emissions from livestock is one of the most critical climate challenges for producers.

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Just me, or isn’t steak already something of a treat?
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The state of web scraping in 2021 • Mihai’s Blog

Mihai Avram:

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The area of web scraping has really expanded in the last few years, and it helps to know some of the main frameworks, protocols, and etiquette so that you can build the next awesome Web Scraping tool to revolutionize our world! Or maybe just your local neighborhood, or workgroup – that’s fine too.

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From time to time you need to do this, don’t you? (I do.) Particularly when big organisations have been unhelpful about how they present their information which you want to collate. BeautifulSoup, a Python library, is usually the best option, but as this post shows there are plenty of others. A page for the bookmarks.
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The mysterious case of the Covid-19 lab-leak theory • The New Yorker

Carolyn Kormann:

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close relatives of sars-CoV-2 have been identified in China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Japan. But the most significant finding supporting a natural origin was announced in September. Scientists in Laos—just south of the border from Yunnan—found a horseshoe-bat coronavirus that is genetically closer to sars-CoV-2 than the virus from the Tongguan mine. It might have split from a common ancestor with sars-CoV-2 sometime in the last decade or so. Alarmingly, their spikes are identical and bind with equal efficiency to human ace2 receptors. The discovery “completely blows away many of the main lab-leak arguments about Yunnan being special,” Andersen said. “These types of viruses are much more widespread than we initially realized.”

Bloom questioned the significance of the discoveries in Laos. “I don’t think it really, again, tells us exactly how these viruses got to Wuhan,” he said. But China’s wildlife trade could have been both an incubator and a transit system for a virus like sars-CoV-2, which has proved not so necessarily adapted to humans but to mammals more generally. Coughing tigers tested positive for covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo, then eight congested gorillas at the San Diego Zoo. White-tailed deer have sars-CoV-2 antibodies. In the Netherlands, the virus devastated mink farms, infecting sixty-eight% of farm workers and hastening a permanent end to the country’s fur trade. China is the world’s largest fur producer. Could mink farms have been the problem? Raccoon dogs, another source of fur and exotic meat in China, are susceptible. “We’ve seen this virus jump into all kinds of animals with no adaptation, no evolution,” Andersen told me. “It’s a generalist. It had to be, otherwise it probably couldn’t cause a pandemic. It’s a unique beast.”

…Proponents of a lab leak rest most of their arguments on the assumption that Chinese officials, the W.I.V., and Shi Zhengli are lying about the viruses they had, and the work they did, in a massive coverup. The natural-origin proponents assume that the W.I.V. has shared everything. “It’s not that the scientists would not have wanted to share,” [Stanford microbiologist David] Relman, who has refrained from taking a position on the question of Sars-CoV-2’s origin, said. “It’s that they wouldn’t have been allowed.”

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Indecisive, inevitably, but thorough.
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This century’s major battles are upon us. Can we act before it’s too late? • openDemocracy

Paul Rogers has written a thousand columns over 20 years for openDemocracy:

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the neoliberal system has not responded remotely fast enough to curbing carbon dioxide emissions sufficiently, and inter-governmental political cooperation remains hopelessly limited. If we had started making changes at the turn of the millennium, we could have reached a tolerable position by now – but that is simply not the case.

Finally, the military security culture remains deeply embedded in the control paradigm, with that war-promoting hydra of the world’s military-industrial complexes holding a powerful position in national cultures, whether in the US, China, Russia, the UK, France, India or any other large economy. The ability of the US, Australia and the UK to move seamlessly from the failures in Afghanistan to locking horns with China in barely a month has indeed been quite a feat for the military-industrial complex.

In contrast to this traditional thinking, the far more important challenges facing us all are not state-based but instead are global – the pandemic and climate breakdown.

Judging by present trends, this decade will involve, firstly, an enduring problem with COVID-19, as vaccine nationalism trumps global cooperation. This vaccine inequality will increase the risk of new variants and add to existing problems of rising poverty and food shortages. Secondly, there will be the progressive onset of climate breakdown, shown primarily by increasingly severe weather events, leading to catastrophic loss of life and endemic hardship.

There will be moves to address both, but they will not create sufficient effect and by the end of the 2020s, global insecurity will have substantially increased, greatly exacerbated by the anger and resentment of the marginalised majority, especially hundreds of millions across the Global South. This will accelerate the desperate need to move, but the migration pressures will reinforce the ‘close the castle gates’ mentality of wealthier societies.

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Alison Parker’s on-air murder was in 2015 and Facebook won’t remove the video • Vice

David Gilbert:

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On the morning of August 26, 2015, television journalist Alison Parker was in Monela, Virginia reporting for a CBS affiliate station.  At 6:46 a.m., she was in the middle of a live interview when a disgruntled and mentally ill former reporter approached her and began shooting.

The gunman shot cameraman Adam Ward, then chased down and murdered Alison as she attempted to escape. The gunman then posted a recording of the horrific incident, shot on a GoPro camera he was wearing. Almost instantly the footage was downloaded, edited, and shared widely online.

Facebook repeatedly promised to remove all copies of the video from its platforms, but more than five years later, Parker’s parents are still reliving the murder of their daughter, because Facebook and Instagram have utterly failed to remove the footage.

Now, Parker’s father is demanding the FTC take action. “The reality is that Facebook and Instagram put the onus on victims and their families to do the policing of graphic content—requiring them to relive their worst moments over and over to curb the proliferation of these videos,” reads a complaint filed by Andy Parker with the regulator on Tuesday, and reviewed by VICE News.

The video was used by conspiracy theorists and hoaxers, who posted copies of the GoPro footage as well as the raw TV feed on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, using it in some cases to claim the entire incident was a fake.

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The other peril of user-generated content: some users are utterly vile. Parker has to use a somewhat contorted complaint: that Facebook and Instagram deceive consumers about the safety of the platform and how difficult it actually is to remove objectionable content. It’s the “deceive consumers” line where the FTC has leverage, if it sticks.
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Want to understand more about social networks? Buy Social Warming, my latest book, which explains why they drive us all a little mad – even if we don’t use them.


‘Unleashed’ Apple event focusing on new Macs to take place on October 18 • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

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When there are a lot of products coming in the fall months, Apple often holds a second October or November event, which is the case in 2021. Rumors have been teasing redesigned 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models for months now, and it’s looking like Apple is finally ready to release them.

Rumors suggest the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models will have an overhauled design with thinner bezels and larger displays, and we’ve already seen hints of 3024 x 1964 and 3456 x 2234 resolutions, respectively, which would enable 2x Retina for sharper, crisper images and text. The new MacBook Pro will use an M1X chip, which is an faster, more powerful version of the M1, plus it could support up to 32GB RAM.

The new MacBook Pro will mark the return of MagSafe connectivity, a charging feature that will replace USB-C. Apple is also bringing back the HDMI port and SD card slot, and there will be no Touch Bar, with Apple instead re-adopting a standard function row of keys. The 2021 MacBook Pro models will be a throwback to the pre-2016 MacBook Pro designs, with Apple undoing many of the changes that were introduced with the 2016 revamp.

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Very important news, at least in this abode, as the current production MacBook Pro at Overspill Towers is now more than nine years old because the CEO refused to buy any replacement that had the notorious “butterfly” keyboard, and then held off last year when the non-butterfly MBPs came out because they used the last-gasp Intel chips rather than the already-announced ARM chips.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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