Start Up No.1805: fake news about fake news study, on being married to Musk, TikTok’s booming audience, monkeypox!, and more

The Uber service used to be synonymous with cheap travel, but no longer – and its effects on public transport have been negative. CC-licensed photo by Stock Catalog on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Not ignoble. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Fake news about our fake news study spread faster than its truth… just as we predicted • Medium

Sinan Aral:


recently, Kai Kuperschmidt, a contributing correspondent for Science magazine, and Daniel Engber, a senior editor at The Atlantic, claimed that this study had been debunked and overturned in dramatic fashion by a newer study, published in 2021 by Johan Ugander and Jonas Juul, analyzing the same data. Kuperschmidt wrote, in an article for Science magazine, that our paper “used data on misinformation that had been fact-checked by independent organizations…” and that when Ugander and Juul “factored in this bias, the difference between the speed and reach of false news and true news disappeared.”

Engber picked up on this thread, linked to Kuperschmidt’s article, and tweeted “I love this so much: Remember the Science paper showing that misinformation travels farther and faster on social media than the truth? It was wrong!”

News of the prominent debunking spread like wildfire. Engber’s tweet was retweeted 390 times and liked over 1200 times within a few days. The quote tweets cheerfully glorified the debunking.

Dr Rohin Francis, @MedCrisis on Twitter, tweeted “Absolute classic. That study everyone cited with righteous glee, that misinformation spreads faster than true information, was in fact misinformation.” His quote tweet was retweeted 68 times with over 250 likes.

Unfortunately, for us and for misinformation science, they were all wrong. After fact checking their claims, the journalists discovered that they had been the ones spreading misinformation.
When they talked to Ugander and Juul, they learned that the new study actually confirmed our work and replicated our findings: fake news did reach more people than the truth, on average, and it did so while spreading deeper, faster, and more broadly through layers of connections. They also discovered that we had ourselves had double-checked the generalizability of our results in a separate robustness data set of articles that had never been fact checked, which also confirmed what we had found.

Three separate replications had confirmed our results and, in fact, since we published our paper, many more studies have replicated our findings in a variety of data sets and contexts.


As this point about the virality of fake news is pretty crucial to explaining social warming, I’m quite relieved too.
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HSBC suspends head of responsible investing who called climate warnings ‘shrill’ • The Guardian

Kalyeena Makortoff:


HSBC has suspended a senior banker after he referred to climate crisis warnings as “unsubstantiated” and “shrill” during a conference speech that has since been denounced by the lender’s chief executive.

Stuart Kirk, who has been HSBC’s head of responsible investing since last July, will remain suspended until the bank completes an internal investigation into the matter.

HSBC came under pressure to fire Kirk after he gave a presentation in London entitled “why investors need not worry about climate risk”, in which he made light of major flooding risks, and complained about having to spend time “looking at something that’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years”.

HSBC declined to comment on Kirk’s suspension, which was first reported by the Financial Times. Kirk did not respond to requests to comment sent via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Kirk’s presentation controversially included slides that said “Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong”, while referring to comments made by officials at the UN and Bank of England, who have tried to raise the alarm over global heating.

“Human beings have been fantastic at adapting to change, adapting to climate emergencies, and we will continue to do so,” Kirk told attenders at the Financial Times’ Moral Money conference on Thursday. “Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six metres underwater for ages and that’s a really nice place.”

His comments have sparked a public relations controversy for the bank, which has struggled to burnish its green credentials, despite pledges to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.


Wonder what an examination of Kirk’s investment decisions would reveal when it comes to climate-affecting projects, if those are his views. That would filter down to his subordinates, after all.
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September 2010: Elon Musk’s first wife Justine Musk talks their messy divorce • Marie Claire

Justine Musk, in September 2010:


By the time eBay bought PayPal in 2002, we had moved to Los Angeles and had our first child, a boy named Nevada Alexander. The sale of PayPal vaulted Elon’s net worth to well over $100 million. The same week, Nevada went down for a nap, placed on his back as always, and stopped breathing. He was 10 weeks old, the age when male infants are most susceptible to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). By the time the paramedics resuscitated him, he had been deprived of oxygen for so long that he was brain-dead. He spent three days on life support in a hospital in Orange County before we made the decision to take him off it. I held him in my arms when he died.

Elon made it clear that he did not want to talk about Nevada’s death. I didn’t understand this, just as he didn’t understand why I grieved openly, which he regarded as “emotionally manipulative.” I buried my feelings instead, coping with Nevada’s death by making my first visit to an IVF clinic less than two months later. Elon and I planned to get pregnant again as swiftly as possible. Within the next five years, I gave birth to twins, then triplets, and I sold three novels to Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Even so, Nevada’s death sent me on a years-long inward spiral of depression and distraction that would be continuing today if one of our nannies hadn’t noticed me struggling. She approached me with the name of an excellent therapist. Dubious, I gave it a shot. In those weekly sessions, I began to get perspective on what had become my life.


She had a serious car accident:


Not long after the accident, I sat on our bed with my knees pulled up to my chest and tears in my eyes. I told Elon, in a soft voice that was nonetheless filled with conviction, that I needed our life to change. I didn’t want to be a sideline player in the multimillion-dollar spectacle of my husband’s life. I wanted equality. I wanted partnership. I wanted to love and be loved, the way we had before he made all his millions.

Elon agreed to enter counseling, but he was running two companies and carrying a planet of stress. One month and three sessions later, he gave me an ultimatum: Either we fix this marriage today or I will divorce you tomorrow, by which I understood he meant, Our status quo works for me, so it should work for you. He filed for divorce the next morning. I felt numb, but strangely relieved.


If you need to understand Musk, this might help.
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Twitter announces crisis misinformation policy in Ukraine • Protocol

Issie Lapowsky:


Twitter will begin taking action against misinformation in crisis situations, the company said Thursday. The new policy will be immediately applied to misinformation surrounding the war in Ukraine.

Given the way misinformation and disinformation have been weaponized in that war, it’s an important update. But it’s also a challenging one for Twitter to pull off, and not just because Twitter’s would-be new owner believes the company should let all legal speech stand. It also puts Twitter in a position of defining what’s true — or not true — in often chaotic situations and, perhaps even more challenging, deciding what constitutes a crisis to begin with.

“During periods of crisis like international armed conflict, public health emergencies and large-scale natural disasters, we find misinformation can undermine public trust and cause further harm to already vulnerable communities,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of Safety and Integrity, said on a call with reporters. Roth said the company eventually plans to deploy this policy in “any situation in which there’s a widespread threat to life, physical safety, health or basic subsistence,” but that the company was starting off in Ukraine because of “the unique role that disinformation has played in this conflict.”

To figure out what’s true and not, Roth said, Twitter is relying on public information from multiple “credible sources,” including humanitarian groups, news organizations, conflict-monitoring services and open-source intelligence investigators. Once Twitter determines that a given post is misinformation, it’ll stop amplifying and recommending it, and will add warning notices that users have to click through in order to view the tweet.


Will it shut down the Russian bots? That could make a difference.
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TikTok boom • No Mercy / No Malice

Scott Galloway:


Just as algorithms require large pools of signals, content production requires large pools of talent. For a hundred years, video talent congregated in a few geographies: Los Angeles, Hong Kong, London, and Mumbai. Every HR manager knows there are talented people populating every corner of the Earth. But geography still matters, and the majority of platforms and talent do not find each other. YouTube and Instagram recruited talent faster than any business in history. Until TikTok. Fifty-five% of TikTok users create their own videos on the platform. That’s a talent pool the depth of the Mariana Trench: 870 million people, or 1,000 times the number of people employed by the entire film and TV industry.

The world’s largest reserve of talent also has a near-zero cost of extraction. The top eight U.S. media firms will spend $115bn on original content this year. Netflix alone will spend $17bn. TikTok produces its content for almost nothing —  the company’s payout to top creators is a rounding error, at $200m per year. The primary incentive it offers is social expression, and the company’s A&R team is the app itself. Users are never more than a few taps from creating their own content — TikTok streamlines the creation process, with an option to create a video at the center of its UI, simple tools for recording and manipulating those videos, and a huge library of licensed music available for the creator’s use. On YouTube and Netflix, there are creators and consumers. On TikTok, they are the same person.

…The biggest mistake we make in marketing is believing choice is a benefit. No, it’s a tax. Consumers don’t want more choices, they want more confidence in the choices presented. TikTok has taken this to a new level by eliminating the burden of choice entirely. Its content is a continuous stream of videos where the decisions are made for you. Your only choice: what not to watch.


It’s worth making the point again about TikTok: it’s utterly unlike the networks that we – well, adults – think we’re used to. It’s wiping the floor with Facebook for attention. I’d guess nobody could describe exactly how its algorithm functions; only what the desired outcomes it aims for are.
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The Decade of Cheap Rides is over • Slate

Henry Grabar:


Average Uber prices rose 92% between 2018 and 2021, according to data from Rakuten; a separate analysis reports an increase of 45% between 2019 and 2022. Both Uber and Lyft have added a surcharge for riders that helps drivers account for high fuel prices. And all that was before last week’s ultimatum.

Think of it as a city-transportation parallel to what economists are calling the end of the “era of free money,” as interest rates finally rise. It’s the end of a decade in which we changed our systems, our habits, even our architecture, around the assumption that we could be driven around for cheap.

The cynical assumption was always that Uber was burning all that investor cash in order to corner the market. Once it killed off car service, taxi cartels, and its ride-hail rivals, the company would stop charging riders less than it was paying drivers and prices would have to go up. On Monday morning, an Uber from Manhattan to JFK Airport was $100—nearly double the fixed yellow cab rate. But good luck finding a yellow cab!

The Uber-taxicab showdown is how most people conceive of Uber’s market-swallowing impact, but the Decade of Cheap Rides had more profound effects on how we live and get around. The failure of car-sharing companies like Maven and car2go is one example of how all that subsidy distorted the market, quashed business models that might otherwise have thrived, and changed habits that might have otherwise endured. It did this for the good—reducing the size of parking lots, suppressing drunken driving—and for the bad, increasing car ownership and traffic congestion.

One well-known consequence of the rider subsidy is the decline in public transit. One study estimates the arrival of Uber and Lyft in a city decreases rail ridership by 1.29% and bus ridership by 1.7% each year. In San Francisco, where Uber was founded, the authors estimate Uber has decreased bus ridership by 12.7%. A second study concluded a 5.4% decline in bus ridership in midsize cities. A third study clocked the decline at 8.9%. A related Uber phenomenon has been a sizable increase in downtown traffic congestion.

Those effects might reverse if rising prices push people back onto the bus. But other changes have more sticking power: The assumption that Uber would debut flying cars and autonomous vehicles any minute now helped discourage investment in better transit service and capital projects


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So, have you heard about monkeypox? • The Atlantic

Ed Yong:


[Boghuma Kabisen] Titanji [a physician at Emory University] notes that our knowledge of monkeypox is based on just 1,500 or so recorded cases, as of 2018. “I’ve seen a lot of people writing as if everything we know about monkeypox is definitive and finalized, but the reality is that it is still a rare zoonotic infection,” she said. For that reason, “I’m in Team Cautious,” she said. “We can’t use what happened with previous monkeypox outbreaks to make sweeping statements. If we’ve learned anything from COVID, it’s to have humility.”

For decades, a few scientists have voiced concerns that the monkeypox virus could have become better at infecting people—ironically because we eradicated its relative, smallpox, in the late 1970s. The smallpox vaccine incidentally protected against monkeypox. And when new generations were born into a world without either smallpox or smallpox-vaccination campaigns, they grew up vulnerable to monkeypox. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, this dwindling immunity meant that monkeypox infections increased 20-fold in the three decades after smallpox vanished, as Rimoin showed in 2010. That gives the virus more chances to evolve into a more transmissible pathogen in humans. To date, its R0—the average number of people who catch the disease from one infected person—has been less than 1, which means that outbreaks naturally peter out. But it could eventually evolve above that threshold, and cause more protracted epidemics, as [University of Washington professor, Carl] Bergstrom simulated in 2003. “We saw monkeypox as a ticking time bomb,” he told me.

This possibility casts a cloud of uncertainty over the current unusual outbreaks, which everyone I spoke with is concerned about. Are they the work of a new and more transmissible strain of monkeypox? Or are they simply the result of people traveling more after global COVID restrictions were lifted? Or could they be due to something else entirely? So far, the cases are more numerous than a normal monkeypox outbreak, but not so numerous as to suggest a radically different virus, Inglesby told me. But he also doesn’t have a clear explanation for the outbreak’s unusual patterns—nor does anyone else.


Cases now found in 14 countries (Israel and Switzerland the latest to join the dance), up to 80 cases confirmed and a further 50 being investigated, as of mid-Sunday.

One expert I heard being interviewed on the radio said it’s “very unlikely” to become a pandemic. Er.. great?
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Disinformation Governance Board ‘paused’ after just three weeks • The Washington Post

Taylor Lorenz:


Just hours after [Nina] Jankowicz tweeted about her new job, far-right influencer Jack Posobiec posted tweets accusing the Biden administration of creating a “Ministry of Truth.” Posobiec’s 1.7 million followers quickly sprung into action. By the end of the day, there were at least 53,235 posts on Twitter mentioning “Disinformation Governance Board,” many referencing Jankowicz by name, according to a report by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that conducts public-interest research. In the days following, that number skyrocketed.

The board was created to study best practices in combating the harmful effects of disinformation and to help DHS counter viral lies and propaganda that could threaten domestic security. Unlike the “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s “1984” that became a derogatory comparison point, neither the board nor Jankowicz had any power or ability to declare what is true or false, or compel Internet providers, social media platforms or public schools to take action against certain types of speech. In fact, the board itself had no power or authority to make any operational decisions.

“The Board’s purpose has been grossly mischaracterized; it will not police speech,” the DHS spokesperson said. “Quite the opposite, its focus is to ensure that freedom of speech is protected.”
Posobiec’s early tweets shaped the narrative and Jankowicz was positioned as the primary target. Republican lawmakers echoed Posobiec’s framing and amplified it to their audiences. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is a US Senate hopeful, and Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) both posted tweets similar to Posobiec’s. Former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) also posted a video repeating Posobiec’s statements.

The week following the announcement, approximately 70% of Fox News’s one-hour segments mentioned either Jankowicz or the board, with correspondents frequently deriding the board as a “Ministry of Truth,” according to Advance Democracy. The Fox News coverage was referenced in some of the most popular posts on Facebook and Twitter criticizing Jankowicz.


Absolutely astonishing how huge swathes of the US Democrats (especially the ones in government) are completely clueless about what to do about bad-faith right-wing attacks. It’s been going on since Bill Clinton was president, when Hillary Clinton was pilloried over her healthcare plans (by what she correctly called “a vast right-wing conspiracy”). Nobody seems to learn.
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Lagarde says crypto is ‘worth nothing’ and should be regulated • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Cagan Koc:


European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said crypto-currencies are “based on nothing” and should be regulated to steer people away from speculating on them with their life savings.

Lagarde told Dutch television that she’s concerned about people “who have no understanding of the risks, who will lose it all and who will be terribly disappointed, which is why I believe that that should be regulated.”

…Lagarde said she’s skeptical of crypto’s value, contrasting it with the ECB’s digital euro – a project that may come to fruition in the next four years.

“My very humble assessment is that it is worth nothing, it is based on nothing, there is no underlying asset to act as an anchor of safety,” she said.

“The day when we have the central bank digital currency out, any digital euro, I will guarantee – so the central bank will behind it and I think it’s vastly different than many of those things,” Lagarde said.

…Lagarde said she doesn’t hold any crypto assets herself because “I want to practice what I preach.” But she follows them “very carefully” as one of her sons invested – against her advice. “He’s a free man,” she said.


Very much like to be a fly on the Largarde family wall for the surely upcoming conversation on this one.
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The noble gases neon and helium are suffering from Putin’s War • Bloomberg

Izabella Kaminska:


Neon, for example, is a key input for the semiconductor manufacturing process. The gas is a byproduct of steel production and is only commercially viable when it’s produced in significant quantities from very large steel plants such as Azovstal [in Mariupol, besieged by Russian forces]. Producers such as Ingas (linked to Mariupol) and Cryoin in Odessa can then pull the neon from the air and make it available for use. But with production at both companies now indefinitely suspended, analysts worry about the supply of neon and other gases, especially to Western manufacturers. 

A big problem is that the noble gas market remains dependent on a handful of specialists — firms such as Linde Plc, Air Liquide SA and Air Products and Chemicals Inc. — which prefer to engage in confidential long-term contracts. The lack of transparency has impeded the development of a spot market (where uncontracted supplies can be sold at current market prices) and discouraged natural price discovery. 

Since nobody can be sure of current pricing, it’s hard to assess just how much noble gas supply there is. What we do know is that, until the war in Ukraine broke out in 2014, as much as 90% of global neon supply was sourced from Ukraine. The bulk of this came from Mariupol, and most of it went to Western markets. 

Cliff Cain, of the Edelgas Group, an independent consultancy, told me that some production has since shifted to China, with Ukraine now probably representing 50% to 70% of global neon production. South Korea’s Posco steel-making company too has begun producing a small amount to cater to domestic demand. 

…But if Russia retains control of Mariupol and restarts the city’s damaged plants, 95% of the market could wind up in the hands of just two potentially “unfriendly” players, according to Cain. 


When Russia invaded Crime in 2014, neon prices quintupled. Earlier this year, prices from Chinese companies quadrupled. It’s used in lasers for chipmaking, and makes up about 18 parts per million of air – which is the only source. Ramping up production from other sources could take between 9 and 24 months. The chip shortage doesn’t look likely to go away soon.
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• 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?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1805: fake news about fake news study, on being married to Musk, TikTok’s booming audience, monkeypox!, and more

  1. It’s unkind to say this, but: A “Disinformation Governance Board” which has no plans to deal with attacks on its announcement, and collapses amidst whining about mean tweets and nasty forum comments, is proving that it was very unfit for purpose. It’s not really a paradox. But this looks to be less an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, and more a mundane waste of money on useless bureaucratic report-writing.

    By the way, it’s surprising relevant to remember the full context of Hillary Clinton’s comment:

    “Using a nationally televised interview as her forum, she assumed a familiar and crucial role as Bill Clinton’s first defender. She said she knew him better than anyone in the world, still loved him, and fully believed his denial of allegations that he had entered into a sexual relationship with a White House intern and had urged the young woman to lie about it.”

    [n.b. she was right that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy – however, she turned out to be very wrong in denying what turned out to be true, even if the VRWC was trumpeting it.]

    Ponder that for a moment. She was saying, in modern terms, that it was *disinformation*, from the President’s political enemies (probably linked to Russia …).

    Who are you going to believe? Surely our side’s media oligarches should ban and downrank anyone spreading such scurrilous rumors about our side’s President, especially coming from the foreign-power influenced reactionary quasi-fascists …

    And now we get to see the above idea in action in a war. I’m thinking these days screaming “STREISAND EFFECT” has about the same significance as “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” (ancient US campaign slogan).

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