Start Up No.1827: Instagram and Facebook move quickly on abortion content, Cruise’s cinema control, 2FA trouble, and more


The Autopilot group at Tesla has been cut by hundreds, perhaps signalling that the product won’t ever arrive in full CC-licensed photo by Rosenfeld MediaRosenfeld Media on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Supremely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Instagram hides some posts that mention abortion • AP News

Amanda Seitz:

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Instagram is blocking posts that mention abortion from public view, in some cases requiring its users to confirm their age before letting them view posts that offer up information about the procedure.

Over the last day, several Instagram accounts run by abortion rights advocacy groups have found their posts or stories hidden with a warning that described the posts as “sensitive content.”

In one example, Instagram covered a post on one page with more than 25,000 followers that shared text reading: “Abortion in America How You Can Help.” The post went on to encourage followers to donate money to abortion organisations and to protest the Supreme Court’s decision to strip constitutional protections for abortion in the US.

The post was slapped with a warning from Instagram that covered the post, reading “This photo may contain graphic or violent content.”

Instagram’s latest issue follows an Associated Press report that Facebook and Instagram were promptly deleting posts that offered to mail out abortion pills in states that restrict their use. The tech platforms said they were deleting the posts because they violated policies against selling or gifting certain products, including pharmaceuticals, drugs and firearms.

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OK so what happened to Instagram/Facebook’s “free speech is much more important than content moderation” policy?
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Facebook brands Jane’s Revenge as terrorists • The Intercept

Sam Biddle:

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The brief internal bulletin from Meta Platforms Inc., which owns Instagram and Facebook, was titled “[EMERGENCY Micro Policy Update] [Terrorism] Jane’s Revenge” and filed to the company’s internal Dangerous Individuals and Organizations rulebook, meaning that the abortion rights group, which has so far committed only acts of vandalism, will be treated with the same speech restrictions against “praise, support, and representation” applied to the Islamic State and Hitler.

The memo, circulated to Meta moderators on June 25, describes Jane’s Revenge as “a far-left extremist group that has claimed responsibility on its website for an attack against an anti-abortion group’s office in Madison, Wisconsin in May 2022. The group is responsible for multiple arson and vandalism attacks on pro-life institutions.” Terrorist groups receive Meta’s strictest “Tier 1” speech limits, treatment the company says is reserved for the world’s most dangerous and violent entities, along with hate groups, drug cartels, and mass murderers.

Although The Intercept published a snapshot of the entire secret Dangerous Individuals and Organizations list last year, Meta does not disclose or explain additions to the public, despite the urging of scholars, activists, and its own Oversight Board. Speech advocates and civil society groups have criticized the policy for its secrecy, bias toward US governmental priorities, and tendency to inaccurately delete nonviolent political speech.

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Certainly Jane’s Revenge is prone to making a mess – the photo accompanying the article shows the Wisconsin Family Action headquarters apparently after a small fire was started there. But it’s strange how white supremacists are given such latitude before going on to the banned list.
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Tesla lays off about 200 Autopilot workers in latest cuts • BNN Bloomberg

Ed Ludlow and Dana Hull:

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Tesla Inc. laid off hundreds of workers on its Autopilot team as the electric-vehicle maker shuttered a California facility, according to people familiar with the matter, one of the larger known cuts amid a broad workforce reduction.

Affected employees were notified Tuesday, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Teams at the San Mateo office were tasked with evaluating customer vehicle data related to the Autopilot driver-assistance features and performing so-called data labeling.

About 200 workers were let go, according to one of the people. Many of the staff were data annotation specialists, and the roles included salaried and contract positions. The office had about 350 employees, some of whom were transferred to a nearby facility. 

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The cuts are part of an effort to trim the ranks of salaried staffers as Tesla pulls back from a surge in hiring in the recent years. The company, now headquartered in Austin, Texas, had grown to about 100,000 employees globally as it built new factories in Austin and Berlin.

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk caught workers by surprise earlier this month when he said layoffs would be necessary in an increasingly shaky economic environment. He clarified in an interview with Bloomberg that about 10% of salaried employees would lose their jobs over the next three months, though the overall headcount could be higher in a year.

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Makes sense to cut Autopilot, though, because it’s going to be years before that’s actually A Thing. Automated Lane Keeping Systems? Sure. Autopilot? Not just with those cameras. (Imagine an autopilot system trying to figure out a roundabout in, say, France.)
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Top Gun: Maverick shows Hollywood can survive without China • Quartz

Adario Strange:

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The uneasy relationship between Hollywood and China took a major turn in the past year, highlighted now by the success of Top Gun: Maverick, which crossed the $1bn mark in ticket sales last weekend.

Like many Hollywood productions in recent years, part of the film’s $170m budget had partial backing from a major Chinese investor, in this case, Tencent. However, the company pulled out due to reported concerns that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials would not appreciate its affiliation with a film framing the US military in a positive light.

Political tensions tied the film first surfaced in 2019, when the initial trailer for Top Gun: Maverick showed Tom Cruise’s character wearing a flight jacket without the flag patches of Japan and Taiwan, which were shown in the 1986 original, and instead had different graphics in their place. [In Maverick, Cruise’s character does wear the original.]

Critics noticed the omission, with some taking it as sign that the film’s US producers were bending to the will of the Chinese government, which does not officially recognize Taiwan as a country. Similar concerns were voiced in 2021, when the actor John Cena made an unusual public apology to the people of China for calling Taiwan “a country” during a promotional interview for an installment of the Fast and Furious film franchise. 

The two recent instances are just the latest in a long series of moves by Hollywood to comply with China’s censors in order to maintain access to its 1.4 billion moviegoers, the largest film market in the world. Chinese investors, meanwhile, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into US film studios.

Despite Hollywood’s efforts to work with the Chinese government to get its films into the market, the Chinese Communist party’s censors regularly block major films for a wide range of specific and sometimes unexplained reasons. For example, Spider-Man: No Way Home was banned in China due to what the government thought were images of the US that were too patriotic, according to some sources familiar with Sony’s dealings on the matter. The offending patriotic material in question: New York City’s Statue of Liberty, which appears near the end of the film. 

Likewise, superhero films including Marvel’s Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness have all been banned in China.

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I think they’re lucky to have avoided the latter film. (Gave up after half an hour.) But it feels as though we’re moving back towards a new Cold War in so many ways.
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Twitter officially rolls out its long-form content ‘Notes’ feature • TechCrunch

Aisha Malik:

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A small group of writers in the United States, Canada, Ghana and the United Kingdom now have access to Notes as part of the initial testing phase. Twitter says Notes can be read on and off Twitter by people in most countries. Users who are part of the testing phase will get access to a new “Write” tab, which is where they can write and access all of their Notes. These users will also have a new “Notes” tab in their profile that holds their published work to make it easy for their followers to find their long-form content.

With the new feature, users will be able to create articles using rich formatting and uploaded media, which can then be tweeted and shared with followers upon publishing. Users will have the option to embed photos, videos, GIFs and tweets into their Notes. Like tweets, Notes will have their own link and can be tweeted, retweeted, sent in DM’s, liked and bookmarked.

Twitter Notes has the potential to change how some people use Twitter to share their more in-depth thoughts and ideas. The new feature could be particularly useful for those users who infrequently publish article-length content and don’t want the hassle of setting up and maintaining their own blog or website. It’s also worth noting that the feature marks one of Twitter’s more significant changes since doubling the character count from 140 to 280 characters.

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Cannot see the point of this at all. Twitter’s adding Blogger to itself? Doesn’t it already have enough totally pointless things, including Spaces and Twitter Blue (the latter at least paid-for)?
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Mugged for my phone, then locked out of my life • The Sunday Times

James Ball:

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In the minutes after being mugged, I staggered home, worked out how to freeze my bank cards from my laptop but not my phone —the site was “down for maintenance” — and put myself to bed. Shortly before 8am, I was woken by two friends, Scott and Alex, who, after checking my physical wellbeing, began the Kafkaesque process of sorting my life out.

Because I’d been forced to give over passwords and PINs, it turns out just freezing a card isn’t enough: you have to block the accounts too, which takes a whole set of extra calls to the bank.

One particular customer service high spot came as the presumably well-intentioned HSBC call-centre lady in India sternly told me: “You must not share your PIN with third parties, sir.” Attempts to explain to her that I was being punched and threatened with stabbing at the time came to nothing. “Have a great day now, sir,” she concluded, as Alex asked me today’s date for the third time, to check I wasn’t concussed.

Things were made even more difficult because my phone was essential to log in to most of my accounts. The best advice now says to use “two-factor” security for your online shopping, email and social media. Instead of just using a password, you get sent a text with a security code, or use an authenticator app, all of which relies on your phone.

It may be more secure against hackers, but it means your phone is a back door to your Amazon, Apple, eBay and social media accounts. If you can’t lock the thieves out, they may fake your presence online to either rob or scam your friends — so all of those details need changing, at a time when you don’t have the two-factor code generator — your phone — to hand.

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Definitely a challenge, which is why I use Authy, which syncs across platforms, for 2FA codes; it also allows you to lock out devices. I guess you’d just have to hope the thieves didn’t lock you out before you locked them out.
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FSInsight accuses Three Arrows Capital of running a ‘Madoff-style Ponzi scheme’ • Coindesk

Will Canny:

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The crypto industry was “brought to its knees” in recent weeks by an “old-fashioned Madoff-style Ponzi scheme” wrapped in a trade that was similar to the positions that sunk Long Term Capital Management (LTCM),” research firm FSInsight said in a report Friday that looked at the implications of the implosion of crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, which is also known as 3AC.

Madoff in this scenario would be the founders of 3AC, Su Zhu and Kyle Davies, who used their reputation to “recklessly borrow from just about every institutional lender in the business,” resulting in pain for some high-profile firms in the industry, including Voyager Digital, Babel Finance and BlockFi, Sean Farrell, head of digital asset strategy at FSInsight, wrote in the report. Bernie Madoff was an American financier who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in US history.

At its peak, 3AC had supposed assets under management (AUM) of over $18bn, the note said. But given that the amount of debt that is now known to have been loaned to the firm, it is unclear how much actual equity was at risk. It is likely that Zhu and Davies were simply “using borrowed funds to repay interest on loans issued by lenders, while ‘cooking their books’ to show massive returns on capital,” the note added.

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Eighteen. Billion. Dollars. It’s just mindboggling how much money has been handed over to these people. Then again, Madoff’s Ponzi scheme totalled $64.8bn, out of 4,800 clients. Chumps are eternal.
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How the crypto crash has impacted each Premier League club • The Athletic

Joey D’Urso:

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According to one highly experienced club takeover expert, cryptocurrency companies love sponsoring football clubs because they have worked out that it is the cheapest way to find new customers — especially young men.

Of last season’s 20 Premier League clubs, all of them but one — we’ll get to that — have at least one cryptocurrency sponsor and some have several.

This list builds on several original investigations by The Athletic into the relationship between cryptocurrency and football and analyses the 2021-22 season rather than the upcoming one because many sponsorship deals have not been signed or announced yet.

Oh yes: despite the plummeting value of cryptocurrency, there is no sign yet that Premier League clubs’ love affair with it is slowing down.

Just about every club in last season’s top flight played some part in promoting volatile unregulated financial assets to its fans, virtually all of which have crashed on a spectacular scale in recent weeks.

English clubs are desperate for cash as the cost of running a competitive team constantly spirals upwards.

Cryptocurrency sponsorship is certainly a lucrative, and entirely legal, way of generating cash right now. Yet it remains to be seen whether that can continue in the light of the huge crash.

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Faintly depressing that young men are the easy meat for so much cryptocurrency nonsense. The graphs in the story show tokens which have all headed downwards recently. (The Athletic has a paywall, though unfortunately I couldn’t see it when the Javascript on my browser broke.)
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How green steel made with electricity could clean up a dirty industry • MIT Technology Review

Casey Crownhart:

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Fossil fuels are essential to today’s steel production. Most steelmaking starts in a blast furnace, where a coal-derived material called coke, which is almost pure carbon, reacts with iron ore, a mixture of iron oxides and other minerals. The reaction pulls out the oxygen, leaving behind liquid iron. The carbon and oxygen are then released together as carbon dioxide.

Boston Metal’s solution is an entirely new approach, called molten oxide electrolysis (MOE). Instead of using carbon to remove oxygen, the process relies on electricity, which runs through a cell filled with a mixture of dissolved iron oxides along with other oxides and materials. The electricity heats the cell up to about 1,600 °C (nearly 3,000 °F), melting everything into a hot oxide soup.

In addition to heating things up, electricity drives the oxygen-removing chemical reactions. Molten iron gathers at the bottom of the reactor, and oxygen gas is emitted instead of carbon dioxide.

Because the impurities largely stay out of the reaction, the MOE process can handle low-quality iron ore, which could be a major benefit of the technology…

One estimate from researchers at Columbia University found that if global steel production in blast furnaces were all converted to Boston Metal’s MOE process, it would take over 5,000 terawatt-hours of electricity to run them—about 20% of global power consumption in 2018. Producing steel with hydrogen would also come with high electricity requirements.

If that electricity comes from fossil fuels, switching steelmaking to electricity would be trading one source of emissions for another. But if it comes from renewables or other carbon-free sources, it could make a significant dent in carbon pollution.

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Lots of efforts going on to decarbonise steelmaking; this may be one of the most promising. It’s a huge prize, if won.
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We’re the Supreme Court and, honestly, we just want you all to die • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Jessica Goldstein:

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We understand that you’ve been watching some of these latest rulings come down—overturning a New York law limiting gun use in public, all but stripping away your Miranda rights—and are wondering… what the hell? We realize that we’ve failed to communicate a crucial piece of information to you, one that would make all of our decisions make a whole lot more sense. So here goes: We’re actually trying to kill you.

That’s it. That’s our whole deal. We here at the Supreme Court just love watching people die. Americans, specifically. But also people from other countries. Pretty much everyone. In this and only this arena, we don’t discriminate. We didn’t think we’d need to spell it out for you. We haven’t exactly been subtle about it. Have you seen our outfits? We’re fully cosplaying as the Grim Reaper.

To be honest, we’ve sort of always been this way, but lately, we’ve been taking it to the next level. Probably because we got into Squid Game during quarantine. Brett thought it was a documentary. And we were like, why not?

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The best satire is when you’re not entirely certain it’s satire. (Via John Naughton.)
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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

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