Start Up No.1844: TikTok takes over teenagers’ news, blockchain business sparks forest fire, when AI takes over writing, and more

Remember the chip shortage? Apparently it’s turning into a chip glut, and investor sentiment is dipping. CC-licensed photo by Windell Oskay on Flickr.

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

It’s that time of the week: another Social Warming Substack post is coming down the chute. Goes live 0845 BST. (If you’re reading this in the US, it’s probably already up.) This week: why the biggest users of social networks need the toughest moderation.

Instagram, TikTok and YouTube teenagers’ top three news sources • Ofcom


Teenagers in the UK are turning away from traditional news channels and are instead looking to Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to keep up to date, Ofcom has found.

Ofcom’s News consumption in the UK 2021/22 report shows that, for the first time, Instagram is the most popular news source among teenagers used by nearly three in ten in 2022 (29%). TikTok and YouTube follow closely behind, used by 28% of youngsters to follow news.

BBC One and BBC Two – historically the most popular news sources among teens – have been knocked off top spot down to fifth place. Around a quarter of teens (24%) use these channels for news in 2022, compared to nearly half (45%) just five years ago.1

BBC One remains the most used news source among all online adults, although it is one of several major TV news channels to reach fewer people in 2022.2 News viewing to BBC One, BBC Two, BBC News channel, ITV and Sky News is now below pre-pandemic levels, resuming a longer-term decline in traditional TV news viewing.

Conversely, TikTok has seen the largest increase in use of any news source between 2020 and 2022 – from 0.8 million UK adults in 2020 (1%), increasing to 3.9 million UK adults in 2022 (7%).3 This brings it onto a par with Sky News’ website and app.

TikTok’s growth is primarily driven by younger age groups, with half of its news users aged 16 to 24. Users of TikTok for news claim to get more of their news on the platform from ‘other people they follow’ (44%) than ‘news organisations’ (24%).4


The original Ofcom press release, here, is the best writeup of the findings. Kudos to the Ofcom press office.
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Semiconductor shares sink as chip stockpiles grow • WSJ

Elaine Yu:


The chip industry has long followed a boom-and-bust cycle that investors have grown familiar with. When strong demand pushes up prices, manufacturers increase their capacity to take advantage of the high prices and produce more chips. Eventually, it creates a supply glut. Prices then slide, along with revenues and production levels. The cycle repeats.

Some companies have recently reported higher semiconductor inventories, in some cases chips are sitting in storage for three to four months, which is longer than usual, said Phelix Lee, an equity analyst at Morningstar Inc.

“Naturally, excessive inventories will lead to fears of lower future demand because the customers may have to cut some of their orders” to correct those inventory levels, he said. He expects excess chip inventories to persist through the end of the year before the situation normalizes.

Elizabeth Kwik, an investment director for Asia equities at British money manager Abrdn, said rising interest rates have also led investors to pull money out of growth stocks, a category that chip makers fall into. While some semiconductor stocks bounced off their lows recently, she said there are still signs of weaker demand and there could be more downward earnings revisions. “It may still be some time before things start to turn,” Ms. Kwik added.

How China manages Covid outbreaks in the coming months could also influence when consumer demand might recover, she said. In June, after lockdowns and restrictions began to lift, mobile-phone shipments in China rose 9.2% year-over-year, according to official data. They were down 22% for the first half from the same period in 2021.


Chip shortage has turned into chip glut really quickly. Like, about nine months.
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Blockchain-powered carbon offset company Land Life starts huge forest fire in Spain • Web3 is going just great

Molly White:


Five villages were evacuated and a rail line was closed as a wildfire has burned 14,000 hectares (~35,000 acres) near Ateca in northwestern Spain. The fire was reportedly sparked by equipment used by a contractor to dig trees for Land Life.

Land Life is a carbon offset company that focuses on reforestation, and speaks about its “autonomous planting, remote monitoring and blockchain verification”. The Dutch company raised €3.5 million in a Series A round in October 2018.

The wildfire is reportedly the second fire in that same location attributed to the company in the last month.


Oops. Still, perhaps the fire and destruction have been recorded on the blockchain, in which case, uh, hooray?
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TextExpander, which lets users build shortcuts to speed up business communications, raises $41.4M, its first-ever funding • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:


RPA, and companies like UiPath, swooped into on the world of work a few years ago as a catchy way for organizations to help teams automate and speed up repetitive business activities such as processing information on forms. Today, a company called TextExpander — which has identified and built a way to fix a similar gap in another repetitive aspect of business life, communications, by letting users create customized shortcuts to trigger longer text-based actions such as specific phrasing around a topic, calendar events, emails, messages, CRM systems and many other environments — is announcing $41.4m in funding to expand something else: its business.

Alongside the funding, the company is also appointing a new CEO, J.D. Mullin, who is taking over from Philip Goward, who co-founded the company originally with Greg Scown. TextExpander was born out of another developer platform they built called Smile — you can read more about that early history, with an interesting nod to how they originally met at Macworld and how the threat of a clone led them to build for iOS after first launching on Mac, here — and both are keeping seats on the board and remaining involved in aspects of development.


This is an astonishing amount of money for such a simple program. Can’t help but think that it’s now going to get a lot more expensive (probably on subscription) to use for those simple shortcuts. Or else will expand to try to become everything – it’s a floorwax! It’s a dessert topping – to everyone, with calamitous effects.
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Google under scrutiny over pledge to protect abortion location data • The Guardian

Stephanie Kirchgaessner:


In a report published on Thursday, Tech Transparency Project researchers made two findings following an experiment using two new Android phones. First, that if an Android user (described as a “perpetrator”) could get access to another user’s phone (described as a “victim”) and log into their own account using a Google app on the victim’s device, such as Google Play, the location history of the victim would then be visible to the perpetrator, without the victim being given any clear warning that they could be tracked.

Second, the same experiment showed that the victim’s visit to an abortion clinic, a Washington-based Planned Parenthood, was visible to the perpetrator and was not automatically deleted. In this case, the victim’s location history was turned off, but the perpetrator’s was enabled.

The route and time spent in the Planned Parenthood clinic was also viewable to the perpetrator via the Google Maps app on the perpetrator’s phone. A full week later, the clinic location remained in Google’s location history when viewed on the perpetrator’s phone and in a desktop browser.

TTP said: “It is unclear how Google plans to implement these [abortion-related] policies, and how long sensitive locations will remain on users’ location timelines before the tech giant deletes them.

“When TTP took a phone to an abortion clinic, the clinic’s exact location remained in Google’s location history for more than a week, suggesting that either Google has not yet implemented these changes or the company’s system for detecting and removing sensitive locations is faulty.”

…In a statement to the Guardian, Google called TTP’s experiment an “unlikely scenario” because it would require an unwanted user to access a device, breach someone’s device security, and have the user not realize another account is logged in.


Unlikely, but not impossible.
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Very Online • Columbia Journalism Review

Karen Maniraho:


Recently I spoke with five reporters, each of whom casts a different gaze, drawing from different areas of expertise and defining their own beat within the beat. Journalism, strained for resources, often fails to reflect the diversity of the world, and certainly the internet; as Rebecca Jennings, a reporter for Vox, told me, “I think there needs to be way more people covering this beat that are not middle-class white women and white men that live in New York or LA.”

To their credit, the journalists I spoke with aim not to be comprehensive—the internet is simply too vast—but to embrace their idiosyncrasies. Jason Parham is fascinated by “how we think about Black ideas and Black creativity and Black brilliance”—subjects that have traditionally been left out of internet reporting. Jennings is focused on pop culture, the creator economy, and how platforms shape behavior. Through his Garbage Day newsletter, Ryan Broderick takes an anthropological approach to the internet, where content is rarely “new,” but mined and repackaged. In his newsletter, Today in Tabs, Rusty Foster bookmarks links that everyone is (or could be) reading. And Taylor Lorenz, who works for the Washington Post, identifies as a tech reporter—“internet culture,” she’s argued, cannot be distinguished from the culture at large.

Though I talked to each person separately, their responses to my questions seemed to be in conversation with one another, as they spoke about their points of access, their limitations, and how they view the world through the internet.


Broderick’s takes are always fascinating: his most recent, about “pathologically boring men (and girlbosses)” is exquisite. The different journalists’ working methods, too, are interesting to understand.

What’s notable is how they all see “technology” as too narrow; that the internet makes everything social, and you can only understand it in that context.
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How independent writers are turning to AI • The Verge

Josh Dzieza:


ask GPT-3 to write Harry Potter in the style of Ernest Hemingway, as [researcher and writer Gwern] Branwen did, and it might produce profane reviews or a plot summary in Chinese or total nonsense. But write a few lines of Hemingway-esque Potter fanfiction, and the model seems to grasp what you mean by “style” and keep going. It can then go on to write Harry Potter in the style of P.G. Wodehouse, Jane Austen, and so on. It requires a strange degree of sympathy with the machine, thinking about the way it works and how it might respond to your query. Branwen wrote that it’s a bit like trying to teach tricks to a superintelligent cat. 

To create Sudowrite, [Amit] Gupta and [James] Yu collected plot twists from short stories and synopses of novels, presenting them to GPT-3 as examples. For descriptions, they wrote sentences about smells, sounds, and other senses so that GPT-3 would know what’s being asked of it when a writer clicks “describe.” 

And it does generally seem to understand the assignment, though it sometimes takes it in unexpected directions. For instance, Lepp found that the program had a tendency to bestow her characters with swords. Despite there not really being any swords in her version of magical Florida, it would have characters unsheathing blades mid-conversation or fondling hilts as they sat on the porch. 

She figures this is because the model was likely trained on far more examples of high fantasy than the much smaller genre of paranormal cozy mystery, so when it sees her writing about magic, it assumes some sword unsheathing and hilt fondling is going to happen. Or, if it sees a pixie and a vampire talking in a parking lot, Lepp said, it’s going to have someone get bit, despite the fact that Lepp’s vampire is a peaceful patron of blood banks. And one can only imagine the size of the romance dataset because it’s constantly trying to make her characters have sex. “I get a lot of, ‘He grabbed her shoulder and wrapped her in his arms,’” Lepp said. “I write cozies! Nobody’s breathing heavily in my books unless they’re jogging.” 

There were weirder misfires, too.


Whoa whoa whoa. I want to know more about this “Harry Potter in the style of P.G. Wodehouse”. But some of the “weirder misfires” are remarkable.
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UK cybersecurity chiefs back plan to scan phones for child abuse images • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


Tech companies should move ahead with controversial technology that scans for child abuse imagery on users’ phones, the technical heads of GCHQ and the UK’s National Cybersecurity Centre have said.

So-called “client-side scanning” would involve service providers such as Facebook or Apple building software that monitors communications for suspicious activity without needing to share the contents of messages with a centralised server.

Ian Levy, the NCSC’s technical director, and Crispin Robinson, the technical director of cryptanalysis – codebreaking – at GCHQ, said the technology could protect children and privacy at the same time.

“We’ve found no reason why client-side scanning techniques cannot be implemented safely in many of the situations one will encounter,” they wrote in a discussion paper published on Thursday, which the pair said was “not government policy”.

They argued that opposition to proposals for client-side scanning – most famously a plan from Apple, now paused indefinitely, to scan photos before they are uploaded to the company’s image-sharing service – rested on specific flaws, which were fixable in practice.

They suggested, for instance, requiring the involvement of multiple child protection NGOs, to guard against any individual government using the scanning apparatus to spy on civilians; and using encryption to ensure that the platform never sees any images that are passed to humans for moderation, instead involving only those same NGOs.


This is going to put multiple cats among every pigeon available. The client-side scanning proposal was so controversial that Apple paused it after colossal outcry from security experts (remember? Last October?). Alec Muffett, who opposes it, is quoted in the story: he’s no more impressed than before.
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“We’re all trying to find the guy who did this”: the meme that’s more than a meme • Slate

Rebecca Onion, back in August 2020, when Trump was still US president:


The sketch, which isn’t on YouTube but you can watch on Netflix, starts after a hot dog–shaped car has crashed into a menswear shop. As the stunned onlookers emerge from the wreckage, they tell each other: “We need to find the driver!” The camera scans the crowd, then reveals [comedian Tim] Robinson—wearing the hot dog suit. “Yeah, come on, whoever did this, just confess! We promise we won’t be mad!” he says. When the bystanders point out that obviously, he’s the culprit, first he feigns indignation: “I don’t have to sit here and be insulted like this! I’m just going to take as many suits as I can grab, get back in that random hot dog car, and drive back to Wiener Hall!” Cops arrive, but Hot Dog Guy is not daunted. He deflects and shifts the blame. Asked what his name is, he bemoans modern society, loading his arms with stolen suits: “We’ve been sitting here talking all day, and you all never bothered to learn my name. We’re so buried in our phones! Instead of giving someone a real smile, we send an emoji!”

A person who habitually realizes, too late, that he did something unpopular and then tries to cover his tracks by lying, Trump is a real-world Hot Dog Guy and the quintessential target for the burgeoning meme. But others are fair game too, both within his administration and outside of it, from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declaring on Meet the Press regarding coronavirus cases that “we’ve got to get to the bottom of why we’re seeing these cases surge” to Michael Bloomberg suggesting ways to regulate Wall Street. This is, alas, Hot Dog Guy’s world, and we are all living in it.


If, like me, you’ve been puzzled by Hot Dog Guy memes/references (but too ashamed to admit it), here you go. But it seems to me there’s a wider truth here. Laboured climate reference, but yes: we’re trying to find the guy who warmed the atmosphere by dumping carbon dioxide into it. We are all Hot Dog Guy.
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Minecraft bans NFTs, sending one in-game builder’s token spiralling • Coindesk via MSN

Eli Tan:


“To ensure that Minecraft players have a safe and inclusive experience, blockchain technologies are not permitted to be integrated inside our client and server applications, nor may Minecraft in-game content such as worlds, skins, persona items, or other mods, be utilized by blockchain technology to create a scarce digital asset,” Minecraft studio Mojang said in a statement.

While Minecraft acknowledged the potential benefits of introducing NFTs to its games – namely providing in-game collectibles and play-to-earn style rewards – it also pointed to drawbacks:

“NFTs are not inclusive of all our community and create a scenario of the haves and the have-nots,” the company said. “The speculative pricing and investment mentality around NFTs takes the focus away from playing the game and encourages profiteering, which we think is inconsistent with the long-term joy and success of our players.”

The biggest loser of Minecraft’s announcement today has been NFT Worlds, a Web3 gaming project focused on third-party blockchain and NFT Minecraft integrations. Prices for the project’s NFTs have plummeted 70% following the announcement, though the project’s developers say they won’t be abandoning the community.

The price of the project’s native WRLD token is also down 65% on news, according to CoinMarketCap.

The announcement comes amid a year-long debate between traditional gamers who oppose NFTs and Web3 believers who champion them. The arguments for and against NFTs in gaming typically boil down to two schools of thought; NFT haters don’t want to over-financialize the sector, while NFT enthusiasts deem the technology as a form of agency against what they see as money-hungry publishers.


Surprising, after the Microsoft/Minecraft announcement, that the NFT Worlds prices have only fallen 65%-70%. Given how Minecraft says blockchain technologies (ie NFTs etc) “ARE NOT PERMITTED”, a fall of 100% seems more reasonable.

This is described as (part of?) “the hot button crypto culture wars”. Choose your fighter.
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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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