Publishing with Buffer

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We’re very excited about this new partnership integration which we have launched today with Buffer. For those of you know who don’t know Buffer is a social media management platform trusted by 6M+ people worldwide. We listened to our customers feedback about having scheduling content feature built in, but we thought we should link up with experts in their fields. Buffer was also the favourite choice amongst our customers so we didn’t need to look elsewhere.

By publishing and scheduling your content through Buffer, you are able to to do to so on the following social platforms:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook (Profile/ page/ group)
  • Linkedin (Profile/ page)
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • G+ (Profile/ page)

Another speciality of Buffer which is close to our heart and values is, Buffer will only let you publish new content which you know absolutely what our mission as a platform by cutting through the noise and improving the way organisations discover, manage and distribute information and analysis. 

To get discovering, you can find this new feature within your board Publishing settings – Once you have connected your Buffer account, then you can easily manage what you would like to publish, whether it be articles, story arcs or editor approved only. The content will then be automatically added to your queue within Buffer and you can schedule as you normally would.

Feature_Buffer

Please note the feature mentioned above are only available with our Pro plan – to find out more about the pricing packages you can see further information here. In addition, your queued content may vary depending on which Buffer account you have.

 

Story arc and publishing

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We mentioned a couple of weeks ago on our blog about our Daily Digest feature rollout that we are introducing new features to help our clients with their enhanced curation needs. This release is packed full of three new features:

1. Adding summary to articles

This is an evolution of a feature that we had. Before you were able to add comments to articles, now you have the ability to add an intro summary to the article of up to 1,000 characters (screenshot below as an example). You will also notice a few other tweaks including up and downvoting change of icons, plus engagement scoring of articles symbolized by ∑.

 

2.  Ability to group articles and create a Story arc

Story arc (defined by Dictionary.com) The principal plot of an ongoing storyline in the episodes of a narrative; thecontinuous progression or line of development in a story

To us, a story arc is a way of grouping together articles/content which create their own theme or story. You can add summary descriptions to these arcs and have several arcs within the same board. We wanted to ensure you as a user, have a more enhanced and customizable experience with the content you have curated and selected. You can easily add to an existing arc or create several new arcs within the same board. In addition, if you want to remove an arc, you can simply delete it and the articles will remain as before on your board.

 

 

3. Publishing modes

Now for the publishing part of the feature – Once you have your story, we developed several different ways for you to get your voice heard:

a) Editor approved publishing mode

You may be working in a team whether it be with a Manager or as collaborators, where other people will have input as to what content you use or publish. This easy way with “editor approval” means the nominated person can approve the content with the tick boxes, which means you can publish the content only, which has been approved.

b) Content-type publishing mode

A different way of thinking about the content you are publishing, you can choose to publish editor approved only or from (and not limited to one) story arcs, articles, uploaded files. This applies for both the purposes of a curated channel and of a curated source.

c) Publishing a Board as a public feed

You may have a company newsletter or professional blog where you would like to have a stream of content for your audience to read. You can share this link wherever you like for external accesses. Articles only will be visible. The same applies, where you can allow your board to be visible to your organisation/ team as a feed, therefore, people will not have edit writes to change anything on your board but have “viewing” rights as such.

Please note some of these features mentioned above are only available with our Pro plan – to find out more about the pricing packages you can see further information here.

Daily Digest

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I introduce to you, Cronycle Daily Digest.

Our daily digest may not seem like something revolutionary and new to you, however, this is the start of things to come with new features for us. Previously to this, our Curation team had been pinning articles every day for us to send our daily newsletters, which means although the articles were of interest, they were not dedicated to your subject matter.

DailyDigest

We have worked through and found, what we like to think to be, the perfect combination. Your daily digest will arrive in your inbox around late lunch time (GMT) and will contain the top reads scanned from your feeds that you have within Cronycle. You will receive a daily digest, every working day, so that’s Monday to Friday. We are still working on further customization for the newsletter so please do provide us with any feedback and thoughts you have.

For now, if you choose to opt out of receiving the daily digest or are on a business account and would like to opt in to receive these – you can do so from your profile account settings – “Cronycle Daily Digest“.

Cronycle_AccountSettings

Not to worry, we haven’t made everything machine learning, as we still keeping our weekly Curators Club email, we have just changed the day we send it out, so now you will receive it on a Sunday and renamed it to “Sunday’s best” – little afternoon read with a cup of tea – Hand picked reads from the week from our Curation Team.

If you already have an account with Cronycle then you will automatically receive this (unless you have opted out), if you do not have an account with Cronycle and would like to subscribe, then you can do so here on our website.

SundayBest_Subscribe
On our homepage, you can subscribe to our Curators Sunday Best email

As mentioned, this is the start of email/ newsletter features that we have in the pipeline so be sure to watch our for future updates in the next coming months. In addition, we will be sending out comms in the next few weeks to manage your preferences (if you are currently subscribed) inline with e-Privacy and GDPR.

Are you an influencer?

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This week we rolled out a new feature update which allows you to identify who is an influencer

Influencers. The word seems to be thrown around so much nowadays, with the likes of influencer marketing as a strategy or celebrities like the Kardashians supposedly impacting Snapchat’s user base and uninstalls. As described by IMB,

An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience. An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with. The size of the following depends on the size of the niche.”

How does an influencer enhance my content curation experience? As you know, we recently rolled out “topics” which are curated by content from top influencers. We have taken this experience one step further to be more transparent with you about who those influencers are. In your advanced settings, you now have the ability to dictate whether you want that particular feed to be from the top 20, top 100 or a custom score range of influencers. This short video shows you how and where you can find this functionality.

 

In addition, if you are looking for “top trending” content which you may want to post yourself or as part of a newsletter, we have made it easier for you to see what is the most shared content on each article where it says “XX influencers shared”. You can also explore who those influencers were that shared it.

The ultimate question I’m sure you are wanting to know the answer to … How is the influencer score worked out? There’s is a complex algorithm, but the key takeaway that you need to know is that topical influencers are the social experts on a topic within the Cronycle and Right Relevance platforms. The score provides a measure of the social capital earned by an influencer in a topic.

Start Exploring

Slack-GDPR

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With the GDPR soon becoming enforceable (25th may 2018), Cronycle has launched the first-ever GDPR slack community which is aimed at building a community to foster the conversation about the General Data Protection Regulation. By joining the community, you will get content straight to your Slack channel from top influencers as well as our monthly insight reports that we produce on this topic.  You can view our latest insight for January here.

Join the community

Once you have received your invite and agreed to the Terms and conditions you can get started straight away. We have provided top articles on GDPR but also on related topics such Data Protection, Cyber Security, and Privacy. To add any of these topics, simply click on the “Channels” and you will get a pop up to browse the different channels/ topics. We’ve added a quick 20-second video to show you how.

 

 

The final part, as we are building a community we encourage that you invite fellow peers to join the community, this is an open channel so it’s as simple as “+ Invite people” at the bottom of your direct messages, fill in their email and Voila!

We value feedback so if you have any other suggestions on how we can improve the community then please drop us a message. To note, this is the start of the Communities by Cronycle, as we are looking to add more in the coming months.

What’s your topic?

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This week we rolled out a new feature update which allows you to have an enhanced curation experience. Topics.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Topic; A matter dealt with in a text, discourse, or conversation; a subject. Likewise, according to Merriam Webster, related words subject matter/talking point/idea, point/issue (you get the idea).

Others refer to it as social listening or brand monitoring, but to us, it’s more than this … It’s a completely new enhanced curation experience. Our recent acquisition of Right Relevance means we are able to integrate their AI into our platform and increase the functionality of content being serviced to you. We have a pipeline of new features in the next few releases, but this one we are especially excited about.

A topic you ask, how is this created?

Using our algorithms, cross-referencing people and articles to created top scored influencers on the subject matter, they are then aggregated into an automated feed.

You’ll notice the Discovery section has had a facelift, by this, Topics have a new coloured banner for you to easily identify in your feed, these are red whereas the curated club content which is hand selected by the curators and team have a green banner and still available.

https://vimeo.com/252729122


The advantage of having topics as a feature means you can keep up to date with the latest trending topics or selections by industries, all pre-curated and ready for you. These trending topics are constantly changing and sorted by order of most popular.

This is where it gets really special, if you have logged in with an email address, you can also connect a Twitter account to see even more personalized content. Tried and tested, these really are influenced by your activity on Twitter. This is the button to look for to make it happen;


As always, let us know if you have any thoughts on other topics or features to enhance!

2017 Insights Analysis – GDPR

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After four years of preparation and debate about GDPR, the EU Parliament approved the regulation in April 2016 to replace an outdated data protection directive from 1995. Today, we have five months to go until the enforcement deadline of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. At which, non-compliant organisations can face fines /penalties of up to €20 million or 4% of your global annual turnover, whichever is greater. Encase you are ever in doubt of the time frame, there is a live countdown timer on the EU GDPR website to remind you.

 

You may be wondering, why the regulation was agreed in the first place? There are two key takeaways as summarised by IT Pro

  • The EU wants to give people more control over how their personal data is used, bearing in mind that many companies like Facebook and Google swap access to people’s data for use of their services. The current legislation was enacted before the internet and cloud technology created new ways of exploiting data, and the GDPR seeks to address that. By strengthening data protection legislation and introducing tougher enforcement measures, the EU hopes to improve trust in the emerging digital economy.
  • Secondly, the EU wants to give businesses a simpler, clearer legal environment in which to operate, making data protection law identical throughout the single market (the EU estimates this will save businesses a collective €2.3 billion a year).

 

Our newest collaboration between Cronycle and Right Relevance means we can produce insights reports on hot topics to analyse the conversations at any point in time. As GDPR is a key focus for us (and others), we started with this and launched our report this week which you can view here.

Flock graph for GDPR Report 2017

Our report examines the all online conversations during the time period from November 15th to December 4th and along with Right Relevance topics, topical communities’ and articles data. All that data allows us to plot impressive graphs of interactions, with clear communities forming along the lines of nationality and business type. The pale blue cluster, for example, centres on the French data commissioner, CNIL: those accounts orbiting it include French firms and governmental departments.

 

Our overall findings are that the discussion about GDPR is driven by fear of failing to become compliant, across all kinds of users. Just a glance at our groupings of top trending terms can give a flavour of keywords, which focus on guides and webinars which provide clear guidance on compliance. Discussions about more the more positive side of GDPR, such as greater protection for user information or ethical innovation under the new regulations, appears to be less central at this time.

Using Right Relevance’s data, we can also produce a list of flocks: that’s those accounts which have the most influence in our specific period of research in our specific field. Rather than measuring long-term power, they’re instead a snapshot of the key players at a given moment. They included the British and French data commisioners (the ICO and CNIL), tech journalists, privacy experts like Max Schrems, and trade groups. Conspicuously missing from the table below? Members of Parliament from Britain or France, the countries from which most traffic on GDPR came.

What these flocks show is that it’s not just follower count which gives accounts importance: Laura Kayali (@LauKaya), a Brussels-based reporter, tops out our list but only has 1,524 followers compared to over 37,000 for the ICO (@ICOnews).

Our report also discusses important metrics which are often not covered elsewhere, such as betweenness centrality: how well does an account act as a node for the overall network? Whilst high page rank and betweenness centrality (being a connector here) can be interlinked, that’s not always the case: @LauKaya has a high page rank, but is not a key connector, for example.

 

Let us know if you have any thoughts or feedback as we are looking to produce a report on GDPR topic at least once a month to keep us all in the loop of conversations.

 

View the full report

Not another collaboration.

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Collaboration. “The action of working with someone to produce something”

One of our key values, not only attached to our product but also our culture featuring an international team of 12 nationalities across 4 time zones. How can you make this work effectively with  the help of technology directly impacting the way teams are engaging  today? Without surprise, the hottest job title on trend currently is  “Digital Nomad” – defining people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, and recreational vehicles. So much for a trend though, it’s been predicted that by 2035, over 1 billion people will be working this way. Without doubt, this life isn’t for everyone, but I’m confident we have all been through office space transformations with hot-desking and remote working all very 2005.

With more tools becoming available to encourage collaborative working, we see the likes of GitHub and Slack improving efficiencies, and at a rapid pace and scale. We, as employers or employees, are working smarter and more on the go than ever before. Is there a skill for Alexa to do it? The only thing that remains the same is that  we all have the same amount of time in a day, and there is no way to get more of it. It doesn’t matter how successful or wealthy one is – we are all capped at 24 hours per day.” as quoted by The Entrepreneur.

In the way technology makes us evolve as humans, it also encourages us to shape and adapt our products. As a result, we’ve rolled-out the largest update on “Boards”. Think of a board as an enriched collaboration space online, that enables you to work on specific projects with your team and to keep track of  notes, files, articles and everything in between. Roll this up with our Chrome extension clipper. This lets you clip the content directly from the web and continue collaborating as such with tagging and commenting straight to the Boards. It has never been easier to consolidate!. As Pokeshot rightly mentioned, “Find and use tools that integrate, so your employees can find everything in one place”.

BailBloc: A Lesson in Cryptocurrencies’ Constraints?

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Charity is not the most obvious use of cryptocurrencies. In fact, it might be fair to say that most anecdotes involving blockchain-derived monetary systems are about conmen and almost criminally gullible suckers. Between ridiculous Initial Coin Offerings, with proposals as wild as reshaping the dental sector, the association with petty criminals and the far-right, and simple, old-fashioned fraud and theft, the innovation which was meant to reshape how we did business has had a rough time.

But with BailBloc, a brainchild of the New Inquiry (a New York based cultural magazine), that looked set to change. The initiative, in tandem with the Bronx Freedom Fund, promised users that slacktivism powered by blockchain could really have an impact on the world. By running the application on your computer, you could effectively take part in bitcoin ‘mining’, solving complex equations to earn Monero. This money is then ploughed into the Bronx Freedom Fund, and used to support those who cannot pay for their bail.

As a number of commentators have pointed out – perhaps most notably arch crypto-sceptic David Gerard  – it’s a far more circuitous route than it first looks. The amount of electricity poured into cryptocurrencies has risen over time as the calculations have grown increasingly complex: each ‘block’ you mine makes the subsequent one worse value for power. Not only is this massively detrimental to an environment already reeling under the blows of Trump’s EPA and worsening pollution elsewhere in the world: it also means that the amount of money donated will fall over time. Gerard makes the colourful analogy that it’s essentially burning $5 of coal, then sending $4 to the Bronx Freedom Fund. He also makes the valid point that Monero is a favoured target of particularly nefarious users of cryptocurrencies, because it is a especially hard to trace. As a result, BailBloc users will find themselves competing with automated accounts and botnets, which can muster up far more power.

It’s unfair to call BailBloc naive, because in many ways it recognised how the magic of cryptocurrencies – printing money from thin air! – can motivate users. In a very real sense, the project grasped the amount of processing power on hand around the world; it’s a lot easier to get people to give that up than to follow traditional donation models. The New Yorker‘s decision to class it as art does feel patronising, ignoring its fundamental genius: BailBloc runs on the principle that people (even its creators) don’t really understand how computers, or the internet, or cryptocurrencies really work.

In spite of the radical libertarian ethos which underpins them, blockchain-based currencies are increasingly the game of criminals (who have access to large scale botnets), or miners who can afford massive server farms. In short, those looking to use them for social causes are inevitably likely to be outgunned. In fact, those who are looking to use them for personal gain are also likely to be outgunned. The quest for grand decentralisation simply puts the power to mine new money into the hands of a different set of elites.

Is the Indo-Pacific Here to Stay?

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Coverage of Trump’s recent tour of Asia has tended to focus on a few areas. There were his readiness to speak kindly of China, in spite of earlier campaign promises. Then there was the continuing war of words with North Korea, which has reached farcical levels. And finally, the obligatory snaps of Putin and Trump together, cast as pet and master.

Less attention was paid to the US President’s use of ‘Indo-Pacific’, at least in the West. It could have been an error on his part, a confusion with the more common Asia-Pacific – except that reports say that General McMaster is also a fan of the term. In spite of Trump’s ‘economic nationalism’, inherited from Steve Bannon (which casts Indian workers as interlopers in America), and a spate of shootings involving the diaspora in America, the president is continuing his predecessors work.

Indo-US relations have not always been the warmest. During the Cold War, presidents traditionally sided with Pakistan, whilst the Soviet Union supported nominally socialist India. In 1971, at the height of the Bangladeshi War of Independence, Richard Nixon sent an aircraft carrier into the Indian Ocean as a potential deterrent to further Indian action (thankfully for all parties, it was never used). The pro-Pakistani position continued up until George W. Bush and to a degree into the Obama Administration (although given the heavy use of drone strikes, it was a contentious relationship to say the least).

Nevertheless, the previous government realised that Afghanistan and Iraq had worn down US forces, and left them without the training needed for fighting conventional warfare. As US officials realised the futility of attempting to achieve stability in the countries which they had invaded, they also saw that China’s power projection had only grown greater over time.

And that also meant that they needed partners in the Asia-Pacific region. There was Japan and South Korea, of course – in spite of Trump’s threats during North Korean missile testing, the alliance with them has held strong. Australia, too, could play a part, although its distance rendered it a less useful ally in curbing Chinese soft power. At stake was not merely territory, but hegemony over the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries: a loose grouping of small states including Thailand, Vietnam, the Phillipines, and Myanmar. All have felt (in varying degrees) Chinese influence, and are wary of further pushes by the world’s most populous country.

As its neighbour, and in theory regional counterweight, India could be the final part of the equation for the US. The restarting of the ‘Quad’ talks between Japan, India, Australia, and the US, on the sidelines of Trump’s tour, hinted at an arrangement which could reasonably support small nations facing Chinese pressure.

It would also fit into India’s plans to gain greater ties with the ASEAN, in the so-called Act East policy. The world’s biggest democracy has long suffered from poor relationships with its direct neighbours, Sri Lanka and Pakistan (Bhutan is the exception to this rule, although an attempted Chinese incursion might have lead to a regime change). China has capitalised on this, using investment as a tool to build a ‘string of pearls’ to limit India’s abilities to power project.

There are obstacles to making the Indo-Pacific a reality: the group haven’t even held a naval exercise together yet (a previous attempt fell apart due to external pressure from Beijing). Trump could always change his mind, and attempt to gain more concessions from India, although this seems unlikely – his relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proven smooth so far. A more real obstacle is India’s limited naval power: a series of mishaps aboard submarines have killed a number of sailors, and made it even more decrepit in contrast to China’s arsenal.

But as China’s power continues to grow, it’s difficult not to see at least some form of cooperation between India, other regional powers, and the US. There’s too much at stake in the region: a fact which might bring some scant relief to the members of ASEAN, who are the pawns in this global game of chess.

The (In)justice of Algorithms

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In 1956, when Philip K. Dick wrote The Minority Report, the internet wasn’t around. In fact, the internet’s forbears wouldn’t appear until the next decade. But whilst the detection of ‘precrime’ in Dick’s short story was through the power of unfortunate mutants, we are rapidly moving into a present where the power of big data and algorithms are to solve crimes. The supposedly cold rationality of computing is supposed to trump our own prejudices.

And yet, it won’t.

The fear of algorithms is not exactly a new topic, but it’s one that only grows more relevant over time. Algorithms decide what news you see on Facebook – which not only pushed out valuable workers, but also doesn’t really fix underlying issues of exclusion and bias. Then there’s the complaints about the exact algorithm which Facebook uses to push different contacts to your newsfeed: another black box, which the company is unlikely to crack. The other social media titan of our time, Twitter, has also quietly pushed algorithms to shape the content we view, including one which is designed to ‘support conversation’ – by listing potentially controversial comments lower in a list replies. When those controversial tweets are often more conservative, it’s unsurprising that the right cries out against media bias (try looking at a statement by Trump, and you’ll often find tweets skewering him for incompetence at the top, in spite of the dates). Uber, which threatened to bring down the cab industry around the world before a series of corporate missteps and outright illegal acts stymied its progress, is built upon the algorithm which routes drivers to passengers, allows for the complexity of UberPool, and keeps drivers on the job longer (for the good for the good of the company). And unseen to all of us are the advertisers who use algorithmic information to work out with which ads to target us to best effect, building up a composite image of our lives. They might not be totally accurate, but they offer a far greater amount of information than any survey did before.

Civilian deployment of algorithms is concerning, but manageable – an inconvenience which can be outwitted with enough time and energy. Search engines like DuckDuckGo can keep you off their radar; as a last ditch measure, there’s always Tor. Admittedly, staying off Facebook and Twitter is toxic for your social life (and for professions like journalists, dangerous for your work life too), but it’s not a matter of life and death.

Unlike, say, an algorithm which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants to bring in, to help with tasks like “determin[ing] and evaluat[ing] an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society as well as their ability to contribute to national interests in order to meet the EOs outlined by the President.” If you thought that having real human beings deciding whether you should be allowed into a country was a worrying thought, imagine outsourcing that to an algorithm.

Assuming that it doesn’t break down – always a big assumption – the real fear lies in the coding behind it. As in the cases described above, algorithms aren’t neutral entities: they reflect the beliefs of their designers. It’s safe to assume that if ICE – an enforcement agency not known for its charitable views on immigrants – is designing something to do their job for them, it’s stance won’t be a liberal one.

And it doesn’t stop there: just as algorithmic job interviews are coming into practice, so is algorithmic sentencing. In theory, it offers redress through the power of big data. In practice, it amplifies the biases we practice everyday, but it gives authorities an excuse for their decisions: ‘computers can’t be wrong’, or so the argument goes.

Truckers, the EPA, and the Hidden Costs of Greener Transport

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The EPA under Scott Pruitt – a man better known for fighting with it in his previous life as Oklahoma Attorney-General – has not moved in directions which are healthy for the planet, it would be fair to say. Between slicing up legislation on mercury, essentially purging any mention of climate change from government websites, and supporting the creation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an agency which once stopped industrial pollution into America’s rivers has become a parody of itself. Whatever good work it was doing under previous administrations – in spite of chronic underfunding and industry efforts to stymie it – is increasingly being undone.

Amongst the legislation which the EPA now looks set to target surrounds emissions regulations for trucks. Whilst shipping (and to a much, much, lesser degree, trains) do carry some of the US’s cargo, drayage by truck remains a massive part of the supply chain: how else are you going to get it that last mile?

Unsurprisingly, this generates a lot of pollution: trucks are big, dirty machines, and older models throw out plenty of particulate matter and other nasties, tied to climate change as well as a host of respiratory and cardiovascular problems (there’s increasing evidence they might be endocrine disrupting chemicals too, with effects ranging from obesity to lower mother-infant affinity to cancer).

Whilst certain states have long had a hankering for greener alternatives – California leading the way, unsurprisingly – the Obama administration set out to change the problem at a national level. Amongst the measures taken was to clamp down on glider kits: truck bodies which parts are attached to in order to complete a vehicle. They’re cheaper than buying a brand new vehicle – and for the truck drivers, that can mean a lot, particularly due to another part of the EPA’s legislation, which pushed manufacturers to lower emissions on newer models.

The results are very effective models from 2007 onwards, whose filters are highly capable of cutting out pollutants, lowering the damage to our health and to the planet’s. That efficiency comes at a cost – not only are they far more expensive than older, dirtier versions in terms of purchasing costs, but the parts for repairs are also both dearer and less common. Compared to the rather basic, late 20th century models, when something goes wrong in an EPA friendly model, fixing it is beyond basic service skills.

That ‘going wrong’ was on display last year, when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey tried to encourage local drivers to switch out old rigs for new(er) models from 2007 and later. The scheme offered drivers lower prices, but they came with an unpleasant surprise: the filters, not designed for idling, had a tendency to clog up with particulate matter, and then combust. It was an oversight on the part of manufacturers who had not paid heed to EPA regulations until the last moment, and for those drivers whose trucks had been destroyed, it cost them their livelihood.

Pruitt’s EPA is driven by the concerns of big business, not common truckers who have to put up with their choices, and gliders and old, polluting trucks a long term solution to the problem of drayage. It’s just that in a strange, roundabout way, the man selected by Trump to drain the swamp of government bureaucracy may have actually done something for the common man.

Alt-Left vs. Alt-Right

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What has been called the “alt-right” is only the mirror image of certain elements on the left who call themselves “progressive”, but are regarded more pejoratively by others as “politically correct” (PC) “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs). Although those in either camp would usually be loath to admit this symmetry, there are exceptions. Milo Yiannopoulos, for example, in an article written for Breitbart, characterises the alt-right as “mostly white, mostly male middle-American radicals, who are unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritises the interests of their own demographic.” And according to a recent article published in Salon, it was “inevitable, from the beginning, that white nationalism would arise as a necessary outgrowth if liberals [in the American sense of the term] kept up with their identity politics obsession, and that is precisely where we find ourselves.”

In focusing obsessively on the identities and subjective experiences of oppressed or marginalised groups, the “progressive” left has taken the principle that the “underdog is always in the right” (or what Bertrand Russell called “the supposed virtue of the oppressed”) to its logical conclusion. This has created an intellectual environment (at least in academic and mainstream media circles, where “progressive” ideology reigns) in which the moral “trump card” in any argument is always held by the most oppressed person. It has also created the perception, not without merit, that white males are themselves an oppressed minority: oppressed by a nefarious “globalism” that is indifferent or even cheery about their demographic decline, by affirmative action, which goes out of its way to avoid employing them in positions for which they may be qualified and contemporary feminism, which treats them like “rapists-in-waiting”. When the heterosexual and “cis-gender” qualifiers are added as well, the remaining subset is made to feel its minority status even more acutely. In the new hierarchy of virtue, these white males are, through no fault of their own, placed irredeemably at the bottom. From their point of view (with a few self-flagellating exceptions), this is plainly the height of unfairness. But from the point of view of the “progressive” left, the unfairness is that these white men occupy an unearned position at the top of Western society’s hierarchy of privilege. The inversion of that hierarchy is thus–whether consciously or not–felt necessary to right this wrong.

In other words, the progressive/PC/SJW left and the alt-right really are two sides of the same coin. At the extremes of each group, one finds small bands of fanatics willing to use violence to impose their vision on society, notably “Antifa” or Black Lives Matter on the left and neo-Nazis or white nationalists on the right. To the extent that President Trump was drawing a moral equivalence between these radical factions when he condemned the extremism and violence on both sides during the Charlottesville protests, he was spot on. The fact that the mainstream media and even some establishment Republicans found this rather obvious point to be scandalous is a testament to how far to the left the country’s elite has shifted on cultural matters. Another useful term introduced into the discussion by the president is that of the “alt-left”. This is perhaps better than the other available terms discussed above, which may mean different things to different people.

Nevertheless, both the alt-left and the alt-right remain difficult to define or to delineate neatly. Like the Supreme Court’s standard on pornography, one simply feels one knows an alt-righter or alt-lefter when one sees one. The diagram below is an attempt to make sense of the alt-left and alt-right as loose groupings still largely outside mainstream culture, but at the same time growing in number and influence, whilst also moving towards the extreme ends of the spectrum. Another crucial feature that should not be left out of the definition is internet presence or activity. Social media in particular has acted, albeit unwittingly, as a gigantic sorting machine, enabling like-minded people to meet in cyberspace and egg each other on to further extremes, without encountering any antiphonal voices. As people drift further apart online and in their heads, when they encounter each other in the “real world”, they often do not know how to deal with differences in opinion other than by shouting angry slogans or even committing violent acts. This is not to say that the broad categories of the alt-left and the alt-right do not contain some reasonable or well-intentioned people; quite the opposite in fact. The problem is that it has become harder than ever to find common ground when people in different ideological camps have come to view their opponents as fundamentally wicked or stupid rather than merely mistaken.

The alt-left and alt-right have even developed very similar epistemology. It is common for alt-lefters, on the one hand, to talk about being “woke”. This means that they have been awakened to the reality of the privilege enjoyed by white, male, heterosexual and cisgender people in society, whereas previously they were oblivious to this. If they do not belong to all of these categories themselves, they become aware of their own oppression and concomitant virtue. If they do, they can still achieve some measure of (but never total) redemption by “checking their privilege” and “staying woke”. The alt-right, on the other hand, speaks of red pills, or being “red-pilled” in verbal form. This is a popular culture reference to the 1999 movie The Matrix, in which the protagonist is asked to choose between taking the red pill, which will show him the disturbing reality of the world, or the blue pill, which will return him to the comforting delusions of his former life. He boldly chooses the red pill. In both alt-left and alt-right circles, it is common to watch Youtube videos which purport to reveal to us the way things really are. One emerges intellectually “shell-shocked” with a feeling of having attained profound knowledge, after stumbling around for so long with the wool pulled over one’s eyes. However, one sometimes fails to consider the possibility that what one now believes is not necessarily the truth; rather, it is just that one has been disarmed by hearing a radical perspective that one had not considered before.

The effect of the “woke” or “red pill” video can wear off and as one re-enters the real world, in all its complexity, one realises that this cannot be the whole truth. Perhaps a young black feminist from New York is inspired by a video of Linda Sarsour, a fellow woman of colour from an oppressed religious minority, bravely speaking out against the “white supremacist” President Trump. Sarsour and women like her are just what we need to smash the “patriarchy”, she comes to believe. She then finds out, however, that Sarsour’s views on women’s issues are more conservative than those of many fundamentalist Christian Republicans in Congress. Meanwhile, a young unemployed white man from the Midwest watches a video about race and IQ. Whites have higher IQ on average than blacks, he learns. Suddenly, everything is clear to him. This is why so many blacks have to resort either to welfare or crime in order to get by. If only we cut welfare programs and end affirmative action, I will be able to take up my rightful place in society, he comes to believe. He then turns on the television and sees Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining black holes, and quickly realises that this black man is much smarter than he is, and that even if group differences in IQ do exist, this tells us nothing useful when comparing two individuals. He may also start to wonder what differences of a few IQ points really mean for society in the long run, given that artificial intelligence is poised to overtake even the smartest human beings.

However, Youtube algorithms being as they are, one can easily go back for another, perhaps even stronger dose. One can become addicted to this “political pornography”, reaching ever higher levels of “wokeness” or popping ever more red pills. One then ironically exits the real world and enters a pure ideological realm, in which no counter-evidence to one’s position can be entertained.

Although its power may now be waning, the alt-left is still a much stronger cultural force than the alt-right. There are several reasons for this.

It emerged much earlier and almost without anybody noticing, spread throughout society’s elite (universities, the Supreme Court, news media, Hollywood, etc.) as the radical anti-establishment generation that came of age in the 1960s, itself became the establishment. This process was largely complete by the 1990s, to the extent that conservatives by then had ceded ground on virtually all the culture war issues and were hardly fighting back. The fact that George W. Bush sought to promote “compassionate conservatism” was a tacit admission that “conservative” had become a dirty word. Theresa May’s recognition that the Tories in Britain were seen as the “nasty party” was a similar gesture of surrender, although admittedly Britain’s left-wing culture has much deeper roots than that of the US. The alt-right was a pushback against this tendency, an insistence on no longer playing by the left’s rules, only to keep losing to it. “Conservative” figures who tried to play by these rules became known as “cuckservatives”, or simply “cucks” for short, and the search for “true” conservatives began.

The alt-left also has the advantage of being seen as morally superior, due to the more general association of the left with the moral high ground. It is perhaps in part a testament to the left’s superior PR abilities that this association remains in many people’s minds despite the fact that in the 20th century, movements of the extreme left (Communism, anti-colonial “liberation” movements) caused far more death and suffering than movements of the extreme right (Nazism, Fascism and colonial regimes). This perceived moral superiority has also enabled those on the left to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude, which in the narcissistic age of Facebook and Twitter has morphed into what James Bartholomew has called “virtue signalling”, the mere advertisement of one’s virtue (usually unaccompanied by taking any real action) for the purposes of improving one’s social standing in left-wing circles.

The alt-right’s rejoinder to this is “vice signalling”, which involves alt-righters saying the most provocative things possible, with the intention of causing maximum offence to alt-lefters, thereby impressing their fellow travellers on the right. Milo Yiannopoulos and Blaire White are excellent examples of this phenomenon. An openly homosexual man and a “trans woman”, respectively, even taking into account the possibility of self-hatred, they surely cannot mean every derogatory comment they make about groups to which they themselves belong. Although initially the alt-right was happy to tolerate these figures, due to their pungent attacks on the cultural left, as the alt-right has grown in strength and even helped to elect Donald Trump to the presidency, it has tended to shed them.

This “eating of one’s own” had hitherto been the preserve of the left; the old saying that “the right seeks converts; the left seeks traitors” may only have reflected the power differential between the left and the right prior to the rise of the alt-right. Although the alt-left can just about hold together, as long as it has right-wing bogeymen to point towards, its internal divisions have become more severe in recent years. A telling article appeared in 2015 entitled, “The Rock Paper Scissors of PC Victimology.” Although the author provides a largely compelling critique of the alt-left victimhood hierarchy or “oppression Olympics”, he is apparently also aggrieved for the less principled reason that even he, as a “gay, Jewish man” is no longer near the top of the hierarchy, where he should be. “Like gay men, Jews have been relegated to the bottom of the progressive victim pyramid, a low ranking that has held fast in spite of the rampant bigotry and violent attacks directed at them,” he seems to whine.

The solution to the ever-intensifying “oppression Olympics”, however, is obviously not to keep tinkering with the hierarchy until everyone is happy (which is impossible), or in order to squeeze the electorate for more votes (which seems to be the strategy of the Democratic Party in the United States). Nor is it to appeal mainly to aggrieved whites, who are still in the majority in that country, as President Trump has done. Trump is in any case not the champion of alt-right causes that many (on both sides) thought he would be. He seems to have few, if any, strong political convictions. Rather, he is just much better at reading the electorate than any pollster or talking head; a charismatic figure who said what many were thinking but were too afraid to say out loud, in order to get elected. The only real solution to this great divergence and separation into hermetically sealed ideological camps must be to bring the alt-left and the alt-right back into the mainstream, and to force them to talk to each other. In order to do this, however, Western societies will have to recover the respect for freedom of speech that they once had. All ideas must be up for discussion, no matter how looney they may seem to some, and there should no policing of the boundaries of permissible speech or “hate speech”. Whatever one’s political convictions, when one really thinks about this for a moment, it is clear that there is no palatable alternative.

[Note: In this essay, I only discuss the cultural aspects of the left-right divide, and leave the economic aspects to others who have a far better grasp of these. Of course, culture and economics are not entirely separable, and I regret any blind spots that may result from this.]

Vault 7, CIA leaks, and the Case for End-to-End Encryption

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Vault 7 was first teased by Wikileaks at the start of the year, through a series of Tweets which were fundamentally fodder for conspiracy theorists: images from Gestapo archives, the seed bank at Svalbard, old photographs of US military aircraft being built. In the end, the contents of the Vault (a title made up by the organisation itself) were revealed to be none other than CIA hacking tools: weapons of immense sophistication, capable of infecting devices not directly connected to the internet, looking at allied intelligence data, or even masking the identity of cyber-attackers  as an act of misdirection.

For a group which has a curiously cosy relationship with Russia – consider founder Julian Assange’s time on state broadcaster RT (then called Russia Today) – this shouldn’t be entirely surprising. The overall thrust of the code was not merely to point out that America’s moral grandstanding in the wake of potential Russian interference was hypocritical (a fair point). It supported a narrative amongst Trump supporters (both inside and outside of the United States) that it was all the conspiracy of a nebulous deep state, guided by the neo-liberal allies of Hilary Clinton. The end game is a soup of half-truths and outright lies, in which it’s unclear who to trust: a powerful tool in denying the US government the high ground.

There’s evidence that the sort of malware found in Vault 7 has made its way into the hands of criminals – perhaps gleaned from the evidence stolen from the CIA. It’s tempting, in that light to see Wikileaks’ behaviour in releasing the code for the malware as naive at best and toxic at worst. The group isn’t best known for vetting the information it puts out, after all, and previous releases have data may have put the civil rights of citizens at risk. The lesson which intelligence agencies in the West would like us to learn is that Wikileaks is simply doing the work of the Russians.

Even if Vaults 7 and 8 are the results of Kremlin stooges, they’ve made one of the best cases for end-to-end encryption for the citizens of the free world. Whilst governments have pressed for back doors to apps like WhatsApp, civil society and tech companies have tried to explain security doesn’t work like that. You’re not so much making a door into an app with a specific key, but creating an artificial hole – one anyone with specific knowledge could stumble across.

Vault 7 should have exploded the myth that the CIA – or indeed any intelligence agency – is truly an impregnable fortress, a cornerstone of the argument to break end-to-end encryption. Whatever else comes out in Vault 8, our wariness of spooks (whichever country they hail from) should not be changed.

Don’t Rely on the ‘Trump Bump’ – Journalism’s Future is Still Bleak

Reading Time: 3 minutes

With the election of Donald Trump, there was a mixture of glee sprinkled in with the horror in the world of reporters and opinion writers. The new president was an easy target, both for his outrageous statements and for the ever growing cast of leaks which surrounded him, on everything from his alleged charity to work to longstanding allegations of collusion with the Kremlin. It gave rise to the term the ‘Trump Bump’ which, in journalistic circles, meant that the new Commander-in-Chief offered opportunities for big scoops, more openings in newsrooms, and a much needed cash injection for flagging establishment media from non-profits. At a time when journalism had been written off, the POTUS seemed to be going out of his way (albeit perversely) to save it.

The closure of the Gothamist and DNAInfo should put a halter on any such celebrations, even as exclusives on the White House’s potential collusion have grabbed headlines. It’s not that New York City is a ‘news desert’, particularly compared to other states – the New York Daily News and Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post will continue to scrap it out there. But the decision to shut two of the best examples of local reporting sets a worrying precedent. Whether the rationale behind their closure was truly business or whether this is a media baron crushing any dissent, it is difficult not to see their demise as emblematic of a wider problem for journalism.

Joe Ricketts, the billionaire owner of an online stock brokerage site, had founded DNAInfo (which also had offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and Washington) in 2009, and bought the Gothamist in March this year. Their coverage of local issues including crime and real estate reflected an older form of shoe leather reporting – a bulwark against the growing empires of ‘McNewspapers’ like USA Today, which repeat content across states to minimise costs.

Ricketts’ letter (to which all his former sites now redirect) lays the fault of his decision at the feet of the websites themselves. “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” he wrote, reflecting on the fact that the enterprise never broke even. He concludes his letter “I’m hopeful that in time, someone will crack the code on a business that can support exceptional neighborhood storytelling for I believe telling those stories remains essential.” It’s a rather trite ending – a man worth $2.1 billion bemoaning the costs of running newspapers.

If it sounds like something doesn’t quite add up, there’s a small additional matter: the decision came a week after staff at the New York offices of DNAInfo and the Gothamist voted to unionise. Ricketts letter assiduously avoided reflecting on that vote, but a widely linked to blog of his reveals no love for the idea of collective labour: it ends with the line”It is my observation that unions exert efforts that tend to destroy the Free Enterprise system.”

There is nothing illegal in Joe Ricketts’ actions – as CEO and owner, he had the complete right to pull the rug out from under the feet of over a hundred journalists. But they are spectacularly concerning. If we give him the considerable benefit of the doubt and chalk it all down to business, it seems inconceivable that papers started after the Great Recession and competing in a crowded digital environment could offer considerable returns on investment. Even the New York Times, which has had the advantage of a long standing reputation and of being one of Trump’s favourite punching bags, has only just begun to make some inroads towards growth, after a period of painful layoffs and a massive pivot towards the digital. It’s also hard to see Ricketts – clearly a man versed in business – would somehow imagine that the DNAInfo network would magically start printing money.

All of which suggests the other, even less palatable alternative: that the billionaire funders of journalism care less about editorial integrity than they do about control. Granted, this was not the voice of the purse dictating how tales should be told, but shutting down papers ostensibly because of unionisation is the next worst thing. At a time when good local reporting is neither lucrative nor readily in demand, this is particularly sad.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen billionaires using the sheer weight of dollars to push papers out of business – think Peter Thiel and Gawker. And what precedent does it set for other news sites, like the Washington Post, who are reliant upon a megadonor for their continued existence? The common assumption is that Jeff Bezos is unlikely to engage in similar chicanery; given that not even the staff at DNAInfo seemed to pre-empt Ricketts’ move, such an assumption doesn’t feel so safe any more.

The media barons used to buy papers because they made money as much as they offered the power of persuasion. Today, the first motivation has evaporated, and is unlikely to return in the near future. That seems to mean that dissent is even less likely to be tolerated.