Event: mastering information in a Trump Twittersphere

Reading Time: 1 minute

We are hosting an event at the Century Club (61-63 Shaftesbury Ave, London) to discuss how Twitter is gaining importance in financial markets.  We will show you how hedge fund managers and analyst are using Cronycle (www.cronycle.com) and RightRelevance (https://www.rightrelevance.com/search/articles?query=crude%20oil – on crude oil for example) to keep ahead.

Please RSVP at [email protected]

We look forward to seeing you there.

Date:  9 July, 2018

Tine:  6pm onwards

Venue:  Century Club, 61-63 Shaftesbury Avenue

 

 

Earth Hour 2018 and going green at work

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Started in Sydney, Australia in 2007, 24th March marks the annual event of Earth Hour. Founded by WWF and now a global movement, which brings millions together across the world to call for greater action on climate change. Everyone is asked across the globe to turn off their lights at 8:30pm (local times) for an hour to show they care about the future of our planet. From the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower to Buckingham Palace and Edinburgh Castle, cities, towns, and communities like yours across the world switched out their lights and came together for an hour, to join a global show of support for action on climate. You can see some of the extraordinary photos and videos captured this year on their hashtag #EarthHour.

This infographic shows the highlights from Earth Hour this year, 2018.

Earth Hour 2018 - Infographic highlights

 

We asked a guest of ours, Barbara Herring to give us some tips to being more environmentally friendly and green in the workplace.

 

10 Effective Tips to Go Green at Work

Over the past couple of years, people have mainly been emphasizing so much about the need to go green mostly at home. Nothing has been said about the offices where most of us spend a good amount of time in. However, in recent times, a new trend is developing.

More and more people are being encouraged to put measures at their workplaces that reduce the carbon footprint. Any typical office is able to provide numerous opportunities for being green. This is something that will be very friendly to the ecosystem.

It could be adjusting the lighting system or using different supplies. There are these and much more. When doing so, you end up saving on operation costs while being more environment-friendly. If you are wondering where to start from, here are 10 tips to go green at work.

 

1. Switch Off Lights Not in Use

The lighting in most offices accounts for a bulk of the total energy consumption. Your workplace should therefore not have lights left on unnecessarily. There is absolutely no point in leaving the lights in the washroom or staffroom on the whole day.

Better still, you could use energy saving bulbs or the LED ones to conserve more energy. During the day, you can as well utilize the natural light by using light colors for the wall paints. These are glossier and reflect more light.

 

2. Use Green Printing Practices

This is one practice that is mostly ignored. If you want to go green in the office, insist on using recycled papers when printing documents that are not very official in nature. Alternatively, always print on both sides of the paper when it is possible to do so.

Another issue you can avoid is printing unnecessarily. If the work can be handled on-screen or online, then do so. Additionally, strive to print more screens per page. This saves on more paper as compared to a single screen. Lastly, if possible, use a multifunction printer that performs other tasks as well.

 

3. Turn Off Any Peripheral Not Being Used

Besides turning off the lights, devices and peripherals also need to be turned off when not in use. Scanners, speakers, video cards, printers, etc. continue to use power when on but not being used. Make it up to you to unplug these so as to save on energy.

Power adaptors, battery chargers all use power even after the devices have completely been charged. For a more efficient switching off and on, you can use a power strip to act as the centralized turn off point.

 

4. Manage the Office Supplies

For your office supplies, purchase green supplies such as pens that can be refilled in place of those that go straight to landfills after use. Another great tip would be to use the so-called staple-less staplers.

If it is possible, buy products made from recycled or post-consumer materials. You also need to eliminate those supplies without any green alternatives. Alternatively, recycle as many supplies as possible.

 

5. Manage Your Computers in a Green Manner

Turning off your computers when you do not need them will not hurt anyone in any way. And if you are not going to use the computer for a while, then you need to ensure they are in a standby mode.

This mode minimizes the power usage while saving you the time of switching them back on. Always strive to keep your computer components up to date with the latest technologies. Monitors that use less power continue to be regularly produced.

 

6. Go Digital When Possible

In the office, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions before producing printouts. Ask yourself this question; is it really necessary to print out copies of the meeting agenda for every member? Not really. Simply incorporate all these in a slideshow.

Or you could simply send it via mail. Manuals and any other materials could be posted online rather than being distributed as hard copies. Generally, strive to make the office paperless.

 

7. Allow for Telecommunication Once in a While

Is there any reason why employees cannot work from home? In the spirit of going digital, employees can have an opportunity to work from home and still be just as productive. Technologies such as video conferencing come in handy here.

By not commuting to work, various environmental benefits are realized. For instance, the air quality will be improved, employees will incur fewer expenses, and the roads end up requiring less maintenance. Alternatively, employees could travel green by avoiding cars and buses, plus the depressing traffic jams.

 

8. Consider Using Renewable Sources of Energy

Solar panels can be a little expensive to set up for your office needs, or they could be insufficient in a number of ways. However, once you have set the panels and the whole system is up, your office will enjoy the benefits of a green and environmentally safe operations.

Renewable energy provides your office with a long-term saving plan, and you will in no time realize returns on your investment. Better still, certain localities provide incentives to solar users as well as being able to sell their excess power to power companies.

 

9. Go Portable with Air Conditioners

In your office’s pursuit to keep temperatures down in summer, most people go for the centralized air conditioning system, which technically uses more power. Instead, you can use less money by saving on power by using the portable alternatives.

These options allow employees to control the temperatures of their workplace to a temperature of their choice. They can as well switch them off when not needed.

 

10. Incorporate Office Plants

Having a plant on your desk does not only make your workstation more appealing, but it also makes your work area greener quite literally. Research has shown that plants absorb pollutants around them and release oxygen into the area.

Office plants will, therefore, help to improve the air quality around you and make you breathe fresher air at work while in your office. This will make you more productive in the process. Just ensure you do not over water these plants, as you would be beating their purpose in the first place.

When choosing a plant, ensure it is office appropriate and would not look awkward after a while.

Conclusion

Going green is very possible in your office, as long as you have everybody in the office on board. The directive does not have to come from the boss. Even as an employee, you can set out and put these measures in place. If you are boss, ensure you get everybody on board and green the universe together.

 

The guest post was written by Barbara Herring, The Flix.

#DeleteFacebook Isn’t About Data Security

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook might actually be in trouble. The #DeleteFacebook hashtag is trending, and it’s seen some unlikely contributors, like Blink 182 singer Mark Hoppus, and Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, which was itself sold to Facebook. Meanwhile, Facebook stock has dropped by 10% this week so far. The FTC has announced that it’s opening an investigation into Facebook’s business practices, to determine whether Facebook violated its user agreement, an infraction which would come with a hefty fine. Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t made a public statement about the matter yet, but he’s been summoned by the UK Parliament. The bad news keeps piling up.

The obvious question is whether Facebook will survive, after whatever punitive measures are dispensed. And, while it’s possible that it won’t, it’s difficult to imagine how its extinction would come about. Its users could always leave, but there’s very little individual incentive to do that, and, given that a third of the world uses Facebook, getting everybody to quit would represent a massive coordination problem. Therefore, unless Facebook is banned outright, or somehow sued into oblivion, it seems likely that it will persist, if in some sort of regulated or otherwise curtailed form.

The less obvious question is: why now? This is by no means the only data scandal that Facebook has been embroiled in. Any intelligent consumer of digital media knows very well that Facebook is harnessing their personal data, and that such data has been treated carelessly before, and used for somewhat nefarious ends. Probably the most striking example came in 2014, when PNAS published a study by researchers who quite literally played with the emotions of Facebook users to find experimental evidence of Internet-based emotional contagion. More recently, earlier in March, it was revealed that Facebook’s researchers had told advertisers that it had figured out how to identify whether its teenage users were feeling desperate or depressed—and that this could be worthwhile marketing data. Given all of this, it’s clear that data security isn’t the primary force driving #DeleteFacebook.

It’s much more plausible that what’s behind the media conflagration isn’t data security itself, but rather the involvement of Donald Trump. Some have claimed that Cambridge Analytica was responsible for Trump’s election, having provided his campaign with personal data about voters that (maybe) offered unprecedented psychologiccal leverage, revealing which precise people could be viably targeted by propaganda. If you’re anti-Trump, and you believe this, then your beloved social network has unwittingly engaged in a large-scale erosion of democracy, which is to say, a technologically-driven coup by a candidate you don’t like.

This may not even be the case, by the way. The person who’s most loudly proclaimed that Cambridge Analytica was responsible for the election’s outcome is the now-suspended CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix. Ted Cruz’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, obviously didn’t win the election, and, as David A. Graham of the Atlantic reports, “found that CA’s products didn’t work very well, and complained that it was paying for a service that the company hadn’t yet built.” Corroborating this view is Kenneth Vogel, a New York Times reporter from their Washington Bureau, who recently Tweeted that Cambridge Analytica “…was (&is) an overpriced service that delivered little value to the TRUMP campaign.” He went on to claim that campaigns only signed up to secure access to the Mercer family—a rich line of big-time Republican donors—being that they’re major CA investors.

To sum up: Cambridge Analytica is only one of many organizations which have used personal Facebook data in a sinister manner, and its use of that data might have actually been inconsequential. If this is the case, #DeleteFacebook offers a clear lesson to tech companies, which is that it’s not actually important whether your product or service unscrupulously surveils its users. It’s more important to ensure that your company doesn’t give its data to anybody particularly unpopular, especially if they end up getting elected. If you sell your data to relatively unproblematic clients, you’ll probably be okay.

Does Social Media Really Polarize Our Politics?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s often said that social media has a polarizing effect on our politics. And, on the surface, this narrative makes a lot of sense. The polarization of politics has continued as social media has taken over our brains. And what social media does, among other things, is make a game of earning the approval of your peers, thus solidifying your group identity. When you post something that pleases the sensibilities of your cohort—whether it’s a handsome selfie or a solemn plea for stricter gun control—you get the satisfaction of an immediate bombardment of friendly notifications. The reward structure of the social media experience doesn’t provide incentives for expressing minority views, or objecting to the prevailing narratives, or befriending those who disagree with you.

Moreover, Twitter and Facebook aren’t great places for dialogue. Political arguments are usually futile in real life, even with all of the felicitousness provided by face-to-face interaction. It’s much worse when ideological disagreements need to be reduced to 280 characters, or haveto compete with cute pictures of somebody’s baby. In this setting, sensitivity and nuance doesn’t play well. What gets the most attention is pithiness and aggression. In short, social media enables the self-congratulation and self-separation of mutually hostile political factions. Sounds pretty polarizing, right?

Yes. However, there’s a big and obvious question here, which is whether this is actually any different from the pre-Twitter media landscape. Long before Facebook was ever a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, the various political classes selected the media that was most collegial to their respective worldviews. To take America as an example, in previous decades, Christian conservatives tuned into right-wing talk radio to hear about the horrors of the gay agenda, whereas elite liberals picked up Harper’s to read about the horrors of capitalism. (This is still true today, in part.) Bubbles and echo chambers exist in absence of Twitter. All that’s required to create ideological homogeneity is tribal self-selection or homophily—the tendency of people to hang out with people who are like them and agree with them, given freedom of association. That’s definitely a pre-iPhone tendency.

But, of course, it’s still possible that social media has enhanced tribal patterns of behaviour—that this is not a difference of kind, but it is a difference in degree. So, if we check the data, what do we find? Well, it appears that social media does, in fact, have an effect on polarization. It’s just the opposite effect that critics might expect. According to a demographic study by Boxell et al., published by Stanford University, political polarization is actually less pronounced among demographics that use social media more often (young people, essentially). This shows that it’s unlikely that social media is a more powerful driver of polarization than old-fashioned media. (Or it shows that, even if social media does polarize, there’s some countervailing anti-polarizing force that’s much more powerful.)

And, like the just-so story about why social media polarizes, there’s an appealing readymade narrative about why the opposite might be true. While political disagreements on Twitter and Facebook tend to be shallow and nasty, they’re still genuine disagreements—something that doesn’t usually occur in traditional media. The New York Times doesn’t contain a second page declaring that all the articles on the front page are slanted. And while it’s true that debate programs are a staple of political television, such programs are usually staffed by a preexisting team who are paid to perform a predictable set of reactions to ongoing affairs. Meanwhile, on Twitter, it’s quite easy to run into novel objections to everything you believe in, which, even if they aren’t particularly convincing, might compel more considered private reflection.

Or maybe it’s even simpler than that. It’s possible that young people are less polarized because social media is so nasty and tribal. While a minority of social media influencers make a lot of provocative noise, it’s possible that the non-contributing majority is quietly alienated by the vitriol. While a controversial tweet with 1200 retweets looks impressive, there’s no way to measure the number of users who have quietly rolled their eyes and moved on—or have simply quit Twitter altogether.

There’s a larger lesson here, which is that it’s unwise to infer narratives of societal change based simply on the most visible behaviour provoked by one app or another. (Another demonstration of this: millennials have way less sex than their parents, despite the existence of Tinder and all the moral panic surrounding it.) Ultimately, sensationalist narratives about the polarizing effects of social media are just the kind of thing that’s popular on social media.

There is No Solution to the Problem of “Fake News”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the term “fake news”, seldom heard previously, became ubiquitous. This was, of course, no coincidence: the unexpected victory of Donald Trump cried out for an explanation, and invoking the concept was one such attempt by the president’s many critics, who could not bring themselves to face the possibility that he won fairly. As one conservative commentator saw it, “just as progressive ideas were being rejected by voters across the western world, the media suddenly discovered a glitch which explained why. Fake news is the new false consciousness.” But the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda is as old civilization itself. The internet is merely a new means of spreading these, and even then, not especially new. Consider, for instance, the anti-vaccination and “9/11 truth” movements of the preceding decades, and the role played by the internet in amplifying the noises of otherwise small groups of dedicated ideologues or charlatans. So we are still left wondering: why only in the last few years has the term “fake news” entered public discourse?

A possible answer is that the point has been reached at which traditional purveyors of news feel that they no longer have control over broader narratives. Their sounding of the alarm over “fake news” is thus a desperate rallying cry in order to regain this control. Some have drawn an analogy to the invention of the printing press in the 16th century, which also revolutionized the spread of information and led to the Protestant Reformation (and of course, disinformation, such as exaggerated accounts of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition). From this perspective, it is futile to resist the changing ways in which information spreads. One must adapt or die. In many ways, Donald Trump, who began his presidency fighting off a cascade of “fake news” allegations, including about such petty matters as the size of his inauguration crowd, has done a better job of adapting to the new informational eco-system. Twitter, with its 280–until recently, only 140–character limit, has turned out to be the perfect medium for a president with a reportedly short attention span. He also uses it to bypass the mainstream media in order to reach the public directly with his own message or narrative. And the president has masterfully turned the weapon of “fake news” around, aiming it right back at the media. At the end of 2017, his first year in office, he seemed to relish releasing the “The Highly Anticipated Fake News Awards”, a list of misleading or false anti-Trump news stories undermining the media’s insistence that it is impartial.

For all its faults, however, the mainstream media does have a legitimate point about the dangers of “fake news”. There must be an objective standard against which all purveyors of news are held and there does need to be a common set–or at least core–of facts upon which all rational parties in society can agree. But this is easier said than done, and it is far from obvious that there is a “quick fix” solution to this problem that does not merely favor one set of news purveyors over another, based on criteria other than factual accuracy. For example, many in the US fear that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed changes to “net neutrality” rules will give a few major companies the ability to speed up, slow down or even block access to certain web addresses or content. Comcast, for instance, is simultaneously the largest television broadcasting company, through its National Broadcasting Company (NBC) channel, and the largest internet service provider in the United States. Should the current FCC chairman’s plans to end “net neutrality” succeed, this will put Comcast in a powerful position to regulate–effectively–much of the online media landscape according to its own financial interests as a news organisation.

Social media companies such as Facebook have come under fire for spreading “fake news.” Although Mark Zuckerberg initially argued that Facebook is a tech platform and not a media company per se, he was eventually forced to concede that whatever he had originally intended the company to be, an increasing number of people around the world did in fact get their news primarily from their Facebook newsfeed and that Facebook therefore had a “a responsibility to create an informed community and help build common understanding”. Behind this corporate newspeak must also lie a very real fear that government regulation of Facebook as a media company could end up crippling its business model. If Facebook could be held liable for the spread of false information, it would need to hire thousands of fact checkers to nip this in the bud whenever it occurs, but doing so would be far too costly for the organisation, to say nothing of the practical challenges involved. Thus, it has had to rely on very imperfect “fake news” detection algorithms, and more recently, a deliberate de-emphasis of news altogether, the idea behind this being to return the platform to its original purpose of connecting friends and family.

But it is gradually dawning on many people that the war on “fake news” may be unwinnable. This is because there is no in-principle solution to the age-old philosophical problem of how to know what is true. If anything, this problem has become vastly more difficult now that there is an abundance of information to sort through, presented to us in a non-random–but not necessarily truth-tracking–way. We would all do well, however, to exercise greater skepticism in response to all truth claims, including official ones, such as the vague claim that Russia “hacked the election”. Skepticism does not come naturally to human beings, who are notoriously credulous. One should thus be taught to be skeptical from a young age, and to favor logical consistency and empirical evidence over other considerations when evaluating competing truth claims. This approach falls well short of a real solution, but it may help us individually and collectively to navigate the treacherous ocean of information in which we find ourselves. Hopefully, we will find ways of adjusting to our current information environment and a new equilibrium will emerge from the informational chaos. Cronycle is one platform that is ahead of the curve in this respect: it not only recognizes the problem of information overload, but provides its users with useful tools for finding the trustworthy, high quality content out there in the Wild, Wild Web.

Britain First: Smoke, Mirrors, and A Lot of Hate

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Whilst it’s Europe and America that we tend to think about when it comes to far-right extremists, Britain First has long been the UK’s fastest growing political party, on Facebook. This was not originally a cause for alarm: a large part of that early success was down to an almost genius campaign of using highly emotive, apolitical images (often to do with animal cruelty) to get users to sign up, artificially inflating their numbers.

That’s a whole different board game to being retweeted by the President of the United States, across three separate Islamophobic videos. That’s more publicity than a thousand pictures of abused dog can get you. For a splinter group from the British National Party – itself a splinter from the National Front, which dominated the British fascist scene in the 70s – it’s perhaps a high point.

That Trump chose to not only use content from them – but then to double-down, attack Theresa May, and have Sarah Huckabee Sanders go out and say that even if the content was essentially a series of lies, the ‘threat’ was real – is galling and horrifying and almost farcical.

But the risk presented by Britain First – and similar ‘organised political movements’ – should be kept in proportion. Their actions are those of street thugs with a religious veneer, leading Christian patrols and rushing into mosques, claiming all along that they’re not racist and they’re not Islamophobic (they just don’t like mass immigration).

Although they claim to have received hundreds of new members thanks to Trump’s retweets, rallies of the far-right in Britain remain paltry things. In Chelmsford, Essex, the EDL march this September saw a massive turn up of two members. In 2015, National Action (the now proscribed Neo-Nazi group) were forced to hide in a Liverpudlian train station because they were massively outnumbered by counter protesters. In Bromley, South London, the “persecuted patriots” of Britain First rallied in full force of less than 50 – fewer than the number of policemen there to protect them.

Even with whatever membership boost this gives them, the danger of fascists marching in the streets, in Britain, is easy to exaggerate. There are no indications yet that the limited numbers are an organised effort to drain police resources and wear out opponents – they just don’t seem to be as popular.

The greater threat, as seems to increasingly be the case, does not come from the most obvious and vocal figures in the movements, but those on the fringes. Thomas Mair had been a long time fascist, radicalised even before the internet began. He was not an outstanding member of any far-right society, secret or otherwise – he seems largely to have kept to himself. Dylann Roof, who found his way to writing his manifesto as ‘The Last Rhodesian’ through the Council of Conservative Citizens (a now defunct white supremacist site), was a recluse. Even Anders Breivik proved to be a fabulist, with his claims that he was a member of a Knights Templar group and his mammoth manifesto, 2038: A European Declaration of Independence little more than a cobbled together mix of his own half-baked ideas and other authors.

The idea of ‘leaderless resistance’ is one well embedded amongst white nationalists, taken from their seminal work, William Luther Pierce’s The Turner Diaries. Traditional, hierarchical command structures like that used by the BNP and other similar groups render them highly fragile, and prone to infighting. But that their message is getting in the endorsement of the president of the United States should leave us all wary. It is the hangers-on, the lone-wolves at the fringes of these groups who offer the greatest threats. Often outside of the support of these groups, and so often beyond law enforcement’s purview, it is not hard to see how the President’s retweets may well have devastating consequences.

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

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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.

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.

Unequal Web Access isn’t the ‘Third World’s’ Problem

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Considering the many rights which we routinely see trampled upon in the news today, making the case of access to the internet seems a little frivolous. After all, this the era when millenials are pilloried for avocado toast on Instagram, whilst we’re told by a succession of psychologists and journalists that smartphones are destroying the kiddywinks (an idea that, for the record, is less sound than the moral panic behind it would suggest). Sherry Turkle, one of the great pioneers of ethnography online, has become one of the most vocal critics of the digital and its much vaunted murder of conversation/friendship and so on. Amongst her arguments are that by choosing to disconnect from Facebook and the rest of the usual suspects, we can achieve a higher quality of living.

There’s an assumption here that we’re all equally free to log off or ‘jack out’, to use the old cyberpunk expression – that we live in Turkle’s world of digital dualism, in which you and the cursor on the screen are separable. It rather ignores those whose livelihoods rest upon the connection to the internet: think of an Uber driver deciding to up and disconnect one day. Offline me-time – even if it were better than online me-time – is just not a possibility for many. But perhaps even more distressing is the failure to account for those unable to access the internet – not for playing Angry Birds with neighbours or posting holiday snaps, but for the very real reason of accessing work and the resources for self-betterment.

The image of the internet desert, when its mentioned, is usually in the context of the great undifferentiated ‘Global South’. Think of the massive swathes of rural India, where internet penetration still remains very patchy. And yet in Britain and America, these deserts are shockingly prevalent. Nearly 20 million Americans are locked out of broadband, according to a Motherboard piece from a few months ago: equivalent to nearly a third of the British population. Most of them are also in rural areas, worsening the understandable perception that urban elites don’t really care about the country. And in the UK, the same scenario is played out, albeit on a necessarily smaller scale.

The opportunity to participate in a global tech boom, engage in e-commerce and e-payments, or to even just receive the news about events going on outside of a small community are all undeniably valuable parts of the internet – and the opportunity remains unrealised for so many in the ‘developed world’. The US National Broadband Map (which ran until 2014) paints a sobering picture of this reality: outside of major metropolises, large parts of America remain caught in a largely pre-digital era.

And that maps with work done on news deserts, spaces where local (print) papers, unable to scrape together money from advertisers or from subscriptions, have simply had to close down. Some have been bought out by conglomerates like Gannett, a few have banded together at a local level, but many have already died out (and many more are likely to do so). For rural communities losing the traditional lifeline to news in the form of the small town paper, the failure of broadband providers to support them seems a double-whammy. For a populace to be well-educated on complex political issues, it will take more than platitudes and hand-wringing from urban centres.

What does Siloed Social Media mean for Politics?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The old adage for dealing with dealing with online abuse was ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ – a statement based on the premise that they could fundamentally dealt with like offline bullies. By refusing to give them the emotional response and the attention which they crave, the argument went, they would get bored and move off (presumably to bother someone else).

But what does refusing to feed them actually look like, on a platform like Twitter – a space in which it’s easy for celebrities and micro-celebrities to weaponise their fame, turning their followers in far larger numbers and with far greater vehemence than in an offline setting? One answer is to block them, although given that it’s easy enough to make a new account and the sheer volume of the attacks , this can be impractical. Another is to put your account as private – or to go even further and quit it outright.

This was the understandable option taken by the targets of Gamergate, the organised campaign which ostensibly fought for ‘ethics in video game journalism’, but which always looked curiously like a reactionary pushback against criticisms of gaming’s often misogynist culture. Later, actress Leslie Jones would be forced to leave Twitter facing down a mob of a similar sort, targeting her for her ethnicity.

More so than getting an emotional response, this has been the goal of the leaders of the harassment campaigns, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart employee who was finally permanently removed from Twitter following the campaign against Jones. He wouldn’t be the only ‘martyr’ in the eyes of self-proclaimed freedom fighters. In the wake of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, rumours began circulation on Twitter about child pornography being hosted by the site by a series of accounts (including current alt-right celebrity, Brittany Pettibone). Having already removed a number of far-right accounts after Trump’s surprise victory, Twitter hastily swung into action, apparently partially to protect its own reputation.

It wouldn’t be the only platform to do so: even Reddit, famously defiant in the face of protests against the mixture of hate speech and borderline felonies on some of its threads, has banned a number (including the once popular r/AltRight). And as would later happen with Twitter, users quickly discovered alternative platforms, whose professed love of freedom went deeper. For Reddit there was Voat, which became central to the Pizzagate ‘investigation’, whilst Twitter got Gab (which also offers an opportunity for recording videos for audiences).

On the one hand, the decision for proponents of particularly loathsome ideologies to migrate from the mainstream space is welcome. A study on Reddit’s work shutting down some of the most controversial and repugnant subreddits suggested that rather than spreading the hate around other threads, most of those displaced tended to pipe down without the community support. Of course, it doesn’t take into account those who moved to platforms like Voat, which have tended to be less open to research from the mainstream establishment.

On the other hand, the practice of banning speech is a plaster for broader societal issues – and not a terribly sticky one in the long term. Although protecting users from campaigns of harassment is common decency (not to mention good business sense), pushing those already heading down dark paths to spaces like Voat seems likely to make their beliefs even more radical. A campaign based around punitive action also plays into their rhetoric of an establishment trying to attack them for violating free speech (gleefully ignoring those who have been forced to leave the arena of free speech out of fear).

The crisis of free speech, although so often imagined as a problem brought on by university safe spaces and ‘snowflake’ culture, is as much – if not more so – the result of a particular strain of conservatism mixed with what Adrienne Massanari dubbed a “toxic technoculture”. The result is a persecution complex which sees any debate as part of a broad attempt to stifle free speech, and a willingness to use whatever tactics necessary to attack opponents (see: fake antifa posters).

There is no easy solution to the problem which we face today – one which looks set to widen as the ‘culture wars’ continue. Forcing those with vile opinions onto alternative spaces no longer looks like the solution, as it simply intensifies their feelings of being stiffed. Allowing them to engage in wanton acts of harassment isn’t either, though: it’s time for tech to take a good look at itself and figure out the third way.

Explainer: Emmanuel Macron, Six Months On

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The standard for elected leaders in the free world has plummeted incredibly over the past year or so. In Britain, Theresa May has been hobbling since the General Election,  surrounded by hyenas. Her speech at the Conservative Party conference almost received sympathy from all quarters, even as factions within the Tories move against her. Over the Pond, Donald Trump’s fan base has continued to shrink as he picks fights with Puerto Rico (in the wake of Acts of God), North Korea (as their nuclear arsenal expands) and Iran (as they stick to their agreement), whilst calling some white nationalists ‘good people’. No matter how you massage the facts, it’s clear that it’s not been the easy ride which he appeared to envision when it comes to ‘draining the swamp’.

But Emmanuel Macron – young, charismatic, pro-EU – looked like he might buck the trend. A former Minister of Economy and Finance with a maverick streak, his meteoric rise to take the Elysée (snatching it away from Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National) was the stuff of liberal dreams. Then, his party En Marche! – a mixture of veteran politicians and political neophytes drawn from across society – beat critics in legislative elections, crushing both the established parties and the Front National.

For Europhiles, this was welcome news, with suggestions that it meant that the populist groundswell which had overtaken the Anglo-American world was over. Whilst the Dutch elections in March had created a fractured political system (albeit one in which the far right candidate Geert Wilders was locked out of power sharing agreements), Macron’s victory was virtually complete. A fresh-faced figure – in spite of his past as a minister under an unpopular government – the prospects looked bright in May.

With the end of the year drawing near, it’s difficult not to imagine that those who were most enthusiastic about Macron might be feeling somewhat disappointed. His performance at a recent TV appearance seems to epitomise the mixture of bravado and arrogance for which he’s become well-known, with attacks on those who disagree with him bearing a somewhat disturbing resemblance to another president. Whilst Trump may have gone after the press more viciously (decrying them as liars in the pay of his enemies), Macron has taken a more contemptuous if equally dismissive route – his thoughts were ‘too complex’ for journalists, a spokesmen declared back in June. At a time when technocrats have come under routine attack, it seemed a remarkably bold approach.

That he made the television appearance at all was a sign that his complex thoughts had not translated into successful actions. His aims for a stronger Eurozone have been stymied by the German elections, which saw the once redoubtable Angela Merkel significantly reduced in stature, as the economic heart of the EU made a decisive shift towards the Eurosceptic right. At the same time, Macron has shown he’s just as keen to keep France’s interests at heart as any of his predecessors, angering other EU nations – he swooped in with the might of the French government to nationalise the STX shipyard, keeping it from Italian hands, much to Rome’s annoyance.

And worst of all, his attempts at labour reforms have largely stalled. His declaration that those opposing him were ‘slackers’ galvanised a popular movement against the former banker’s attempts to loosen regulations – although, as the Guardian notes, the numbers were bigger under Macron’s universally unpopular predecessor Francois Hollande. At a time when the French economy has been stagnant for years, it’s difficult to draw consolation from this latest turn of events.

In the bigger picture this is deeply distressing: Macron’s brand of centrism offered one of the few plausible antidotes to populism in Europe. Marine Le Pen may have lost out on the election this time, but the president’s mixture of aloofness combined with failures to enact policy suggest that the next time around, France might not be so lucky.

Explainer: Autonomous Cargo Vehicles

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The history of humanity has in large part depended upon transportation. Civilisations have always been reliant upon supplies of food, water, and other amenities for expansion (both military and civil), and later for trade. The ox-cart gave way to the ‘iron horse’ and later to the trucks which still perform a major part of goods transportation in both the Global North and South. Whilst container ships – with the immense Post Panamax (that is, too big even for the Panama Canal) capable of hauling in the region of 120,000 tonnes – remain key internationally and for moving goods between distant regions, and whilst trains offer easier delivery of freight over long distances on land, the truck remains the most important vehicle for last mile deliveries.

And with trucks, come drivers, introducing an all too common element of friction. There’s the question of the number of hours which they should able to work: whilst drivers and their unions often push for lengthier periods, claiming that strict limits ignore down time on long journeys, their employers have largely resisted this. In America, moves to install tracking devices in trucks to ensure that drivers are adhering to the set times have claims of a ‘Big Brother’ mentality.

And then there’s the issue of the environment. Progressively more eco-friendly regulations, combined with a relative slowness on the part of automakers to take up this issue has created a conundrum for drivers. On the one hand, they can stick to older vehicles, which are much more analogue, cheaper to fix, and have limited resale value but emit massive levels of pollution. On the other, they can make the switch to new trucks which abide by the rules at high costs – and potentially face catastrophe, as in New York and New Jersey, where new, green, trucks certified by the Port Authority suffered from self-combustion. Independent drivers who had traded in their old vehicle to be scrapped found themselves reduced to working in fleets, where their autonomy was greatly reduced.

But this might just be tip of the iceberg for truckers, as autonomous vehicle technology could completely wipe out the profession. Whilst it remains highly experimental at this stage, August saw trials of wi-fi technology to allow platoons of autonomous trucks to drive together. For firms, aside from prohibitive costs and regulatory scepticism of driverless vehicles, they seem to offer a boon – there’d be no need to limit hours for robot drivers, or worry about them driving tired, or having issues to do with pay.

And yet who would the fault for crashes lie with – the company which produced the vehicles, or the companies which operate them? And will we see this technology spreading elsewhere in the goods industry, with talk of autonomous cargo vessels already appearing. How far governments offer supportive legislation – or at least lift the many barriers to the driverless future – will ultimately be crucial to how far these changes move.

Explainer: The British Far-Right

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The murder of Jo Cox in the run-up to Brexit was shocking not merely for the fact that it was the first killing of a British MP in over 20 years. The words her killer, Thomas Mair, shouted – “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” – marked a return of British white supremacy which had last had its heyday in the 1990s.

Whilst more electorally focussed versions of white nationalism have persisted and gained support over the past decade – most notably in the brief surge of support the British National Party (BNP) received under Nick Griffin – the last decade of the 20th century had marked a high-point in the indigenous white nationalist movement (as opposed to US or European imported groups). Neo-Nazi groups centred in the UK included Combat 18 (the number standing for the letters ‘AH’, Hitler’s initials) and Blood & Honour, which hosted the formerly flourishing white nationalist music scene. For groups like these, which had evolved from post-WWII fascists and disillusioned imperialists with ill-disguised antipathy for immigrants from former colonies, the high point of their publicity came in April 1999 – courtesy of a 22 year old called David Copeland.

A former BNP member, Copeland had read ‘The Turner Diaries’, William Luther Pierce’s dystopian novel and handy manifesto for the budding fascist. In 1995 it had made the headlines in America when Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, was discovered with pages from the novel (which describes an attack on an FBI building) – a screed which called for radical warfare against the state. Copeland turned to explosives himself, but he targeted another typical fascist target – non-white Britons, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. His attacks killed three and wounded another 140.

It’s probably unfair to call Copeland’s attack the catalyst for the failure of the British far-right scene – the deaths of key members of groups like Combat 18 through factional infighting also played a role. At any rate, the early 21st century saw the apparent transition of the old street fighting outfits to electoral politics.

Mair’s actions shattered this illusion, especially as his words were rapidly coopted by a previously little known group, National Action. With its roots in Yorkshire (which has traditionally played host to the BNP and other far-right outfits), the group had only been founded in 2013 – but it nevertheless is the only far-right group proscribed in Britain. The status has conferred upon it a great deal of respect in white supremacist forums, seeming validation of the state control which Pierce’s Turner Diaries ‘predicted’ – not bad going, considering attempts in 2015 to organise a rally in Liverpool ended with National Action members hiding behind the shutters of a shop at Liverpool Lime Street Station.

In styling, National Action offers a blend of the peculiarly British and the distinctly transnational – a technique borrowed from the broader alt-right. Where older iterations of the website from 2013 show a particular approach which mimicked the National Front, focusing on immigrants, the group has increasingly opted for a broader symbolism. One of the most recent examples of its home page featured Anglo-Saxon imagery alongside the broader, pseudo-academic ideology which has been popularised by Richard Spencer and others in America – and which is increasingly developing in continental Europe and Britain.

Explainer: Gender Equality in Saudi Arabia

Reading Time: 2 minutes

60 years ago (and 25 years after its founding), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia enacted what would become the most famous example of gender inequality – a ban on female drivers. In spite of a series of protests in the 1990s which lead to the arrests of several women for driving, the kingdom’s stance on the matter seemed inflexible (bar sporadic comments from King Salman that changes would come when they were ‘ready’.)

So the announcement a week ago that the longstanding law would at last be lifted was greeted as a victory for women’s rights in the kingdom. Certainly, it suggests that public pressure can have an impact on even the most recalcitrant of nation-states, trumping ideological purity. Was this, suggested some more optimistic thinkers, a sign of greater things to come? Women had their first chance to vote at local elections just two years ago.et law, but not removed, certainly. As publications including The Week, a large number of rights remain outside of the domain of Saudi Arabian women including wearing make-up, trying on clothes, or make a number of major decisions including getting married or divorced.

In the context of these wider, continuing restrictions, it’s not difficult to see this as a piece of clever publicity, seeking to remove the most unpleasant and visible aspects of gender inequality. Nevertheless, more conservative elements reacted with considerable anger in spite of the state’s considerable attempts to clamp down on dissent. Whilst it’s unlikely to catalyse anything larger, it suggests a potential divide between the most hard-line elements of the religious establishment and the monarchy.

On the other hand, it’s possible to view this as simply a step in a wider move towards a modernisation of the traditional recalcitrant nation-state under crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose rise to power has upset the traditional order. At 31 years of age, he represents a challenge to the traditional and highly ossified hierarchy of the country – and potentially represents what’s needed for a country struggling with monopolies, fallen oil prices, and increasing (if still relatively impotent) discontent amongst a young populace with access to the internet.

Explainer: Regulating Hate Speech and Extremism Online

Reading Time: 3 minutes

There’s very little that can’t be blamed on the internet, in the grand tradition of new technologies. The same arguments which paint cyberspace as a corrupting, seductive force have long been laid at the feet of television, gaming, and practically any innovation. And yet it’s hard not to feel that there’s something palpable in those claims. The internet is a very different space to classical mass media because it allows for grassroots engagement, easier dissemination, and far fewer boundaries on what behaviour acceptable. Perhaps the most noteworthy example of this is in the extremism – Islamist, fascist, secessionist, and otherwise – that it has fostered, and the hate speech it has normalised. Online anonymity, a blessing in illiberal regimes, has also proven a vital tool for the intolerant to organise actions and to spread their messages.

The leaders of both America and Britain have been outspoken on their condemnation of the internet. In the wake of the Parsons Green attack, Donald Trump tweeted that the internet was “the main recruitment tool” for (Jihadi) terrorists, adding, “we must cut [it] off & use [it] better!” Theresa May had called for similar regulations following the London Bridge attack, blaming social media for creating “safe spaces” for terrorists seeking to maximise the damage they inflict. End-to-end encryption, which became a flashpoint following the San Bernadino attack, has only become more contested since then.

Another group of extremists, white nationalists, have been equally adept at using the internet: leaks from popular gaming chat app Discord reveal how it has been adapted as a convenient tool for neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and neo-Confederates (amongst other hate groups) to stage their mass rally at Charlottesville. More aggressive use – such as using blogging platforms to host online campaigns of abuse against political opponents – has also become a worryingly normalised phenomenon. And in a revelation that shamed a tech scene already uncomfortably hands-off when it comes to policing extremist content, it was revealed that Facebook and Google had both set up their systems in such a way that it supported racist advertisers.

Of course, not all hate speech promises imminent violence – and the idea of hate speech is itself culturally relative, a construct far more prevalent in Europe than in America, which instead prizes the First Amendment freedom of speech. But even focusing specifically on ideas of violent extremism, and we hit roadblocks. How much leeway should a government receive when it comes to choosing who is an extremist? The Trump administration, for example, has been sheepish at best when dealing with those on the far-right, which rather undermines any assumption that the correct groups will always be targeted. Not to mention historical state support for extremist groups abroad.

That’s not to say that the tech sector is any better. For years, it peddled the claim that it was simply a provider of services, and that the content on them was none of its responsibility – an abdication of any moral authority. But in the wake of Charlottesville and in fear of growing public outrage, we saw a number of services whir into action to cut off hate speech. Perhaps most memorable was Cloudflare, a service used by white nationalists to protect their websites and which had previously been outspoken about their commitment to allow them to remain as customers. The murder of a protester at Charlottesville was seemingly the only thing which made them react, booting off prominent neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin. It’s a worryingly ad hoc state of play in which internet service providers are the arbiters of public good.

And even assuming that we find a body, public or private, who we trust to push extremism out of the digital space, do they have the power to do it? This is a tricky one: on the one hand, there is some evidence from Reddit that shutting down specific areas for hate speech can push commentators into other zones where they’re less likely to behave so egregiously. On the other hand, the dark web (accessible through the Tor browser) offers a highly anonymous and extremely difficult to police zone for committed extremists. It’s hard to see whether the regulations which politicians demand could effectively break that down.