It’s been a rather grim week in the social-media-and-democracy cinematic universe, so let’s end on a positive note … that starts on a grim note!
“Voting systems in the United States are so woefully hackable, even an 8-year-old could do it.” So begins Issie Lapowsky’s look at a competition to be hosted next week at Def Con, the venerable hacking conference in Las Vegas. The competition in question is being cosponsored by the Democratic National Committee, who you might remember from such previous hacks as the 2016 presidential election.
Here’s Lapowsky on how it’s going to work:
The contest will include children, ages 8 to 16, who will be tasked with penetrating replicas of the websites that secretaries of state across the country use to publish election results. They’ll vie for $2,500 in prize money, $500 of which will come from the DNC and be awarded to the child who comes up with the best defensive strategy for states around the country.
The eye-popping reason that the Democrats have turned to children to hack them? “State election sites are so deeply flawed, Braun says, no adult hackers would be interested in cracking them. ‘The hackers would laugh us off the stage if we asked them to do this.’”
Ha …………………………………………………… ha?
In any case, this story is notable for at least three reasons. One, our focus — particularly around here — on the ongoing influence campaigns on social media can distract from the ongoing attacks on our actual election infrastructure. Both are worthy of your attention, even if you’re usually only going to get the former around here.
Two, the Democrats’ new security people come from the world of social media. Raffi Krikorian and Bob Lord both worked on security issues at Twitter, among stints at other big tech companies, before arriving at the DNC.
Three, this story serves as a nice reminder that solving our broken-reality crisis will need to involve average people. Tech companies and national governments have a giant role to play, but there’s plenty of work to go around for everyone.
Even the 8-year-olds.
Correction, August 6th: The headline of this article has been updated to clarify that the 8-year-olds have been asked to hack replicas of state election websites, not voting machines. It was further edited to clarify that the DNC cosponsored the event, not hosted it as originally stated.
Googlers are upset about the big (and secret) new push into China, Ryan Gallagher reports:
Company managers responded by swiftly trying to shut down employees’ access to any documents that contained information about the China censorship project, according to Google insiders who witnessed the backlash.
“Everyone’s access to documents got turned off, and is being turned on [on a] document-by-document basis,” said one source. “There’s been total radio silence from leadership, which is making a lot of people upset and scared. … Our internal meme site and Google Plus are full of talk, and people are a.n.g.r.y.”
Max Fisher and Amanda Taub write about research suggesting that we derive our morality from the people around us, and what that means for big social networks:
It especially raises the stakes for how we organize on social media. Sites like Facebook scramble the ways that we relate to one another. They replace our traditional person-to-person social networks with artificial, algorithm-driven networks meant to maximize the amount of time we spend on the site.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re worse for our ability to collectively determine morality. But it definitely doesn’t mean that they’re better, either. We’re only barely beginning to understand the ways that social media can augment up things like misinformation, polarization, filter bubbles and extremism. Could Facebook also disrupt the processes by which we determine right from wrong — which is, after all, often a social act? How would that change our morality? Our tolerance of violence? Or our likelihood to commit it?
Caroline Haskins explores the military’s guidelines for tweeting and finds their content to be rather too jovial given the circumstances:
“Balance ‘fun’ with ‘medicine,’” the handbook reads — in which case “medicine” refers to military promotional materials, or breaking news events like a successful military operation. “It is important to post command messages and organizational information, but try to keep the page entertaining enough for people to want to follow it. Don’t be afraid to have fun by posting interesting links, or asking trivia questions. Try posting a photo of the day, or asking a weekly question.”
Congratulations to Snap investors:
Snap held what may be the shortest annual shareholder meeting by a U.S. public company in history — not that anyone necessarily keeps records of that feat. Snap’s meeting lasted just two minutes and 46 seconds, an accomplishment that seems fitting for a company that pioneered disappearing messages.
Scary time to be reliant on Patreon income, my colleague Megan Farokhmanesh reports.
Creators logging on today found that some of their July payments have been affected due to what appears to be a combination of banking issues and changes to internal company operations. While it’s unclear why certain Patreon users (and not others) have been impacted by this problem, many creators say they’ve not gotten any support or answers from the company despite reaching out directly. And though it’s typical for some payments to be declined, the scope of the current issue is concerning to members of the community.
Here is a bonkers explainer from Brian Feldman about gang weed, and rarely has a meme needed an explainer more. Feldman describes it as “a parody of aggrieved ‘stoner nihilist gentlemen gamers’ and people who see an ironic meme as a way to disguise their true feeling on the matter.” I barely understood any of it but enjoyed the explainer very much.
YouTube has big expansion plans in San Bruno:
According to city managers, YouTube favors a proposal that would add 2.3 million square feet of office space and eventually bring more than 10,000 new jobs to the area. Not all those jobs or space would belong to Google but David Woltering, the community development director for the city of San Bruno, said “The vast majority of it would be YouTube’s.”
Business Insider discovers a wax Mark Zuckerberg statue in San Francisco.
After F8, some smart people I know speculated to me that Facebook Dating would turn out to be vaporware. Maybe so, but in the meantime it’s testing internally.
My colleague Dami Lee notes that Facebook’s new “Digital Literacy Library” contains no information for spotting hoaxes or misinformation on social media.
Arya made a social app.
Megan Garber criticizes the current state of “information pollution”:
Competing truths — “alternative facts” — are no longer the primary threat to American culture; competing lies are. Everything was possible and nothing was true: Conspiracies now smirk and smog in the air, issued from the giant smokestacks at InfoWars and The Gateway Pundit and the White House itself. Hannah Arendt warned of the mass cynicism that can befall cultures when propaganda is allowed to proliferate among them; that cynicism is here, now. And it is accompanied by something just as destructive: a sense of pervasive despair. Americans live in a world of information pollution—and the subsequent tragedy of this new environmental reality is that no one has been able to figure out a reliable method of clearing the air.
And finally ...
Earlier this week, we ended with @insta_repeat, the Instagram account that features instances where everyone takes the same exact photo. Now here’s a story about what happens when everyone takes the same photo, which is that it ruins Canadian sunflower farms:
As The Globe and Mail reports, Bogle Seeds in Hamilton, Ontario had to close down its fields to all visitors following a viral image that lead to a massive increase in foot traffic of people shooting pictures of its sunflower fields. In late July, the farm was open to everyone, with the owners charging an entry fee of $7.50 to people who wanted to visit the brightly colored flowers. At first, the crowds were manageable, but by July 28th, everything had changed. After pictures of the farm went viral, an estimated 7,000 cars lined up on the roads leading to the farm.
The next time someone blasts you for taking pictures of yourself, tell them you’re supporting local businesses. Save a farm — take a selfie.
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