The Election War Room Scam
We’re less than three months away from the US midterms, which means we are officially in the “Here’s what this tech company is doing to battle misinformation” news cycle. So, let’s see how it’s going, shall we? Twitter says it’s focusing on “elevating reliable resources”. Facebook is going to be using “false content” warning labels and restricting political ad purchases in the week before the election. And TikTok is really pulling out all the stops.
TikTok published a blog post laughably titled, “Our commitment to election integrity,” earlier this month. What’s the commitment? A register to vote widget! An “Elections Center” hub inside the app! Revolutionary stuff. Partnerships with fact-checking organizations! You love to see it. TikTok also says it will block paid political content, which, you know, ignoring the existence of dark money, is a good step, I suppose.
I want to ask something of an uncomfortable question. Why does misinformation and disinformation suddenly matter during an election? It’s a question that’s been on my mind for years. I spent 2015-2019 going to elections around the world and wrote a lot of stories about how social media was impacting democracy. I’ve interviewed congressional YouTubers in Brazil. I’ve been inside an election integrity hub that Facebook built in Italy. I toured a Mexican fake news farm. I once spent a very long day interviewing Dutch voters at various train stations around the country about what they looked at on the internet.
And, while I think what we do online impacts how we see the world and, thus, affects how our democracies function, it feels as if both the media and the companies that run these platforms have turned misinformation and disinformation into a weird live event focused on the idea that if voters see too many bad posts in the week leading up to a big vote, democracy is doomed. Never mind all the bad posts they see every other day of the year.
I remember the hilariously dumb “war room” that Facebook setup for Brazil’s 2018 election, complete with little Brazilian flags on computers. I imagine it was similar to what I saw in Italy, which was a bunch of screens with live CrowdTangle dashboards, basically. Only, in 2018, Facebook’s “war room” did not to stop misinformation about Brazil’s election from spreading via the platform’s very own ad library. Also, the biggest source of election misinformation in Brazil was WhatsApp and, from what I’ve heard, there is some question from folks in Brazil about whether or not anyone from WhatsApp was even in the country in the weeks leading up to the vote. If you know more about this, I’d love to chat 👀
When platforms set up these “war rooms” and get news organizations to report on these stunts as if they matter, they’re able to create this mental picture of a company proactively safeguarding their platform to uphold democracy. They want you to imagine Mark Zuckerberg standing in a command center bracing for impact as a Macedonian high school computer lab deploys a wave of Pepe the Frog memes in the replies to an unsuspecting CNN anchor’s tweet.
It’s all theater and it’s meant to obscure the fact that misinformation and disinformation are integral parts of using a user-generated content platform with a sharing functionality. I mean, really seriously, just stop for a second and think about how you would even solve this problem. There are obviously notable differences between how Twitter and 4chan are moderated, but misinformation and disinformation are inseparable parts of both.
One of my first jobs out of college was a comment moderator. It was a fairly standard setup. I had a queue of comments and I had to read them all day and give little virtual awards to the good ones, delete the bad ones, and make sure the spam filter was working. I was expected to try and read 200-300 comments a day. It wasn’t hugely intense, but I still spent a lot of my day ctrl-f’ing various slurs so I could clear the queue fast enough to keep up in semi-real-time with users visiting the site. Now, imagine how that same job would work on a website like Twitter, which, last quarter, reported that it had around 238 million daily active users.
I don’t care how good your think tank-funded fact-checkers are or how bright and shiny your anti-fake news Clippy is that pops up and says “it looks like you’re writing a domestic terrorist manifesto!” Unless you want to hire at least one moderator for every 1000 users you have — and ones that speak the same language they post in — you’re probably not going to make much of a dent in this stuff. Even if you build your cute little command center.
Mark Scott, the chief technology correspondent for Politico, had a great series of tweets about this earlier this month. “If your strategy is to rely on fact-checkers for content moderation and/or election integrity on social media, you might as well just give up and go home,” he wrote. “This is not to knock the work of all of fact-checking groups out there. It is a noble aim: to debunk falsehoods. But they are understaffed, under-resourced and, increasingly, faced financial pressures to pump out as many fact-checks as possible vs making a notable difference.”
Alright, so, you’re probably saying, “ok, tough guy, well, what do we do if we can’t rely on fact-checkers?” Well, honestly, media blackouts are a possible model. America obviously doesn’t have them, but many countries have specific rules about how mass media can report on an election in the pivotal hours leading up to it. I think it’s interesting that these platforms spend a huge amount of resources on their little widgets and hubs and tabs and labels, but none of them are “committed to democracy” enough to just pull the plug on themselves for two days. We had elections before social media. It, arguably, went a lot better tbh.
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My name is Len and I wanted to let you know about a video game I made. My granddaughter recommended that I share it with you so here goes!
It's called Retired Men's Nude Beach Volleyball League. While the title might sound a little risqué the game is not at all. It's about life, learning new things, and re-connecting with friends and family in the later years in life. It's available on Steam and Itch.Io and if you would like to play it I would sincerely appreciate it.
This is the trailer And you can buy it on Steam and Itch.io
Hope you enjoy the game!
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Is This Who’s Behind All The NFT Twitter Hacks?
@zachxbt, a very popular Twitter account that publishes some great on-chain analysis about different crypto scams, is alleging that a notorious crypto scammer named Cameron Redman is behind a series of high-profile Twitter hijackings. I recently did a whole episode about this on my podcast The Content Mines, but if you’re out of the loop, scammers will often hack Twitter accounts and then use them to promote fraudulent NFT projects and also drain users’ crypto wallets. Obviously, I don’t think that only one person is behind every hack like this, but based on @zachxbt’s research, it seems like a lot of the high-profile ones from the NFT industry like the artist Beeple could be connected.
According to @zachxbt, a user recently appeared on an online marketplace called SWAPD promising access to a “Twitter panel” of stolen accounts. The SWAPD post was published by a user named antihero, which was linked to several social accounts that led @zachxbt to Redman. And then, following @zachxbt publishing his thread, the SWAPD posts were pulled down and the Instagram account associated with Redman went dark.
Eminem and Snoop Dogg Went To The Metaverse
During the VMAs last night, Eminem and Snoop Dogg performed a metaverse-themed set where they flew through a bunch of CGI worlds in a spaceship and transformed into their Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. The whole thing was ugly and bad. I watched it a few times to figure out what the actual human beings were doing during the animated bits and from what I can tell, they were just sitting on a couch while the audience had to watch their ugly animation. Both rappers own Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, so it’s probably best to view the performance as a form of sponsored content for their own investments. The Eminem subreddit is PISSED.
What I think is funny is that none of the technology being used here is new. In fact, most of it is not even at the current level you’d see at a virtual concert. Acts like The Gorillaz, the band Dethklok from Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, and vocaloids like Hatsune Miku typically use motion tracking technology and other types of projectors and holograms to bring a virtual or animated artist to “life”. And thry seem more interested in making the virtual feel real to the audience than whatever the heck Eminem and Snoop Dogg were doing. Unfortunately, it seems like that virtual performances and virtual performers are having a real moment right now, so I doubt this is the last weird shameless cash grab like this that we’ll see.
A Monument To Greatness
An artist named Tat Vision built a statue commemorating the Four Lads In Jeans meme. If you’ve never heard of this before, well, in 2020, four lads in tight jeans posed for a photo together while on a night out in Birmingham. The picture went super viral in the UK for reasons that I would sort of compare to those old viral photos of guys from New Jersey at raves wearing like neon tank tops. You remember what I’m talking about?
Anyways, the artist behind the statue told BirminghamLive that it took a few weeks to finish and his main inspiration was that one super ugly statue of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Very Sad Meal
Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis posted a truly jaw-dropping photo of a meal he called “#AntiInflationCuisine,” which, based on the amount of Fiber One in this, I’m not even sure is accurate. In another tweet, he said that he used to use Honey Bunches, which I think is grosser. And most folks in the quote tweets pointed out that this is basically cat food.
Now, I want to be clear, this is an objectively nuts thing to post online. But, also, I do think that the majority of the American public does not fully comprehend exactly how weird journalists are, just as a baseline. They have chaotic and disordered lives and a lot of them live like drunk raccoons. In fact, I had a version of a thing like this dude’s cat food bowl, but mine was a microwaved egg, pickled yellow peppers from a jar, and chunks of Spam, which I’d throw into a bowl of instant ramen and cover it in soy sauce and sriracha. Was I mentally “ok” when I was eating this every day. Absolutely not. But it was easy to make, which gave me a lot of extra free time to post. Which is all that’s important.
Kevin Bacon Is Being Chill Again
Last time we checked in on Kevin Bacon he was singing Joni Mitchell in some kind of forest. Now he’s back playing guitar with goats. I’m very happy for him.
A Good Meme
Extremely Powerful Content
This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by user zsh2v1. I highly recommend watching it all the way through because, yes, he absolutely does take a bite out of the corn dog after he hits it.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a great Reddit post.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
so...were eminem and snoop even present or was it just a 3d video playing for the entire "performance"? because if it was the latter i would be pissed too, even if it were cool.
also, yeah, the "war rooms" are funny when you actually stop and think about it - who cares about fighting mis/disinformation the week or two before if you don't do it on that level year round? by that point anyone swayed by bullshit is staying swayed. i would be surprised if there are more than a negligible number of people changing their mind based on misinformation the week of, but i'm open to being surprised.
also also...can anyone explain the "great reddit post" at the end? i don't get it. maybe i'm supposed to know who the picture is of? i feel left out.