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WSJ: ‘Facebook Executives Shut Down Efforts to Make the Site Less Divisive’

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Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (Apple News+ link):

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” […]

But in the end, Facebook’s interest was fleeting. Mr. Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products.

Polarizing divisive content is to Facebook as nicotine is to cigarette makers: a component of their product which their own internal research shows is harmful, but which they choose to increase, rather than decrease, because its addictiveness is so profitable.

A 2016 presentation that names as author a Facebook researcher and sociologist, Monica Lee, found extremist content thriving in more than one-third of large German political groups on the platform. Swamped with racist, conspiracy-minded and pro-Russian content, the groups were disproportionately influenced by a subset of hyperactive users, the presentation notes. Most of them were private or secret.

The high number of extremist groups was concerning, the presentation says. Worse was Facebook’s realization that its algorithms were responsible for their growth. The 2016 presentation states that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools” and that most of the activity came from the platform’s “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms: “Our recommendation systems grow the problem.”

Those recommendation algorithms are the heart of the matter. In the old days, on, say, Usenet, there were plenty of groups for extremists. There were private email lists for extremists. But there was no recommendation algorithm promoting those groups.

The engineers and data scientists on Facebook’s Integrity Teams — chief among them, scientists who worked on newsfeed, the stream of posts and photos that greet users when they visit Facebook — arrived at the polarization problem indirectly, according to people familiar with the teams. Asked to combat fake news, spam, clickbait and inauthentic users, the employees looked for ways to diminish the reach of such ills. One early discovery: Bad behavior came disproportionately from a small pool of hyperpartisan users.

A second finding in the U.S. saw a larger infrastructure of accounts and publishers on the far right than on the far left. Outside observers were documenting the same phenomenon. The gap meant even seemingly apolitical actions such as reducing the spread of clickbait headlines — along the lines of “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next” — affected conservative speech more than liberal content in aggregate.

That was a tough sell to Mr. Kaplan, said people who heard him discuss Common Ground and Integrity proposals. […] Every significant new integrity-ranking initiative had to seek the approval of not just engineering managers but also representatives of the public policy, legal, marketing and public-relations departments.

So Facebook’s “Integrity Teams” can’t enforce integrity if it upsets the side of the U.S. political fence that is, quite obviously, more lacking in integrity.

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sirshannon
1 day ago
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If you still use Facebook, you are an asshole.

MeFi: Mongolia Was Putting Its Big Person Pants On In January

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Starting in January, Mongolia executed a perfect public health response, and they have never let up the pressure since. COVID-19 did not just leave Mongolia alone. Mongolia kicked its ass. COVID Underdogs: Mongolia by Indi Samarajiva
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I Just Finished Writing HEAVEN’S FOREST

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As with most work notes, just a log for myself: just filed the first draft of HEAVEN’S FOREST 108, the final episode of the season. So there’s nothing left but a rewrite and a polish of episode 1 because I thought of a tweak to add there. But, basically, all the heavy lifting is done, it’s off the board, the hard part is all over, and it’s in the hands of my poor co-directors to make sense of and turn into something worth watching.

I’m off for a whisky.

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November, Vol. 2 in stores June 3

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sirshannon
2 days ago
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Nice.

Social Distancing Werewolf

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Preface: One of our long standing traditions at Shuttleworth Foundation gatherings is several late nights playing Werewolf – not especially unique but massively fun and wonderful for the camaraderie of the group. With travel and in-person events on hold due to current events we transitioned to online sessions for the event, but struggled with the loss of the social accompaniments. As self appointed God of Werewolf for the group, I took it upon myself to find a way to make this work with players in different physical locations. I found a number of people have also tried this, but their instructions were convoluted and obnoxious, so we hacked them apart and tried something new and it worked great, so I thought I’d share how that worked so that someone else can find these instructions and decide they suck and then write their own.

Caveats: If you are reading this I’m going to assume you already know how to play Werewolf so I’m not going to get into the weeds on that. I will say that when I moderate (aka, play God) I prefer the basic standard roles – werewolves, villagers, a doctor and a seer. I find that keeping it simple allows for maximum enjoyment for players and spectators, if you prefer adding what my friend Harper eloquently refers to as Micky Mouse roles, then this method might not work for you.

Also: This method uses Slack and Zoom, because we already use Slack and Zoom so I can attest this works with Slack and Zoom. If you use some other video conference & team communication platforms this may or may not work for you – you’ll just have to figure it out.

tl;dr

  • Everyone turn OFF cameras and MUTE microphones.
  • Roles will be assigned via SLACK messaging by God.
  • God will set up a group private on SLACK with all werewolves.
  • God will communicate with DOCTOR and SEER individually via Slack
  • Game begins: Everyone turn ON your camera, but remain MUTED.
  • God explains how this shit works… Daytime!
  • Villagers UNMUTE and commence ye old chit chat.
  • Nighttime: Turn OFF cameras and MUTE microphones.
  • God interacts with individual people via Slack, the group via Zoom.
  • Daytime: Turn ON cameras and UNMUTE microphones.
  • If you are killed, turn OFF your camera and MUTE your microphone, leave them off until the round is finished.
  • Wolves: If you are killed DO NOT CHAT in the private group. You can watch the discussion, but you are dead so do not fucking chime in.
  • DEAD people can chat in a #werewolf channel on Slack
  • The round ends when one of the following things happens:
    • Werewolves out number villages – WEREWOLVES WIN!
    • The last werewolf is killed by the villagers – VILLAGERS WIN!

More details: Set up

God (aka the Moderator) needs to be the host on Zoom. This allows absolute control and the ability to mute, kill, remove etc anyone at any time for any reason and that’s an important power to wield over the cowering masses you’ve roped into playing this game for your own amusement.

In Zoom, use GRID view and have all players begin with their cameras turned off and microphones muted. At the start only God should be seen and heard.

God should have a piece of paper handy and write down all the players and assign each one of the roles. Then, via Slack direct messaging tell each player their role. I can not stress this enough: DO NOT use the messaging in Zoom. It’s way too easy to accidentally send a message to the wrong person, way too complicated to switch between people and generally a pain in the ass. Using a separate application that handles that better is the way to go. Also on slack you should have a #werewolf channel where everyone who isn’t playing or who has just been killed can hang out. You should also create Direct Message group with only the werewolves which is where they will discuss who to kill each night.

Let’s go!

Once God has assigned roles and set up the private chat for the wolves, the game can begin. God should remind everyone how the game works and then instruct everyone to turn on their cameras and microphones. Daytime in the village!

I don’t recommend villagers are made to kill anyone on the first day, instead it’s a good time to drum up fear and panic about the horrible death and suffering that people have heard about happening in nearby villages.

Nighttime in the village! All players turn off their cameras and mute microphones. This ensures no meta-gaming resulting from someone peeking or saying they thought they heard someone typing when God asked the wolves who they wanted to kill.

God should keep camera and microphone on, and ask wolves, doctor and seer questions through Zoom – but they should respond on Slack.

Once it’s clear who didn’t survive the night, God can announce who is dead, and instruct everyone EXCEPT that person to turn back on their cameras and microphones. Dead people can keep watching and chatting in Slack, but under no circumstances should they turn back on their camera or microphone for the remainder of that game.

Rounds can last as long as God feels like, with full license to end a day if the village gets too boring. God is free to kill anyone at any time for any reason. If at any point the Werewolves out number villages then the Werewolves will win. Alternatively, if and when the last werewolf is killed by the villagers then the villagers win.

We tried this, it worked wonderfully. Give it a shot, adjust anything you want to, and stay vigilant.

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Link: This seems not great

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MacRumors notes Zerodium, which buys exploits to sell to law enforcement and government organizations so they can crack into phones, says it doesn’t need anymore iOS exploits right now.

Zerodium this week announced that it will not be purchasing any iOS exploits for the next two to three months due to a high number of submissions. In other words, the company has so many security vulnerabilities at its disposal that it does not need any more.

In an explicit tweet, Zerodium CEO Chaouki Bekrar said iOS security is in bad shape, noting that there are at least a few persistent zero-day security vulnerabilities affecting all iPhones and iPads. “Let’s hope iOS 14 will be better,” added Bekrar.


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nocko
12 days ago
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If only there were some way for Zerodium to ensure iOS 14 was better... Like reporting the flaws to the vendor... or not selling to murderous scumbags, or simply not existing.
sirshannon
13 days ago
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Uh oh.
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