Digital Content

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The US government is removing scientific data from the Internet

A Q &A with UC Santa Cruz sociology professor Lindsey Dillon.

Ars editors Annalee Newitz and Joe Mullin talked to UC Santa Cruz sociology professor Lindsey Dillon about how the Trump administration has been removing scientific and environmental data from the Web. Lindsey is part of a group called Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI), which is working on ways to rescue that data and make it available to the public. Lindsey told us how EDGI got started in November 2016, within days of the presidential election. Its founders are scientists and academics whose main goal was to make sure that researchers and citizens would continue to have access to data about the environment. They organized data rescue events around the country, where volunteers identified vulnerable climate information on websites for several government agencies, including the EPA, DOE, and even NASA. The Internet Archive helped by creating digital records of all the at-risk pages.

This trend in teen communication just may make the world a better place

Social media used to be a place where people could go to post photos of cute animals, link to weird articles, and share mundane status updates with friends and relatives. But as events such as the 2016 US presidential election have shown, social media has tipped into feeling primarily like a breeding ground for messages of hate and a forum for bullying.

In response to the onslaught of crushingly negative content, a trend among younger users has emerged—highlighting and sharing only messages that are dripping with positivity. Suddenly, for almost every gloomy trend that has percolated on the internet, there now exists a positivity-promoting counter meme. WholesomeMemes, which has an Instagram account with over 22,000 followers, was among the first of these jolly promoters. They often feature animals, babies, and cartoons. The comment thread beneath them is filled with people tagging their friends and phrases like “reminds me of you” or just “us.”

President Trump appears to promote violence against CNN with tweet

A day after defending his use of social media as befitting a “modern day” president, President Donald Trump appeared to promote violence against CNN in a tweet. President Trump, who is on vacation at his Bedminster (NJ) golf resort, posted on Twitter an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, but with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent. In the clip, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with simulated punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for “fraud news network.” The video clip apparently had been posted days earlier on Reddit, a popular social media message board. The president's tweet was the latest escalation in his beef with CNN over its coverage of him and his administration.

President Trump locks heads with news media in a social-media first

President Donald Trump, who has reveled in his confrontational style with the news media, sparked fierce debate July 2 over whether he is inciting violence against journalists by posting a doctored video clip showing him bashing the head of a figure representing CNN. President Trump’s latest provocation in his war with the media brought denunciations from Democrats, and some Republicans, who warned that the president’s conduct could endanger reporters as he seeks to undermine public trust in reporting about his administration.

“Violence & violent imagery to bully the press must be rejected,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote in one of the many comments from elected officials posted on Twitter. Presidential historians suggested that Trump’s social media attacks are lowering the bar on what constitutes appropriate presidential conduct in fighting perceived media enemies. HW Brands, a historian at the University of Texas, said Republican President Richard Nixon also felt mistreated, but “Nixon didn’t air his grievances as publicly as Trump does. We’ve never seen anything quite like the ongoing performance of President Trump.” Meanwhile, White House aides and supporters defended the president’s Twitter post as a pointed but harmless barb at what he sees as a hostile press corps. Some said the reaction demonstrated the inflated self-regard of reporters and their inability to take a joke.

Twitter says President Trump tweet doesn't violate its rules

As President Donald Trump faces growing backlash for tweeting a video attacking CNN, Twitter told the network that the president's tweet did not violate the social media platform’s terms and conditions. President Trump tweeted an old video clip on July 2 of him beating up an individual at a wrestling event, with a CNN logo superimposed over the man's face. Twitter told CNN it had reviewed the tweet. The video is the latest in a series of attacks on the media by the president made on Twitter. Earlier this week, Trump issued a highly personal and graphic attack on MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, in which he called her “crazy,” “low I.Q.” and referenced her allegedly bleeding from a facelift.

President Trump reopens fight on internet sales tax

President Donald Trump's recent tweet about Amazon is putting the issue of online sales taxes back in the spotlight. In a tweet June 28 criticizing the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, President Trump called the publication "the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should)."

It's unclear exactly what Trump meant by "internet taxes." Amazon in April started collecting sales taxes on purchases in every state that levies a sales tax. But Congress has also banned states from taxing consumer's internet access. Asked about the tweet, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had not discussed it with Trump. The White House also did not respond to an email from The Hill Friday about the tweet or the broader online sales tax issue. But lawmakers and others who want states to be able to force online retailers to collect sales tax were heartened by Trump's comment.

To tackle Google’s power, regulators have to go after its ownership of data

[Commentary] The problem with regulating technology companies is that, faced with tough new rules, they can eventually innovate their way out, often by switching to newer, unregulated technologies. The risk of targeted regulation informed by little other than economic doctrines might even be fuelling a corporate quest for eternal disruption: instead of surrendering to the regulators, technology firms prefer to abandon their old business model. It’s through this lens that we should interpret the likely fallout from the €2.4bn fine imposed on Alphabet, Google’s parent company, by the European commission. It arrives after a lengthy, seven-year investigation into whether the company abused its dominance to promote its own online shopping service above search results. The commission’s case seems sound; the sad fate of small online retailers, unable to compete with Alphabet over the past decade, suggests as much.

However, one should not mistake the factual correctness of the commission’s case for an informed strategic vision: if it has a clue about effective ways to limit the power of data platforms, it’s not showing it. The reality is that even though advertising-powered search still accounts for the bulk of Alphabet’s earnings, the company’s real focus these days is on finding lucrative and creative uses for the troves of data that it has already extracted, processed and turned into artificial intelligence. Alphabet’s future revolves around information-intensive services, not around running matchmaking platforms for advertising.

[Evgeny Morozov is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation.]

President Trump angrily lashes out at ‘Morning Joe’ hosts on Twitter

President Donald Trump lashed out at the hosts of MSNBC's “Morning Joe” in two vicious tweets on the morning of June 29, calling Mika Brzezinski “low I.Q. Crazy” and claiming that she had a facelift late in 2016. President Trump also called Joe Scarborough “Psycho Joe” and said the hosts came to Mar-a-Lago — his private club in Palm Beach (FL) — three nights in a row around New Year's Eve “and insisted on joining me.” He claimed that Brzezinski “was bleeding badly from a facelift” at the time and that: “I said no!” Brzezinski and Scarborough were both spotted at Trump's New Year's Eve party, according to pool reports at the time, prompting Scarborough to fire off numerous tweets defending his presence there.

At the time, Scarborough said that he and Brzezinski were at the party to set up an interview with the president-elect. At least three GOP senators on Twitter assailed President Trump's attack, saying the insults were "beneath the dignity" of the office of the president. Sens Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) joined a loud chorus on social media denouncing the president's latest tweets.

A new internet safety bill would ban swatting, doxxing, and sextortion all at once

Rep Katherine Clark (D-MA) has proposed legislation to specifically outlaw internet harassment-based crimes like swatting and devote $24 million a year to stopping them. The Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017 collects several of Clark’s earlier bills, with sponsorship from Rep Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA).

It imposes penalties on several relatively new forms of abuse that may be only indirectly covered under other laws, while funding research and investigation into internet safety issues. The bill includes six sections, all addressing “cybercrimes against individuals” — as opposed to attacks on businesses or government infrastructure, which are a higher priority in most cybercrime policy. Three of the sections outline punishments for “sextorting” sexual imagery from people through blackmail, falsely reporting an emergency to provoke a swat team response, and “doxxing” people by disclosing personal information to cause harm.

Verizon wants to borrow T-Mobile and Vodafone's consumer data to take on Facebook and Google

Verizon Communications wants to challenge Google and Facebook. So it's reaching out to some of its biggest rivals in the wireless industry for help. Now that the telecommunications company has completed its acquisition of Yahoo and rolled out Oath, a division which includes a wide collection of digital advertising assets, it is looking to ramp up its ability to challenge Google and Facebook in the sector.

The wireless giant is exploring building a data partnership with other top wireless players, including T-Mobile, Sprint, Vodafone and Telefónica, apparently. Specifically, Verizon wants to pool together more wireless consumer data that can be used for ad targeting. A big reason Google and Facebook are so dominant in digital advertising – besides the fact that their platforms reach huge audiences –is that they have powerful, accurate data sets on millions of consumers that can be used by advertisers to target people with more relevant ads.