June 5, 2019
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” – Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)
“We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong there.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
Don’t Like, Don’t Comment, Don’t Subscribe
Three researchers at Harvard’s Center for Internet and Society have discovered that the algorithm responsible for YouTube’s recommendation system, which suggests what users should watch next, is making some pretty scary recommendations.
The automated system had begun showing a video innocently uploaded by a ten-year-old Brazilian girl in a two-piece bathing suit to users who had watched other videos of prepubescent, partially clothed children. “It’s YouTube’s algorithm that connects these channels,” said one of the researchers who had stumbled upon the videos while researching the platform’s impact in Brazil.
The algorithm curated the videos from across YouTube’s archives; on occasion it would pluck out otherwise innocuous home videos uploaded by unwitting families. It then referred the innocent videos to users who had watched sexually themed content. This process created a catalogue of videos that experts say sexualizes children.
The video uploaded by the little girl quickly amassed hundreds of thousands of views. As disturbing as that was, it was even more shocking to learn the video was being promoted by YouTube months after news reports had alerted the company that predators were using the comment section of its videos of innocent children to notify other pedophiles.
YouTube has made some changes in attempting to correct the problem. But it has resisted turning off its recommendation system on videos of children, because recommendations are the biggest traffic driver, and removing them would hurt “creators” who rely on those clicks.
- YouTube decides that homophobic harassment does not violate its policies (The Verge)
- Apple Backs Off Crackdown on Parental-Control Apps (NYT, $)
- Does Facebook Have a Leaks Problem? (NY Mag)
- YouTube Bans Kids From Live-Streaming Video Unless Accompanied by an Adult (Variety)
- Elizabeth Warren Sticks Her Message in Big Tech’s Face (NYT, $)
Shoo Spy, Don’t Bother US
- The chairman of Huawei, one of China’s most successful tech companies, said Tuesday the company is willing to sign a “no-spy agreement” with the US to reassure leaders who claim the company’s technology could be used for surveillance. The offer is similar to proposals the Chinese tech giant has made to the UK and Germany, and comes after weeks of intense pressure from the Trump administration.
- Huawei is facing a growing backlash from Western countries because of concerns over the security of its products. Last month the US Commerce Department added Huawei to its “Entity List,” which bars American businesses from selling technology to the company without government approval. The Trump administration has delayed the ban from taking full effect until later this summer. (NPR)
- Additional read: “US says China playing ‘blame game’ in trade battle.”
Mental Health Illnesses: Where Are They Now?
The Guardian has begun a series examining the extent of mental health illnesses around the globe — what they are, how they’re perceived, and how they’re treated. While millions suffer from a range of mental health issues, there is not a global epidemic. (Guardian) Additional read: ‘Well’ Explores The Social And Political Underpinnings Of Health (NPR)
That’s A Nice Avocado You Got There. Be A Shame If Someone Put A Tariff On It…
- President Trump said Tuesday at a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May that he intends for the tariffs he placed on Mexican imports to become effective next week unless he is satisfied with the Mexican government’s efforts to stop the flow of immigrants coming through that country into the US.
- Trump said he is open to continuing negotiations with Mexican leaders, but that he might still keep tariffs in place to make it clear he’s serious. Prior to arriving in London Monday for a state visit Trump insulted the city’s mayor via tweet. (NPR)
Additional World News
- Venezuela’s Two Presidents Collide: Juan Guaidó’s uprising, backed by the U.S., failed to depose Nicolás Maduro—but his supporters remain loyal. Will the country’s divisions lead to an international crisis? (New Yorker, $)
- Mette Frederiksen: the anti-immigration left leader set to win power in Denmark: Social Democrats are election frontrunners but critics say their leader has dragged the party sharply to the right (Guardian)
- Iran’s Khamenei: Tehran will not abandon its missile program (Reuters)
- Wobbly German coalition tries to show it can work after SPD crisis (Reuters)
America’s Over The Counter Diet
- Countless studies show the direct relationship between food and deadly disease. In low-income areas where lack of profitability has driven out grocery stores, drug and convenience stores have become the places to shop. But the shelf-stable food items they carry are highly processed, and high in fat, sodium and sugar.
- In communities where these items are the easiest, or only, option available, rates of chronic illness like diabetes, heart disease and cancer are higher.
- The fact that CVS is selling more groceries than Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s combined is making researchers fear food ‘deserts’ are becoming ‘swamps’ of processed food. (Guardian)
- Additional read: What is ultra-processed food? (BBC)
A Judge Presides Over Judgement Day
- On Tuesday the lawsuit over the climate crisis, filed against the government in 2015 by 21 young activists, heads back to court. A panel of judges will decide whether the case of Juliana v. the US to finally go to trial.
- The lawsuit is named for Kelsey Juliana, a 23-year-old activist and college student, and accuses the federal government of violating the constitutional rights of youth by perpetuating systems that contribute to climate breakdown. The plaintiffs range in age from 11 to 23 and are arguing that the constitution gives them and future generations a right to an environment free of climate catastrophe.
- A trial had been scheduled in 2018 but was abruptly halted in October after the government successfully petitioned the supreme court for review. The youth climate movement is beginning to claim the Juliana case as central to its own narrative, using support rallies to train young leaders and to turn up the digital volume with hashtags like #AllEyesOnJuliana. Tuesday’s hearing will be livestreamed and also broadcast into a park in Portland, Oregon. More than 1,000 supporters are expected to gather. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- 2020 Census Could Lead To Worst Undercount Of Black, Latinx People In 30 Years (NPR)
- Poachers Stockpile ‘Tiny and Cute’ Succulents Worth $600,000, Investigators Say (NYT, $)
- Purdue Pharma: Oxycontin maker faces lawsuits from nearly every US state: California, Maine and Hawaii join at least 45 states accusing company of putting ‘profits over people’ amid opioids crisis (Guardian)
- Why Are Republican Small Donors So Easy to Swindle? (NY Mag)
- Study Finds Trump Tax Cuts Failed to Do Anything But Give Rich People Money (NY Mag)
- ‘Any Opportunity to Put the Shiv In’: Michael Wolff on Trump Under Siege (NY Mag)
You (Specifically) Can Do It!
- Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men, has some advice, and it’s not stock market tips. He says: “The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.” In other words, the most important things in life are measured internally.
- People should work hard to resist comparing themselves with others. Comparing yourself to others allows them to drive your behavior. Comparisons between people are a recipe for unhappiness.
- There is one thing that you’re better at than other people: being you. It’s simple but not easy. Thinking about what matters to you is hard. Playing to someone else’s scoreboard is easy, that’s why a lot of people do it. The best way to win in life is to play the only game you can really win — your own. (Farnam Street)
- Additional song: Sinéad O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2U
- Additional quote: “Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain
- Does reading fiction make us better people?: Reading fiction has been said to increase people’s empathy and compassion. But does the research really bear that out? (BBC)
- Boxing’s ‘Little Fat Boy’ Continues To Wow The World (NPR)
- Jeopardy!: James Holzhauer’s winning streak ends short of money record: A professional gambler’s 32-game winning streak on US quiz show Jeopardy! has come to an end after he was beaten by a university librarian. (BBC) Hooray to librarians and libraries!
- Why Crocodiles Are Not Just Living Fossils: They’ve changed remarkably over millions of years, and at one point may even have been warmblooded. (NYT, $)
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