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Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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Quote of the day

"Well, I haven't been to Italy in the last three to four years. I should go in fact to see my grandmother." That’s Priyanka Gandhi coolly responding to a reporter’s question about a BJP leader’s claim that the "every election is a picnic” for the Gandhis, “After the elections are over, they head towards Switzerland or Italy." And this is just days after she promptly changed her Twitter photo in response to another BJP jibe about wearing jeans in Delhi. Well, we don’t know about Priyanka’s politics, but she certainly has style.

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EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT...

The biggest news story today, explained.

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The Virality of Hate on Social Media

In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, we are once again back to wringing our hands over the internet’s role in spreading hate. But as a new study shows, the path to social media hell is often paved with users who rarely question their own intentions.

 

The Christchurch effect: The livestreaming of the bloody attack raised the same old questions about the role of social media as platforms for hate.

  • PM Jacinda Ardern declared, “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published, They are the publisher, not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.” (It is now illegal in New Zealand to post or share videos of the attack.)

  • News reporting also highlighted the prevalence of Islamophobia on these platforms, which have otherwise cracked down on other forms of hate, be it white supremacy or anti-vaccination content. An online harassment expert argued, “Islamophobia happens to be something that made these companies lots and lots of money.” How? Anti-Muslim content generates high user engagement, and in turn advertising revenue.

 

The tech companies’ response: YouTube said the number of videos were “unprecedented both in scale and speed, at times as fast as a new upload every second.” Facebook tweeted, “In the first 24 hours we removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload”—which means at least 300,000 videos still got through. Their defense is essentially this: The companies did their best. But moderation—whether human or automated—has its limits.

Ok, so who’s right? Both the tech companies and their critics have a point. But the elephant in this debate is the user -- as two significant studies reveal.

  • Last year, Facebook responded to the ‘fake news’ epidemic by changing its news feed algorithm. It would now favour content from friends and family rather than news outlets, and prioritise posts that had high engagement (shares, likes etc). The results of this new policy are in, and the unexpected winner is: Fox News, and by a mile. It’s closest competitors: other purveyors of rightwing content, Breitbart and Daily Wire Editor Ben Shapiro. More tellingly, the most popular content are articles on divisive topics like abortion, religion, and guns, and posts with the “angry” reactions.

  • In November, BBC released a big report on ‘fake news’ in India (our explainer here). It found that Indians are most likely to share content on Twitter and WhatsApp that stirs the greatest emotion (i.e. outrage) without ever checking its accuracy. The winner again: content spread by rightwing groups.

 

The bottomline: In a recent speech, Ardern explained why she will never mention the attacker’s name: “He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless. And to others, I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.” Hate and haters wilt in anonymity. It is we who give them power. Maybe we should remember that every time we click or share or forward.  


Learn more: Neiman Lab has the new study on the Facebook algorithm. Broadsheet did an in-depth explainer on the BBC study of fake news in India. New Yorker offers a brief look at the limits of livestream moderation. This New York Times op-ed makes a thought-provoking case against the very nature of social media, and questions whether ‘connectivity at scale’ is a universal good.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

thanking many gods that you don’t live in Paris

The Lokpal is in the house: Six years after the Lokpal Act was passed, India finally has its first national guardian of ethics: Former Supreme Court judge and current member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Pinaki Chandra Ghose. (The Hindu)

 

An embryo smuggling ring in Mumbai: Indian officials arrested a passenger from Malaysia carrying a canister of human embryos. It was his tenth such trip in the last 18 months. The intended delivery address: a high-end IVF clinic in Bandra. Apparently, embryo smuggling has become a thing because: “According to IVF experts, the illegal import of embryos could be feeding the market for surrogacy—for foreign or Indian couples who wish to have an Indian surrogate mother to reduce costs—or for IVF procedures in which the parents want a child with ‘non-Indian looks’. Ugh and ugh! (Indian Express)

 

A Holi bonfire of Chinese goods: Sixty million members of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) are calling for a boycott of ‘Made in China’ goods—and plan to set them on fire. The reason for their ire is unsurprising: super-cheap Chinese goods made of poor quality materials which undercut local trade. But given that India imports $70 billion worth of Chinese goods—which accounts for over 40% of our total trade deficit -- maybe they have a point. More so, as we don’t seem to get much love from Beijing in return. See: UN resolution of Masood Azhar. (Quartz)

 

These are the world’s most expensive cities: and happily none of them are in India. The top spot is shared by Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong. New York and LA are #7 and #10, respectively. That’s according to the Economist Intelligence Unit which looks at the cost of living in 93 countries. So where does India feature? According to EIU, “Bangalore, Chennai, New Delhi and Karachi feature among the 10 cheapest locations surveyed.” No word on Mumbai. (Bloomberg)

 

Meet Jack the Ripper: The identity of the world’s most famous serial killer may finally have been uncovered thanks to newly uncovered DNA evidence on the shawl of one of his victims. Who was he? Aaron Kominski, a 23-year-old barber of Polish descent. Guess that will come handy the next time you have to ace a pub quiz. (Rolling Stone)

 

We now know who snitched on Jeff Bezos: It’s the guy everyone expected, i.e girlfriend Lauren Sanchez’s brother Michael. National Enquirer reportedly paid him $200k to turn over all those sexy messages. Michael issued the usual sweeping denials, but was unusually specific in insisting that he was not responsible for “the many penis selfies.” Because real men do not share other men’s dick pics… just their own! (Gizmodo)

 

Ambani sibling love looks like this: Tens of thousands of paid tweets declaring, “Mukesh Ambani cleared Anil Ambani’s dues and I am in love with his nature. #MukeshNitaSaveAnil.” Or rather: Mukesh Nita save Anil… and rub his face in it. Blood is thicker than water, but bile is thicker still. (Scroll)

 

Oh, Brad and Leo, we never knew you! The new poster for Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming movie ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is here. And a lot of people think the sorta aging-but-hot duo look a bit, umm, altered. And this is the second Photoshop controversy about photos of the same actors for the same movie in six months. All we want to know: what happened to Brad’s beauteous hair?!! A period 70s flick is no excuse for that!

 

Tearing down the house: Residents of a very tony suburb of San Francisco are seriously mad at one of their neighbours, Florence Fang. The reason: her ‘Flintstones’ home. And they’re now going to court to force her to tear “a highly visible eyesore” down. We think it looks positively yabba, dabba doo! (CBS 17)

 

Idris Elba can teach you British slang: No, we have no real desire to master words like ‘blarney’ or ‘reh teh teh,’ but we’re happy to watch Idris explain it to us. (video over at Vanity Fair)


Great news about adulting: It’s been officially postponed until you are thirty-plus—and that’s according to neuroscientists who say the human brain does not develop fully until then. And now that 40/50/60 is the ‘new 30’, all of us can stay kids until it’s time for the retirement home. (BBC)

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SEX, LOVE ETC.

Everything we don't know about human desire

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The Perils of Loving Rough Sex

This is a first-person account of Lena Dunham’s search for a good man who will treat her mean in bed. It is messy, raw and uncomfortably honest as she grapples with her stubborn libido, immune to years of psychotherapy and #MeToo realisations. The essay is at times so emotionally explicit that it feels downright X-rated. And no, there is no happy ending of any kind.

 

Read: Can a Good Man Mistreat You During Sex—If That’s What You Desire? | Vogue

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Woh Dildo Kitne Ka Hai Ji?

Join Rytasha Rathore as she goes from the roadside stalls in Mumbai to online web companies in Bangalore in hunt for the perfect sex toy. Along the way, her interviews with the sellers of sexy merchandise uncover intriguing information about Indian attitudes toward pleasure. Our favourite part about this video: Rathore, who is funny, smart and perfectly at ease with her subject. (While the treatment is not sleazy, the very subject makes images in the video NSFW)

 

Watch: I Went Sex Toy Shopping in India | Vice

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