“It really doesn’t matter what country you’re in. The dance is the same everywhere you go.”

Chances are, by now, your country has some, if not all, of the following.

First off, you probably have some kind of local internet troll problem, like the MAGAsphere in the US, the Netto-uyoku in Japan, Fujitrolls in Peru, or AK-trolls in Turkey.

Your trolls will probably have been radicalized online via some kind of community for young men like Gamergate, Jeuxvideo.com ("videogames.com") in France, ForoCoches ("Cars Forum") in Spain, Ilbe Storehouse in South Korea, 2chan in Japan, or banter Facebook pages in the UK.

…Far-right influencers start appearing, aided by algorithms recommending content that increases user watch time. They will use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to transmit and amplify content and organize harassment and intimidation campaigns.

If these influencers become sophisticated enough, they will try to organize protests or rallies. The mini fascist comic cons they organize will be livestreamed and operate as an augmented reality game for the people watching at home. Violence and doxxing will follow them.

Some of these trolls and influencers will create more sophisticated far-right groups within the larger movement, like the Proud Boys, Generation Identity, or Movimento Brasil Livre. Or some will reinvigorate older, more established far-right or nationalist institutions like the Nordic Resistance Movement, the Football Lads Alliance, United Patriots Front, or PEGIDA.

While a far-right community is building in your country, a fake news blitz is usually raging online. It could be a rumor-based culture of misinformation, like the localized hoaxes that circulate in countries like India, Myanmar, or Brazil. Or it could be the more traditional “fake news” or hyperpartisan propaganda we see in predominantly English-speaking countries like the US, Australia, or the UK.

Typically, large right-wing news channels or conservative tabloids will then take these stories going viral on Facebook and repackage them for older, mainstream audiences. Depending on your country’s media landscape, the far-right trolls and influencers may try to hijack this social-media-to-newspaper-to-television pipeline. Which then creates more content to screenshot, meme, and share. It’s a feedback loop.

Populist leaders and the legions of influencers riding their wave […]create filter bubbles inside of platforms like Facebook or YouTube that promise a safer time, one that never existed in the first place, before the protests, the violence, the cascading crises, and endless news cycles. Donald Trump wants to Make American Great Again; Bolsonaro wants to bring back Brazil’s military dictatorship; Shinzo Abe wants to recapture Japan’s imperial past; Germany’s AFD performed the best with older East German voters longing for the days of authoritarianism. All of these leaders promise to close borders, to make things safe. Which will, of course, usually exacerbate the problems they’re promising to disappear. Another feedback loop.

…It really doesn’t matter what country you’re in. The dance is the same everywhere you go.

This Is How We Radicalized The World, by Ryan Broderick, Buzzfeed News, 29 October 2019 (with light editing). The subtitle of the article is “On Sunday, far-right evangelical Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. The era of being surprised at this kind of politics is over. Now we have to live with what we've done.”

We've chosen scale

In 2014, the Guardian reported that Burmese migrants were being forced into slavery to work aboard shrimp boats off the coast of Thailand. According to Logan Kock of Santa Monica Seafood, a large seafood importer, “the supply chain is quite cloudy, especially when it comes from offshore.” I was struck by Kock’s characterization of slavery as somehow climatological: something that can happen to supply chains, not just something that they themselves cause.

But Kock was right, supply chains are murky—just in very specific ways. We’ve chosen scale, and the conceptual apparatus to manage it, at the expense of finer-grained knowledge that could make a more just and equitable arrangement possible.

See No Evilby Miriam Posner, Logic Magazine, spring 2019. Posner's essay is about the profound social cosequences of “supply chains”.

The article continues,

It’s not as though these decentralized networks are inalterable facts of life. They look the way they do because we built them that way. It reminded me of something the anthropologist Anna Tsing has observed about Walmart. Tsing points out that Walmart demands perfect control over certain aspects of its supply chain, like price and delivery times, while at the same time refusing knowledge about other aspects, like labor practices and networks of subcontractors. Tsing wasn’t writing about data, but her point seems to apply just as well to the architecture of SAP’s supply-chain module: shaped as it is by business priorities, the software simply cannot absorb information about labor practices too far down the chain.

Cyberdefense is boring

“Cyberdefense isn’t magic. It’s plumbing and wiring and pothole repair. It’s dull, hard, and endless. The work is more maintenance crew than Navy SEAL Team 6. It’s best suited for people who have a burning desire to keep people safe without any real need for glory beyond the joy of solving the next puzzle.”
In cyberwar, there are no rules, by Tarah M. Wheeler, Foreign Policy, 12 Septembe 2018

Impossible until it's not

Political power is a malleable thing, Mactaggart had learned, an elaborate calculation of artifice and argument, votes and money. People and institutions — in politics, in Silicon Valley — can seem all-powerful right up to the moment they are not. And sometimes, Mactaggart discovered, a thing that can’t possibly happen suddenly becomes a thing that cannot be stopped.
The Unlikely Activists Who Took On Silicon Valley — and Won, by Nicholas Confessore, New York Times Magazine, 14 August 2018. The article details Alastair Mactaggart's work to develop a California ballot initiative to protect consumers' online privacy.

$1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping)

An excerpt from Michael Eisen’s Amazon’s $23,698,655.93 book about flies,

A few weeks ago a postdoc in my lab logged on to Amazon to buy the lab an extra copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly – a classic work in developmental biology that we – and most other Drosophila developmental biologists – consult regularly. The book, published in 1992, is out of print. But Amazon listed 17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).

I sent a screen capture to the author – who was appropriately amused and intrigued. But I doubt even he would argue the book is worth THAT much.

At first I thought it was a joke – a graduate student with too much time on their hands. But there were TWO new copies for sale, each being offered for well over a million dollars. And the two sellers seemed not only legit, but fairly big time (over 8,000 and 125,000 ratings in the last year respectively). The prices looked random – suggesting they were set by a computer. But how did they get so out of whack? […]

Amazon retailers are increasingly using algorithmic pricing (something Amazon itself does on a large scale), with a number of companies offering pricing algorithms/services to retailers. Both [of the sellers] were clearly using automatic pricing – employing algorithms that didn’t have a built-in sanity check on the prices they produced. […]

What’s fascinating about all this is both the seemingly endless possibilities for both chaos and mischief… as soon as it was clear what was going on here, I and the people I talked to about this couldn’t help but start thinking about ways to exploit our ability to predict how others would price their books down to the 5th significant digit – especially when they were clearly not paying careful attention to what their algorithms were doing.

Amazon’s $23,698,655.93 book about flies, by Michael Eisen, 22 April 2011 (excerpt, with light edits)

Amazon and human beings

More than any of the other fearsome five, Amazon does not seem to care much for human beings. Sure, it needs humans to purchase, sell, pack, and ship its products (for now). But if you visit the site and see the kinds of things it has for sale — a wall decal of an older Asian man, a $23 million book about flies, a heroin-themed cell-phone case — it seems clear that Amazon not only finds humans confusing, it does not particularly like them at all. Amazon may not have the killer robots to be Skynet (yet). But it already has the contempt for humans.
Which Giant Tech Company Is Winning the Race to Be Skynet?, by Max Read, 3 August 2017. Vulture.com published this article as part of their “dark futures week”. The story about the $23 million book about flies is here.

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and LeBron James meet in a bar

Elon Musk: I'm going to use my wealth to fund ... space travel!

Jeff Bezos: I'm going to use my wealth to fund ... space travel!

LeBron James: I'm going to use my wealth to ... build a public school that helps students and their parents!
Feminazgûl (@jkyles10), 31 July 2019, (with 134k likes). LeBron James, an American basketball star, donated funds to open the I Promise school for at-risk students in the Akron, Ohio public school system. See Students at LeBron James' I Promise School generating 'extraordinary' results, by Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today, 12 April 2019. Also see NY Times LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment. It’s Showing Promise.

Forged by fantasy

[French football manager Arsène Wenger's] assertion several years ago that [Lionel] Messi was a "PlayStation footballer” was meant more as an explanation than an insult: Messi does things that seem to belong on a pixelated screen because that is, in part, how he has learned to see the game […] His conception of what is possible and what is not was forged by fantasy.”
How Video Games Are Changing the Way Soccer Is Played, by Rory Smith, New York Times, 13 October 2016.
I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.
Greta Thunberg to [US] Congress: ‘You’re not trying hard enough. Sorry’, by Lauren Gambino, The Guardian, 17 September 2019

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who has galvanized young people across the world to strike for more action to combat the impact of global warming, politely reminded them that she was a student, not a scientist – or a senator.

“Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” she said. “Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.

“If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”

In remarks meant for Congress as a whole, she said: “I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”.

There's Waldo

Screen grab from  There’s Waldo is a robot that finds Waldo , redpepper, 8 August 2018

Screen grab from There’s Waldo is a robot that finds Waldo, redpepper, 8 August 2018

Built by creative agency redpepper, There’s Waldo zeroes in and finds Waldo with a sniper-like accuracy. The metal robotic arm is a Raspberry Pi-controlled uArm Swift Pro which is equipped with a Vision Camera Kit that allows for facial recognition. The camera takes a photo of the page, which then uses OpenCV to find the possible Waldo faces in the photo. The faces are then sent to be analyzed by Google’s AutoML Vision service, which has been trained on photos of Waldo. If the robot determines a match with 95 percent confidence or higher, it’ll point to all the Waldos it can find on the page.