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  • August 12, 2020

The scale of QAnon supporters on Facebook stunned me, and the article raised two questions for me about how Facebook feeds this and other dangerous ideas:

Why do online recommendations still exist? NBC News found that Facebook’s computerized suggestions have pointed people toward online groups revolving around the QAnon conspiracy. Journalists and misinformation researchers have raised the alarm for years about computer recommendations on YouTube, Facebook and other spots that harden people’s belief in dangerous ideas.

What if, as my colleague Kevin Roose suggested about YouTube, we just turn off these internet recommendations? NBC News said that Facebook may, in fact, do that for QAnon-related groups, as it previously did to stop recommending online groups that oppose vaccines. That doesn’t stop people from wallowing in conspiracies online, but it makes it more difficult for newcomers to stumble onto dangerous ideas.

Why is Facebook researching this only now? NBC News wrote that Facebook had been “studying the QAnon movement since at least June.” (A Facebook spokesperson told NBC News that the company consistently punishes or removes QAnon-related groups that violate the social network’s rules.)

It has been clear for years that internet sites are where conspiracy theorists organize and, for some, become radicalized. We’ve seen examples for more than two years of people who believe in the QAnon conspiracy committing violence in the real world.

Did Facebook really start systematically researching its role in the conspiracy only a few months ago?

  • The legal fight over our faces: Clearview AI, which has compiled billions of people’s internet photos for a searchable human database, hired a prominent First Amendment lawyer to defend the company in lawsuits that accuse it of violating privacy laws. My colleague Kash Hill talked to the lawyer, Floyd Abrams, who said that the company planned to assert a free-speech right to disseminate publicly available photos. (Abrams also said that he hadn’t tried Clearview AI’s app, in part because he doesn’t own a smartphone.)

  • Your periodic reminder of how we’ve lost control of our digital data: The investigative news outlet The Intercept writes about ways that law enforcement is demanding information about TikTok users in possible investigations.

    A big worry about TikTok is that because it’s owned by a Chinese company, it may be forced to hand over data on Americans to the Chinese government. U.S. law enforcement has to go through legal channels to get information on us, but the article is a useful reminder that digital flotsam from all apps can be used against us in ways we never expected.

  • I have never seen so many people’s kitchens and living rooms. There’s a chef webcasting himself fixing dinner, and a high school tutor broadcasting conversations about teaching math. The Wall Street Journal writes about how the pandemic has pushed more people to post live videos of themselves — and has compelled more of us to watch, filling a void in personal interactions.

Honestly, this six-foot-long Furby doll is giving me nightmares. (And the replies in this Twitter thread are fun.) Please enjoy!

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