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Big Revolution - Calling a hoax a hoax

Welcome to Tuesday's newsletter. Long-standing subscribers will note that the email has been hitting
July 9 · Issue #466 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Tuesday’s newsletter. Long-standing subscribers will note that the email has been hitting inboxes a little later lately. This is a temporary thing, as I have busier mornings at the moment. Rest assured, I get it to you as early as possible every day.
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • Instagram will soon let users ‘shadowban’ those who harass them on the platform. It will also start warning people when it looks like they’re about to send an abusive comment.
  • Video calling app Zoom has a flaw that allows hackers to start a video call with you without your permission, just by visiting a website.
The big thought
Roy Castle and Cheryl Baker hosting an episode of Record Breakers in 1992
Roy Castle and Cheryl Baker hosting an episode of Record Breakers in 1992
Calling a hoax a hoax
When I was a kid there was a show on TV called ‘Record Breakers,’ in which presenter Roy Castle would introduce people trying to break all sorts of world records. But more than once he warned viewers about a chain letter going around the UK, saying that Record Breakers was trying to create the biggest ever chain of sent letters.
The chain letter was a hoax, and I distinctly remember him tearing up a chain letter on camera as an example of what viewers should do if they received one.
I quite enjoyed Bloomberg’s story about how Facebook countered information about itself. The idea of automatically spotting 'chain letter’ type hoaxes through text recognition and automatically posting Facebook’s own debunks to affected users’ News Feeds seems so common sense it’s amazing they stopped doing it.
As for whether this approach would work for other forms of misinformation, Facebook’s statement to Bloomberg insisted it would not. On one hand they have a point; conspiracy theories and deliberately-seeded political myths don’t spread via one, easily identifiable string of text, and links to misleading articles may be shared by people who are themselves debunking them.
Facebook has been ramping up partnerships with external fact-checking organisations around the world, with the aim of sharing alternative information with users when they see 'disputed’ stories on the platform. Given the complexity of misinformation and all the contexts in which it can be shared, this is a sensible way to go about it.
That said, it does feel like Facebook is often a bit too cautious in the way it tiptoes around false stories, for fear of appearing biased. People seem to conflate facts with feelings these days ('if I think it, it must be true — look, this article confirms my prejudices!’). Facebook risks alienating some of its userbase by appearing too preachy if it takes a zero-tolerance approach to misinformation.
But just as mainstream politicians in various parts of the world are tying themselves in knots as they try to 'respect’ an electorate that has fallen for extreme narratives like 'a no-deal Brexit is a good idea,’ sometimes it would be better for everyone if you just flat-out tell people they’re wrong.
If you don’t stop them dead, hoaxes just keep rolling. Maybe sometimes you can never quite kill them. That Record Breakers chain letter even survived into the internet age, with enough prominence to get debunked by Snopes. But still, Facebook should just call a spade a spade and a hoax a hoax, as clearly and consistently as it can.
One big read
You Cannot "F**king Ship" a Fund You Cannot "F**king Ship" a Fund
A really interesting look at doing business in Europe from an American’s perspective. Europeans — make sure you get through the first section before you become too angry or defensive!
One big tweet
If you don’t do this, you’re wasting a lot of time. Also, you’ll end up thinking podcasters are all drunk when you listen to them at normal speed.
nilay patel
I’ve given up and started listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos at 1.5x by default and 2x when I can stand it. It’s way closer to the speed I could just read whatever people are talking about
4:03 PM - 8 Jul 2019
That’s all for today...
Back tomorrow with more!
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