I Made My Shed the Top Rated Restaurant On TripAdvisor


Once upon a time, long before I began selling my face by the acre for features on VICE dot com, I worked other jobs. There was one in particular that really had an impact on me: writing fake reviews on TripAdvisor. Restaurant owners would pay me £10 and I’d write a positive review of their place, despite never eating there. Over time, I became obsessed with monitoring the ratings of these businesses. Their fortunes would genuinely turn, and I was the catalyst.

This convinced me that TripAdvisor was a false reality – that the meals never took place; that the reviews were all written by other people like me. However, they’re not, of course – they’re almost all completely genuine. And there was one other factor that seemed impossible to fake: the restaurants themselves. So I moved on.

And then, one day, sitting in the shed I live in, I had a revelation: within the current climate of misinformation, and society’s willingness to believe absolute bullshit, maybe a fake restuarant is possible? Maybe it’s exactly the kind of place that could be a hit?

In that moment, it became my mission. With the help of fake reviews, mystique and nonsense, I was going to do it: turn my shed into London’s top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.

Something to remember when reading reviews.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being gamed – this is the Google cache:



Twitter is paralysed by Trump’s tweeting


It seems a lifetime ago now that Twitter billed itself, back in 2012, as the “free speech wing of the free speech party”, a characterisation that both the company, and arguably the internet as a whole, has well outgrown.

Things were simpler for Twitter back then. Now, its reality is one where it apparently can’t please anyone. While its team in San Francisco debated internally (we assume) what to do about Trump’s retweeting, the head of the US communications regulator was in Washington accusing it (and other big networks) of unevenly and unfairly censoring conservative voices online.

The firm’s chief executive Jack Dorsey, who from time-to-time weighs in on controversial matters to dampen the hysteria, has so far been silent on Mr Trump’s retweeting of Britain first.

Renowned tech commentator John Gruber described Twitter’s statement as “weasel-ese” – another sign of a company paralysed; unprepared to handle the tidal wave it would face were it to take action against the President’s Twitter activity.

Twitter’s inconsistent treatment of hate speech surely makes you consider if rather than acting in in the public’s interests, it’s far more concerned about its own.


Twitter Has Suspended Another 45 Suspected Propaganda Accounts After They Were Flagged By BuzzFeed News


BuzzFeed News has uncovered a new network of suspected Twitter propaganda accounts – sharing messages about Brexit, Donald Trump, and Angela Merkel – that have close connections to the Russian-linked bot accounts identified by the social media platform in its evidence to the US Congress.

The 45 suspect accounts were uncovered through basic analysis of those that interacted or retweeted accounts cited by Twitter to Congress, yet none of them appeared on the company’s list.

The relative ease of discovery raises serious questions as to just how many Russian-linked bots may still be active on Twitter, how the company identifies and removes such accounts, and whether its process for identifying accounts for its evidence was inadequate.

Until BuzzFeed News approached Twitter on Tuesday afternoon with details of the accounts, they all remained active on the platform, though dormant. But within 24 hours, all 45 had been suspended.

The network of propaganda accounts was identified using a database of 17 million Brexit-related tweets collected by the University of Sheffield. They tweeted predominantly in German, and were primarily focused on jumping on German hashtag games and other trending topics, often inserting negative messages about the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

However, 20 of the accounts also tweeted about Trump, and 21 about Brexit – with a huge spike of activity on the day of the referendum, 23 June 2016. The tweets about Trump and Brexit were often the only ones the accounts posted in English.

Damian Collins, the Conservative chair of the UK parliament’s culture, media, and sport committee – which is holding an inquiry into fake news and online propaganda – said the findings showed the information handed over by the social media platform so far was “only the tip of a very large iceberg”.

My emphasis.  It’s like Twitter doesn’t even care.

How Russia Polices Yandex, Its Most Popular Search Engine


This year, the “news aggregator law” came into effect in Russia. It requires websites that publish links to news stories with over one million daily users (Yandex.News has over six million daily users) to be responsible for all the content on their platform, which is an enormous responsibility.

“Our Yandex.News team has been actively working to retain a high quality service for our users following new regulations that impacted our service this past year,” Yandex told Motherboard in a statement, adding that to comply with new regulations, it reduced the number of sources that it aggregated from 7,000 to 1,000, which have “official media licenses.”

“For now, Google News has avoided Roskomnadzor’s restrictions because it is less popular,” The Moscow Times wrote in April soon after the law went into effect.

In the US, there’s no such law. Social media companies are protected from the legal consequences of users posting harmful material by laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “safe harbor” provision and the First Amendment.

Aggregators in Russia can bypass the regulations of the news aggregator law by only sourcing their material from media outlets approved by the Roskomnadzor. In essence, Yandex has undergone a purge.

Many sites with state licenses are Kremlin-owned local newspapers that essentially publish the same stories in unison, tricking Yandex’s algorithm into thinking news outlets are overwhelmingly reporting a specific pro-Kremlin story. “When it wants to manipulate the news agenda, [the Kremlin] commands all these newspapers release one news article praising the mayor for his glorious achievements, for example,” Kovalev said.



The origins of the Industrial Revolution

CEPR’s Policy Portal:

Economists have long studied the causes of the Industrial Revolution, relying frequently on comparisons between England and other European countries to understand “Why England and not France or the Low Countries?”. Many hypotheses have been advanced – from the abundance of cheap fuel in the form of coal (Pomeranz 2000, Fernihough and O’Rourke 2014), to the effect of the slave trades (Williams 1944), to technological change inducing high wages (Allen 2009), to a series of institutional shocks leading to innovation and industrialisation (North and Thomas 1973, Acemoglu et al. 2005). In a recent paper, we test a subset of the main hypotheses about industrial success across 16,000 villages in England (Heldring et al. 2017). Aside from measuring a large number of geographical attributes of each village, we focus on a large shock that hit the English countryside in the mid 16th century – the Dissolution of the Monasteries. While in the previous literature the subject of study was essentially England versus the rest of the world, we can explain regional variation in industrial activity across England.

My emphasis.

A War of Words Puts Facebook at the Center of Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis

New York Times:

Facebook has no office in Myanmar, but the company has worked with local partners to introduce a Burmese-language illustrated copy of its platform standards and will “continue to refine” its practices, said a spokeswoman, Clare Wareing, in an emailed statement.

Human rights groups say the company’s approach has allowed opinion, facts and misinformation to mingle on Facebook, clouding perceptions of truth and propaganda in a country where mobile technology has been widely adopted only in the past three years.

Under the rule of the military junta, strict censorship regulations deliberately made SIM cards for cellphones unaffordable to control the free flow of information. In 2014, restrictions loosened and the use of mobile technology exploded as SIM cards became affordable. Facebook users ballooned from about two million in 2014 to more than 30 million today [2017]. But most users do not know how to navigate the wider internet.

In the meantime, Facebook has become a breeding ground for hate speech and virulent posts about the Rohingya. And because of Facebook’s design, posts that are shared and liked more frequently get more prominent placement in feeds, favoring highly partisan content in timelines.

My emphasis.

22 November 2017: As the Columbia Journalism Review notes, In some countries, fake news on Facebook is a matter of life and death:

Larson says there’s a debate to be had about how to define hate speech, “but what I would consider dangerous speech is advocating that the Rohingya need to leave Myanmar, and sharing doctored images of them supposedly burning their own houses to create a media spectacle.”

In a way, she says, these images—which were liked and shared tens of thousands of times—”gave cover for military action and human rights violations, including violence and rape. You can’t say social media kills people. . . but certainly social media shaped public opinion in a way that seems to have played a part in the escalation of violence against the Rohingya.”

Facebook’s approach to countries like Myanmar and others in the region often strikes those on the ground as not just out of touch but actively cavalier. In recent experiments, for example, users in countries like Cambodia and Slovakia had news articles moved to a completely separate feed, which local nonprofit groups and media outlets say significantly impacted their ability to reach people with crucial information.

It’s one thing to tread carefully around issues like free speech, Larson says, “but if you’re going to run A/B testing, where you change an algorithm and see what you think consumers like best, for god’s sake, stick to stable democracies. Don’t pick a place where there’s an authoritarian regime that is busy locking up opposition leaders, and Facebook is a primary way that activists communicate about their government.”

In many ways, Myanmar is an example of the future Mark Zuckerberg seems to want: A country in which most people are connected through the social network and get virtually all of their news from it. And yet, the outcome of that vision isn’t a utopia, it’s a dystopia—a world where ethnic and cultural tensions are inflamed and weaponized. And Facebook’s response looks inadequate to the dangers it has helped unleash.

IKEA has bought TaskRabbit


Swedish home goods giant Ikea Group has bought TaskRabbit, according to sources close to the situation.

The price of the deal could not be determined, but the contract labor marketplace company has raised about $50 million since it was founded nine years ago. Sources added that TaskRabbit will become an independent subsidiary within Ikea and that CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot and its staff would remain.

A fascinating strategic acquisition.


“From a branding perspective”

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 Episode 8, “Jezebels“:

Commander Price: Maybe the wives should be there. For the act. It would be less of a violation. There is scriptural precedent.
The Commander: “Act” may not be the best name, from a branding perspective. “The Ceremony”?
Commander Guthrie: Sounds good. Nice and Godly. The wives would eat that shit up.

[My emphasis.] THT is the single most disturbing piece of sci-fi dystopia I’ve watched, and that’s without the sexual politics.