The first and only time I met Julian Assange was exactly nine years ago—April 12, 2010. He was in New York City to appear on The Colbert Report and I was working as an editor at The New York Times. We met in a coffee shop after the taping so I could interview him about his plans for Wikileaks.
I remember thinking that he was taking this online secret-leaking business quite seriously. We were on a quiet side street in the West Village, but, like Malcolm X entering a restaurant, he surveyed the room to be sure that he wouldn’t be sitting with his back to the door. He carried a satellite phone with him.
As the night wore on, Assange wondered where he could watch himself on the TV. Going to a bar to ask the barkeep to switch from sports to watch yourself on Comedy Central would be a bit show-offy, even for a platinum-haired renegade. And streaming TV on your phone just wasn’t a thing yet. So I offered my fourth-floor walkup apartment, and at 11:30 that night Assange viewed his appearance on The Colbert Report from my living room/kitchen.
Noam Cohen is a journalist and author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, which uses the history of computer science and Stanford [...]read more
Pity the poor public-relations specialist hired to influence what is said about his clients on Wikipedia. The sprawling, chaotic storehouse of knowledge is governed by thousands of independent-minded volunteers committed to being neutral and allergic to self-serving manipulators.
The barriers are formidable, but so is the temptation to do some reputational polishing there. What appears on Wikipedia matters. Daily traffic to the English site has barely grown in years, but that is because Wikipedia articles are so reputable that they are baked into the Internet—particularly Google’s results pages. A biographical capsule Google publishes on me, for example, has all its facts taken straight from Wikipedia, except for my age being 20, which Google came up with on its own. When YouTube tried to contain proliferating conspiracies, it turned to Wikipedia. Of course men landed on the moon, it says so right here on Wikipedia!
Attempts to influence the site are, as the recent [...]read more
5G: Cool for your cellphone, terrible for your health?
5G, the cell phone network that promises to exponentially increase data speeds for all, might help load a web page faster but could also hurt your health. It turns out your sweat glands act kind of like antennas in response to the high frequency waves planned to be used in the service, and funding for research on the health effects is relatively slim. 5G is still in its infancy in the US though, so here’s to hoping research about its potential health hazards catch up with the technology itself.
Facebook had a hell of a weekend
Over the weekend, Facebook poked at all kinds of things from whether they would restrict access for who could go Live, to exactly how their mysterious news feed works. Also, tons of old blog posts from CEO Mark Zuckerberg disappeared. Unfortunately for Zuck, the internet never forgets.
Right to repair is now a national issue
For years, companies have made it hard for you to fix their products without either paying them an extraordinary amount, or simply being forced to [...]read more
You would be forgiven if you read Mark Zuckerberg’s Wednesday post about Facebook moving to “A Privacy-Minded Vision for Social Networking” and thought it was either a deathbed conversion, a cynical ploy to avoid regulation and reassure users, or even just an absurd musing that the company has no intention of carrying out (much like the “Clear History” feature it announced almost a year ago, which has yet to materialize).
It’s even possible that you took Mr. Zuckerberg at his word, as former Microsoft wunderman Steven Sinofsky did, and credited him with realizing which way the winds are blowing and moving there with thoughtfulness and haste.
In fact, Zuckerberg’s essay was likely about none of those things, nor was it about privacy at all (more on that later).
It was about WeChat, WhatsApp, and iMessage.
Zuckerberg’s post, minus the PR, was a product road map. It’s [...]read more
Among the best-selling books in Amazon’s Epidemiology category are several anti-vaccine tomes. One has a confident-looking doctor on the cover, but the author doesn’t have an MD—a quick Google search reveals that he’s a medical journalist with the “ThinkTwice Global Vaccine Institute.” Scrolling through a simple keyword search for “vaccine” in Amazon’s top-level Books section reveals anti-vax literature prominently marked as “#1 Best Seller” in categories ranging from Emergency Pediatrics to History of Medicine to Chemistry. The first pro-vaccine book appears 12th in the list. Bluntly named “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism,” it’s the only pro-vaccine book on the first page of search results. Its author, the pediatrician Peter Hotez, a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at the Baylor College of Medicine , has tweetednumeroustimes about the amount of abuse and Amazon review brigading that he’s had to fight since it was released.
Renee DiResta (@noUpside) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED, the director of research at New Knowledge, and a Mozilla fellow on media, misinformation, and trust. She is affiliated with the Berkman-Klein Center at Harvard and the Data Science Institute at Columbia University.
Over in Amazon’s Oncology category, a book with a Best Seller label suggests juice as an alternative to chemotherapy. For the term “cancer” overall, coordinated review brigading appears to have ensured that “The Truth About Cancer,” a hodgepodge of claims about, among other things, government conspiracies, enjoys 1,684 reviews and front-page placement. A whopping 96 percent of the reviews are 5 stars—a measure that many Amazon customers use as a proxy for quality. However, a glance at Reviewmeta, a site that aims to help customers assess whether reviews are legitimate, suggests that over 1,000 may be suspicious in terms of time frame, language, and reviewer behavior.
Once relegated to tabloids and web forums, [...]read more
During the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014, medical workers collected hundreds of thousands of samples of blood from victims and those presumed to be infected, in an effort to stem an epidemic that eventually took more than 11,000 lives.
After that outbreak subsided, most of the samples were believed to have been destroyed. But recent reporting by The Telegraph in London revealed that thousands of samples were not destroyed but, rather, shipped out of West Africa. The samples’ location isn’t clear—The Telegraph’s freedom of information request was turned back by the UK government—but they are believed to be in the custody of national health agencies, and possibly pharmaceutical companies, in Western Europe and the United States.
That those samples passed out of the countries where they originated is a scandal in the making, because if they provide the raw material for diagnostics or remedies made by Western companies, those products may be unaffordable to [...]read more
I have zero claim to l337ism but I’ve been around this strange old internet for the past 40 years. Grandma, please no stories about the early internet. I get it. But in honor of Facebook’s 15th birthday, I want to reminisce, just for a minute.
The internet of the ’80s seemed like an infinitely weird Cabinet of Wonders, filled with goth and carny stuff: skulls, fetuses in formaldehyde, half-working contraptions that made ascii art. The docents in the joint were backroom clerics, the odd refugee from CB culture (literally “breaker, breaker”), and wallflowers hoping for a new shot at social life. I was that last type. It was deeply embarrassing to be known as a computer geek; you hid it like eczema. Still, at nine, I started encountering the clerics—some of them actual “clerics,” as D&D was everywhere—and getting in the kind of preteen and then teen trouble that involved mostly trickery, masquerade, and multiplayer roleplaying. There were also legitimate wonders. Seeing [...]read more
News spread on Tuesday that Lyndon LaRouche, the dogged global conspiracy theorist and fringe United States presidential candidate, died at age 96. To those familiar with LaRouche’s theories, which for a New Yorker like me means anyone who rode the subway or met friends at a crossroads like Union Square or Columbus Circle, he was InfoWars or 4Chan before the internet was even a thing.
Like those digital instigators, LaRouche promoted an alternate political reality to his followers that deftly incorporated the latest news within a broader conspiratorial framework. In LaRouche’s case, he postulated a roster of villains that over the decades included Jewish bankers, the Rockefellers, the Bushes, and Queen Elizabeth II, all of whom supposedly promoted drugs and sickness to ensure world domination. He spread these ideas primarily through sheer will and by recruiting young followers who would stand in front of folding tables handing out fliers with chaotic designs and outlandish claims.
The past few weeks have brought bad news to the hardworking scribes of the news business. Three leading digital outlets—BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and Vice—announced layoffs that left many accomplished journalists unemployed. The fingers of blame quickly pointed to the great bogeymen of our media age—Facebook and Google—and warned about a threat to democracy. After all, if the most savvy and avant-garde of the new digital journalists can’t make a living, what hope is there for old-school newspapers? To many, the health of our democracy is inextricably tied to the health of our journalism: If the latter begins to die, the former must immediately follow.
Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED. Previously he worked on Facebook’s early monetization team, where he headed its targeting efforts. His 2016 memoir, Chaos Monkeys, was a New York Times best seller and NPR Best Book of the Year.
That’s a curious sentiment, because [...]read more
In 1961, a college student named David Myers traveled from Washington, DC, to the US Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Florida to take part in a new experiment. “I had a very limited understanding of what I was getting myself into,” Myers told me recently over email. “So I was extremely curious and mildly excited that first day.”
Myers was one of 11 men specifically recruited by Dr. Ashton Graybiel to help test the feasibility of human spaceflight, at a time when nobody knew whether the human body could withstand a trip beyond our atmosphere. For nearly a decade, the US Navy put 11 eleven men through countless tests. Four of the men spent 12 straight days inside a 20-foot room that rotated constantly. In another experiment, they were sent out to notoriously rough seas off the coast of Nova Scotia. On the boat, the men played cards while the researchers were so overcome with seasickness that they had to cancel the test and go home. Others were sent up in the so-called “Vomit Comet,” an aircraft designed to simulate zero gravity. That’s the test Myers is still most fond of. “This free floating [...]read more