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The Dark Side of Social Media Slithers Across the Globe

December 16, 2019, 2:12 PM UTC

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I have taken a contrarian view on the subject of things being different in the era of social media. The world had bloviating and media-adept politicians long before Twitter, obnoxious celebrities before Instagram, and tabloid-spread lies before Facebook. I wasted hours on afternoon re-runs years before my daughter’s infatuation with YouTube.

Reading Li Yuan’s gripping account of the young Chinese woman in Minneapolis who accused CEO Richard Liu of raping her, I’ve lost confidence in my notion of historical perspective. Police in Minnesota chose not to bring charges against the Chinese billionaire, which says only that they weren’t confident of their case. That hasn’t stopped Chinese netizens from making life horrible for his accuser—and deploying the inordinately horrified and amplified tools of today’s social media against her. (For those wanting a synopsis, I highly recommend Clay Chandler’s weekend review, which he called “The Case of Liu vs. Liu.” He adds a nuanced explanation of the impact on Richard Liu from all this.)

Partly because it’s my job and partly because it’s just powerful, exciting stuff, I’ve been near (not at) the forefront of social media since its inception. I interviewed Mark Zuckerberg before non-collegians could get Facebook accounts. And I discussed Twitter with Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey before most people knew that tweets didn’t only come from birds. But I find myself consuming it less and less. There’s just so much hate, so much garbage—much of it from people who ought to be role models rather than models of bad behavior.

And I just want to spend less time, not more, staring at screens a few inches from my face.


* I finished reading a funny, lyrical, sorrowful novel over the weekend, Night Boat to Tangier by the Irish writer Kevin Barry. It is showing up on some important 2019 best books lists and the recognition is deserved.

* Journalists love to read books and watch shows about journalists. I loved Press, the British TV series that aired on PBS’s Masterpiece and is available on the PBS site and Amazon Prime Video. Parts of the show are super realistic. Other bits, like how quickly the journalists put together their stories, aren’t even close. All of it is delicious.

* San Francisco is widely acknowledged to be a mess. The non-profit Tipping Point has been working for 15 years to improve matters. It held its annual breakfast Friday, highlighting the work of grantee non-profits that serve Latino immigrants in Marin County, help the homeless find permanent residences, and better the lives of foster youths. If you want to help Tipping Point help others, please consider a donation.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Pinch the tail and suck the head. Almost all of the city government of New Orleans was closed on Friday due to a cyberattack and officials says even this week the effects of the ransomware will continue to wreak havoc.

Who dat? Artificial intelligence is a huge and still growing focus of the microprocessor biz. So, no surprise that Intel is paying $2 billion for Israeli deep learning chip maker Habana Labs

Pass a good time. AT&T premiered its super-fast 5G mobile network for regular consumers, a year after debuting a business offering. It's initially in 10 cities: Birmingham, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rochester, N.Y., San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. Nationwide coverage is promised for the first half of 2020.

Lagniappe. Are the console wars over or just getting started again? We'll soon know. On Thursday, Microsoft introduced its latest contender, the black, vertical box-y Xbox Series X. Price and launch date TBD.

Snowball. After a minor uproar (#someoneismadontheInternet), the group that oversee's the Internet's domain name system, ICANN, has delayed the sale of the registry that controls addresses ending in .org. Critics of the sale to private equity firm Ethos Capital fretted that the mission of the domain devoted to nonprofits would be lost.

Throw me somethin’, mista. The employees at Google may not want the company pitching its A.I. for military efforts, but that leaves the field more open for others. Startup Palantir has won the follow of Google's dropped Project Maven to create an A.I. app for analyzing the Pentagon's drone video footage, Business Insider reports.

(Today's headline reference decoder, if you haven't been to the Big Easy lately.)


While Adam is on the subject of tech changes for the worse, consider the demise of the poor, old home phone. Julia Cho memorializes our lost landlines in a piece for The Atlantic. Mobile phones are convenient, but something has been lost, she notes:

"The shared family phone served as an anchor for home,” says Luke Fernandez, a visiting computer-science professor at Weber State University and a co-author of Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter. “Home is where you could be reached, and where you needed to go to pick up your messages.” With smartphones, Fernandez says, “we have gained mobility and privacy. But the value of the home has been diminished, as has its capacity to guide and monitor family behavior and perhaps bind families more closely together.”


Election Results Mean All Nighters For Politicians, Pundits—And Wikipedia Editors By Katherine Dunn

Can Technology Save the Air Travel Industry From Its Delay Problem? By Tracey Lindeman

5 of the Best Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Holiday Procrastinators By Chris Morris

The 2019 Food Trends We Hope Carry Over to 2020 By Naomi Tomky

Easy Rider: An On-the-Road Review of Juiced’s Scorpion E-Bike By Lisa Marie Segarra

China’s Big Blockchain Bet Aims for an Early Advantage Over the U.S. By Naomi Xu Elegant


That's enough about bad tech. Here's some good tech that will make you smile all day. The web site Earthcam endeavors to list and rate many, many cool live streaming cameras connected to the web, and they're out with their list of "The 25 Most Interesting Webcams of 2019."

Abbey Road's famous cross walk? Check. Empire State Building? Check. But also don't miss the Utica Zoo's tamarins or Flying Skunk Farm or the baby goats of Colchester, Conn. Term Sheet maven Polina Marinova recommends the goats! Enjoy!

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman