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Orwell’s ADL Prepares for 2024
the industry #5 // elon vs. adl, press “tech bro city” meltdown carries on, eu regulation onslaught, tech links
Would you believe me if I told you my team and I actually have conversations each week on how to produce less Elon coverage? But what the hell am I supposed to do when the man announces his intention to sue the Anti-Defamation League? The entire internet is furious with Musk over his decision, alleges the Huffington Post (for evidence, they cite an angry, anonymous tweet with 70 likes). Though it’s important to keep in mind, they further report, many “antisemites and white nationalists” seemed to support the billionaire tech mogul. Oh well, maybe next week I’ll finally find the time to write about the Clown World Grindr Union.
The ADL is a century-old Jewish NGO specialized in civil rights law. Ostensibly, the organization is dedicated to combating extremism and antisemitism. But, as with most NGOs, from the ACLU to (especially) the Southern Poverty Law Center, America’s Great Awokening appears to have hollowed the organization of most of its former identity. Now, it’s just another weapon for radicals. Jewish writers across the internet have turned sharply against the ADL, both on grounds the organization has become overtly partisan, and on grounds its leaders have themselves become embroiled in antisemitic controversy. Tablet runs an excellent series on the organization, which I recommend checking out if you’d like to double click the issue. But, for my part, I’m mostly interested in the largely clandestine NGO efforts to shape social media in advance of our next election. Here, the ADL appears to be a major player.
A couple weeks back, in A Tale of Two Karens, I covered the role of another group in this rotted, authoritarian ecosystem called the Orwellian “Center for Countering Digital Hate,” a fake “research” group. The CCDH, I wrote, is in fact an activist organization focused on creating fake studies indicating a rise of “harmful” speech on platforms like X. The “studies” are then fed to the anti-tech press, and woven into stories used to terrify advertisers. The purpose, in all of this, is to force platforms to adopt the authoritarian’s preferred set of political speech codes in advance of the 2024 presidential election, and when platforms do adopt the codes, the NGOs back off. The word for this is extortion. In targeting Twitter, the strategy was obvious from the moment Elon took the company private, and I noted at the time it would become a major issue. What I did not anticipate was the single-minded focus of these groups, or how successful they would be.
In tandem with news of the lawsuit, Elon announced his platform lost 60% of US advertising revenue over the last year. He alleged the ADL in particular played a major role in his company’s targeting, and accused the group of speaking directly with advertisers in an effort to dissuade them from spending money on the platform. He also hinted at something else, which most of us have long suspected: is it possible the activist groups responsible for the fraudulent research, and the defamation, have themselves led, or in some way assisted, the “hate campaigns” central to their attack on the company? It’s not hard to create accounts and astroturf a bot-y “movement.” This is a strategy, for example, the Chinese government has employed for years in an effort to sow discontent in the states, as on the internet it is very hard to tell who is real and who is not without broad verification (a nail Elon continues to hammer).
The reason all of this is getting more attention is — for the first time — we’re seeing some industry resistance to the NGO vice grip. Over the last few years, every major social platform sacrificed tremendous freedoms for media approval, which in hindsight appears to have mostly been a quest for moral validation from their advertisers. But after Elon pushed back and didn’t die, the entire industry began to thaw. Now, with an important weapon under attack, the press is in a panic.
If Elon’s lawsuit succeeds, and establishes a cost to the NGOs for their malicious distortions of reality, the machine will have a much more difficult time in the lead up to the next election. If he fails? We’re probably slipping back to a state more reminiscent of 2020. I’m mixed on the question of whether or not X will actually go through with the lawsuit, but if it does?
Years into a cascading, all-front total war, God knows Elon’s legal team is up to the task.
THE FIFTH ESTATE
NOTABLE INDUSTRY TRENDS
Friday, the Canadian government released draft regulations for its deranged Online News Act (C-18). We covered this a couple weeks ago, but in a nutshell: C-18 holds Facebook and Google (specifically) have to pay Canadian news publishers if they want to keep links to Canadian news sites on their platforms. If the companies refuse to pay, they’ll have to block Canadian news links. Initially, in reaction to the vote, Facebook blocked the links immediately, which prompted the Canadian government to accuse Mark Zuckerberg of starting a bunch of deadly wildfires (basically). Unfazed by the reaction, Google indicated it will join Facebook and block links. Nonetheless, the new draft regulations reiterate these are the only two companies the government is targeting, and they will have to pay $172 million and $62 million respectively. Critically, advertising credits or other ‘non-monetary’ compensation will be accepted, indicating outlets favored by the Trudeau administration will now have ample funds to crowd out upstart competition with regime propaganda. Relentlessly stupid nation. Castro would be proud. (CTV News)
Everyone hates the new ‘tech bro utopia’ in Solano County, a thing that doesn’t actually exist beyond the panicked imaginations of journalists both horrified by the thought of tech journalists living in our cities, and horrified by the thought of tech bros leaving our cities (check out the project’s new website btw).
A brief “news” roundup from our transparently biased, histrionic press: the Daily Beast did its best to frame Jan Sramek, founder of the project, as an evil genius turned to the dark side at a young age. Their evidence is largely built from the argument he did well in school. The Information reported the project’s reveal was “botched.” Reasoning? The media covered it negatively. The Verge said a “vague website” “attempts to justify” building a new city near SF. As if any such justification, in a free country, could possibly be required.
Do you want your own kids? Congratulations, you are a bad person. Over in the foul, festering swamplands of WIRED: an interest in having children biologically related to you is immoral. Another banger in the degrowth bucket. (WIRED)
Sexbots be sexbotting. One of the AI brothers hacked together a smash or pass game depicting AI-generated women; anonymous they/them anime avatars across the internet seem upset about it, but they’re having a hard time articulating why. Now, Vice reports the app is “sexist.” A definition of “sexism” was not provided, but in what I gleaned from the article it appears all expression of straight male desire is, inherently, problematic. As of Tuesday, the game has 51,000+ users.
Make sure to watch out the latest episode of our pod, Moon Should Be A State, and rate, like, subscribe:
Yesterday the entire United Airlines fleet, the third largest in the world, was grounded due to a “system wide technology issue.” Our birds are back up, but the cracks continue to widen. (NBC)
Amazon CEO to Bali-based beachfront “managers”: come back to the office, or “it’s probably not going to work out for you.” According to CNN, employees are looking into the legal question of whether or not they can be “forced” to work. (CNN)
YouTube bought the very first ad on the giant alien-looking Las Vegas memosphere. It’s for NFL Sunday football. We’re looking forward to learning why this is bad, and assuming it will have something to do with the environment. (WSJ)
Since the start of 2023, Tesla has cut prices on its Model S and Y drastically, from nearly $105,000 to $75,000 and $121,000 to $80,000 respectively. People are arguing about whether this is bullish or bearish. The company also unveiled its updated Model 3 in Europe this week.
On Monday, very much back in the arena, Chamath advertised a ‘digital therapy’ alternative to prescription medication for ADHD called EndeavorOTC, an app that tailors “attention challenges” to “help with cognitive strengthening.” With Adderall abuse a kind of obvious runaway train, we’re expecting this entire space to grow. (@chamath)
Chinese companies Baidu Inc. and Bytedance made their LLMs available to the public last Thursday. Bloomberg writer Zheping Huang tried them out. After asking “sensitive questions,” one model tried to change the subject; another “would start typing, then stop, or when it gave… a controversial response, it would delete it moments after. Tencent-backed Minimax wouldn’t even let me ask what it deemed ‘illegal’ questions.” We’re expected to interpret this as indication of authoritarian manipulation of the technology. It is, of course, authoritarian manipulation of the technology. Unfortunately, it’s not meaningfully different than the sort of manipulation we’ve seen of our own LLMs.
Financial Times reported some of Sequoia’s LPs are weighing their commitment to the firm, citing investments in FTX and Twitter (a subtle but remarkable piece of anti-Elon propaganda). Nonetheless, editors note the firm has returned $34 billion in cash and stock on $2 billion invested over the last four-and-a-half years.
Kmele Foster, host of the Fifth Column podcast and co-founder of FreeThink, announced on Friday he’s joined Founders Fund. (@kmele)
On earnings calls, mentions of the phrase “student loans” are up 8x in July and August. Seems CEOs are bracing for a consumer spending slowdown once loan payments resume this fall. (WSJ)
Arm is targeting a $52 billion valuation for its IPO, or a roughly $50 share sale price (their roadshow began yesterday). (WSJ)
Microsoft-backed cloud and data security startup Rubrik will likely IPO this year, and raise upwards of $700 million, according to insiders. (Bloomberg)
Litigation and regulation:
California Bill SB 680, which would have allowed social media companies to be sued and fined up to $250,000 per violation of "knowingly putting in addictive or harmful designs and algorithms," was mercifully killed in committee on Friday. (Bloomberg)
Last week, OpenAI filed a motion to dismiss two identical lawsuits from a group of book authors claiming the company’s models infringe on their copyright, arguing the authors “misconceive the scope of copyright,” and its use of literary material, even though a “tiny part” of training data is transformative, and thus fair use. But now I’m sitting here thinking: man, it’s really going to be uncomfortable once AI models start pointing out similarities between living writers. Are we approaching an age of lawsuits over “influence”? (Ars Technica)
In advance of an antitrust suit filed in 2020 alleging that Google monopolizes search (which duh, obviously true but who cares?), Google asked a federal court to interview, under oath, the Justice Department’s Jonathan Kanter, their top antitrust official. Google is alleging Kanter, who previously represented ad tech companies, Google rivals such as Roku and News Corp, and other organizations in antitrust suits against Google, is biased against the company. (Bloomberg)
In some locations, Biden’s rural internet program costs $53,000 to connect a single household to our nation’s information chaos engine via fiber-optic broadband. Unfortunately, this is a huge but necessary price given there is absolutely no such thing as a satellite option that costs less than a car payment. (WSJ)
An Amazon investor is suing the company for failing to consider using SpaceX (and prioritizing ULA and Blue Origin) for the launch of its Project Kuiper satellites. (The Information)
In “one of the most important news items of the year,” according to crypto VC Nic Carter, Visa revealed it’s been settling fiat-based payments with stablecoin USDC across the Ethereum and Solana blockchains. Of the news, Nic said: “Writing on the wall: [stablecoins] will become [the] de facto interbank settlement solution via card networks.” (CoinTelegraph)
The Colorado DMV has started using PayPal to facilitate payments with crypto. (Blockworks)
Martin Shkreli hosted a Space on X where he shared details of SBF’s first days in prison. Highlights: inmates were initially skeptical SBF was not a “chomo” (someone who harms children), and he’s been moved to a floor consisting entirely of Asian gangs (??) after having repeated disputes with multiple potential bunkmates. (@AutismCapital)
Robinhood paid $606 million to buy back a 7% stake in Robinhood that had been purchased by SBF during his FTX days. (The Information)
A spotlight on exciting European “innovation”:
The Brussels-California axis of evil: last week, Luke Hogg guested for the Industry with a piece detailing the quiet collaboration between EU regulators and the California legislature in an effort to take control of the technology industry — read it here.
In response to a new EU examination of Microsoft’s bundling Teams, its video conferencing product, with Microsoft 365 and Office 365, Microsoft will preemptively unbundle the products to avoid more antitrust scrutiny from meddling European idiots. Separately, The Verge reports Microsoft is also pushing EU regulators to keep Bing off a list of services that would classify them as large and powerful enough to be anticompetitive (Apple is doing the same for iMessage).
Meta will discontinue Facebook News — its dedicated news tab — in the U.K., Germany, and France. The move appears to be an attempt at avoiding onerous regulations around news content like we’ve seen in Australia, and now Canada. (TechCrunch)
A group of influential British MPs published a report advocating that “Britain should join with ‘like-minded countries who share liberal, democratic values, to ensure mutual protection against those actors — state and otherwise — who are enemies of these values and would use AI to achieve their ends.’” Literally no idea what that means, but I’m sure it roughly translates to “more censorship and regulation.” (Bloomberg)
Read Solana’s take on the Burning Man fiasco that never happened —
CLOWN WORLD, SPECIAL CALIFORNIA EDITION
The New York Times is alleging a Cruise vehicle blocked an ambulance from leaving an emergency scene. Unfortunately for the press — once again — video has absolutely dismantled the narrative. In footage, many cars easily passed the vehicle. The company is now arguing the ambulance was never impeded. The Times also neglected to mention an abandoned police vehicle blocked a separate exit from the scene, and nobody seemed particularly interested in the actual fatality, which was caused by a human driver. In any case, on Monday, the entire bullshit narrative inspired a “protest” outside the Cruise office. There were more reporters present than participants, which numbered at 10 (and seemed to include at least one homeless person).