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The World Has Turned On Silicon Valley And For Good Reason

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(Via The Guardian)

When Jonathan Taplin’s book Move Fast and Break Things, which dealt with the worrying rise of big tech, was first published in the UK in April 2017, his publishers removed its subtitle because they didn’t think it was supported by evidence: “How Facebook, Google and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy.”

When the paperback edition comes out early next year, that subtitle will be restored.

“It’s been a sea change in just six months,” Taplin said. “Before that, people were kind of asleep.”

In the last year, barely a day has gone by without a scandal placing technology companies in the spotlight, whether for sexual harassment, livestreamed murder, Russian influence operations or terrorist propaganda.

Tech’s annus horribilis started with calls to #DeleteUber, but the way things are going it will end with calls to delete the entire internet.

“2017 has definitely been a year when tech has found there is a target painted on its back,” said Om Malik, a venture capitalist. “The big companies have been so obsessed with growth that there’s been a lack of social responsibility. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

The surprise election of Donald Trump acted as a catalyst for scrutiny of the platforms that shape so much of our online experience. Even so, it’s taken many months for the enormity of their role to sink in.

Perhaps the biggest wake-up call has been the showdown in Washington. Congress summoned representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify over their role in a multi-pronged Russian operation to influence the 2016 presidential election. All three companies admitted that Russian entities bought ads on their sites in an attempt to skew the vote.

In Facebook’s case, fake accounts pushed divisive messages in swing states; Google found similar activity across its paid search tool and YouTube; and on Twitter, armies of bots and fake users promoted fake news stories that were favourable to Donald Trump. Similar patterns were identified around the Brexit vote.

“The election shows the stakes involved here,” said Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball. “In the past, to be a critic of Silicon Valley was to say the smartphone is making us dumb. Now it’s incompatible with democracy.”

It’s not been the only example of technology companies monetising and distributing unpalatable content and acting surprised when it’s uncovered.

In March, the Times of London revealed that YouTube had paid, via an advertising revenue share, Islamic extremists to peddle hate speech, leading to a boycott from many major advertisers. A second boycott started this month after brands discovered that their ads were appearing alongside content being exploited by paedophiles.

In May, the Guardian’s investigation into Facebook’s content moderation policies revealed that the social network flouted Holocaust denial laws except where it feared being sued. Four months later, Pro Publica discovered that Facebook’s ad tools could be used to target “Jew haters”.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, later said she was “disgusted” and “disappointed that our systems allowed this”.

Taplin finds the technology companies’ standard response of “Oops, we’ll fix this” frustrating and disingenuous.

“Come on! What were you thinking?” he said. “If I can target women who drink bourbon in Tennessee who like trucks, then of course I could use it for dark purposes.”

The deepening pockets and growing influence of companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple has raised concerns that they have become Goliaths, threatening the innovation Silicon Valley was once known for.

You only have to look at Snap to see what happens when you nip at the heels of a tech titan like Facebook: first, it makes an offer to buy you – a strategy that worked with Instagram and WhatsApp – and, if that fails, it eliminates you.

In Snap’s case, this meant watching Facebook clone all of Snapchat’s features – awkwardly at first, but relentlessly until Snapchat’s potential slice of the advertising market shriveled to a sliver.

“[The Snap CEO] Evan Spiegel is having his hat handed to him,” Taplin said, noting how Snap’s stock had plummeted since the company went public in March.

As power consolidates into the hands of a few, the best a startup can hope for is to be bought by one of the tech giants. This, in turn, leads to further consolidation.

So the five largest tech companies – desperate to avoid the kind of antitrust regulation that disrupted IBM and Microsoft’s dominance – are flooding Washington with lobbyists, to the point where they now outspend Wall Street two to one.

“Regulation is coming,” said Malik. “We have got to prepare for that. Everybody has figured out that we are the enemy number one now because we are rich and all the politicians smell blood.”

It doesn’t help that there’s a rising number of former Silicon Valley engineers and business leaders who have morphed into tech dissenters, complaining about the addictive properties of the platforms and call for people – particularly children – to unplug.

In November, Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, said the social network knew from the outset it was creating something addictive, something that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” – a damning critique somewhat undermined by the fact that it was being delivered from the top of an enormous money pile generated by that exploitation.

The vast wealth on display in Silicon Valley – in the private commuter buses, sprawling campuses and luxury condos – does little to endear the companies and their employees to the rest of the world. Like it or not, tech workers have become the shining beacons of prosperity and elitism, shining a bit too brightly at a time of increasing income inequality.

The fact that $700 internet-connected juicers can raise $120m in funding before folding adds to the sense that Silicon Valley has lost its grip on reality.

“Silicon Valley at its core wants to solve problems. I just think we’ve lost touch with the types of problems that actual people need solving,” said Ankur Jain, who set up Kairos Society to encourage more entrepreneurs to solve problems where everyday people are being financially squeezed, such as housing, student loans and job retraining in the face of automation.

“People are so removed from the rest of the ecosystem in Silicon Valley that these problems feel more like charity issues rather than issues that affect the vast majority of the population,” Jain said.

For Malik, many of the problems stem from the fact that Silicon Valley companies have remained “wilfully ignorant” of the fact that “at the end of every data point there is a human being”.

All the problems to have arisen over the last year are particularly jarring given the tech companies’ continued insistence that they are doing good for the world.

“It’s a form of gaslighting to have these companies doing so many harmful things telling you how great they are and how much they are helping you. It’s another form of abuse,” Cohen said.

Malik agreed. “Silicon Valley is very good at using words like empathy and social responsibility as marketing buzzwords, but they are terms that we need to internalise as an industry and show through our actions by building the right things,” he said. “Otherwise it’s all bullshit.”

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Opinion

News flash! Women’s Lives Now More Than Bearable

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This is a contentious time for feminism. In the age of #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Weinstein effect, just a few of the many products of the fourth-wave feminist movement, women are continuing to push forward a certain narrative about men and the Western culture’s effect on women in general. It seems as if the conversation surrounding women and gender equality has seeped into virtually every realm of life: politics, culture, religion, and even medicine and technology. Fourth-wave feminists are expressing their distrust in men in many ways…celebrities are calling out sexual predators in front of public audiences, politicians are using sexual assault as a political tool, and students are marching and demonstrating. Corporations, eager to jump on the “let’s make a political statement” bandwagon, are even using sexual assault as a marketing tool, spouting controversial messages about toxic masculinity and the like. A prime example is the recent Gillette ad, which garnered more than 19 million views on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Many women are also writing about feminism. One example of this is an article, written last year in celebration of International Women’s Day, that has been circulating on social media for the past few months. The article, entitled “100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable” and authored by Dani Beckett, has been shared more than 300,000 times since its publication in March 2018. While we would not exactly call it “viral,” it is no secret that the article’s contents are becoming increasingly normalized, currently believed by a meaningful number of female millenials. Beckett’s article was published in Broadly, a subset of Vice Media, a digital media and broadcasting company that launched Vice, the Canadian-American print magazine that gave rise to Broadly. Broadly, a heavily leftist channel catering to women and designed to “provide a space for us to understand, express, and navigate our identities as we define who we are and where we’re headed next,” has quite a solid readership.

After I kept encountering the article on Facebook for several months, I figured it was probably worth a read, but before reading it, I could not help but linger on the title. How to make women’s lives more…bearable? Bearable means tolerable, able to be endured, not even touching the realm of pleasurable or happy. The title implies that women in this country are struggling so much that someone desperately needs to make their lives “more bearable.” In a country where the vast majority of workplace fatalities befall men, the chief victims of non-fatal violence are men, men make up three quarters of all murder victims, women are outperforming men at all levels of education (they even outnumber men at most medical schools), women win custody battles, and women legally win half the earnings and belongings in a household, apparently women’s lives are not yet bearable enough. I was confused, but intrigued, and proceeded to make my way down the long list of male-targeted demands, some of which are too good not to highlight.

The article is written in an incredibly patronizing tone, as if men in America need to be taught that forcing sex upon a woman is probably not a good idea, as if they apparently grew up in a society that conditioned them to rape. The first item on Beckett’s list is, “Before explaining something to a woman, ask yourself if she might already understand. She may know more about it than you do.” Well, is that not general logical advice for anyone? I know the point is to call men out for supposedly always trying to explain things to a woman, but if you are versed in the basic tenets of communication, then it must be the case that you know not to prematurely lecture someone on a topic you suspect they are already well-versed in, regardless of their gender. And let us suppose this is not the case and you have a habit of being didactical when not needed. Well, then this advice should certainly go for everyone, not just men. The point is, gender has nothing to do with it. There is no evidence that men are somehow more likely than women to try to explain something to women, simply because they are women, before considering whether those women might actually understand the topic. Fourth-wave feminists are pushing the narrative that men inherently feel entitled and better than women, so they feel it necessary to always explain things to a woman without thinking if she might already understand. It is a dangerous and baseless narrative to push forward. While it was certainly true fifty years ago when male professors would not even call on their female students in lecture, today, men DO listen to women, whether they like it or not. By virtue of the professional empowerment of women, which has become normalized in Western society, men listen to women explain things to them every single day. Consider this: women now hold 49% of total faculty positions in American colleges and universities. Women lecture, and men listen.

Beckett then states, “Related: Never, ever try to explain feminism to a woman.” Well, what if she’s wrong? Beckett would tell you, “Trust women. When they teach you something, do not feel the need to go and check for yourself. And especially do not Google it in front of them.” So, if she’s wrong, it doesn’t matter. No one cares about facts anyway. Women are so privileged that they now also have the right to be wrong and to lie without getting called out. This is an important reminder of “Believe all women,” the Left’s mantra during the infamous Kavanaugh controversy. If you feel the need to check something JUST because the person who explained it to you is a woman, then maybe you need to treat your misogyny and perhaps Beckett’s list is actually for you. But we live in a society where women are leaders in every sphere – politics, business, medicine, science, the law. At this point, men get it. The need to overpower women, of which remnants will perhaps always exist, has largely dissipated through the years as evidenced by the fact that women now control 60% of the wealth in the United States, for example. If men are such misogynists, why are they collectively not fighting tooth and nail to tear down successful women? Certainly some are, but it’s virtually impossible to prove patriarchy-enforcing men outnumber matriarchy-enforcing women. Instead of acknowledging that, fourth-wave feminists are resorting to feelings, as opposed to facts, to craft their man-hating narrative. What’s more, they are lowering their standards for women.

Clearly, men and women are different, no matter what radical feminists want you to believe. But even though they are different, every society is founded upon a standard set of basic principles and values that every human, regardless of identity, should be obligated to follow in order to preserve civility. Lying does not all of a sudden become okay for a woman if it’s not okay for a man because women should not get special privileges. That is why Dani Beckett is also mistaken in suggesting “Be kind to women in customer service positions. Tip them extra.” Because they are a woman? This sentiment points directly to the pinnacle of feminists’ hypocrisy. Feminists want women to be treated equally, which naturally entails holding them to the same standards as men. Regardless of whether you are a woman or a man, if you don’t do your job well, then you should not be tipped extra. Regardless of whether you are a woman or a man, your customers should be nice to you if you do your job well because that’s the right thing to do.

Next on Beckett’s list is a whole compilation of demands centered around how to describe women. She states, “Examine your language when talking about women. Get rid of ‘irrational, dramatic, bossy, and badgering immediately.” This implies that women cannot be any of these things, which they most certainly can. Or perhaps it implies that they can be some or all of these things but they should not be called out for it, which once again, means that according to Beckett, we should hold women to a lower standard. Let’s be clear, women should not get free passes just because they are women and their ancestors have suffered through years of misogyny and oppression. If feminists want true equality, then they should not be cutting women slack and lowering their standards for women out of pity. Women are perfectly capable of meeting those standards. Pushing forward women’s rights legislation should not be done out of a need to prop up identity politics. Women deserve equal rights not because they are women, but because they are humans.

If that was not enough, Beckett certainly has more! “Never comment on a woman’s body,” she says. When describing women positively, men should say she is “talented,” “clever” or “funny,” but not “gorgeous” “sweet” or “cute.” Men also cannot call her unique, and “unlike other girls” because all girls are awesome. Long gone are the days when it was flattering for a woman to be told she has a nice physical appearance. And long gone are the days when men were allowed to make their physical attraction, the very basis of biological reproduction, known to women. I am assuming Beckett wants men to assign more value to women than their physical appearance, which is understandable, but assigning more value to personality and assigning some value to physical appearance are not mutually exclusive acts. A 2017 study published in Evolutionary Psychological Science found that most women are likely to choose physical attractiveness over personality and intelligence in potential partners. For a group of people who supposedly hate double standards, fourth-wave feminists sure do love double standards.

And now we arrive at the scariest portion of Beckett’s list: the postgenderism demands. Beckett states, “If you read stories to a child, swap the genders. Cast women in parts written for men. We know how to rule kingdoms, go to war, be, not be, and wait for Godot.” Right, and that is exactly why the parts of Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, Daenerys Targaryen, Mulan, and many, many more have been written. To show that women can indeed rule kingdoms, go to war, and do pretty much anything. Fourth-wave feminists are called “fourth-wave” because they are not the first. The women of the past have already proven that women are powerful and can rule kingdoms. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel by going to extreme measures (i.e. swapping genders) to show something that everyone, barring exceptions, already knows. Perhaps, then, the point of swapping genders is not so much to normalize powerful, masculine women. It is, in fact, to get rid of gender roles altogether. My prediction is that postgenderism will pave the way for fifth-wave feminism.

So why is one article like this one so important? It’s maybe just the opinion of one woman. Except it’s not. Between 70 and 80 percent of college women currently identify as feminists. The contents of Beckett’s article are at least somewhat representative of the mentality of young women in America today, even if some shy away from the label “feminist.” I fear that this association we have started to develop between feminism and fourth-wave values, some of which are exemplified in this article, will only become stronger until, eventually, first and second-wave feminists are shut out entirely. Women who are pro-life are shut out entirely. Women who want other women to be held accountable are shunned and considered anti-feminist. Criticizing obesity, pointing to false allegations of sexual assault, challenging the misconceptions surrounding the pay gap, holding conservative views about female sexuality, and acknowledging core differences between men and women will become wholly incompatible with any definition of feminism. Women should be encouraged to be strong, not feed their victimization complexes. Women should be encouraged to listen to other women, even if they disagree. Fourth-wave feminist indoctrination should not be something we stand for if we want to actually help gender equality.

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Politics

Trump to Enact Massive Change to Prescription Drug Pricing, Sources Say

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President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar before announcing a plan to overhaul how Medicare pays for certain drugs during a speech at HHS headquarters October 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration late Thursday afternoon proposed an effort to increase transparency  when it comes to prescription drug pricing by cutting the widely used practice of middlemen — one of the major cost-drivers of drug prices.

President Donald Trump is strongly considering signing an executive order to do just that, according to four people inside the administration who asked for their identities to be withheld for various reasons.

The executive order which has already been drafted by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, would allow manufacturers of drugs to offer discounted pricing to customers, but would legally, stop them from giving rebates to pharmacy benefit managers.

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Politics

“If you can’t manage a campaign, how do you manage the country?”: Chuck Todd schools Bernie Sanders

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In a segment Thursday on MSNBC, network host Chuck Todd slammed Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders for allowing sexual misconduct to occur inside his 2016 presidential campaign.

“Could this derail his chances of another presidential bid,” host Chuck Todd wondered before playing a video clip.

“Boy, that is a tough answer to defend of course,” Todd said referring to Sanders telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview that he didn’t know about ongoing sexual misconduct because he was “a little busy running around the country trying to…make the case.”

“Because if you’re running to be president of the United States…if you can’t manage your campaign, how do you manage the country,” Todd continued. “No potential 2020 candidates had a worse start to 2019 than Bernie Sanders”

WATCH:

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