Friday roundup: A week in tech

New Facebook Image.jpg

Where can we start this week? Hellish state-on-state digital warfare or feverish idiocy? Let’s go with…

The floundering, data-eating/seeping, extremely suspect digital circus that is Facebook saw its value drop by an incredible $119 billion this week, following a string of high-profile bungles.

Amid an ocean of fake news, questionable data-sharing practices, state-sponsored democracy-tampering, good old tax avoidance, and, latterly, messy and poorly considered Holocaust denial analogies (© M Zuckerberg 2018), the social media firm reported its slowest growth in over two years.

However, the company still has a staggering 2.23 billion active users, who apparently happily and freely waste their time interacting with the network – which, if you think about it, paints a pretty grim picture of the state of our poor old bored race.

Daniel Ives, a man from a place called GBH Insights, might have been trying to help for all I know but probably won’t have soothed investors when he described the firm’s forecast as ‘nightmareish’ – incidentally, the word that most often comes to mind when I read or merely think about social media.

So, is this the end for Facebook? Well, I hope so, but probably not.

***

But, but! Maybe Facebook’s financial plight is all academic, as when the Russians turn the power off no one will be able to access it anyway.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Russian hackers have managed to engineer remote access to the control rooms of lots of American power suppliers, gifting them the ability to shut down networks if they so choose.

Weirdly, disturbingly, confusingly, the wrongdoers have been able to take over important control computers that aren’t even connected to the internet – which doesn’t seem to make any sense, but what do I know?

The US’s department of Homeland Security reckons the group behind the hacks has been traced to Russia and has claimed ‘hundreds of victims’.

Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence, gloomily predicted that the hackers have ‘been intruding into our networks and are positioning themselves for a limited or widespread attack’.

Still, I’m sure the US President will have strong words on the matter with his counterpart in Moscow during their next bewildering meeting.

I’ve said it many times before and I’ll bloomin’ well say it again: none of this happened when we only had Ceefax.

***

YouTube has removed some videos posted by a deranged right-wing conspiracy channel, in a move that looks like it might be trying to clear the decks of potentially community-shattering claptrap – but let’s not hold our breath.

InfoWars, a sort of open sewer of hearsay, lies, reaction, hate, spectacular stupidity and little else, has also been handed a ‘community strike’, meaning it can’t broadcast on YouTube for 90 days.

The deleted videos featured InfoWar’s overlord, Alex Jones, fuming about Muslim immigrants in Europe and a transgender cartoon – pretty disparate things for sure but equally potent flashpoints for the terminally berserk.

According to Mr Jones, Muslims are set to take over Europe (which, even if true, I don’t see why he should be bothered, living and fibbing in America as he does), while ‘Satanists’ were responsible for the transgender sketch (which suggests an entirely new direction for the Satan-loving, as far as I understand them).

Mr Jones and his underlings have long used YouTube to disseminate lots of other interesting theories, such as that the 9/11 attacks were perpetuated by the American government, and that 2012’s Sandy Hook school massacre was faked, with fake children, fake parents, fake blood, fake police, fakety-fake, etc.

Still, baseless drivel has a lot of fans: Mr Jones’ YouTube channel has 2.4 million followers, although they won’t be seeing much of him for the next three months.

In even better news, if InfoWars fouls up a bit more the channel could be permanently removed – and knowing the febrile nature of the ‘masterminds’ behind the operation, total shutdown looks a certainty.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google and others have a glaring, terrible problem with extremism, white supremacists and general lunacy, and though they certainly pay lip service to dealing with it, they only seem able to in bouts. What’s the major difficulty? If it’s a copyright situation involving money they seem to be able to act pretty sharpish.

The internet: terrific for paying your car tax; not so good for kindness and sanity.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

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