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The Friday Five
Ideas to take into the weekend
It’s the day we like to call pre-Saturday, and as we head into the weekend here are five developments worth thinking about.
1) Andrew Yang wants his own party — I spent time with Yang at an Iowa BBQ joint back in April of 2019 while reporting this profile piece. This was on the early side of the ‘20 Yang boom, and I remember coming away thinking that he was something like a kid with a lot of potential who was running around trying to find where to put it. Yang’s been since searching for a place in American politics, as someone with a read on the country’s technological future that’s neither naïve nor entirely dystopian. But he’s struggled to find that place. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t as president, nor was it as mayor of New York City. Now it seems Yang is giving up on Democratic politics and, reports Alex Thompson for Politico, “Yang is set to launch a third party next month, according to two people familiar with the matter.” Of course, one doesn’t just start a third party, in any meaningful way. And Yang isn’t exactly Teddy Roosevelt. A big enduring challenge for Yang is that he, frankly, doesn’t have all that much of a record — certainly not in public life, but not in private life, either. Talk of him as some sort of ‘tech entrepreneur’ was always wildly overstated. But as he’s done before, he’ll inject new thinking into American politics. Is that a career? Likely no. But it is, maybe, a public service. (Thompson reports that “it’s not clear what the name of Yang’s third party will be.” Five bucks it includes “Forward” in there somehow. It’s the name of his forthcoming book, and they always do.)
2) Texas signs its social media bill — Long-simmering Republican anger at Facebook and Twitter boiled over near the tail end of the 2020 election, when both companies banned then-President Trump from using their platforms. It was proof, many on the right argued, that the companies were putting their thumb on the scale against the right. That triggered attempts to start legislating to make sure such a thing shall never happen again — efforts that are now coming to fruition. Cat Zakrzewski writes for the Washington Post that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has just “signed a bill that would prohibit large tech companies from blocking or restricting people or their posts based on their viewpoint.” Commentators like to point out that as actual laws, these bills are often legally questionable — Florida’s version has been blocked in court — but that’s largely beside the point. They’re one of the vehicles through which Republicans intend to make social media an issue again in 2022 and 2024. It’s 423 days until the midterms.
3) Twitter protects the good bots — For many years now there have been people inside Twitter who have argued that part of why they haven’t completely shut down bots — or automated accounts — on their service is that there are good bots. Bots that tell you the weather, bots that spotlight vaccine appointment availability, ‘today in history’ bots. And even if many Twitter users couldn’t care less about whether those sorts of bots exist, to some in Twitter, they represent the sort of experimentation that elevates Twitter beyond a platform for people yelling at other people whose politics they don’t like. (Here’s a good, if dated, 2013 look by Rob Dubbin in the New Yorker at “creative bots.”) Kill the good bots, and it’s an admission that Twitter won’t ever be more than it is now. At least that’s the thinking. So, as Sarah Perez writes for TechCrunch, Twitter is going a different route: allowing the creators of ‘good bots’ to self-label as bots — that is, rather than leaving followers with the assumption that they’re human-run accounts. It’s just a test run for now.
4) Kenya’s mis-influence industry — Discussions of the potentially devastating effect of media harnessed with maliciousness intent in often come back to Rwanda and the role of radio in the terrible genocide of 1994. But there’s a reason for that: it’s a horrifying demonstration of what media can do in the hands of people who make a concerted effort to use it to destroy the lives of others. That’s a history that saturates the situation in Kenya, where Odanga Madung reports for Wired that Twitter is being weaponized, with the goal destabilizing the courts and other institutions amid debate over changes to the country’s constitution. It’s the result of “a booming, shadowy industry of social media influencers for political hire in Kenya,” writes Madung. But it’s a complicated situation: Kenya’s own chief justice recently said that corruption in Kenya, including within the judiciary, is a “national embarrassment.”
5) Food delivery companies fight NYC’s caps — Like many of us, New Yorkers increasingly turned to food delivered to our doors at the height of the pandemic. (Which is saying something. New Yorkers love their food delivery. It’s one of the great perks of the city. I remember moving back to D.C. from Brooklyn some years ago and thinking, “Where are all the people who will bring my food?”) But local regulators worried that companies like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats were extracting too much in the way of commission from restaurants newly dependent on them for survival, and set caps on fees those companies could charge. They’re now suing, report Heather Haddon and Preetika Rana for the Wall Street Journal: “The food-delivery companies say they are seeking to prove the illegitimacy of the caps more broadly, alleging that they are unconstitutional and interfere with negotiated contracts.” One variable here? Delta and other COVID variants. The companies are arguing that the caps are no longer necessary for any sort of public health reason, but that’s contingent on the pandemic actually diminishing.
That’s it. Have a good weekend. But if you have things you need to battle, be like this tiny kitten and pick your moment.