‘China Turns Big Data Into Big Brother,’ and 4 Other Stories You Should Read

Here’s what you missed while you were writing your cover letter for the Royal Household Hospitality Scholarship

New York Magazine: A Browser Extension That Shows You Your Filter Bubble

Selected by Craig Davis, editorial intern

Having lived my whole life in three very liberal metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York), I’m pretty aware of the filter bubble I’ve both intentionally and accidentally imposed on myself. But for those who would like to learn more about the bubble they’re inside, there’s an app for that (or at least, a Chrome extension).

Meet PolitEcho, a tool first built by a team of Princeton undergrads at the 2016 Facebook Global Hackathon. Through analyzing Facebook data, PolitEcho maps out a visualization of the political leanings of the people who show up most in your News Feed.

The visualizations are determined by an algorithm that assigns values to news sources based on political beliefs. (The New York Times is tagged liberal, while Fox News is conservative.) By aggregating the political pages your Facebook friends like, and comparing these pages against a database of publication scores, PolitEcho can bring your personal bubble to life. And the results can be a wake-up call.

“Ironically, we think of ourselves as open-minded and diverse,” said Vivian Mo, a member of the founding team, in the article,“only to find that we’ve surrounded ourselves with people who have the same political leanings.”

The New Yorker: Silicon Valley Has an Empathy Problem

Selected by Jordan Teicher, senior editor

If Wall Street is full of greedy villains, then Silicon Valley is for overeager visionaries. At least, that used to be the difference. Sure, startup founders have always been into growth and value and money, but there seemed to be a difference that had to do with morals and empathy. That may not be the case anymore.

Om Malik’s latest piece takes a look at what’s wrong in Silicon Valley—mainly that the people who work there are so focused on growth and changing the world that they’ve lost touch with the rest of America, specifically the many people their software and apps are putting out of work. The startups may not seem as vicious as hedge funds, but when ” five-dollar lattes and freshly pressed juices are not perks but a reminder of haves and have-nots … Silicon Valley will have become an even bigger villain in the popular imagination, much like its East Coast counterpart, Wall Street.”

Bloomberg: Breitbart Urges Boycott of Kellogg After Brand Abandons Site

Selected by Brian Maehl, talent development manager

While fake news has stolen the spotlight in recent weeks, divisive publishers are taking a hit thanks to the country’s political state as well. Case in point: earlier this week, Kellogg blacklisted its ads from Breitbart due to accusations of hate speech on the publication.

At the end of the day, publishers need to make money. Yet with the political climate the way it is, more brands may pay closer attention to where their content and advertisements are being distributed. It’s unlikely for controversial sites to change their rhetoric in response to losing potential business as a distribution partner. But it’s still something that the political views of media buyers might be making their first ever appearance in team meetings around the country.

MIT Technology Review: China Turns Big Data into Big Brother

Selected by Dillon Baker, associate editor

Though China’s plan to give every one of its citizens a “social credit score” has been in the works for a while now, it seems to be coming closer and closer to reality—and unfortunately, the ramifications of the system are becoming more visible as we see governments around the world use the internet as an incredibly powerful propaganda and oppression tool.

The internet’s early promise as a facilitator for free communication and commerce is under immense strain. In Russia, China, the Philippines, and many other authoritarian regimes around the world, it is a key tool in the government’s arsenal.

It’s not an exaggeration to say the world is resting on a thin digital line: Facebook, for example, could be turned into the most powerful authoritarian tool in history at the flip of a switch. That the company, and many other tech and media companies like it, are making increasingly desperate attempts to cozy up to China and its lucrative market of 1.3 billion people is a disturbing thought indeed.

New York Magazine: Maybe the Internet Isn’t a Fantastic Tool for Democracy After All

Selected by Joe Lazauskas, editor-in-chief

Last night, I spent an hour or so arguing with Contently founder Shane Snow about whether “one truth” exists anymore or not. His argument: One “true” truth always exists. My argument: It may not anymore, particularly since the internet has allowed us to build worlds that are essentially alternate realities. Realities in which everything we read in The Times or the Washington Post or even USA Today are mass-conspiracy lies, and the “truth” is instead the alternate conspiracies spread on sites like Breitbart.

This was the article that sparked that conversation. In New York mag, Max Read makes a compelling argument for why the internet has turned out to be more of a tool for propaganda than it has been for democracy. The scariest part of it all is that the worst is yet to come.

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