Weekend reads for September 30-31

Especially for subscribers, here's a few longer reads for the weekend on economic, political and social issues

One of the hottest debates in the worlds of democracy and technology at the moment is the power of Facebook to shift public opinion, or more accurately, to be used as a platform by hostile forces to screw the scrum of democracy with fake news.

Facebook has pledged to clean up its ecosystem with labelling. But, as Politico's Jason Schwartz reported, it turns out tagging fake news as fake doesn't work to discourage people from sharing and reading it.

"The existence of “disputed” tags made participants just 3.7 percentage points more likely to correctly judge headlines as false, the study said. The researchers also found that, for some groups—particularly, Trump supporters and adults under 26—flagging bogus stories could actually end up increasing the likelihood that users will believe fake news," Schwartz reported.

One of the reasons I subscribe to the Washington Post is the amazing reporting of David Fahrenthold. He broke the Access Hollywood story and got underneath Donald Trump's history of (non) giving to charities. This piece from Cody Delistraty on Long Reads shows how Fahrenthold follows the money, “shows his work,” and solicits leads from Twitter in covering Donald Trump.

It's clear now that Russian-linked troll farms spent US$100,000 spreading on divisive political ads during the US election campaign. So what can be done legally to stop this happening? Not much, according to Sam Thielman at TalkingPointsMemo.

"Russian operatives manipulating Facebook’s largely automated ad-buying platform are dealing with a kind of information that is totally unprotected by regulation, he said—that makes it different from, say, credit monitoring service Equifax dealing with a huge breach of user data," Thielman reported.

"A less obvious concern, but perhaps a more serious one, is whether or not the company is even capable of monitoring its 1.3 billion daily active users well enough to stop such sophisticated, clandestine political influence campaigns. Until its disclosure last week about the $100,000 in political ads bought by Russians, Facebook had publicly maintained it had “no evidence” of such buys."

North Korea is obviously a worry, particularly when Donald Trump keeps talking about military options and using words like 'fire and fury'.

But just how realistic are those options, and should the western world instead just accept deterrence as the least worst option? The Atlantic's Uri Friedman takes a long and detailed an nuanced look in this piece.

"Nuclear deterrence has an impressive track record, but we should be cautious about how much comfort we take from past performance, Friedman reported.

“Yes, since [America’s] use of nuclear weapons against Japan, we have not had a nuclear war. We’ve had several near misses,” Jim Walsh, a nuclear-security scholar at MIT, recently observed on the Global Dispatches podcast. “Frankly, I know of no human construction, psychological or technological, that is perfect … regardless of the frailties of individual leaders, regardless of the various conditions. You’re entering the world of the religious if you believe that deterrence will work forever across all circumstances.”

“I think the North Koreans are deterrable. I think they’re containable,” Walsh argued. And yet Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un could both be described as “impulsive, thin-skinned, believing themselves to hold absolute power. I don’t know if that’s a good combination.” “The question,” Walsh asked, “is how long can you live in perfection before someone makes a mistake?”

Have a great weekend.