Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Oct. 20 2016 3:09 PM

Come to a Free Screening and Discussion of Never Let Me Go

Join Anne-Marie Slaughter for a screening and discussion of the 2010 film Never Let Me Go. The beautiful adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s best-selling novel explores questions of humanity and bioethics as it tells the story of three children who were created in a laboratory and raised in isolation. Their life’s purpose: to serve as organ donors.

This is the latest installment of our “My Favorite Movie” series featuring thought leaders hosting their favorite films, followed by short conversations about them. Slaughter is the president and CEO of New America, a think tank and civic enterprise committed to renewing American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age, and the author of Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family.

The screening of Never Let Me Go will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at Washington, D.C.'s Landmark E Street Cinema at 555 11th St. NW. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to futuretensedc@gmail.com with your name, email address, and any affiliation you’d like to share. You may RSVP for yourself and up to one guest. Please include your guest’s name in your response. Seating is limited.

Oct. 19 2016 4:44 PM

Why Don’t We Know More About Trump’s and Clinton’s Cybersecurity Policies?

Has personal cybersecurity ever been more political? So much of this presidential campaign has focused intense scrutiny on the security precautions taken to protect Hillary Clinton’s personal email server. But on Monday, the story changed a little (albeit temporarily), when security architect Kevin Beaumont tweeted that Donald Trump’s corporate email servers were running an outdated operating system and unpatched web server.

Vice Motherboard picked up the story on Tuesday, quoting a computer science professor who called the Trump server configuration “somewhat less than ideal” and also noting that Microsoft stopped providing security updates and support for the Windows Server 2003 operating system that Trump’s organization uses more than a year ago, in July 2015. Meanwhile, a Trump Organization representative told Vice: “The Trump Organization deploys best in class firewall and anti-vulnerability technology with constant 24/7 monitoring. Our infrastructure is vast and leverages multiple platforms which are consistently monitored and upgraded using current cyber security best practices.” (Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the art of boasting about 24/7 monitoring in computer security, as if to suggest there’s an army of tech professionals who stare intently at the packets moving across the network all night long, instead of a bank of machines that are never turned off.)

The security of Clinton’s personal and Trump’s corporate email servers matters, even if they delegated decisions about the day-to-day logistics to IT employees. But if you’re going to vote based on cybersecurity concerns—and, for the record, this is not an approach I recommend—then surely you’re more interested in how the candidates plan to reshape cybersecurity policy, right?

But cybersecurity policy—how the candidates would try to secure networks and data for the entire country, not just for themselves—has barely come up during the campaign. In August, the Washington Post asked experts to compare the two candidates’ cybersecurity policies, and perhaps the most striking thing about the commentary was how many of them said they needed to know more in order to do so. Former CIA and NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden, for instance, said he “hadn't seen enough from either campaign to evaluate their overall cybersecurity strategies.”

We know perhaps a little more now than we did in August. Clinton has said she’d like to continue building on existing initiatives, like the U.S. Cybersecurity National Plan. According to her website, she’ll “build on the Obama Administration’s efforts to stop China’s cyber-enabled economic espionage.” She also plans to “harden” federal networks by enforcing “well-known cybersecurity standards, such as multi-factor authentication,” encouraging government agencies to initiate bug bounty programs, and wants to support “expanded investment in cybersecurity technologies, as well as public-private collaboration on cybersecurity innovation, responsible information sharing on cyber threats, and accelerated adoption of best practices.”

There’s nothing wrong with those plans—multifactor authentication and bug bounty programs both have real benefits, and who could be against best practices? (The Trump Organization, you’ll recall, is also fond of using best practices.) But for a self-styled policy-focused campaign, they’re awfully light on the detail and completely sidestep the truly controversial issues, so we’re left to mine the WikiLeaks-released emails of her campaign staffers to try to pick up clues about what she really thinks should be the policies governing encryption.

On the other hand, Donald Trump takes vagueness and evasion of controversial topics to even greater heights on his website, where he explains he plans to “order an immediate review of all U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities”; create Joint Task Forces to “coordinate Federal, State, and local law enforcement responses to cyber threats”; develop “offensive cyber capabilities”; and “order the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide recommendations for enhancing U.S. Cyber Command.”

I, of course, would like to see more detail from both candidates about what they would actually, concretely, do on these issues if elected. But it seems pretty clear that that’s not what the final weeks of this election will focus on. Instead, especially during Wednesday’s debate, we’ll hear a lot more about Clinton’s email, and read about a lot more of her staffers’ leaked emails, and blame Trump for egging on Russia in its theft of those emails. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get to hear a little about the cyber, but it’s not likely.

It’s tempting to suggest we’ll be using these candidates’ personal cybersecurity practices as a proxy for their actual (often lacking) policy statements on cybersecurity. But what’s really striking about this election is not that we’ve focused on individual cybersecurity choices and decisions over cybersecurity policy. Rather, it’s that we’ve apparently decided individual cybersecurity choices and decisions are so important, so indicative of a person’s character, that they rank up there with all the other individual choices and decisions that are brought up in presidential campaigns—decisions about who to sleep with or how to resolve marital struggles or how much to pay in taxes—as emblematic of a person’s intelligence, integrity, and fitness to be president.

Oct. 19 2016 11:53 AM

Future Tense Newsletter: Buy It Never

Greetings, Future Tensers,

If you’ve ever clicked Amazon’s “Buy Now” button to start watching a film or listening to an album, you might be surprised to learn that you probably didn’t actually buy anything. As Aaron Perzanowski writes in a contribution to our Futurography course on ownership, “Words like own and buy prime consumers to rely on ... familiar concepts of personal property to understand their rights in digital purchases.” Perzanowski’s own research suggests that most of us don’t really understand how limited our rights are when we pay for digital commodities, but he has some helpful suggestions to better educate us about what we’re actually getting.

One thing you definitely won’t be able to own? A car from Apple. Reports suggest that the tech company has abandoned its long-simmering vehicle project, a decision that was—Will Oremus argues—probably the right move. Meanwhile, research on self-driving cars is still proceeding apace elsewhere in the tech sector. But as Frank Pasquale suggests in an article exploring the limits of the trolley problem, we should be thinking more about how we’ll integrate those vehicles into our broader civic infrastructure.

Here are some of the other stories we read while waiting for Google to distinguish truth from lie:

  • Social media: Could a tweet ever be considered assault? An attempt to trigger a journalist’s epilepsy suggests that the answer may be yes, but the law is still fuzzy at this point.
  • Accessibility: The latest iOS update just made iPhones a little more usable for lefties, but there’s still a long way to go.
  • Education: Classroom technology can actually encourage interaction and conversation among students when it’s developed with the right priorities in mind.


  • Why own anything when you can access everything? Join Future Tense on Tuesday, Oct. 25, in Washington, D.C., to consider how technology is transforming the concept of ownership. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.


Jacob Brogan

for Future Tense

Oct. 17 2016 5:13 PM

The Apple Car’s Failure Looks Like a Bad Sign for Apple. It Isn’t.

The world’s most valuable company appears to have failed on an extravagant project in an embarrassingly public way. But it might not be the sign of decadence and decline that it seems at first blush.

Since early 2015, it has been an open secret in Silicon Valley that Apple was building a car. Under the code name Project Titan, the company reportedly assembled a huge team of engineers at an unmarked facility in Sunnyvale to build what was rumored first to be an electric car (or minivan), and later a self-driving electric car. The excitement revved so high as recently as this summer that Motor Trend devoted its June 2016 cover to imagining exactly what the Apple Car would look like.

Now it seems Apple has slammed on the brakes. Following a pair of earlier reports that Apple was downsizing its car project and shifting its focus, Bloomberg reported on Monday that the company’s plan “no longer includes building its own car.” Instead, Apple’s team has pivoted to building an autonomous driving system—that is, the software to power a self-driving car. The company has given Project Titan’s leaders a deadline of late 2017 to “prove the feasibility of the self-driving system and decide on a final direction,” Bloomberg writes. Meanwhile, hundreds of team members “have been reassigned, let go, or have left of their own volition in recent months,” while Apple has continued to hire others with a focus on software and A.I.

As with most of the earlier media scoops on the Apple car, this one is anonymously sourced, so it’s hard to say anything for sure. But the claims are consistent with prior reporting by Bloomberg and the New York Times and the documented departure of key executives from the Project Titan team.

Assuming it’s true that Apple has given up on building a car, at least for the time being, the project will go down as an embarrassing misstep by CEO Tim Cook and company. It almost certainly cost the company a pile of money and distracted from its core business. If Apple did peak in 2015, as I’ve suggested, history may record this as an indicator of a company that was beginning to lose its touch.

Yet, in an odd way, it could be a sign of health that the company was willing to cut bait on such a large and highly publicized project at this juncture. One of Apple’s great strengths has always been its focus. In contrast to a company like Google that seems to pursue every idea at once, Apple does a few things, and it does them far better than anyone else.

Cook, who is sometimes derided as a corporate custodian who lacks his predecessor’s legendary vision, surely deserves some blame if the car project turns out to have been misguided. Yet he also deserves some credit, both for pursuing a bold new idea and for cutting his losses when it seemed clear that it was not on the road to success.

The worst possible outcome for Apple would have been to continue pouring resources into a doomed project, whether due to wishful thinking, an unwillingness to admit defeat, or sheer organizational inertia. That would have been a sign of a company in decline, heedlessly expanding for expansion’s sake. Building and releasing an Apple car that flopped would have been far more than an embarrassment. It could have been the company’s undoing.

Instead, Apple is shifting gears, redirecting resources to a software project that is far less risky and capital-intensive than actually mass-producing vehicles. It’s still risky, and it could still backfire. But at least we now know that Apple won’t be afraid to call it off if it isn’t working.

In the technology industry, staying on top can be almost as hard as getting there. History teaches us that even the greatest companies eventually lose their way by becoming complacent and missing big trends, or by overextending themselves and losing focus. The car project, from what we know, shows Apple remaining vigilant to both fates. Project Titan may have failed, at least on the hardware side. But, to borrow a Silicon Valley cliche: At least it failed fast.

Oct. 17 2016 4:38 PM

Will Technology Make Ownership Obsolete?

Why own anything when you can access everything? That’s the promise of the emerging subscription-based and shared-economy business models enabled by information technologies. Whether you are in the market for software, a private jet, office space, a prom dress, the latest Star Wars movie, or Spanish rock, you can find a company offering access to it. No need to buy, or even lease long-term.

This smorgasbord approach to life expands our choices and increases the efficient use of resources. If ride-sharing/self-driving car enthusiasts have their way in the long term, for instance, none of us will need private garages, and our cities won’t need to waste valuable space on parking.

But before we get too utopian about this improbable capitalist leap into a post-ownership society, some important concerns need addressing. What if some of us still want to own our music? And shouldn’t we retain the right to tinker and adapt our goods (like our phones or the software that is about to take control over your refrigerator) as we please?  What will happen to copyright law, intellectual property, and the concept that ideas can be owned?

Join Future Tense on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at noon in Washington, D.C., to consider how technology is transforming the concept of ownership. The agenda is below; for more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.

12:15 p.m.: Why Own Anything When You Can Access Everything?

Lauren Belive
Senior federal government relations manager, Lyft

Susan Lund
Partner, McKinsey Global Institute

Holly Maine
Senior director of sales, Spotify

Will Oremus
Senior technology writer, Slate

12:50 p.m.: The Post-Ownership Society

Monica Potts
New America fellow

1 p.m.: The Illusion Of Ownership

Charles Duan
Director, Patent Reform Project at Public Knowledge

Patrick Ross
Chief communications officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Jenna McLaughlin
Reporter, the Intercept

Oct. 14 2016 5:13 PM

Google News Is Adding a “Fact-Check” Tag. Good Timing.

In a U.S. election cycle that has stoked unprecedented demand for fact-checking, Google is taking a step to highlight news stories that perform that sober task. The company announced Friday that it has added a new “Fact check” tag to Google News, which it will apply to stories from select outlets that follow a specific protocol to label them as such. The tag will join an array of others that Google already uses to highlight certain types of articles, including "in-depth," "highly cited," and "local source."

To be clear, Google itself will not be fact-checking anything, except perhaps the qualifications of publications that would like to make their stories eligible for the tag. To do so, they'll have to demonstrate that they're nonpartisan and that their reporting follows fact-checking conventions, such as clearly identifying the claims that they're checking and checking multiple claims in the same article. Eligible stories will also need to be tagged using a markup called ClaimReview. As of now, fewer than 10 websites are using that markup, according to schema.org.

Google seems to have a somewhat narrow view of fact-checking journalism, one that defines it by form as much as by function. It will likely leave out plenty of stories that could merit the tag, while including some others that might not. At least at first, it seems to be surfacing stories mainly from dedicated fact-checking organizations, such as Politifact, rather than articles from mainstream news organizations. Still, it's nice to see one of the big tech companies taking seriously its role as a major destination for news- and information-seekers. Facebook, cowed by claims of editorial bias, recently laid off the team of human editors responsible for its trending news section and stripped their replacements of most editorial oversight responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, the result has been a plague of fake news stories and conspiracy theories in the section, even as Facebook has been working harder to combat such content in its main news feed.

The likes of Google and Facebook will never be able to filter out all factually questionable content from their feeds or search results, nor should that be their role. But their algorithms are not neutral, and they have the power to misinform as well as to inform. Taking simple steps to make it easier for people to find more carefully vetted material is a nice acknowledgement that they have a responsibility to do a little more of the former.

Oct. 14 2016 3:34 PM

Cards Against Humanity Funded This Amazing Anti-Trump Billboard

If you don’t play the Blizzard Entertainment team-shooter multiplayer game Overwatch, this Florida billboard is probably baffling. But if you do, this is a clever and incisive critique of Donald Trump’s temperament. (Maybe you don’t need another one, but it’s still nice to have.)

Here’s the billboard, which sits on the corner of North Alafaya Drive and Colonial Drive (Florida State Route 50) in the University of Central Florida’s campus, again from a better angle:*

Let me explain. It refers to Hanzo Shimada, a character in Overwatch who is a Japanese archer-slash-assassin with ties to a criminal dynasty. He’s a super #edgy loner with this tortured backstory that peaks when he causes the apparent death of his own brother. It’s a really sad story, I promise. There’s even a great animated short about it.

Overwatch requires players to pick a character and then carry out an objective with their team to win. Some of the options are great all-purpose characters, useful in many situations. But Hanzo, who fires arrows, is hard to use and not always relevant. Players who “main” Hanzo use him as often as possible, even if the situation doesn’t necessarily call for a Japanese assassin who fires arrows. When (not if) things go wrong, and if that player is a jerk, he will blame the whole team, even though he picked the wrong person to begin with.

Melissa Harris, spokeswoman for the Nuisance Committee, said the billboard was installed between Thursday and Friday and will stay up until Election Day.

“We're trying to remind college students, young people, gamers that they need to stand up and be counted,” Harris wrote via email. “And this is the it game right now.”*

The ad also directs people to TrumpIsNotATeamPlayer.com, which calls out the various ways Donald Trump is unfit to be president—while also superimposing his face on other characters from Overwatch.

“Donald Trump has no regard for the American democratic process,” the website reads, “and has said that if he loses the election, it’s because the system is rigged against him.”

Harris identified the Chicago-based Daniel Warren Johnson as the campaign’s illustrator and Lindsey Camelio as its designer.*

Even if you don’t play Overwatch, or any video games, you’re familiar with That Person. You know, the one who doesn’t usually have anything useful to contribute, picks fights, and is generally the most inflexible and infuriating individual around. Donald Trump is That Person, and he is running for president.

It’s kind of like this video by Rundle67:

This billboard was paid for by the super PAC Nuisance Committee, which is also behind an anti-Trump billboard in Illinois that directed people to TrumpDoesntPayTaxes.com. And who is behind the Nuisance Committee? Why, it’s the creators of Cards Against Humanity. The company launched campaign-themed card packs earlier this year with the promise to split the promotion’s proceeds between “direct, legal contributions to Hillary Clinton’s PAC, contributions to groups opposing Trump, and get out the vote programs in swing states.”

*Update, Oct. 14, 2016, 5:15 p.m.: This post has been updated with information from Nuisance Committee spokeswoman Melissa Harris.

Oct. 13 2016 12:10 PM

Netizen Report: Brazilians Find the Limits of Free Speech on Facebook

GVA logo

The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Oiwan Lam, Leila Nachawati, Taisa Sganzerla, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Tensions between citizens and public officials in Brazil are running high this week, with the country’s uniquely restrictive defamation laws being put to the test on Facebook.

On Oct. 10, a judge ordered a nationwide block on Facebook over a page that made fun of Mayor Udo Dohler, who is running for re-election in Joinville, a city in the state of Santa Catarina. The court ruling states that the content was “clearly created to offend the candidate as its publications, despite containing a certain dose of humour, include constant attacks and aggressions against the candidate.” The ruling also demanded that Facebook reveal the IP address of the page’s administrator and provide Dohler with the right to respond to the content.

The ruling appears to contradict Brazilian electoral legislation that protects attributed online expression during the electoral period (anonymous speech is forbidden in Brazil). While the law also protects the target’s right of response, it is not clear how this right could be infringed within an online platform like Facebook, where the right to comment is built into the system. The same law also provides a penalty for whoever hosts the offensive content.

Facebook’s press office told Brazilian media outlets that it complied with the decision to remove the page within the deadline, and thus should not be penalized by blocking or a fine. Anatel, Brazil’s telecommunications regulator, did not comment on the decision.

A new page with the same title was created promptly and now has a little more than 200 followers.

In another example, Brazilian actress and TV presenter Mônica Iozzi was ordered to pay about $10,000 for posting on Instagram a photo of Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes with the word “accomplice” in capital letters beside his image. Iozzi was referring to the case of former fertility doctor Roger Abdelmassih, who was convicted on rape and sexual abuse charges involving at least 37 female patients at his clinic between 1995 and 2008. Abdelmassih was originally arrested in 2009 and held in pre-trial detention for four months until Justice Mendes granted him habeas corpus. Despite being convicted of the charges soon after, the court allowed him to remain free while he prepared an appeal. He then fled to Paraguay, where he remained until being apprehended and extradited.

Mendes argued that the photo damaged his public image by implying he was an accomplice to criminal practices. The court, which ruled in his favor, stated that Iozzi “overstepped her right to freedom of expression.”

Ethiopia’s mobile internet shutdown enters week two
Ethiopian authorities have shut down mobile internet services in the face of increasingly violent protests and a recently declared state of emergency. The blackout may be helping to diminish news coverage and international awareness of the protests, which oppose the expansion of the capital city into the minority region of Oromia. Ethiopian digital media expert Endalk Chala writes that “those close to the situation fear this may be the beginning of a dangerous new phase after 12 months of protests.”

Messaging apps go dark, just when Yemen needs them most
WhatsApp has been inaccessible in Yemen for several days. According to user reports, the messaging app first reported interruptions in service Oct. 5, which mobile service provider Yemen Mobile attributed to “technical” issues, though local experts fear it may be intentional. Facebook’s app has also been working off and on over the past several days. In the wake of the Oct. 8 airstrikes that killed at least 140 people, blocks on basic communication platforms are even more problematic, as they make it difficult for families seeking to communicate and account for one another’s safety.

Is “Consensus” no longer politically correct in China?
The Chinese website Consensus, a Communist Party–associated platform for writers and researchers to discuss sensitive issues of social and political development in China, was shuttered Oct. 1 following a government ruling that it was “transmitting incorrect ideas.”

Watchdog website goes down in Zambia
Opposition news website the Zambian Watchdog has been offline since late September. The website and its Facebook page both shut down Sept. 21, and a week later armed state agents raided web hosting company Hai Telecommunications searching for the website’s servers. While also known for controversial and sensational reporting, the Watchdog has a long record of conducting investigations critical of Patriotic Front party officials, who have in turn threatened to arrest Watchdog journalists and shut down the website. The site has been intermittently inaccessible in Zambia since 2012, and has used Facebook as a secondary platform to disseminate news during periods of shutdown.

Egyptian TV director faces insult accusations over Facebook posts
Ali Abo Hemela, director of the Egyptian TV station Nile Drama, is facing accusations of insulting the president over Facebook posts from earlier this year. In the posts, Abo Hemela commented on a government agreement transferring the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, saying that whoever relinquishes the islands is a traitor.

Indonesia targets cyberbullies with new law
Proposed amendments to Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transactions Law to criminalize cyberbullying may be used to stifle legitimate dissent, according to free speech advocates in the country. Though the revisions would soften the penalties for defamation under the law, these changes may be countered by the introduction of new punishments for cyberbullying.

The police are watching Facebook watching you
According to research by the American Civil Liberties Union, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all provided access to public user data to a company called Geofeedia, which markets social media monitoring services to law enforcement agencies seeking to keep tabs on criminal activity online—and on activists and protesters. After the American Civil Liberties Union put forth documents revealing the nature of law enforcement agreements with Geofeedia, both Facebook and Instagram cut off the company’s access to their data. Twitter has taken steps to limit the company’s access but has not altogether ended the data-sharing relationship. At the moment, neither Facebook nor Instagram has a policy that prohibits developing tools to access user data for the purpose of surveillance, according to the ACLU. It is unclear whether and how these data-sharing agreements may have affected social media users, both within and outside the United States.

Saudis boycott mobile services, demanding renewed access to VoIP apps
During the first week of October, Saudi netizens staged a week-long boycott of mobile operators in protest of poor service and the blocking of applications that use voice-over-internet protocol. Participants were asked to stop using the mobile networks for three hours every day by switching their phones into flight mode from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saudi Arabia blocks several voice-calling applications including Viber, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Whatsapp.

New Research

Oct. 12 2016 4:19 PM

Assault With a Deadly Tweet?

Social media has raised tricky questions that judges are beginning to try to answer. It’s been found possible to violate a restraining order by becoming an unwanted Instagram follower, or liking or tagging a Facebook post. In another instance, an American plaintiff was permitted to serve notice of a lawsuit against a foreign defendant through a tweet.

But what about crimes of violence? Could someone commit criminal assault with a tweet? The question arises in the recent discussion by journalist Kurt Eichenwald of the Twitter threats he has received from Trump supporters. After Newsweek published his story investigating the complicated relationships the Trump Organization holds with foreign governments and business interests, Eichenwald received numerous responses on Twitter, many of them not only critical but threatening. One stood out, leading Eichenwald to write a new article. The tweet (since deleted) referred to Eichenwald’s epilepsy and included an embedded video. When Eichenwald played the video, he writes, he instantly identified it—complete with flashing lights and images—as an epileptogenic, or seizure-triggering, video. He dropped his iPad as soon as he recognized the video’s characteristics.

Trump supporters have sent death threats, mockery, and anti-Semitic imagery to journalists asking questions about Donald Trump’s finances, taxes, charitable giving, and ties abroad. The First Amendment doesn’t apply to Twitter, a private company, but many of these disturbing tweets could be analogized to protected hate speech. (And “true threats” can nonetheless be prohibited under the First Amendment.) Nearly all of them probably violate Twitter’s own terms of service.

In the case of the epilepsy triggering video, however, the person who trolled Kurt Eichenwald may have committed criminal assault.

In the physical world, most states define the crime of assault as either 1) the attempt to commit a battery (an unlawful application of force to another person), or 2) the intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm. If A points a loaded gun at B, that qualifies as a criminal assault under the first definition. If A points an unloaded gun at B and succeeds in convincing B that he is about to be shot, that is also an assault under the second definition. Mere words, such as a verbal threat alone, usually do not constitute a criminal assault. But words by themselves can be a weapon in the right circumstances. In one influential legal commentator’s example, if A tells B, a blind person who is walking to a cliff’s edge, to “keep going” and B nearly falls over the edge, that’s an assault.

The Trump troll did more than send a verbal threat. The seizure-causing nature of the embedded video seems to have been intentional, not accidental. When reports surfaced in the 1990s that some video games with flashing lights were triggering seizures, no one suggested that these videos were intentionally designed to do so. But this is different: Eichenwald has been open about his epilepsy, and the tweet appears to have been intended specifically for him to view rather than a general tweet complaining about him. The tweet no longer exists, but Eichenwald’s statement that he “received” the tweet suggests it was posted to his @kurteichenwald Twitter handle. The entire point of the tweet, it seems, was either to cause harm to Eichenwald or to make him fearful. Whether Eichenwald actually suffered a seizure—which doesn’t seem to be the case—is irrelevant.

Had this Twitter troll walked up to Eichenwald and pointed what appeared to be a loaded gun at the journalist, most would agree that the troll would be guilty of assault. Had the troll walked up to Eichenwald and surprised him with a tablet displaying the video, the result would likely be the same. After all, not all weapons are guns. It’s the same thing with the tweet—the distance does not change the analysis. For instance, the intentional hacking of a networked connected medical device, like an insulin pump, resulting in a person’s death would be criminal homicide even if the perpetrator were hundreds of miles away.

Finally, a separate question raised by Eichenwald’s troll is whether Twitter itself faces any potential liability. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides broad protection from civil liability to online intermediaries for the content posted by third parties. Specifically, Section 230 states that no “provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Such legal protections permit services like Facebook, Twitter, and Craigslist to avoid being shut down for any of its user-generated content. That protection, of course, doesn’t free influential platforms like Facebook or Twitter from social and political pressures to protect its members from abusive or intimidating comments.

What is clear, however, is that the existing tools of criminal law probably do address a tweet likely intended to harm its recipient or to create a reasonable apprehension of fear in him. That doesn’t speak to the likelihood of prosecuting the troll, which may be low. But it does mean that the law continues to be flexible enough to identify social harms that seem novel but harm people in familiar ways, whether it’s murder by a hacked driverless car, or assault by tweet.

Oct. 12 2016 3:16 PM

Rejoice! The iPhone Just Became a Little More Accessible to the Left-Handed.

The life of a lefty is riddled with inconveniences and obstacles. We jam our thumbs into right-handed scissors, hang our elbows off of those annoying right-handed desks in lecture halls, and bruise our hands on spiral notebooks. Simply writing leaves ink or graphite smeared down the sides of our left hands and up our forearms. In sixth grade, my violin teacher essentially told me to “get over it” when I struggled to play the instrument with my right hand. “Typical Americans,” he told my mom. “Reinvent the violin for my left-handed child!” (One in 10 people is left-handed, but half of U.S. presidents since the end of World War II have been lefties. No word on how many of those left-handed presidents played the violin.)

Alas, the world is made for the right-handed majority, and we elite 10 percent accept our sad fate, dreaming of the Leftorium. But lefties, rejoice! We can now more easily use our iPhones with our left hands. Because now, we no longer have to slide to unlock.

One of the many major changes that came with downloading Apple’s iOS 10 was the elimination of the slide-to-unlock function. Now, iPhone users simply push the home button to unlock the phone and travel to the home screen.