Greetings, Future Tensers,
Nine months since the U.S. presidential election, Facebook is still in the early stages of coming to terms with its political influence. As part of its ambitions to create a platform that goes beyond connecting friends and family, it has unveiled new features aimed at connecting government representatives to the citizens they’re elected to serve. But Faine Greenwood questions whether we can trust a social media network’s attempts to better our representative government. She writes, “Not only is it unclear whether these tools will actually foster meaningful engagement, it’s also questionable whether private companies like Facebook—even if they’re well-meaning—should be trusted to keep democracies’ best interests at heart.”
Relatedly, Will Oremus took stock of Facebook’s most recent attempts to combat fake news—a major problem during the presidential campaign, of course. He points out that the company no longer uses the term “fake news” in press releases. Facebook has also launched a “Related Articles” feature to the news feed as a way to give users “easier access to additional perspectives and information, including articles by third-party fact checkers.”
While Facebook wants to bring some tech to government, government was thinking about tech this past week. The Senate is considering (surprisingly) sensible security legislation for internet of things devices. In more concerning news, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is investigating the potential to use predictive policing technology—which critics say depends on biased data—in its new “extreme vetting” program.
Other things we read this week while trying to figure out why our stash of bitcoin doubled last week:
- Coding boot camps: Although coding boot camps were supposed to be the next big thing in higher education, the recent closures of two high-profile camps reveals the industry is struggling to find a sustainable business model.
- Wacky neural networks: Jacob Brogan talks with Janelle Shane about how (and why) she teaches neural networks to name craft beers and come up with knock-knock jokes.
- Paper technology: Rachel Adler chronicles how improvements made to the printing press and the manufacturing of paper contributed to major societal changes in the 19th century and heralded the beginnings of mass media.
- Sex-trafficking bill: Members of Congress have introduced a bill that would make it easier to punish online service providers when criminals use their services for sex trafficking. But Mike Godwin says that the bill, as currently written, could threaten internet freedom and innovation.
- Religious apps: Aneesa Bodiat explores the benefits and pitfalls of using new technology to satisfy spiritual and religious needs.
For Future Tense