Why the Internet Turned Against a Bullied Kid
On the internet, even compassion is a blood sport.
You’ve probably already seen the video that Keaton Jones’ mother uploaded to Facebook last Friday. In it, the Tennessee boy speaks directly to the camera she's wielding, explaining that a group of other boys had called him ugly and poured milk on him. “What’s the point of it? Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean them?” Jones asks, seemingly choking back tears. “People that are different don’t need to be criticized about it.”
Almost as one, the denizens of the social web spoke up on Jones’ behalf, outrage mingling with empathy. “I hope those who bullied him get what’s coming to them,” wrote the author of a viral tweet about the video. Many found other ways to dramatize their sympathy: The actor Chris Evans invited Jones to join him at a movie premiere, and other celebrities made similar overtures. A GoFundMe user named Joseph Lam created a campaign to raise money for the Jones family. Apart from a quotation attributed to Ronald Reagan—“We cant [sic] help everyone but everyone can help someone”—Lam offered no explanation as to why the family might need money. Nevertheless, the effort raised almost $57,000 in just two days.
Fast as support for Jones came, the backlash quickly outpaced it. Some called attention to social media posts in which Jones and his family members appeared to pose with confederate flags. While many of those posts would eventually prove fake, Jones’ mother Kimberly confirmed that a few of the images were real. Meanwhile, other scammers and impersonators attempted to capitalize on the Jones’ sudden fame, soliciting PayPal donations and creating alternate GoFundMe pages. As the controversy grew, Lam paused his own campaign, writing in an update, “ Im [sic] in touch with [GoFundMe] on how to proceed at this point.”
In retrospect, it’s tempting to be cynical about the video itself: Why, one might ask, is this sobbing child’s caregiver filming his sorrow instead of comforting him? Was the family intentionally pursuing viral fame, perhaps? Keaton Jones, for what it’s worth, has claimed that the video was his own idea. Perhaps more significantly, his mother’s confederate flag photo suggests that she lacked the social media savvy to anticipate how others might respond to anything she posted. The video seems real enough, then, even if the early enthusiasm was overzealous.
There is, however, something striking about Kimberly Jones’ response to the controversy. By way of explanation for those troubling photos, she offered CBS News the wan defense that her confederate flag images were “meant to be ironic and funny,” a claim that demonstrates a flexible understanding of both irony and humor. Tellingly, she went on to propose that she had been victimized in the past: “I’ve said I’ve spent most of my life being bullied and judged because I wasn’t racist,” she told CBS’s Mark Strassmann.
Here, “bullied” becomes a word to summon by, an abstract signifier of one’s own goodness, all but detached from both the experience of individual pain and the fact of systematic oppression. Kimberly Jones effectively parasitizes her son’s testimony, attempting to tap our residual reserves of goodwill. There are echoes here of Melania Trump’s tone deaf condemnation of bullying, a campaign that suggests she has never met her husband. Like the first lady, mère Jones seems to believe that merely alluding to bullying can shut down an unpleasant conversation. This is their syllogism: Bullying is bad. I condemn bullying. Therefore I must be good.
They are not entirely wrong to come to this conclusion, however dubious the underlying logic. Those of us who live on the internet agree about few things, but none of us (OK, almost none of us) are likely to argue in favor of bullying, even when we perpetrate it ourselves. There’s a certain relief to this premise, promising as it does that we can, at least, all get angry about the same thing once in a while. Surely this feeling of collectivity drove the Jones video’s initial popularity. In a fragmented moment, what could be more pleasant than circling the wagons around a beleaguered child?
If the story has taken a grim turn, however, a deeper current of virtual congruence may be at fault: our collective expectation that everything we love online will turn bad. In some circles, the phenomenon is known as Milkshake Duck-ing, after a joke by weird Twitter personality Pixelatedboat. Our faves, we have learned to believe, will inevitably turn problematic, souring faster than milk left out on the counter. Skepticism is not the inverse of enthusiasm so much as its louder echo. It’s not that we can’t let good things be good, just that we can’t stop ourselves from identifying how they are also bad. At core, we do it for the same reason we hate bullies: If we’re going to ensure that we’re in the right, it’s safest to assume that everything is wrong.
Millions of Individual Asian Investors Are Reportedly Driving Bitcoin's Rise
A piece from the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday posited that, based on trading volumes, millions of investors in Asia are the impetus for Bitcoin’s startling rise this year. Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam were responsible for almost 80% of the trading activity worldwide by the end of November, according a research firm cited by the Journal called CryptoCompare.
How Much Are People Willing to Risk to Buy Bitcoin?
With the price of bitcoin skyrocketing by more than 1,000 percent since January, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange and CME Group giving a vote of confidence by offering bitcoin futures, many are scrambling to get in on the action. But just how much are they willing to risk?
There’s plenty of signs the surge is real. The app for Coinbase, the largest U.S.-based bitcoin exchange, was the most downloaded on Apple’s charts last Thursday. It was installed more than 575,000 times in the beginning of December, and the record-high influx of new users has caused issues with logins and other functions of the service. CNBC also noted that the Google search term “buy bitcoin with a credit card” is around its historic peak. Given all the news coverage lately—and bitcoin’s crazy run last week—it’s not surprising.
According to Joseph Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, the growth has reached the point that people are taking out equity lines and mortgages to buy the volatile cryptocurrency.
Regulators are trying to discourage people from making such a risky move with their personal finances. As Borg told CNBC, “This is not something a guy who's making $100,000 a year, who's got a mortgage and two kids in college ought to be invested in.”
Other prominent figures in the cryptocurrency and financial advice fields are offering similar warnings. Michelle Singletary, a personal finance columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a piece on Monday entitled “Should you invest in bitcoins for retirement? Only if you think riding a roller coaster without a safety harness is a good idea.” She further made the point that trading bitcoin is “more akin to gambling than investing” and recommended that people only engage in the cryptocurrency markets with money they can afford to lose.
Erik Voorhees, CEO of a cryptocurrency exchange called ShapeShift, also tweeted, “If you have a lot of crypto, and also significant debt, strongly consider selling some crypto at these all-time highs and paying down debt (completely if possible). Corollary: don't go into debt to buy crypto at these prices.” And Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, also issued a warning to investors last week in a Medium post that read, in part, “We also wanted to remind customers of some of the risks associated with trading digital currency. Digital currencies are volatile and the prices can go up and down.”
For all the news of its rise, bitcoin is no stranger to precipitous drops—the price fell on multiple occasions by thousands of dollars last week. Predictions that the rapidly rising prices are indicative of a bubble that will soon burst, and the possibility of calamitous hacks, are all concerns to keep an eye on before heavily investing in the cryptocurrency.
All the Ways the FCC’s Process for Killing Net Neutrality Has Been Really Shady
There are only three days left until the Federal Communications Commission votes on whether to repeal its network neutrality protections, the Obama-era rules that prevent internet providers from blocking and throttling connections to the internet or charging websites to access users. The FCC is currently majority-Republican and the agency is expected to vote for the repeal, meaning that by as early as January 2018, the net neutrality rules will be off the books and internet providers could start to charge websites for faster lanes or discriminate against content vis-à-vis connection speeds however they please.
When the FCC creates rules, it seeks comments from the public. The comment period on the network neutrality proceeding, proposed by Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Aji Pai, has amassed more public input than any policy in the agency’s history, with about 22 million comments submitted. But this process has been dogged by seriously troubling irregularities. Though there have been calls for the process to be delayed as a result—including from one of the FCC’s Democratic commissioners—“the vote will take place as scheduled,” an FCC spokesperson told Slate in an email. “The Commission sought comment on these issues months ago and has carefully reviewed the facts and the law.”
That may be true, but the docket where the FCC has solicited public input has been saturated with fraudulent comments in favor of repeal—from bots, Russian email addresses, stolen identities, and even dead people. There was also a cyberattack on the comment system, an incident currently under investigation by the Office of Government Affairs. Someone, or maybe several someones, really wants net neutrality gone, and has gone to great and shady lengths to push along its demise.
The net neutrality repeal process has been so fraught, however, that it’s been hard to keep up with the running list of snafus and trickery. So here it is:
- In May, the names people who recently died were found to have commented posthumously in favor of the FCC’s plan to repeal the network neutrality rules.
- 444,938 of the comments came from Russian email addresses, and 1.74 million comments in total came from outside the U.S. Only 25 of those emails from outside the U.S. were in favor of keeping the net neutrality rules.
- Thousands of comments from stolen identities have plagued the FCC’s system, which New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office helped uncover with an investigation and an online tool with which people can check to see if a comment was submitted under their name.
- Many people’s names appeared thousands of times in the FCC’s net neutrality docket, and 94 percent of the comments appeared to be duplicates and were submitted multiple times.
- In May, the FCC said its comment system went down due to “deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic,” an attack often referred to as a DDoS attack, which the Government Accountability Office is now investigating. According to a letter from two members of Congress who called for the investigation, the FCC hasn’t “released any records or documentation that would allow for conﬁrmation that an attack occurred.”
The public comment window is a critical part of how federal agencies ensure they’re acting in the interest of the public. Without a fair and reliable way for people across the country to engage in how the FCC crafts its federal policies, the only ones who would get a chance to have a say would likely be corporate lobbyists, legislators and bureaucrats, and professional advocates. Thousands of polices are promulgated each year through regulatory agencies, which are much more productive at policymaking than Congress, and the public comment process is the primary way people who are impacted by these rules can engage in the conversation before policies are finalized.
The fact that the FCC is moving forward with its vote to rescind the network neutrality rules despite a seriously troubled public comment period sets a dangerous precedent for federal rulemaking in general. Other agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration or Environmental Protection Agency, could follow the FCC’s lead and move forward with even more sweeping rule changes without a fair public comment process. And federal agencies, which are not governed by elected officials but rather appointees, could lose one of their core conduits for communicating with the American public. And that means the fallout from moving forward with Pai’s proposal, without pressing pause to make sure the public has had a fair turn at getting to voice their concern over or support for changing the open internet rules, could box Americans out of an important corner of democratic life.
You Can Now Buy Bitcoin Futures. Does That Make It Any Less Sketchy?
If you’re tired of people calling your Bitcoin fixation sketchy, you now have a very good counterargument. The Chicago Board Options Exchange became the first traditional exchange to offer bitcoin futures on Sunday, allowing investors to bet on changes to the cryptocurrency’s price, which is a landmark for its legitimacy as a currency. CME Group, another options and futures exchange, also plans to launch Bitcoin futures next week. According to the Wall Street Journal, CBOE’s futures contracts opened at $15,000 and rose 11 percent within the first six minutes of trading to $16,660. Investors exchanged around 1,000 futures in the next three hours, and prices shot up 26 percent in total by the time this first trading session had ended. The price of Bitcoin itself skyrocketed by more than $1,000 on Sunday in the first 10 minutes of futures trading. On Monday morning it had reached a high of around $16,700—another peak in what has been a dramatic year for the currency.
The Complicated Etiquette of Bringing Home a Smart Speaker
On the scale between unbridled enthusiasm for smart speakers and technophobic paranoia, I fall in the ambivalent middle area. I’d read about the potential for these devices to be hacked or gamed by advertisers or to simply make expensive mistakes, and I’d heard others gush of the ways it had radically transformed their homes for the better. But I had never pictured myself having one, and so I didn’t do any real research or form any real opinions.
But on one evening in May, I found myself unwrapping a brand-new Amazon Echo, a startlingly generous grad school graduation gift from a family friend whom I had not seen in years. Once I overcame the discomfort of receiving such an expensive gift, I started imagining it as a kitchen aid, handling timers and music and recipe questions as I chopped vegetables. Cooking would become so stress-free, I thought. I carried it, still in its box, upstairs to the living room, where two of my roommates were watching a movie. I expected them to be excited. “Look what we got,” I said.
They were not excited. It was creepy, they said. They didn’t want something in the house that could spy on them. I feebly tried to argue that their phones were likely already listening to them anyway, that it was the same technology. But they held firm.
They sensibly told me that I could place it in my bedroom. I could not see its use in a bedroom and, I have to admit, was unnerved by putting it in such a personal space. So I carried the box downstairs and slid it under my bed, where it remains, and will remain, for the foreseeable future.
I was momentarily angry, but I shouldn’t have been. They have every reason to want to feel secure in their home. But I did wonder if others had made similar miscalculations that might have blown up in more dramatic ways. I turned, of course, to the internet. The discussions on Reddit dealing with Google Home and Amazon Echo devices as they relate to roommates tend to fall into two categories: security and pranking. As far as I can tell, none attempt to parse the etiquette of bringing an always-listening device into your home.
I had a hard time reading the posts and envisioning the dynamics and conversations behind them. Did all these posters talk to their roommates about the device and its safety implications? Did they treat them as communal apartment technology, like televisions, or more like personal phones or laptops? Did they have to think about it at all? Or did they just steam ahead confident of their roommates’ approval?
A quick poll of people at work showed anecdotal evidence of gray areas and missteps. On our workplace Slack, people told stories of being convinced to accept a smart speaker, only to have the original Echo-advocate become uncomfortable with it later on. Another person mentioned a roommate who placed a Google Home in their communal living area without asking. “I’m not bothered enough to ask them to remove it,” she said.
I did find one Reddit user who sought advice about something like this a year ago. She posted that her “INCREDIBLY paranoid” roommate was threatening to move out because of her newly purchased Echo. The commenters—a small batch, admittedly—fell almost universally on the side of the roommate and argued the roommate’s right to privacy trumped the woman’s right to spend her money as she wished.
I have to agree with the commenters. The best roommate relationships are based on communication, compromise, and respect. If you’re an oboe player, you should negotiate with your roommate when, if at all, playing an instrument would be acceptable. Your musical passion likely gives you a valid stake in a discussion about your roommate’s needs for peace and quiet. But when it comes to the argument over having a smart speaker versus not having a smart speaker, the two sides are not comparable.
While the online services, platforms, and products we use every day peddle our information in ways we often find creepy and invasive, by choosing to use them we consent to give our information. We’re at least nominally controlling how we give it. By placing an Echo in your house, you’re consenting to the possibility—if unlikely—of your information being gathered at all times. If you make that decision for yourself, that’s fine. But it’s unreasonable to pressure someone into consenting, even if you think their concerns are absurd or paranoid. You must ask your roommates directly—don’t wait for a roommate to raise objections—and they must be fully on board.
If they’re fine with it, you should probably still have follow-up conversations to lay the ground rules, much as you would with throwing parties. Do you alert houseguests to the presence of a smart speaker? What rooms are you comfortable placing it in? Will you establish times or circumstances in which the device should be unplugged?
As you dive into your holiday shopping, you should also bear in mind that when you buy a smart speaker as a gift, you need to remember the home it will affect, not just its owner. Even if you’re confident your friend or loved ones would be thrilled to receive a Google Home, check first if they have roommates. If they do, you probably shouldn’t buy it for them. I appreciated such a generous gift from my family friend, but I know she would be disappointed, and likely frustrated, to know her money went toward an item boxed in with my summer clothes and old textbooks.
One day, I’ll move into a new place where I can own a cat and, hopefully, use my Echo. It might be outdated by then, but I’ll have no one to resent for that.
Report: 1,000 People Own 40 Percent of the Bitcoin Market
Two New Reports Say Microsoft Overwhelmingly Underpays Women and Stifles Their Career Advancement
Microsoft has been embroiled in a gender pay gap lawsuit for the past two years, fighting allegations that female technical employees at the company are systematically paid less than men and receive fewer opportunities for professional advancement than equally qualified male counterparts.
The plaintiffs filed to make the lawsuit a class action at the end of October and recently released two reports that detail pervasive gender-based discrimination at the $649 billion tech company. One, by Henry Farber, an economics professor at Princeton, analyzed data on more than 16,000 employees’ compensation, age, tenure, geographic location, performance ratings, and other factors between 2010 and 2016. Faber found that women in technical roles in low- to mid-level positions at Microsoft “receive lower compensation on average, than otherwise-similar men, and this difference in pay is statically significant.” Moreover, the report finds that women in mid-level jobs at Microsoft have a statistically significant lower probability of getting promoted.
The other study filed in the case, conducted by Ann Marie Ryan, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, found that Microsoft “does not provide clear, job-related guidance as to how to distinguish levels within a career stage for compensation decisions,” which opens doors for managers to make subjective, and potentially sexist, decisions about career advancement.
The discrimination lawsuit against Microsoft was originally filed in 2015 by Katie Moussouris, a noted computer security researcher who worked for Microsoft for seven years and who is known for her work launching Microsoft’s first bug bounty program in 2013. The discrimination lawsuit against Microsoft was filed months after Ellen Pao lost her lawsuit against her former employer, the storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, alleging Pao was passed over for a senior-level promotion due to her gender.
In a statement to BuzzFeed, Microsoft says that after reviewing the claims, they “strongly disagree with the contentions in the case because data and other information is mischaracterized. We are defending the case in court.”
Microsoft isn’t the only large tech company struggling with a serious gender discrimination lawsuit. Three former female employees at Google filed a lawsuit in September claiming the company "engaged in systemic and pervasive pay and promotion discrimination." On Wednesday, a judge denied them class action status on behalf of women who worked at Google for the past four years, but the plaintiffs plan to press again and file a new, amended complaint. The lawsuit points to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, which in April accused Google of systematically underpaying female employees across its entire workforce. The Labor Department also sued Oracle in January for paying white men more than others with the same job title. And in February, Tesla was sued by a female engineer, AJ Vandermeyden, who accused the company of fostering a culture of “pervasive harassment,” paying men more for the same work, and retaliating against her for speaking out. Vandermeyden described how female employees were sexually harassed and even catcalled on the factory floor.
The stretch of the West Coast between Cupertino, California, and Seattle is home to five of the most valuable companies in the world—companies that, despite their billions in cash and cadre of brilliant engineers and executives, can’t seem to figure out how to hire or treat women respectfully or equally. In 2016, Microsoft reported women make up 26 percent of its technical staff, but this year that number has dropped to 19 percent. Google counted that women make up 18 percent of its tech employees in 2015, and now, two years later that dial has only moved up two percentage points. Likewise, Apple’s technical staff was 20 percent female in 2014 and in 2017 that number has notched to 23 percent.
Only in recent years, after women started speaking out, did these companies truly start to take a hard look at trying to fix their massive gender imbalances. But their efforts might be a case of too little, too late—an issue I discussed recently with Pao. “When you start your company and you haven’t thought about these issues and you have set it up a certain way,” she told me, “it ends up becoming extremely difficult to change.”
OkCupid Users Have Long Had to Put Up With Unwanted Messages. That's About to Change.
OkCupid announced a big change to its messaging system in an email to users on Friday afternoon. Starting next week, the email said, “Only the people you like or have responded to will remain in your messages. Messages from people you're not interested in, or people you haven't liked yet, will be moved to their profile.”
This shift will bring the platform more in line with other online dating platforms, such as Tinder and Bumble, on which users can’t message one another at all until both have shown interest in the other. The new OkCupid way won’t be quite so strict—users can still send messages to whomever they want, though those messages will only appear in the recipients’ mailboxes if they indicate that they like the sender—but engineers hope it will help seed more connections while filtering out some messages that will never get a response.
Nick Saretzky, OkCupid’s head of product, says the company has been working on the change for nearly two years, inspired in part by feedback from women who were sick of getting harassed by random users or fielding messages from people they’d never want to date. When OkCupid would ask women to compare their Tinder inboxes with their OkCupid ones, Saretzky says, “It kind of felt like, ‘Why is OkCupid letting these people talk to me who I’m not interested in?’ So they get a lot of attention, but they end up having to wade through a lot of it, and they’re not happy with a lot of it.”
Meanwhile, men have told the company that their biggest gripe with OkCupid is that they send a ton of messages to women and get very few replies. Former OkCupid engineer and data scientist Dale Markowitz says one of the main problems with apps with no or low barriers to messaging, like OkCupid, is that a very small proportion of the site’s users get a very high proportion of the site’s messages. Those users are then less likely to respond to any messages, even to people they might be interested in, because they waste a lot of their time picking through random “Hi”s and “ur hot”s.
In OkCupid’s new system, users will see blue rings around the profile photos of those who’ve sent them messages and gold rings around those they’ve liked who’ve liked them back. Users who indicate that they like someone can message that person before getting a like back—and if they do, OkCupid will take that as a sign of serious interest, moving them up the recommendation feeds of the objects of their affection. The recipients will only see that message if they choose to click on it. And because eager male users—it’s almost always male users—will know that their messages won’t show up in someone’s mailbox unless that person likes them back, they may choose not to waste their time casting a too-wide net.
“We didn’t want to just go the full Tinder route and say you have to match first [before messaging], because … if someone is very sincerely interested in someone based on their profile—and we have these big, rich profiles—I think it's unfair not to let people message,” Saretzky says. “So we’re trying to strike a new balance that I don’t think anyone has hit so far.”
Markowitz says another major benefit of the new system is that it will help turn passive message-receivers into active participants. “The problem with OkCupid as opposed to Tinder, is that on Tinder, in order to participate in the ecosystem at all, you have to like people,” she says. On OkCupid, people—especially attractive women—could simply make a profile and wait for messages to roll in. These users were way less likely to find good matches on the site, because they weren’t making the effort to find the people who actually interested them. A 2016 OkCupid study of the behavior of 70,000 users found that women who initiated contact with men on the site got much higher response rates than men who did the same, and those women ended up chatting with people more attractive than the average guys who flooded their inboxes. Now, if they want to get anything in their inboxes at all, they’ll have to make a move.
It’s Been a Crazy Week in Bitcoin
Bitcoin value charts were a roller coaster this week, as the cryptocurrency broke records one moment and then fell precipitously the next. But it mostly kept climbing and climbing. As of Friday afternoon, bitcoin is up about 45 percent from Sunday morning.
Despite fears of a looming bubble burst, investors have been speculating wildly, many preparing for the Chicago Board Operations Exchange’s inauguration as the first traditional exchange to offer bitcoin futures this coming Sunday.
Here is a look back at the week in bitcoin:
It was a day of milestones as bitcoin’s value reached a record high of close to $11,800. Major outlets also began reporting that the Winklevoss twins, who famously sued Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly stealing the idea for Facebook, had become the world’s first bitcoin billionaires. They spent $11 million on the cryptocurrency in 2013, a portion of the $65 million settlement they received from the social network in 2008.
News of a coming crackdown from regulators in the European Union and United Kingdom aimed at countering the potential use of bitcoin for laundering money, evading taxes, and abetting terrorism brought the value down below $11,000.
The Security and Exchange Commission also announced charges against PlexCorps, an initial coin-offering company that manages a cryptocurrency called PlexCoin, for allegedly violating registration regulations and making unrealistic promises to investors in selling about $15 million in coins. The SEC and IRS have suggested they will be devoting more resources to monitoring cryptocurrencies and are warning investors to watch out for fraudulent offers during the craze.
Bitcoin beat its Sunday record, with its value topping $12,000, bringing the market value for the currency to around $213 billion. The Reserve Bank of India again issued a forceful warning to investors about the risks of trading the cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin’s high climbed past $14,000. But it wasn’t all positive news.
NiceHash, a service that mines bitcoins, announced that about 4,700 coins had been stolen from its digital wallet after someone hacked into its payment system, resulting in a loss of approximately $70 million. Steam, a popular game-purchasing platform, also announced that it would no longer be accepting bitcoin as payment due to high transaction fees and volatility. It once again raised the concern that bitcoin is still basically useless for making payments.
Bitcoin again broke its record, rising above $19,000, before falling more than 20 percent to about $15,000.
Coinbase, one of the most intuitive digital cryptocurrency exchanges, became the most downloaded item on Apple’s App Store chart. The app was installed more than 575,000 times in the first week of December. It was only downloaded 177,000 times in the first week of November. The influx of new users, though, caused some issues with functions such as logins. CEO Brian Armstrong warned customers that periods of high trading volume could bring more outages in the future.
Bitcoin plummeted more than $3,000 in 10 hours—from a high of about $17,000 to a low of about $14,000. By late afternoon on Friday, it had mostly hovered about $16,000. Coinbase fell down to second place on the App Store chart.
Even with the drops, early adopters are still in strong position—bitcoin was worth less than $1,000 in January—as long as they still have their passwords.