Links on the Margins — August 12

Baking Bread in Lyon, GaryVee, Q, and TikTok

Hey there! Can here.

This week again we have a great selection of links for you, ranging all the way from, you guessed it, TikTok to, bet you did not see it coming, GaryVee. But there are also pieces on Q, conning a law professor, baking bread in Lyon, and everyone’s favorite snoop, Palantir.

I hope all of you are staying healthy, doing your best to keep your sanity intact as the prospect of another corona winter looms closer. I am. Trying, at least. With that, I present thee the links of the week!

Can’s Links

Banning TikTok: Are We Reproducing the Chinese Internet in America?

BIG by Matt Stoller

There’s been a lot of discussion about Trump banning, or whatever that means, TikTok. Especially, the Sarah Jeong piece on Verge has ruffled quite a bit of feathers, with people arguing it was unfairly equivocating the Chinese authoritarianism with America’s slide into it. In the midst of such heavy conversations, it’s easy to lose track of what is actually happening. I thought this piece by Matt Stoller was one of the most sober and informative pieces on what is going on. My co-host Ranjan predicted this TikTok brouhaha more than a year ago, and recently Adam Conner of Center for American Progress also wrote about the complicated love/hate relationship of Facebook and TikTok for Margins, so you could say this is near and to our hearts.

Does Trump have the legal authority to do this?

Yes. The legal authority he’s using is under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which is the descendent of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, and that’s the bill FDR used to get the United States off the gold standard when he responded to the Great Depression. The law allows the President to declare an emergency and then and block any transaction based on regulations promulgated by his administration. It has teeth, a fine of $250k plus 20 years in jail for violating the regulations he puts in place. In this case, Trump has used another authority to delegate the rule-making over the ban to the Commerce Department.

Trump Disputing Election A Worry For Facebook Employees

Buzzfeed News

We talked last week’s Links series about how Facebook has long lost its impenetrable Fort Knox status for leaks due to employee’s general distrust of its management. And here’s another banger from the folks at Buzzfeed. The piece claims that Facebook has reprimanded an employee by firing them after he has collected evidence on executives like Joel Kaplan occasionally interjecting himself in content moderation issues affecting conservatives. I’m on record that Zuckerberg wants to be the American oligarch, and this stuff just validates my beliefs further. Or maybe I am radicalizing myself, who knows?

News of his firing caused some Facebook employees to say that they now fear speaking critically about the company in internal discussions. One person said they were deleting old posts and comments, while another said this was “hardly the first time the respectful workplace guidelines have been used to snipe a prominent critic of company policies/ethics.”

Baking Bread in Lyon

New Yorker

Who among us has not dreamed of just giving it all up and moving to a quaint small European town, doing nothing but, say, baking bread? I assume most people who live in those quaint towns to begin with, but alas, it does sound attractive. Maybe more so now than ever. Obviously, nothing ever works out the way you planned and that’s sort of the idea. This was a wonderful read, which Ranjan originally shared on his Twitter but I’m taking the liberty to put it here.

Is Bruce Hay the Most Gullible Man in Cambridge?

The Cut (2019)

There was a brief period, when I was a small kid, that I wanted to be a con man. For the awkward nerd I was, the idea of being able to convince someone of something outrageous held a weird allure that I think very few could ever possess. I grew out of that career path (or did I?) but the fascination remains. But man, there are con men (con people?) and there are con men who can con a Harvard law professor so, so blatantly. This is not new piece, but one I think of often.

But they would stay in touch. Over the next four years, the law professor would be drawn into a “campaign of fraud, extortion, and false accusations,” as one of his lawyers would later say in legal proceedings. At one point, Hay’s family would be left suddenly homeless. At another, owing to what his lawyer has described as the “weaponiz[ation] of the university’s Title IX machinery against Hay,” he would find himself indefinitely suspended from his job. He would accrue over $300,000 in legal bills with no end to the litigation in sight. “Maria-Pia and Mischa want money,” Hay told me last summer, “but only for the sake of squeezing it out of people — it’s the exertion of power.”

Ranjan’s Links

Is QAnon the Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory of the 21st Century?

The New York Times

I went down a bit of a QAnon reading hole recently. Perhaps that is what they/it want me to do and I’m getting red-pilled in Instapaper, but I’m trying to just get some understanding of what the hell “it” is. This Charlie Warzel piece was really good about the elements of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG for short, and something I had never heard of) play out in the world of Q:

“This is Not a Game” is the idea that the game is more enjoyable for players if we try and avoid breaking the suspension of disbelief as much as possible. This came to the fore with a game called, The Beast. Microsoft was behind it but nobody knew for a long time in. It started with a cryptic message on a movie poster, which, if you Googled it, led you a fake blog, which led to other websites and email addresses and more. Those playing knew it wasn’t real but the design made every effort to seem like it was.

The weirdest part is, there are a lot of incredible elements of content strategy in this; it’s like a crazyperson conversion funnel. Maybe I’ll start pitching clients on Q case studies.

GaryVee Is Still Preaching the Hustle Gospel in the Middle of a Pandemic

Marker, a Medium Publication

Click. Just trust me. (Yes, trust him —Can)

An amazing Business Insider story on Palantir

Business Insider [Subscription Required]

Three notes: 

  • I simplified the headline for this article because I hate Business Insider headlines

  • The story is paywalled behind their BI Prime subscription (I pay for it for work reasons!)

  • Business Insider is a complicated media beast, but man, they really put out some amazing stuff that stays quiet with the hard paywall.

What I loved about this piece was the idea that Palantir has used it’s evil mad scientist persona more as a marketing tool for a successful custom data solutions business:

Despite the cloak-and-dagger image, most of Palantir's work is mundane enterprise technology contracting that is more Bill Gates than Lisbeth Salander. What began at the turn of the century as a private venture-backed magical spy outfit will finally hit the public markets later this year as a glorified human-resources vendor.

"I honestly think it's more boring than people think," one former employee told Business Insider. "There was always a secretive mystique about the company, but the reality is they were basically competing in the enterprise software space."

I hadn’t been reading much about the company, but am now eagerly anticipating their prospectus which should be landing soon.

Exchanges at Goldman Sachs: SPACs

Goldman Sachs

These Goldman podcasts, for corporate content, are quite good. I was excited to listen to this one to try to get a better understanding of SPACs. There has to be something more than they’re just a financial instrument that allows private companies to access public capital while avoiding all of the oversight that normally accompanies that privilege.

But even the entire pitch, from the MD who advises on SPACs, is about how SPACs are good for “High-growth companies with long-term stories” (i.e. won’t be profitable soon). Also, a benefit is that in SPAC marketing you can use forward projections, which is a limitation in an S-1, where you have to….show performance. 

The IPO process could certainly use a tune-up, but I was really hoping I’d walk away from this thinking it was something more than a financial hack.