Links on the Margins - June 17th, 2020
Jon Stewart, Section 230,
In this week’s Links on the Margins, I was incredibly excited to see “the return” of Jon Stewart, try to better understand Section 230, discover the marketing term B2R2C, and wonder if Snap’s new Mini-apps can make a dent in the Facebook empire.
My co-host Can explores gun control and policing, white privilege, the classic Adam Serwer piece about “The Cruelty”, and……Woody Allen. One quick note - Can references a long-ago mugging, which, to the unfamiliar, made the national news in a very, very on-brand-Margins sort of way.
Hope everyone is enjoying the summer (this past week finally felt like it for me)!
NY Times - 20 min read
Watching the Daily Show every night at 11pm was a near ritual for me through the early 2000s. At times, like many, I wondered “where did Jon Stewart go?” but I now think it was almost an act of courage to not speak. Like, the world doesn’t really need more incisive and cutting political analysis or “evisceration” moments of Tucker Carlson and Jim Cramer. You have to imagine Stewart would know exactly how to leverage the feeds and algorithms to propel his messages, but perhaps a bit of silence is sometimes the more valuable thing one can do nowadays, especially from someone who was already in power.
The media’s job is to deconstruct the manipulation, not to just call it a lie. It’s about informing on how something works so that you understand the lie’s purpose. What are the structural issues underneath the lie? The media shouldn’t take the political system personally, or allow its own narcissism to rise to the narcissism of the politicians, or become offended that the politicians are lying — their job is to manipulate.
Forbes - 6 min read
Imagine when a machine will not only prepare your meals based on your preferences and health needs but also order and receive the food for you. Now, imagine you’re the marketer who has to somehow convince that robot to buy your brand’s product.
This was a fun, future-y piece on how robotic intermediation will create a new challenge in brand communications. Pulling out a piece from a while back, I’d argue that most brands already primarily speak to robots instead of people.
Kim Bates says, “For CMOs, brand strategy may remain, but brand activation will forever change. There will be a new set of customers to persuade to consider a product or service. Those new customers are the gatekeepers that lead us to the human end-users.”
The Verge - 4 min read
Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking that there is some possibility for one of the Rebels to take on one of the Death Stars, but I’m very intrigued by Snapchat’s new Mini-apps and AR features.
Of course, no one I know uses Snapchat for messaging so it’s been more researching them versus genuine usage so far.
Ars Technica - 12 min read
Section 230 is one of those things that I should have strong thoughts on, but very smart people whom I trust and follow manage to take completely opposite, and usually contentious, interpretations of the law. This was a great in-depth explainer from Timothy Lee at Ars Technica, and even better, it brought up services like Compuserve and Prodigy, two of my early on-ramps to the internet:
Prodigy argued that it shouldn't be liable for user content. To support that view, the company pointed back to a 1991 ruling that shielded CompuServe from liability for a potentially defamatory article. The judge in that case analogized CompuServe to a bookstore. The courts had long held that a bookstore isn't liable for the contents of a book it sells—under defamation, obscenity, or other laws—if it isn't aware of the book's contents.
But in his 1995 ruling in the Prodigy case, Judge Stuart Ain refused to apply that rule to Prodigy.
NY Times - 6 min read
This, from Mike Isaac at the NYT, could effectively serve as a reference piece that lists out all the moves made and cash on hand for all the big tech firms during the pandemic. Take notes (and yes, we’re biased as there’s a Margins shoutout):
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which declined to or did not respond to requests for comment, have plenty of cash. Combined, they are sitting atop about $557 billion, enabling them to maintain a pace of acquisitions and investments similar to last year’s, when the economy was humming, according to a tally of financial disclosures.
Many years ago, I was mugged at gunpoint in Pittsburgh and by some luck and technical wizardry, I helped the police apprehend the assailants. The case went to trial, which meant that I had to deal with a bunch of police officers and DAs for a while. It remains one of the craziest nights of my life, and but that’s a story for a different time (and less permanent medium). I always remember how one of the police officers mentioned he’d become a gun-control activist after he joined law enforcement. He said he always knew intuitively America had too many guns, but he never understood how prevalent it was until he had to deal with it. I don’t want to lay America’s problems with guns and police brutality solely on a horrible misreading of the Second Amendment, but as an immigrant to this country, it’s one of the lenses I see everything through.
Seemingly every one of these cases comes with the potential for controversy. Was the suicidal person, sometimes brandishing a knife or pretending to have a weapon, really a threat? Was firing their guns the only option for the officers? What kind of training had the officers received in dealing with those who have a mental illness? Was the term “suicide by cop” — making an officer an actor in a painful, private choice — unfair to the officers, many of whom wound up deeply traumatized?
In the midst of all that is happening, I often ask myself, what are my responsibilities as a white person of privilege? We all tweet and I’ve been to the demonstrations. But, oftentimes, I find myself overwhelmed with a sense of dread. How is it that so many people like have been so complacent while millions of people were terrorized, tortured, ridiculed, and also murdered. The anger is overpowering, that it can turn to helplessness, especially in the face of the gravity of the problem. But, I also know, that’s not the way forward. It’s not enough to be sad, upset, and miserable.
“Lean into that,” I said. “That’s the appropriate response.” Miserable is exactly how the white people who want to help should be feeling right now, and then they should sit with that misery until something breaks in their brain, the narrative changes in their psyche, and the legacy of emotional paralysis lifts entirely. I don’t mean self-serving sadness or performative tears, but rather a bone-deep sense of agony and grief that forces the humanization of black people. We can’t matter unless we are seen as human beings first.
The Cruelty Is the Point (2018)
What is the defining quality of the Trump administration? I used to think that it was utter incompetence, with a hint of callousness. Recklessness, even. That fit the pattern, especially how the country seemed to respond if you can call it that, to the coronavirus. But as the BlackLivesMatter demonstrations have gained momentum, it became clear that it was actually cruelty that the administration really wanted, or what Trump wanted and the GOP delivered.
This isn’t incoherent. It reflects a clear principle: Only the president and his allies, his supporters, and their anointed are entitled to the rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it. The rest of us are entitled only to cruelty, by their whim. This is how the powerful have ever kept the powerless divided and in their place, and enriched themselves in the process.
I am not sure how this found itself on my reading list this week, but it did. For a long time, I had a fascination with Woody Allen. I’ve watched his movies like Annie Hall and Match Point multiple times, and his sense of humor probably helped establish mine as I was immersing myself in American culture. But, then, he is Woody Allen. His relationship with his own daughter-in-law was enough to raise eyebrows, and the sexual assault allegations against his own kid, while never proven to be true, was enough to make me wince every time his name came up. Is that a good thing? Should he be “canceled”, for either of those acts? I don’t know have a good answer. And neither does he.
“People are very confused about this. They think Soon-Yi was my adopted daughter, that I lived with Mia [in the same apartment as Soon-Yi], that I was married to Mia – they have all kinds of crazy thoughts,” says Allen. Yet she was, undeniably, Allen’s partner’s daughter and he had known her since she was a child (although Wilk confirmed that Allen had almost no contact with her until 1990, when she was 20). Their affair was not a legal crime, but in the eyes of many it was – and is – a moral one. As Ronan pointed out on Twitter in 2012, when Allen married Soon-Yi, he turned his own children into his siblings-in-law.