Covid-19 health pass apps could help reopen businesses and restore the economy. They could also unfairly exclude people from travel and workplaces.
Facebook Strikes Deal to Restore News Sharing in Australia
The agreement means users and publishers in Australia can once again share links to news articles, after Facebook had blocked the practice last week.
Mike Isaac and
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook said on Monday that it would restore the sharing and viewing of news links in Australia after gaining more time to negotiate over a proposed law that would require it to pay for news content that appeared on its site.
The social network had blocked news links in Australia last week as the new law neared passage. The legislation includes a code of conduct that would allow media companies to bargain individually or collectively with digital platforms over the value of their news content.
Facebook had vigorously objected to the code, which would curb its power and drive up its spending for content, as well as set a precedent for other governments to follow. The company had argued that news would not be worth the hassle in Australia if the bill became law.
But on Monday, Facebook returned to the negotiating table after the Australian government granted a few minor concessions. Under several amendments to the code, Facebook would get more time to cut deals with publishers so it would not be immediately forced into making payments defined by media companies. The amendments also suggested that if digital platforms voluntarily contributed enough money to the Australian news industry, the companies could avoid the code entirely, at least for now.
In exchange, Facebook agreed to restore news links and articles for Australian users “in the coming days,” according to a statement from Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s treasurer, and Paul Fletcher, the minister for communications, infrastructure, cities and the arts.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships, said in a statement that the social network was restoring news in Australia as “the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation.”
The amendments offer a reprieve for both Facebook and the Australian government, which have been in a standoff over the proposed law for months. Those tensions came to a head last week when Facebook cut off news sharing in the country, causing disruption and confusion for millions of Australians.
Links to news articles were blocked, along with the Facebook pages for Australian state agencies, health departments and emergency services. Users became upset when a flood of false or misleading pages filled the information void, spreading bogus theories on the perils of 5G wireless technology and false claims about Covid-19 vaccinations.
“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”
The dispute between Australia and Facebook dates to when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the country’s top competition authority, began drafting a bill last year. Australian officials have said the bill’s main goal was to create the conditions for deals between platforms and publishers, which have been at odds for years over the value of journalism and whether either side should be paid by the other.
Google and Facebook, which have been accustomed to largely not paying for news content, both balked at the proposed legislation. In August, Facebook said it would block users and news organizations in Australia from sharing local and international news stories on its social network and Instagram if the bill were to move forward. Last month, Google also threatened to make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the government approved the legislation.
But in recent weeks, Google began striking deals with media companies such as Reuters, The Financial Times and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Facebook, by contrast, held firm against the proposed legislation. That was because the code contained terms such as “final arbitration,” which would give an independent arbiter the power to set the price for news content if a publisher and the digital platform could not agree on a payment.
Facebook has repeatedly argued that the law gets the value proposition backward because it has said it is the one that provides value to news publishers by sending traffic to media websites, which can then be monetized with advertising.
But supporters of the law have said that final arbitration — which is used for contract disputes between players and Major League Baseball in the United States — provides needed leverage when one side is powerful enough to otherwise avoid negotiation if it chooses.
“The key is, and remains, the mandatory arbitration clause,” said Johan Lidberg, a media professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “That has to be maintained; without it the code would be toothless.”
The proposed law also opens up the potential for a long line of publishers to demand payouts. Any news publisher with more than 150,000 Australian dollars in annual revenue could seek to register as a party to the code, giving it the ability to force a company like Facebook into a negotiation.
The law would also grant enormous discretion to the federal treasurer. Mr. Frydenberg would have the power to designate which companies must negotiate under the code’s provisions, while also deciding which media companies were able to register. Facebook and Google have been aiming to avoid that designation.
With the new amendments, Australian officials appeared to give Facebook more time to produce the kinds of deals that Google has already delivered, while continuing to hold the hammer of final arbitration over the company’s head. Facebook maintains it can still eliminate news from its platform to potentially avoid a negotiation.
In its statement, the government argued that the amendments would strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content by the digital platforms.
But if the government agrees not to make Facebook subject to the code because it completes enough deals with major media companies, smaller publishers may be left out.
“For small publishers and freelance journalists that have become reliant on Facebook to distribute their news, it will be a huge relief that the news tap has been turned back on,” said Marcus Strom, president of Australian’s union for journalists. “But they will remain at the mercy of Facebook and Google, which are both seeking to avoid mandatory regulation and will instead choose which media companies they come to agreements with.”
Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Damien Cave from Sydney, Australia.
Listen to the world: Radio Garden app brings stations to millions in lockdown
Free app allowing access to 30,000 stations proves hit for audiences stuck at home
Last modified on Mon 22 Feb 2021 00.10 EST
Ever fancied listening to some pop music from Prague? Rock from Russia, or talk from Taiwan? With the pandemic limiting travel abroad, an online app has ignited the imagination of millions, allowing them to experience new sounds and travel the globe by radio.
The free app, Radio Garden, which carries tens of thousands of radio stations broadcasting live 24 hours a day, has seen a huge spike in popularity during the Covid crisis. Its founders say in the past 30 days they had 15 million users, a 750% increase on the visitors they normally get in a month.
One of the app’s founders, Jonathan Puckey, said he was confused as to where the sudden interest has come from. “To be honest, I don’t know … We do go viral every now and again, but this is the largest spike we have had to date,” he said. The popularity appears to have come from people sharing the platform with friends on social media websites.
The app, the brainchild of the Amsterdam-based studios Puckey and Moniker. launched in 2016. It was originally commissioned as a temporary project by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision as part of research looking at how radio has fostered “transnational encounters”. It started out as a a web-only offering, but has been available as an app since 2018.
The concept is simple: you look around a global map and select an area that interests you. When you click on that region and select a green dot signifying a radio station, the feed will automatically start playing, telling you the name of the station you are listening and where it is. You can listen to stations from all over, as far and wide as Sicily in Italy and Texas in the US.
The platform gets hundreds of submissions every week and has grown its collection of live radio stations from 7,000 to more than 30,000.
Puckey said: “We had the idea to make a modern version of the old world receiver radio sets … We hoped to recreate this magical feeling of travelling across the globe blindly, relying on the sense of hearing and the knowledge of location to bring these live radio stations to life.
“The globe should act a kind of dérivé device; people should be able to get lost and use their ears to paint the picture of the location. Hopefully we can also remind people that those borders that divide us are just in our minds. Radio knows no borders.”
He added that the “beauty of radio is that while radio signals themselves cross borders, radio studios have very fixed locations and are therefore always regional in nature”.
“Radio is at its best when it represents local tastes and cultures,” Puckey said.
The app has seen millions of people tune in each month. “Our hope is to provide an alternative to the fibreless fare currently provided to us by technology giants. I see young people questioning the ease and emptiness of algorithmic playlists and taking back control over their listening,” Puckey said.
A New Generation of Wi-Fi to Improve Your Home Network
The technology, Wi-Fi 6, is designed to reduce congestion from devices. We put it to the test.
When the pandemic upended our lives, many of us were forced to stay home and shift our work and hobbies to the internet. Office meetings and classrooms were replaced with video calls. We binged on Netflix, played more video games and shopped online.
The result: We slammed our home Wi-Fi networks with more devices that were doing more than ever before. Our congested internet connections, which contributed to spotty video calls and sluggish downloads, became the No. 1 tech headache.
Now a new generation of Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 6, has arrived to solve this problem. It brings faster speeds and broader coverage. Most important, the wireless technology does a better job sharing a data connection more efficiently across a large number of household devices, like phones, tablets, computers, smart speakers and TVs.
With Wi-Fi 6, when one device consumes copious amounts of data, like a video game console downloading a huge game, it won’t slow down the entire network, which was what happened with past Wi-Fi technology.
Wi-Fi 6 debuted in 2018 but reached the mainstream only this year, when it became more affordable, with devices that cost as little as $70, and more widely available on new internet routers. Many newer smartphones and computers now also include chips that help them take advantage of Wi-Fi 6.
So how exactly does it work? Imagine cars driving on a road. On older Wi-Fi networks, the cars, which represent devices transmitting data, drive in a single lane. A device taking a long time to complete a data-heavy task is like that obnoxious slowpoke forcing everyone behind to tap the brakes.
Wi-Fi 6 reduces congestion by directing traffic. There are now multiple lanes: car pool lanes for the newer, faster devices and a slow lane for the older, slower ones. All of the vehicles are also full of people, which represent big batches of data being transported over the network simultaneously.
“Wi-Fi 6 can be much more efficient at getting a lot more cars down the road faster,” said David Henry, a senior vice president of the networking company Netgear.
I recently tested two new Wi-Fi 6 routers and compared them with a previous-generation Wi-Fi router, which led to some middling results as well as more surprising improvements. Here’s what I learned.
I usually have more than two dozen internet-connected devices running, including smart speakers, a thermostat and a bathroom scale. That appeared to make my home an ideal test environment for Wi-Fi 6.
The Wi-Fi 6 routers I picked were Amazon’s Eero Pro 6, which costs about $230, and Netgear’s Orbi, which costs $380. I compared them with a Google Wifi router, which was roughly $130 when it was released in 2016.
One test involved downloading an episode of the Netflix series “The Final Table” on two smartphones and a tablet while streaming video on another tablet.
The Wi-Fi 6 routers did better than the older router, but only marginally:
On the Eero and Netgear routers, it took about 45 seconds for all three devices to finish downloading the TV episode. On the older Google router, the task took 51 seconds, 13 percent slower.
When I tried streaming a high-definition video on a tablet while the other devices were downloading files, there wasn’t a noticeable delay in the playback of the streaming video on the Wi-Fi 6 routers or the older router.
I ran the routers through many tests like the one above, including downloading video games while doing a video call. The results were often underwhelming. So what gives?
Nick Weaver, the chief executive of Eero, the router maker owned by Amazon, said the benefit of reduced congestion with Wi-Fi 6 would be more visible in an environment with many more devices, like an office with hundreds of computers doing heavy tasks at the same time.
“It’s less important in the home environment,” he said. Most homes still don’t have so many devices.
Keerti Melkote, the founder of Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company that offers Wi-Fi products for businesses, offered another theory. The majority of the devices in my home would need to have chips that made them compatible with Wi-Fi 6 before the benefits were more pronounced, he said. Only about a quarter of my internet-connected devices have those.
Those weren’t jaw-dropping results. But the good news was that using Wi-Fi 6, I noticed subtle changes throughout my home.
For one, my Amazon smart speakers are now more responsive. In my bedroom, I ask Alexa to control a pair of internet-connected light bulbs. With the older router, whenever I said, “Alexa, turn on the lights,” there was a delay of about two seconds before the lights turned on. Now it’s less than half a second.
I noticed something similar about MyQ, which lets me use a smartphone app to control my garage door. Previously, after pressing the button, I waited several seconds for the door to open. Now the wait is a split second.
My video calls also look clearer than they used to, and they take less time to connect.
This suggests that Wi-Fi 6 is a long-term investment. The more internet-connected devices that enter people’s homes in the coming years, the more the perks will become visible.
“It will take time, but the improvements will be real,” Mr. Melkote said.
Of the two Wi-Fi 6 routers I tested, I preferred the Eero Pro 6. It’s $150 cheaper than the Netgear Orbi, and both routers were equally fast in my tests. The Eero’s setup was also simpler.
But who should buy?
My experience indicated that people who bought a router in the last five years probably wouldn’t see major improvements immediately, so there is no rush to upgrade.
Those customers are probably better off waiting for Wi-Fi 6E, a newly unveiled technology that supposedly offers even more improvements to reduce network congestion in dense neighborhoods. Routers that work with Wi-Fi 6E are just beginning to roll out — and are very expensive — so it could be several years until it’s practical to consider upgrading.
But if you bought a router more than six years ago, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 would offer a big boost in speed, and the overall benefits would be more noticeable. That’s largely because in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission removed restrictions that had limited the wireless transmission power of Wi-Fi routers, allowing new ones to be 20 times more powerful.
Here’s an even simpler rule of thumb: If you are happy with your internet connection at home, hold on to what you have and upgrade when you feel you must. Even Mr. Melkote hasn’t made the jump to Wi-Fi 6. He said he planned to this year because his family was working and attending school from home for the foreseeable future.
As for me, even though the improvements over my older router were only marginal, there’s no turning back. I seem to connect half a dozen new devices to my network each year, so I’ll need those extra lanes.
How governments were left playing catch-up on misinformation
The growth and spread of misinformation poses a fundamental threat to Australian society, experts say. The government’s cautious approach to countering it won’t work
Australia: fertile ground for misinformation and QAnon
Last modified on Wed 17 Feb 2021 11.32 EST
When Michael Marom steers his Telstra-branded company car past the site of a planned 5G tower on the streets of Mullumbimby, it draws a now predictable response.
Someone is watching, always, and news of his presence quickly ripples through the faithful.
“They call themselves the protectors of the tower,” Marom says.
“They have someone there all the time, so what happens is that as soon as you drive past in a Telstra vehicle, within about 15 minutes there’ll be four or five other cars there.”
Among the protectors will most likely be those who, despite all evidence to the contrary, believe 5G’s electromagnetic energy is harming babies, or interfering with bee populations, insects and birds, which are suddenly falling out of the sky.
The more extreme might believe 5G is spreading Covid-19, or that face masks have been equipped with 5G antennas.
There’s no aggression. No abuse.
But a lesson lies in the sheer speed of the response.
These are the diehards. They are well connected and organised. Fervent in their belief of the evils of 5G and ready to act on it with little notice.
Marom has come to learn that these minds aren’t for changing. The battle lies elsewhere.
“The job that we see in front of us is to make sure that people who do want information, and are rational about receiving that information, that they’re communicated to effectively,” he says.
Marom has amassed a surprising level of expertise in countering misinformation. His view is shared by every expert who spoke with the Guardian about strategies to counter conspiratorial thinking and disinformation.
It was never in the job description, he jokes.
But he, and Telstra more broadly, have found themselves devoting significant time and energy to tackling misinformation and conspiracy head-on.
Last year, Telstra deployed a specific communications campaign through advertisements and social media content, blending a mixture of levity and fact, using comedian Mark Humphries as its spokesperson.
The aim, much like Marom’s, was to target the fence-sitters, those who are unsure about the facts, not those who are hardened in their conspiratorial thinking.
The fact that Telstra needed to mount such a campaign, though, raises a question.
In an age of eroding trust, entrenched institutional scepticism and uninhibited social media amplification of untruths, should we be leaving this fight to workers like Marom and companies like Telstra?
Or does the federal government need to step into the ring? And how does it do so effectively?
In early 2020, as Covid-19 took hold, the world was ripe for conspiracy. Anti-5G theories began to flourish.
In the UK, groups convinced of a link between 5G and the spread of the virus set fire to dozens of telecommunications towers in April. The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, also received threats over the theory, and cabinet secretary Michael Gove described it as “dangerous nonsense”.
In early May, rallies took place on streets of most major Australian cities, including in Melbourne, where protesters sought to link the Cedar Meats Covid-19 outbreak to a nearby telephone tower.
Prof Axel Bruns, an expert with the Queensland University of Technology’s digital research media centre, says the Australian government’s response was flawed.
It put out a five-paragraph statement in mid-May, disputing the link between Covid-19 and 5G, accompanied by a YouTube explainer on electromagnetic energy. That video has so far failed to attract even 2,500 views.
Similar media releases were issued by the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, and then-chief medical officer Brendan Murphy.
The response came an entire month after the UK arson attacks and a week after Australia’s nationwide protests. It was far too late to stop the conspiracy taking hold, Bruns says.
“Of course I’m saying this with the benefit of hindsight, and there will have been at least some ad hoc statements in press conferences and from tech companies before the official releases, but these late responses enabled the conspiracy theory to circulate for weeks without definitive official comment.”
United States Studies Centre research associate Elliott Brennan, who is studying government responses to conspiratorial thinking, says Australia is not alone in misjudging its response.
Governments, he says, must transition from viewing the issue as trivial, or a silly import from the US, to “a fundamental threat to the social fabric of the country”.
“There doesn’t appear to be a government in the world that has not underestimated the threat these conspiracy theories pose,” Brennan says. “Unfortunately, this attitude has allowed their reach to creep into elections and within the institutional halls of government. That has been very clear in the United States and Australia.”
So when is the right time for government to act?
Wading in too early risks attracting unwanted attention to a conspiracy and, perversely, giving it a legitimacy it might not otherwise enjoy.
Responding too late can allow the fence-sitters, the ordinary citizens, to be exposed to misinformation and dragged into the conspiracy quagmire.
“So the challenge – and it’s a significant one – is to hit that spot where you can deter the wider spread of conspiracist claims by making it clear to ordinary people that there’s no merit to the claims, and that spreading them would cause harm to others,” Bruns says.
“There may be a need here to invest in more media monitoring – social and mainstream – in order to detect emerging misinformation and formulate responses early so they’re ready to be rolled out when the time comes.”
It’s not the only challenge.
Governments, it can be safely assumed, are bereft of trust among those perpetuating conspiracies.
Experts broadly agree that it is near pointless trying to convince the diehards.
Bruns says the aim instead must be to protect ordinary citizens from exposure and stop them sharing misinformation.
Others say the government’s target should be trusted figures who have a relationship with those engaging in conspiratorial thought: friends and family, or doctors, for example.
“This is where government-funded advertising and education campaigns, despite the inherent scepticism of conspiracy theorists themselves, could be most valuable,” Brennan says. “Armed with the right information, those who share strong social bonds with an affected individual are the most likely to get through to them.”
Even then, such an approach is reactive only.
It does nothing to get to the root cause of the problem: the societal conditions that allow conspiracy to fester.
University of Technology Sydney lecturer Francesco Bailo, an expert on the use of digital and social media in politics, is working with colleagues Amelia Johns and Marian-Andrei Rizoiu on strategies to protect online communities from disinformation.
Bailo says conspiratorial thinking is fundamentally a trust problem. But distrust is complex and varying.
The cause of distrust differs greatly from person to person, a result of their individual experiences and belief systems, and may be outwardly directed at different institutions or individuals.
“In line with what [has been] found elsewhere, we are beginning to notice that even if online communities do emerge around a shared sense of distrust … alternative narratives can still attract different people, that is, people who possibly have different justification for their lack of trust,” he says.
The point of this, Bailo says, is that any government intervention must be designed to address the specific trust issues of the target audience.
In the US, Black Americans may oppose vaccination for a range of complex reasons, including personal experiences with public authorities and a history of institutional racism.
“And yet this can clearly not explain why wealthy, white Californian parents might have developed very strong opinions against the same vaccine,” Bailo says.
Bailo sees value in government intervention, saying it can find “a receptive audience in the people located on the most moderate side of that spectrum”.
“And there is also a very significant value in framing the message based on the specifics of the target audience,” he says. “So, what does motivate their lack of trust? And who – what kind of public personality – can help strengthen their trust or reduce their distrust?”
There are other roles for government, too.
Regulation of social media companies – which have effectively incentivised conspiracies – is a clear and obvious policy lever, Brennan says.
A broader prevention campaign, promoting e-safety education for adults, rather than just through primary and secondary education, would also be beneficial.
The fight, as Bruns sees it, is asymmetrical. The two sides are fighting on different battlegrounds.
Government, serious media, and experts are speaking to one specific audience.
Influencers, gullible celebrities, conspiracy theorists, populist politicians, and the tabloid and entertainment media that report on them, are speaking to another.
Bruns believes government needs to insert itself directly into the spaces where the conspiracist claims are circulating unchecked among mainstream audiences.
“This doesn’t mean getting into hardcore conspiracist groups – they’re too far gone to be reached by factchecks and similar content – but it’s critically important to ensure that tabloid, celebrity, entertainment, sports, and related media cover the correct information as much as they cover celebrities and influencers spouting mis- and disinformation, because that’s where ordinary, non-conspiracist people are most likely to encounter these conspiracy theories,” he says.
That might mean, for example, government enlisting celebrities or influencers to create humorous and shareable content such as memes.
There might be a tendency by governments to view such an approach as beneath them. But Bruns says that just “cedes the field to the other side”.
Telstra’s campaign is illustrative here. It attempted precisely the kind of approach Bruns speaks of, using short clips featuring a respected celebrity, which blended humour and direct, factual messaging that addressed common myths about 5G.
The content was easily shareable and is understood to have reached millions.
On the ground, Marom says his approach is never to ignore or laugh off concerns about 5G. Instead, he attempts to build community support and understanding – simply by talking with those who are willing to listen.
“Everybody’s entitled to an opinion, but what we do want to do is rationally and calmly say ‘these are the facts’.”
From anti-vaxxers to 5G conspiracists, the Web of lies series explores the growth and spread of misinformation and conspiracy thinking in Australia.
Team Molly: The Family After Molly Steinsapir's Death
While her daughter was hospitalized, one mother built more room for our national grief.
Strapped in the front seat of an ambulance as her daughter lay injured in the back, Kaye Steinsapir took out her phone and began to type.
“Please. Please. Please,” she wrote in part. “Everyone PRAY for my daughter Molly. She has been in an accident and suffered a brain trauma.” Later that day, at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, she tweeted her message.
Her daughter, 12, was injured while riding her bicycle with a friend near the family’s home in Los Angeles. Ms. Steinsapir, 43, said she was grasping for a tool that could quickly get her plea to as wide an audience as possible.
“I was so helpless,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “I just wanted to broadcast to anyone who could lift Molly up in prayer and could lift me up in prayer, too.”
The hospital’s Covid-era rules initially prevented her and her husband, Jonathan Steinsapir, from being at Molly’s bedside together. The first day of the hospitalization, Mr. Steinsapir spent the days with their two sons at home, while Ms. Steinsapir remained with their daughter in the intensive care unit.
“In the hospital, there were so many hours of waiting, waiting, waiting, and nothing to be done,” she said. In the darkest moments of panic or uncertainty, she reached out on the internet. “So many people shared stories of survival from traumatic brain injury,” said Ms. Steinsapir, who is a lawyer, as is her husband.
“The hope that all these strangers gave us was what sustained us. If we didn’t have that hope, I don’t know how we would have been able to do what we needed to do, to parent Molly and parent our boys,” she said.
She didn’t have much experience on Twitter. Like many parents, she had shared family photographs to a small circle on Facebook and Instagram but in the months before the most recent presidential election, she began to spend more time on Twitter, following news sources and politicians. She barely knew how to tweet.
In turning to her phone to express her determination, anguish and fear, it never occurred to her that she would begin a 16-day-long conversation between thousands of strangers from around the world about life, death, family, religion and ritual.
Alana Nichols, a doctor and lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., checked in on Ms. Steinsapir every day. “As a mother, I was drawn to her vulnerability and her strength, and how she managed to turn Twitter into a positive tool of connection and hope,” she said.
This year, Dr. Nichols said, the election, reactions to the most recent Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic have turned the internet into a marketplace of anger and vitriol.
“Social media can be so toxic and the doomscrolling phenomenon can put you in this place of total helplessness,” she said. “But Kaye gave us a way to help. She told us we could pray for her and her daughter. Our nation is divided on every big thing happening right now and here it is you have yet another tragedy — but it has had the opposite effect.”
The coronavirus pandemic has left Americans grappling with the colliding forces of isolation and grief, with technology and social media becoming further entangled with the rituals of death. Covid goodbyes are routinely said via FaceTime, with hospital staff using phones and tablets to help family members approximate bedside vigils and final goodbyes.
The Broadway actor Nick Cordero became sick from coronavirus in March and was hospitalized for months before he died in July. Amanda Kloots, his wife, attracted a global online audience of millions that prayed, sang, exalted and ultimately mourned with her. “I just wanted to share because grief is important to talk about, especially at a time right now where a lot of people are suffering from loss,” she said in one video.
Later last year, the model and actress Chrissy Teigen created a national dialogue about our culture’s comfort with public sharing of death and tragedy when she posted on Instagram hospital photographs taken of her, her husband John Legend, and their baby Jack, who was born prematurely and died.
“I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos,” Ms. Teigen wrote in an essay later that month. “How little I care that it’s something you wouldn’t have done. I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them.”
Laurie Kilmartin, a writer for “Conan,” live-tweeted her mother’s last days before she died from complications of coronavirus in June. Ms. Kilmartin had tweeted about her father’s deterioration and death from lung cancer in 2014 and felt even more an impetus to do so as her mother was dying, because of the combination of grief and isolation. “What’s so awful about Covid is you’re completely alone,” she said. “All you have is your phone.”
Ms. Kilmartin followed Ms. Steinsapir’s story on Twitter and understood, from her own experiences, the desire to share in real time. “In a normal situation there would be 20 family members rotating in to support her and her husband,” Ms. Kilmartin said. “I’m glad she had the internet to hold her hand.”
Ms. Steinsapir also explained to her followers why she was letting strangers in on the experience. “Writing and sharing my pain helps to lessen it,” she wrote. “When I’m sitting here in this sterile room hour after hour, your messages of hope make me feel less alone. Even my husband, who is very private, likes reading them.”
In what became a short-form diary, Ms. Steinsapir provided unvarnished description of the realities of witnessing a medical crisis, marked by endless hours of waiting for her daughter to wake up that are then punctured by sudden calamity.
She heaped praise on her daughter’s doctors and nurses, worried about her two young sons, Nate and Eli, and told the internet all about her daughter, an environmentalist and animal lover who chose to be a vegetarian before she was in kindergarten, who was devoted to Judaism and feminism (she used “she/her” pronouns for God) and who dreamed of being a theater actress and a politician.
Like Ms. Teigen, Ms. Steinsapir pushed back against people who criticized her. “Believe me, I wish I were doing anything but desperately begging for prayers to save my daughter on Twitter,” she replied.
But mostly she called for support through prayers. The focus on God was part of what drew Melissa Jones, a mother in Locust Grove, Ga., to read each tweet and reply, even befriending others who were following closely.
“The faith she had hit me,” said Ms. Jones, who cried when speaking about a family she said she has come to love. “The internet right now is a horrible place, the Trump years were very divisive and people have been just so ugly for the last four years, but Molly’s spirit brought out the faith and the goodness in people.”
Ms. Jones had also faced the possibility of losing a child, when her son was critically injured. “My son was in a coma for 11 days and I had that experience of wondering, ‘Is my child going to wake up and am I going to have them back? I knew exactly where Kaye was,” she said.
On Feb. 15, Ms. Steinsapir announced that Molly had died.
“While our hearts are broken in a way that feels like they can never be mended, we take comfort knowing that Molly’s 12 years were filled with love and joy. We are immensely blessed to be her parents,” she wrote.
She agreed to speak to a reporter amid her family’s mourning, she said, because Molly would want her to console the millions of Americans who have lost loved ones in the last year.
“I want to communicate to people that we honor everyone who is grieving and want to share with them the light and love that was shown to Molly,” she said.
Rupert Neve, the Father of Modern Studio Recording, Dies at 94
His equipment became the industry standard and influenced the sound of groups like Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, Santana, Chicago and the Who.
When the Seattle grunge band Nirvana recorded their breakthrough album, “Nevermind,” at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Calif., in 1991, they used a massive mixing console created by a British engineer named Rupert Neve.
The Neve 8028 console and others he made had by then become studio staples, hailed by many as the most superior consoles of their kind in manipulating and combining instrumental and vocal signals. They were responsible in great part for the audio quality of albums by groups like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd.
For Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer and later the leader of Foo Fighters, the console “was like the coolest toy in the world,” he told NPR in 2013 when his documentary film about the California studio, “Sound City,” was released. “And what you get when you record on a Neve desk is this really big, warm representation of whatever comes into it.”
He added, “What’s going to come out the other end is this bigger, better version of you.”
In 2011, long after forming Foo Fighters, Mr. Grohl purchased the console as Sound City was closing, took it to his garage and used it to record the band’s album “Wasting Light.”
Mr. Neve’s innovative, largely analog equipment has been used to record pop, rock, jazz and rap — genres distinct from his preferred one: English cathedral music, with its organs and choirs.
After his death on Feb. 12, the influential hip-hop engineer Gimel Keaton, known as Young Guru, tweeted: “Please understand that this man was one of a kind. There is nothing close to him in the engineering world. RIP to the KING!!!”
Mr. Neve (pronounced Neeve) died in a hospice facility in San Marcos, Tex., near his home in Wimberley, a Hill Country town that he and his wife, Evelyn, moved to in 1994. He was 94. The causes were pneumonia and heart failure, according to his company, Rupert Neve Designs.
Arthur Rupert Neve was born on July 31, 1926, in Newton Abbott, in southwestern England. He spent most of his childhood near Buenos Aires, where his parents, Arthur Osmond and Doris (Dence) Neve, were missionaries with the British and Foreign Bible Society.
Rupert developed a facility with technology as a boy taking apart and repairing shortwave radios. It accelerated during World War II, when he served in the Royal Corps of Signals, which gave communications support to the British Army.
After the war, working out of an old U.S. Army ambulance, he started a business recording, on 78 r.p.m. acetate discs, brass bands and choirs as well as public addresses, like those by Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II when she was a princess.
His future father-in-law was unimpressed. When Mr. Neve spoke to him about marrying his daughter, Evelyn Collier, the older man couldn’t imagine recording as a way of making a living.
“He’d never heard of it,” Mr. Neve told Tape Op, a recording magazine, in 2001. “To him a recorder was a gentleman who sat in a courtroom and wrote down the proceedings.”
During the 1950s, Mr. Neve found work at a company that designed and manufactured transformers. He also started his own business making hi-fi equipment.
With his expanding knowledge of electronics, he recognized that mixing consoles performed better with transistors than with vacuum tubes, which were cumbersome and required very high voltage.
He delivered his first custom-made transistor console to Phillips Studios in London in 1964, and its success led to thousands more orders over the years — bought by, among others, Abbey Road Studios in London (in the post-Beatles years), the Power Station in Manhattan and the AIR Studios, both in London and on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, founded by George Martin, the Beatles’ producer.
The singer-songwriter Billy Crockett bought a Neve console about eight years ago for his Blue Rock Artist Ranch & Studio, which is also in Wimberley. He is quick to extol its “warm, open, transparent” sound.
“It’s all about his transformers,” he said in a phone interview, referring to the components that Mr. Neve designed that connect microphone signals to the console and the console to a recording medium like vinyl or a CD. “They provide something intangible that makes the mix fit together. So when people get poetic about analog, it’s how the sound comes through the transformers.”
Mr. Neve received a Technical Grammy Award in 1997. In a 2014 interview with the Recording Academy, which sponsors the Grammys, he said he was pleased with the loyalty that his consoles had fostered.
“I’m proudest of the fact that people are still using designs of mine which started many years ago and which, in many ways, have not been superseded since,” he said. “Some of those old consoles are really hard to beat in terms of both recording quality and the effects that people will get when they make recordings.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Neve is survived by his daughters, Evelyn Neve, who is known as Mary, and Ann Yates; his sons, David, John and Stephen; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Mr. Neve was more aware of the engineers who handled his consoles than of the singers and bands whose albums benefited from his audio wizardry.
That preference was borne out when rock stars approached him after the screening of Mr. Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin in 2013.
“They all wanted to take pictures with him,” Josh Thomas, the general manager of Rupert Neve Designs, said in a phone interview. “And after each picture, he asked me, ‘Why is he important?’”
How the nitty gritty of video game funding shapes what you play
From old-school publishing models to a collective of indie game makers, funding has never been more important for an industry in perpetual flux
Last modified on Mon 15 Feb 2021 07.18 EST
Brenda Romero, the designer behind Prohibition-era strategy game Empire of Sin, remembers the meeting as if it were yesterday. Facing publisher bigwigs in a Cologne conference room, the veteran game maker presented what she had been writing for the past five years, and dreaming of for 20. “It was the most nerve-racking pitch of my life,” she says. “I’m comfortable with public speaking but to be on a stage with an audience of two, where you’re trying to get somebody to fund an idea for two-and-a-half to three years, that’s a big ask.”
For all the shifting dynamics of the video game industry over the past decade – most notably the proliferation of indie games, sometimes made without any funding at all – this is still the most likely way a video game will get made. In a world before Covid-19, hopeful game makers and executives would jet off to conferences such as Gamescom, E3, or the Game Developers Conference to thrash out deals in backroom meetings while the public enjoyed the show.
Empire of Sin is part of a new wave of games known in the industry as “triple I (III)”, independent titles with production values to rival their blockbuster (triple-A, or AAA) counterparts. New funding options and publishers have emerged: Devolver Digital deals in acerbic cartoon violence, Annapurna Interactive offers an accessible take on arthouse, and Swedish publisher Raw Fury sits somewhere between the two. The type of deals on offer can vary, but the fundamentals remain the same. Publishers will often fund production as well as additional costs such as marketing and quality assurance. Then, when a game is eventually released, revenue share is either split between publisher and studio, or kicks in once the publisher has fully recouped its advance. Depending on the size of advance, studios can be left in the cold (potentially with cashflow problems) as they wait for funds to materialise.
In Romero’s case, video game publisher Paradox Interactive signed the game and she ultimately relinquished ownership. In return, Romero secured enough funds to assemble a team of 30 on the west coast of Ireland.
Megan Fox, founder of Glass Bottom Games, questions whether the trade-offs inherent in a publishing deal are worthwhile for the creators of smaller indie projects. “A publishing company used to be responsible for getting the game into brick and mortar stores,” she says. “But at this point, I can release a game [digitally] on pretty much any platform I care about.”
Fox, a mostly solo game maker, turned to crowdfunding site Kickstarter for her latest project, SkateBIRD, raising enough cash to fund production for a few years. While the crowdfunding site could be counted on to finance bigger-budget game projects, such as point-and-click adventure Broken Age eight years ago, thanks to a string of high-profile failures it is now more likely to fund a team of one rather than 100.
Indie Fund, a collective of 34 independent game makers, most of whom found success during the past decade, has made a habit of essentially eliminating risk from its ventures. Since its formation in 2010, the group has financed many commercial and critical hits, including seminal walking simulator Dear Esther and innovative FMV drama Her Story. Adriaan de Jongh, maker of 2017’s Hidden Folks and one of its most recent members, suggests its high rate of success is partly down to the financing agreement, which caps investor returns at double their initial input. Theoretically, this is good for game makers but the arrangement also stymies risk; Indie Fund’s investors are incentivised to back what they believe are almost sure bets.
“One in two projects need to be successful for me to even remain breaking even,” says De Jongh. “If I could [recoup] four times or even 10 times on a project, I would probably invest in more projects less likely to make their money back.”
Of course, what the investors of Indie Fund perceive to be safe bets is a matter of perspective – and in a mostly white, cisgender male group, that perspective is arguably limited. Indeed, De Jongh admits the risk-averse fund might not be doing everything it can to nurture new talent, particularly game makers from underrepresented backgrounds who could be less experienced or simply less confident. There haven’t been any recent conversations about specifically financing projects headed up by developers of colour, or adding developers of colour to the investor list. This, De Jongh believes, is a result of the group’s amorphous structure. “I’m not certain we’re taking our responsibility for diversity in the games industry seriously by not organising Indie Fund more than we do,” he says.
These issues aren’t limited to Indie Fund but course through what is still a demographically homogeneous industry. Figures from the US show that 81% of game makers identify as white and 71% male; in the UK, the numbers sit at 90% white, 74% male. These figures are an improvement on previous years but there’s a noticeable lag in those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds filling senior decision-making positions.
Chandana Ekanayake, co-founder of Outerloop Games, the studio behind Falcon Age, has experienced this first-hand while courting investors and publishers. Of the 15 mid-to-large funding sources he recently pitched to, all but one were represented by white men. This, he says, presents particular issues for his studio, which is devoted to telling stories about underrepresented cultures and themes: “I have to assume that some of the things I’m going to talk about aren’t going to resonate. There’s certain lived experiences they might not understand … The types of games that are out there, that are getting funded, would be different if there was more cultural understanding,” says Ekanayake.
Kowloon Nights, a game-funding group established in 2018, is acutely aware of this issue, and is hoping to help shift the direction of the industry with its Fairchild Initiative, a $2m pledge for projects led by black creators and studios. The head of the project, Kendall Deacon Davis, a former narrative designer on Halo 4, says the aim is to facilitate the sustainable growth of black studios and provide a model for such material change. “Ideally, successful games allow studios to get built with great creative cultures,” Davis says. “It’s a lot easier to pump more capital through once that architecture is in place. We’re laying the foundation for much larger-scale diversity initiatives.”
If there’s one thing which arguably impacts access to funding more than anything else, it’s the opaqueness of the process. This extends to accurate and available information on who to contact at publishers, platform holders, or investors – sources of capital for commercial titles – but also to the arts funding increasingly utilised by the experimental scene. Chella Ramanan, maker of dementia-themed game Before I Forget and former video game journalist for publications including the Guardian, says these pots of money are poorly advertised. She also believes video games fall through the funding cracks: after a number of attempts, Ramanan called time on submitting further applications to arts funds for Before I Forget, a process she describes as “exhausting, time-consuming, and demoralising”.
As in television and film, securing capital for an independent video game is often a gruelling process requiring the alignment of multiple stars. There are more funding options available now, to a wider range of video game makers, than ever before – but the system is far from perfect, and the odds of success still tip towards familiar faces. And the video games industry never sits still; in the coming years, Netflix-style subscription services such as Apple Arcade and Xbox Game Pass threaten to rip up the funding rulebook yet again. With Covid-19 slowing life and business and temporarily halting the conferences where the deals are made, this is a good time for those who fund the games we play to reflect on what they’re financing and why – and what they could be doing better to foster the next generation of remarkable developers.
Why T-Shirts Promoting the Capitol Riot Are Still Available Online
Merchandise with phrases like “Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran” could still be purchased on major e-commerce sites, a sign of how the platforms have struggled to remove the goods.
Sapna Maheshwari and
The day after the violent attack on the Capitol, Shopify declared that it had removed e-commerce sites affiliated with President Trump, including his official campaign store. The sites had violated a policy that prohibited the support of groups or people “that threaten or condone violence to further a cause.”
The move was initially lauded but it soon became clear that the technology company, which powers more than one million online shops, was still fueling plenty of other sites with merchandise promoting the president and goods emblazoned with phrases like “MAGA Civil War.” Apparel with similar phrases and nods to QAnon conspiracy theories also remained available on e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy and Zazzle.
Even as the companies scrambled to remove such merchandise, new goods commemorating and glorifying the Jan. 6 attack were proliferating. As of Friday, “Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran” shirts with drawings of the Capitol building could be purchased on Amazon for $20, Etsy was selling a “Biden Likes Minors” shirt that mimicked the look of “Black Lives Matters” signs and Zazzle had a “Civil War 2020” shirt on its site. Etsy and Zazzle have since removed the merchandise; the “Capitol Hill Veteran” shirt was still available on Amazon on Monday.
Just as the violence put new scrutiny on how social media companies were monitoring speech on their platforms, it also highlighted how e-commerce companies have enabled just about anyone with a credit card and an email address to sell goods online.
These companies have largely been built with scale and ease of access in mind, with scant oversight of what vendors were actually selling. But questions about the businesses have emerged as many rioters donned what amounted to a type of uniform that could be purchased online. This included shirts with certain phrases or illustrations printed on them, and flags that not only supported President Trump, but promoted a civil war, conspiracy theories and debunked election claims. One shirt infamously worn by one of the rioters that said “Camp Auschwitz” was later found on Etsy, prompting an apology from the company, which is known for handcrafted goods.
“There’s so much focus on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but, in our view, the platforms are much, much wider than social media,” said Danny Rogers, chief technology officer and co-founder of the Global Disinformation Index, a nonprofit focused on the spread of falsehoods online. “There’s a broad diversity of platforms that support and enable these dangerous groups to exist, to fund raise, get their message out. It’s not just kicking people off social media, it’s kicking people off merchandising platforms.”
While Shopify, which declined to comment for this article, is not a household name, its technology supports a huge number of vendors from Allbirds to The New York Times. These companies use Shopify’s tools to build sleek online stores, where they can easily upload images of their wares and sell to customers. Shopify, which is valued at more than $100 billion, earns money through subscriptions to its software and other merchant services, and has said it has the second-biggest share of the U.S. e-commerce market after Amazon.
After its removal of TrumpStore.com and shop.donaldjtrump.com, the company was still powering other sites selling Trump-related merchandise, including shirts and banners that featured guns and military equipment. Following complaints, Shopify appears to have removed some sellers and products, including a “MAGA Civil War” shirt with the date Jan. 6, 2021.
Shopify has also run into problems with thousands of online stores selling items that falsely claimed to treat Covid-19, as well as others selling Confederate flag merchandise.
“It’s great that Shopify finally pulled the plug on Trump’s retail store, but what we urgently need is to see a strategy from it and other popular e-commerce platforms about how they will stop profiting from hate as a whole,” said Shannon Coulter, president of the Grab Your Wallet Alliance, a nonprofit that stemmed from a social media boycott of companies with ties to President Trump.
Amazon and Etsy have also rushed to remove merchandise promoting hate and violence from their sites this month, including wares tied to QAnon, the internet conspiracy theory that has become increasingly influential with a segment of President Trump’s supporters.
On Jan. 11, Amazon said that it would remove products promoting QAnon and that third-party vendors who attempted to sell the wares could face bans, according to NBC. But on Monday, hundreds of products from dozens of vendors were still selling QAnon-related merchandise. Some product reviews expressed support for the baseless conspiracy theory in a casual tone. “I got these to support #Qanon … i love them,” one woman commented on a pair of “Q” earrings. “Wish they were a little bigger!”
Other shirts for sale on Amazon promoted misinformation related to election fraud, spreading false claims that the election was “stolen” or rigged and saying, “Audit the vote.” Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
While some of the sellers appear to be individuals or groups devoted to right-wing paraphernalia, others are peddling a broader array of misinformation, including Covid-19 conspiracy theories. Still others have included the material with a wider variety of internet memes and jokes, apparently looking for whatever might prove to be a hit.
The vendor behind the “Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran” shirts on Amazon, for instance, is called Capitol Hill and appeared to begin selling merchandise on Jan. 1, initially promoting false Covid-19 conspiracy theories like the so-called “plandemic.”
A study by the Global Disinformation Index and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that examines extremism, identified 13 hate groups offering products on Amazon in October. Smaller e-commerce platforms like Zazzle, which allow people to customize apparel, also played a role in allowing hate groups to make money through selling products, the report found. “Platforms facilitating on-site retail seem to be plagued by either poor enforcement of their policies, or a complete lack of an adequate framework for governing their use by hate groups,” the groups wrote in the report.
“Platform policy people are still trying to wrap their heads around the concept of risk of harm,” Mr. Rodgers of the Global Disinformation Index said. “When QAnon emerged initially, it was dismissed as a bunch of kooks online, but what we’ve seen increasingly over the years is the apparent and obvious harm that results from this organized online conspiracy activity. The tribalism, the us versus them, and the adversarial narrative is fed by selling everyone a team jersey.”
The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and the ongoing fallout:
Zazzle began more than a decade ago as part of a wave of start-ups that gave consumers new, seemingly infinite options for customizing goods to their tastes. Now, the company is struggling to balance its original mission with the darker forces at play online.
“As an open marketplace, we are faced with the opportunity to allow people to express their creativity and sentiments, coupled with the challenge of expression that offends and is intentionally obfuscated,” Zazzle said in a statement.
While Zazzle uses automated filters and algorithms to try to block offensive designs and tags, it said it recognized “that technology is not foolproof,” and did manually remove certain products. The “Civil War 2020” shirt was taken down after questions from The Times, and Zazzle said that it had been identifying and taking down QAnon-related goods since mid-2018.
The challenge of identifying and removing such merchandise — and whether that is done by people or machines — mirrors the issues faced by platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
Josh Silverman, Etsy’s chief executive, said in a Jan. 12 blog post that the company and its human moderators relied on automated tools and reports from users to find merchandise that violated its policies. The company has more than 3.7 million vendors selling more than 80 million items. On Friday, after receiving questions from The Times, Etsy removed the “Biden Likes Minors” shirt, which seemed to nod to QAnon and the #Pizzagate conspiracy.
Etsy and Zazzle also acknowledged that they were trying to quickly make decisions involving certain phrases and symbols, particularly those harnessed by fringe groups.
“While an item may be allowed today, we reserve the right to determine based on evolving context that it is a violation at a later date, for example if it is deemed to cause or inspire real world harm,” a representative for Etsy, said in a statement.
Brooke Erin Duffy, an associate professor of communication at Cornell University, said that it was hard to imagine established brands carrying these products in stores. But, she said, accountability was difficult to demand online.
“We don’t have the ability to talk back to platform owners,” she said. “We don’t always know who’s responsible for creating the merch, so it enables everyone to evade responsibility for the circulation of these harmful products and messages.”
Contact Sapna Maheshwari at email@example.com and Taylor Lorenz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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