Weekend Reads: (Dis)Trusting Facebook, Silicon Valley Backlash, Netflix’s Atypical, Pizza Hut Nostalgia & more

Also: Artificial intelligence and “gaydar,” popular Star Trek episodes, Hollywood’s decline, Asian shoegaze, and imagining aliens.
Facebook Screenshot
(Spencer E HoltawayCC BY-ND 2.0)

The recent revelations that Facebook sold political ads to Russians during the 2016 elections raises concerns about the social media giant’s trustworthiness. “Conservative activists have accused the company of censoring right-wing voices and stories. Liberal activists have raised alarms about its exploitation of personal information to target ads. And the news business is worried about the spread of bogus stories and hoaxes on the site.”

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on Facebook to release the ads bought by Russians during the 2016 elections. “After denying for months that any Russian ads had run on its platform, the company disclosed last week that it had belatedly identified 470 fake accounts that were tied to a notorious Russian troll farm’ in St. Petersburg. The phony accounts purchased more than 3,000 political ads at a cost of at least $100,000 between June 2015 and May 2017.”

It’s not enough to not be evil anymore(Carlos LunaCC BY 2.0)

Major tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google are facing an increase in political pressure. “The new corporate leviathans that used to be seen as bright new avatars of American innovation are increasingly portrayed as sinister new centers of unaccountable power, a transformation likely to have major consequences for the industry and for American politics.”

New AI technology can determine someone’s sexual orientation based on their photographs. “The study from Stanford University — which found that a computer algorithm could correctly distinguish between gay and straight men 81% of the time, and 74% for women — has raised questions about the biological origins of sexual orientation, the ethics of facial-detection technology, and the potential for this kind of software to violate people’s privacy or be abused for anti-LGBT purposes.” (However, the study is now under ethical review.)

Cast of Star Trek: Voyager
The crew of the U.S.S. Voyager

Netflix has compiled a list of the most popular Star Trek episodes that people watch on the streaming service. “The streaming site has all six iterations of the Star Trek series, but only two contained the most-watched episodes in the franchise: Voyager and The Next Generation.” I’m actually surprised that most of these episodes are from Voyager rather than The Next Generation.

This summer was Hollywood’s worst in over a decade, but don’t blame movie critics. “The subtler truth is that the domestic movie market is in a slow, decades-long structural decline. To lasso millions of busy and distracted people into movie theaters, the major studios are spending more money on fewer films. This has led, predictably, to spiky returns — huge hits, huge flops, and less in between. As a result, entire quarters can hinge on the success of one or two movies. Rather than react hysterically to every single bad month or weekend, it’s more useful to consider the bigger picture.”

Netflix's Atypical
Keir Gilchrist as Sam in Netflix’s Atypical

Netflix’s Atypical may have a main character with autism, but autism isn’t what the series is really about. “Sam’s autism is certainly a worthy tool within Atypical, but it’s utilized not as a portrait but as a mirror — a way by which viewers might reconcile their perceived expertise in love with their actual failings to love well.”

Shoegaze had its start in England but its influence has spread around the globe, including China, Japan, and Taiwan. “[T]he genre continues to influence musicians across the globe, often taking root in the unlikeliest of places. From Tokyo and Taipei to Shanghai and Xiamen, lush hooks, half-whispered lyrics, melodic noise and warrens of effects pedals come together as a quintessentially western musical style cross-pollinates with Asian aesthetics to form a striking hybrid.”

Pizza Hut
I want to go to there…(Ed!CC BY-SA 3.0)

I remember that golden age when Pizza Hut was the king of restaurants. “From the moment you walked in the place, you knew it was something special. You knew this was going to be something you’d remember, and it all started with the decor. The interior didn’t look like a fast food joint with it’s huge, sprawling windows, and cheap looking walls, or tiled floors. When you walked in, you were greeted by brick walls, with smaller windows, that had thick red fabric curtains pulled back, and a carpeted floor. It just felt higher-class that walking into McDonalds or Burger King.” The Pizza Hut of today is a far cry from the Pizza Hut of my childhood. Also, get off my lawn.

Our presuppositions about what alien life will look like could be hampering our search for extraterrestrials. “In recent years, many researchers have tried to unpack the implicit assumptions that have long held sway in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). By looking at the diversity of beings here on Earth, scientists are starting to realize the difficulties that could be inherent in communicating with those on other planets.”

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