China’s Tiananmen anniversary crackdowns reach far beyond the firewall

The 24-hour vigil started just after 8 a.m. US Eastern Time on June 3—more or less on schedule, and without any major disruptions.

The event, hosted on Zoom and broadcast live on other platforms such as YouTube, was put together by Chinese activists to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Beijing’s bloody clampdown on a student-led pro-democracy movement that took place on June 4, 1989.

The fact that it could take place wasn’t certain: organizers were worried that they’d see a repeat of last year, when Zoom, the Californian videoconferencing company, shut down three Tiananmen-related events including theirs after a request from the Chinese government. The company even temporarily suspended the accounts of the coordinators, despite the fact that all of them were located outside of mainland China and four of them were in the US.

Zoom’s actions led to an investigation and lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice in … Read the rest

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Why you can’t write for Bulletin, Facebook’s new Substack clone

Mark Zuckerberg onstage at a 2019 event. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Facebook wants to launch its newsletter product later this month. But it doesn’t want controversial writers using it — just the ones it’s recruiting.

Substack made email newsletters buzzy — and controversial. Then Twitter bought a Substack competitor and launched its own version. Now it’s Facebook’s turn: The social network is prepping its take on subscription newsletters with something called Bulletin. It’s aiming for a launch at the end of June.

Like its competitors, Bulletin is a simple proposition: Find a writer you like who covers something you’re interested in, sign up and receive a regular stream of content in your inbox. Some version of it will be free, and there will also be a paid option at some point.

And the Facebook twist on the product is … Facebook. Specifically, Facebook’s massive reach, with 2.85 billion users … Read the rest

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Five questions posed by Facebook’s two-year ban on Donald Trump

On Friday, Facebook announced that it would suspend former president Donald Trump from the social network for two years, until at least January 7, 2023, and said he would “only be reinstated if conditions permit.”

The announcement comes in response to recommendations last month from Facebook’s recently created Oversight Board. Facebook had hoped that the board would decide how to handle Trump’s account, but while it upheld the company’s initial decision to ban Trump from the platform for inciting violence on January 6, it punted the long-term decision back to executives in Palo Alto.

The news that Trump would be banned from Facebook for another 19 months was meant to provide some answers on the platform’s relationship with the former president—but instead it leaves many open questions.

Who is this decision supposed to please?

Although the announcement provides some actual rules about how politicians can use Facebook—and some guidance on … Read the rest

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What Facebook’s two-year Trump ban does and doesn’t do

This is how Donald Trump makes a “Like.” | James Devaney/GC Images

The social network says the former president will receive a two-year ban following his actions surrounding January 6.

Donald Trump’s Facebook ban will last at least two years, the company announced on Friday. Facebook said that the former president’s actions on January 6, which contributed to a violent mob storming Capitol Hill and staging an insurrection that led to five deaths, “constituted a severe violation of our rules,” and that it was enacting this policy change as part of a new approach to public figures during civil unrest.

Facebook added that the two-year sanction constitutes a time period “long enough” to be a significant deterrent to Trump and other world leaders who might make similar posts, as well as enough to allow for a “safe period of time after the acts of incitement.” However, Facebook still has not … Read the rest

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Why the ransomware crisis suddenly feels so relentless

Just weeks after a major American oil pipeline was struck by hackers, a cyberattack hit the world’s largest meat supplier. What next? Will these criminals target hospitals and schools? Will they start going after US cities, governments—and even the military?

In fact, all of these have been hit by ransomware already. While the onslaught we’ve seen in the last month feels new, hackers holding services hostage and demanding payments has been a huge business for years. Dozens of American cities have been disrupted by ransomware, while hospitals were hit by attacks even during the depths of the pandemic. And in 2019, the US military was targeted. But that doesn’t mean what we’re seeing now is just a matter of awareness. So what’s different now?

It’s the result of inaction

You cannot explain the metastasizing of the ransomware crisis without examining years of American inaction. The global ransomware crisis grew to … Read the rest

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Is United’s green supersonic jet too good to be true?

United announced that it will buy 15 supersonic passenger planes from the aviation startup Boom. | Boom

Several startups are racing to get supersonic planes flying again, nearly two decades after the Concorde was retired.

On Thursday, United Airlines announced it was purchasing a fleet of 15 planes that can travel faster than the speed of sound. With a cost per jet of $200 million, the deal is worth $3 billion. If the order goes through, this would be the first fleet of supersonic passenger aircraft since the Concorde.

United says that the planes, which are being purchased from the Denver-based supersonic flight startup Boom, are designed to go at speeds twice as fast as a typical flight. That would be fast enough to get someone from Newark to London in just three and a half hours. The first of these flights is scheduled for 2026, and the company plans … Read the rest

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NASA is ending its 30-year Venus drought with two new missions

The last time NASA launched a dedicated mission to Venus was in 1989. The Magellan orbiter spent four years studying Venus before it was allowed to crash into the planet’s surface. For almost 30 years, NASA has given Venus the cold shoulder. 

All of that is about to change with a double feature. NASA administrator Bill Nelson announced Wednesday that the agency has selected two new missions to explore Venus: DAVINCI+ and VERITAS. In the words of planetary scientist Paul Byrne of North Carolina State University, “We have gone from a drought to a banquet.”

It’s honestly a bit hard to understand why NASA has not been more bullish about going to back to Venus in such a long time. It’s true that Venus has always been a tough bugger to explore because of its hostile environment. The surface boasts temperatures of up to 471 °C (hot enough to melt … Read the rest

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Google says it’s committed to ethical AI research. Its ethical AI team isn’t so sure.

Google’s ethical AI department has been in a state of flux since the company fired Timnit Gebru, the team’s former leader. | Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Six months after Timnit Gebru left, Google’s ethical artificial intelligence team is still in a state of upheaval.

Six months after star AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru said Google fired her over an academic paper scrutinizing a technology that powers some of the company’s key products, the company says it’s still deeply committed to ethical AI research. It promised to double its research staff studying responsible AI to 200 people, and CEO Sundar Pichai has pledged his support to fund more ethical AI projects. Jeff Dean, the company’s head of AI, said in May that while the controversy surrounding Gebru’s departure was a “reputational hit,” it’s time to move on.

But some current members of Google’s tightly knit ethical AI group told Recode … Read the rest

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All together now: the most trustworthy covid-19 model is an ensemble

Earlier this spring, a paper studying covid forecasting appeared on the medRxiv preprint server with an authors’ list running 256 names long.

At the end of the list was Nicholas Reich, a biostatistician and infectious-disease researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The paper reported results of a massive modeling project that Reich has co-led, with his colleague Evan Ray, since the early days of the pandemic. The project began with their attempts to compare various models online making short-term forecasts about covid-19 trajectories, looking one to four weeks ahead, for infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths. All used varying data sources and methods and produced vastly divergent forecasts.

“I spent a few nights with forecasts on browsers on multiple screens, trying to make a simple comparison,” says Reich (who is also a puzzler and a juggler). “It was impossible.”

In an effort to standardize an analysis, in April 2020, Reich’s … Read the rest

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Michael Flynn’s coup comments show how QAnon is evolving in the Biden era

Michael Flynn over the weekend appeared to endorse the idea that a coup should happen in the US. He later backtracked his comments. | Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Some QAnon followers think a military coup like the one in Myanmar should also happen in the US.

While speaking at a Dallas conference aimed at QAnon adherents on Sunday, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn appeared to endorse the idea of a military coup to reinstate Donald Trump as president. A member of the audience asked about the possibility of a Myanmar-style coup in the US, and Flynn said there was “no reason” something similar couldn’t happen in America. He added, “I mean, it should happen here.”

After public backlash, Flynn subsequently declared on the encrypted chat app Telegram that the media had manipulated his words, insisting he actually said there was “no reason it (a coup) should happen here (in … Read the rest

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