The Download: fixing social media, and US monkeypox vaccines

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Social media is polluting society. Moderation alone won’t fix the problem

We all want to be able to speak our minds online—to be heard by our friends and talk (back) to our opponents. At the same time, we don’t want to be exposed to speech that is inappropriate or crosses a line. Technology companies address this conundrum by setting standards for free speech, a practice protected under federal law, hiring in-house moderators to examine individual pieces of content and removing them if posts violate predefined rules.

The approach clearly has problems: harassment, misinformation about topics like public health, and false descriptions of legitimate elections run rampant. But even if content moderation were implemented perfectly, it would still miss a whole host of issues that are often portrayed as moderation problems but really are not. To address those issues, we need a new strategy: treat social media companies as potential polluters of the social fabric, and directly measure and mitigate the effects their choices have on human populations. Read the full story.

By Nathaniel Lubin, a fellow at the Digital Life Initiative at Cornell Tech and former director of the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House under President Barack Obama, and Thomas Krendl Gilbert, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell Tech.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The US is trying to make its limited monkeypox vaccines last
By injecting just one-fifth of a normal dose. (NYT $)
+ The Danish firm that makes monkeypox vaccines isn’t producing more until 2023. (Wired $) 
+ Intellectual property rights are a major obstacle to wider access. (Slate)
Everything you need to know about the monkeypox vaccines. (MIT Technology Review)

2 We need better ways to report major cyberattacks
Private security firms are in favor of a new initiative from a US federal agency. (Protocol)
+ China-backed spies have hacked European militaries and government agencies. (The Register)

3 Silicon Valley is getting into the weapons business
Rising geopolitical tensions mean more opportunities for sales. (Economist $)
+ Why business is booming for military AI startups. (MIT Technology Review

4 A crypto mixing service has been sanctioned by the US
Over its role in enabling billions of dollars worth of crypto to be laundered. (TechCrunch)
+ The US’s fight to regulate crypto is intensifying. (Wired $)
+ A load of celebrities have been rapped for not disclosing their cyrpto connections. (BuzzFeed News)

5Game-loving children in China are being targeted by scammers
Fraudsters promise extra gaming time in exchange for money. (The Register

6 YouTube is too big for Russia to block
But its nearest rival, RuTube, is working furiously to catch up. (WSJ $)
+ How Russia seized control of Ukraine’s internet. (NYT $)

7 Skin cancer is going undiagnosed among Black patients
A catalog exploring how diseases appear on different skin colors could aid diagnoses. (Undark)
+ Doctors using AI catch breast cancer more often than either does alone. (MIT Technology Review)

8 A bitter lawsuit is tearing apart the flying car industry 
One of its best-funded firms has accused another of stealing trade secrets. (Fast Company $)
+ Meanwhile, a jet-train hybrid is in development in Canada. (Inverse)

9 Facebook’s chatbot isn’t a fan of its own makers
Which is more than a little awkward. (Motherboard)
+ Meta-owned WhatsApp will now allow you to slip out of groups unnoticed. (The Guardian

10 Who is the money content industry really for? 💸
For people with no money, a lot of its advice is pointless. (New Statesman $)
+ The risks and rewards of paying off student debt on the blockchain. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“When we were turning out big profits, I became somewhat delirious, and looking back at myself now, I am quite embarrassed and remorseful.”

—Masayoshi Son, CEO of tech investment company SoftBank, explains his regret at getting carried away in an investment spree that cost that company more than $23 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports.

How Pfizer made an effective anti-covid pill

February 2022

In the early days of the pandemic, all eyes were on potential vaccines. But mostly out of sight of the media, quieter efforts to custom-design a covid-19 pill were moving forward with similar urgency and hope.

Chemists at Pfizer’s research facility in Connecticut dusted off some ideas the company had developed during the SARS outbreak in 2003, and found that they could hit the virus hard and not expect any major side effects.

In fact, laboratory tests run by Pfizer suggest Paxlovid will work against all coronaviruses, meaning the company may have hit on a potential defense against the next outbreak, too. But while experts have praised the speed of its development and hailed it as the next big step, the pill remains in short supply. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ These notes and drawings that librarians have uncovered in returned books are so heartwarming (Thanks Charlotte!)
+ Oh, to be a spectator at Chicago’s annual Ducky Derby. 🦆
+ I need to try a café de olla immediately.
+ A never-before-seen picture of a star was, in fact, a slice of chorizo.
+ A newly-discovered group of spiders has been named after the late, great, David Bowie.

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