Future Tense Newsletter: Digital Body Armor

Sarula Bao
Sarula Bao

Greetings, Future Tensers,

Last week, we published “Thoughts and Prayers,” the latest installment of our Future Tense Fiction series. In it, author Ken Liu imagines how much worse online trolling and abuse could get in a story about a near-future society in which the social media response in the aftermath of a mass shooting rapidly escalates out of control. In her response essay to the story, digital culture researcher Adrienne Massanari looks at how online harassers rationalize their cruel behavior as “just trolling,” or even as doing the right thing. She explains how trolls’ “aggrieved entitlement” ultimately leads to a distorted sense of punching up and punching down that distorts how these toxic digital actions have real-life consequences for their targets.

Elsewhere on Future Tense, we’ve been exploring other issues related to privacy and power.

Will Oremus argues that Apple’s frightful FaceTime bug should remind us that, in a world with cameras and sensors embedded in nearly all of our electronics, we can never really trust that our devices to keep our digital lives private. Josephine Wolff explains how two sloppy attempts at surveilling human rights researchers are “pulling back the curtain on the tools and techniques that governments and others use to conduct digital surveillance and compromise devices belonging to journalists, human rights activists, and political dissidents around the world.” And Aaron Mak tells us how a recent Florida case demonstrates the inherent problems with using facial recognition technology to identify suspects in low-stakes crimes.

Other things we read between wondering about the fate of Maduro’s Instagram verification:

¿Alexa, cómo estás? Although Amazon’s Alexa speaks both English and Spanish, it seems the smart speakers can’t handle a little Spanglish. Faith Smith documents her family’s struggle trying to get Alexa to comprehend her bilingual family.

Doctor Wiki: While you would be right to be concerned if your lawyer consulted Wikipedia, you shouldn’t fear if your physician does, argues Stephen Harrison.

Subzero: Aaron Mak spoke with Climate Central’s Sean Sublette to discuss how TV meteorologists talk about the effects of climate change as the polar vortex bears down on the country.

Can you hear me now? Telecom companies are seriously overhyping the roll-out of 5G networks in ways that may have major consequences for consumers, Amir Nasr explains.

Getting that bread: The hugely popular online video game Fortnite isn’t just attracting gamers out to yeet their opponents. It’s also attracting criminals. Tamara Evdokimova explains how shady characters are using the in-game currency to launder real-world money.

New messages: April Glaser dives into why Facebook needs to be extra careful as it moves to merge Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram, and what it might mean for users.

Virtual crisis: As the political and economic crisis in Venezuela deepens, the embattled government of Nicolás Maduro has been blocking access to social media and other websites. But digital rights groups and other activists have been pushing back.

To the cottage industry of fake news warriors,

Anthony Nguyen

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.