On Sunday, Facebook sort of apologized for manipulating the news feeds of 689,003 randomly selected users, all for the purpose of science. For a week in January 2012, Facebook researchers secretly funneled either more positive or negative stories into the selected news feeds, then watched to see how the users reacted in their own posts.
The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month, are actually pretty interesting: Moods are contagious, even over social networks. Or as the researchers put it:
When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicated that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. [PNAS]
If the findings are interesting, the methodology is pretty controversial. Facebook argues that it has the right to do this under that terms of service agreement you didn't read when you signed up, but academic social scientists are supposed to get "informed consent" from the subjects. There was also some more gut-level revulsion at the idea of Facebook manipulating people's feelings — here's privacy activist Lauren Weinstein:
I wonder if Facebook KILLED anyone with their emotion manipulation stunt. At their scale and with depressed people out there, it's possible.
— Lauren Weinstein (@laurenweinstein) June 29, 2014
After the PNAS study began to get noticed, Adam Kramer, the Facebook employee who conducted it with two researchers from Cornell and UC San Francisco, tried to explain himself on (where else?) Facebook:
We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.... My coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. [Facebook]
The world's largest social network has long shaped what its users see: When you log in, Facebook shows you about 300 of the 1,500 items that might show up on your news feed, determined by a closely guarded algorithm. "Facebook didn't do anything illegal, but they didn't do right by their customers," Gartner analyst Brian Blau tells The New York Times. Caveat emptor. Peter Weber
It's called "Neutra," and you see it every time you turn on HBO's Girls, order a SmokeShack from Shake Stack, or go to a Washington Nationals game. And now the hipster-chic, thin, mid-century font is officially the typeface of Washington, D.C.
"Whatever we're promoting, whether it's summer camp or a public health test, we want to make sure that it looks and feels like a government product," the D.C. Communications director Michael Czin told Wired.
So how exactly did our nation's capital decide on a font? Let Wired explain:
[Designer Andy] Cruz credits the font's "certain stylistic but non-descript feel." "I think it has that comforting authority to it," he says.
[Designer Paula] Scher doesn't regard the font as neutral, saying that it harkens back to a specific moment in time — the midcentury — which makes it an odd choice for a city government. "It's a retro font," she says. What does it have to do with progress? Then again — this is Washington D.C. [Wired]
Nancy 'we have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it' Pelosi goes after Iran deal critics by asking whether they've read it
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attacked opponents of President Obama's Iran deal on Thursday by expressing confusion over whether they'd still oppose the plan if they truly understood it. "You wonder why," she mused. "Have they even read it? [This opposition] looks political to me."
Whether Pelosi is right or not, it's a line of critique that she is uniquely not positioned to make: Perhaps the most infamous line to come out of the 2010 ObamaCare debate was Pelosi's claim that "we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out what's in it."
Donald Trump's tradition of giving hyperbolic sound bites dates all the way back to 1973, when he was the 27-year-old president of the Trump Management Corporation in Brooklyn. The New York Times unearthed its very first mention of the now-inescapable public figure, and his first-ever quote is quite fitting.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 31, 2015
In the Oct. 16, 1973 article "Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City," Trump got his first taste of infamy after the Justice Department brought a suit in federal court against Trump and his father, Fred C. Trump, accusing them of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by refusing to "rent or negotiate rentals because of race and color." The suit "charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available," The New York Times writes. Trump, of course, was indignant:
Donald Trump's first quoted words in The New York Times expressed his view of the charges:
"They are absolutely ridiculous."
"We never have discriminated," he added, "and we never would." [The New York Times]
Though Trump Management later sued the government for $100 million over the accusation, the two parties reached an agreement in 1975 in which the company had to provide the New York Urban League with a list of apartment vacancies every week for two years, and the league could present qualified applicants to every fifth opening in a Trump building where less than 10 percent of the occupants were black.
If that irked Trump, he wasn't showing it: He refused to describe the agreement as an admission of guilt, and by 1976, he seemed to be doing quite well for himself. From the Times on Nov. 1, 1976:
He is tall, lean and blond, with dazzling white teeth, and he looks ever so much like Robert Redford. He rides around town in a chauffeured silver Cadillac with his initials, DJT, on the plates. He dates slinky fashion models, belongs to the most elegant clubs and, at only 30 years of age, estimates that he is worth 'more than $200 million.' [The New York Times]
On Thursday afternoon, anti-drug organization D.A.R.E. published a surprising op-ed on its site. "I support [marijuana] legalization precisely because I want to reduce youths' drug use," the article argued. "We already tried alcohol prohibition and it was a violent catastrophe, too. Please don't let Ohio be known as one of the last bastions of marijuana hysteria."
As the news coverage piled up ("The war on drugs is over, and weed won," declared New York), the article disappeared (see a screenshot of the post before it was taken down here). In an emailed statement to The Washington Post, D.A.R.E. regional director John Lindsay clarified that D.A.R.E. does "not support legalization nor do we advoate [sic] for legalization of marijuana." Lindsay suggested that the op-ed's title, "Purchasing Marijuana Puts Kids at Risk," was the source of the mistake.
Next time, D.A.R.E., just say no to republishing content after only reading the headline. Bonnie Kristian
The results are in from drug giant Merck's most recent trial of a vaccine for Ebola — and they look pretty good:
The vaccine was 100 percent effective when it was tested on more than 4,000 people who were in close contact with Ebola patients in the African nation of Guinea, the World Health Organization said, citing a study published today in the Lancet medical journal. The trial of the vaccine, called Ebola ca suffit — "Ebola, that's enough" in French — began on March 23. [Bloomberg]
A panel overseeing the trial says a late-stage trial of the vaccine should proceed.
The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), seems to be having a bit of trouble defining her own party. Speaking with MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Hardball, she appeared confused by his question concerning if self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders would be allowed to speak at the Democratic convention.
"Bernie Sanders has been a good Democrat," Wasserman-Schultz said as Matthews barraged her with questions. "Of course he should speak."
"Speak in primetime?' Matthews continued, to Wasserman-Schultz's increasing confusion. He finally insisted to know the difference between Democrats and socialists, leaving Wasserman-Schultz looking utterly baffled.
"I used to think there was a big difference," Matthews said. "What do you think?"
"The real question is, what's the difference between being a Democrat and being a Republican?" Wasserman-Schultz said, attempting to dodge the question.
“Okay, but what’s the big difference between a Democrat and a socialist?” Matthews persisted. “You're the chairwoman of the Democratic Party. Tell me the difference between you and a socialist.”
“The relevant debate that we’ll be having over the course of this campaign is, what's the difference between being a Democrat and being a Republican," Wasserman-Schultz said again.
Matthews finally threw up his hands. "I think there's a huge difference."
Watch the whole thing unfold below. Jeva Lange
Mitt Romney said Ted Cruz was 'hurting' the GOP. Cruz scoffed back that Romney got 'clobbered' in 2012.
After GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz charged earlier this week that the Iran nuclear deal would make President Obama the leading sponsor of global terrorism, the GOP's 2012 nominee pushed back on Twitter:
I am opposed to the Iran deal, but @SenTedCruz is way over the line on the Obama terrorism charge. Hurts the cause.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) July 30, 2015
The Texas senator was having none of it. On air with KFYO’s Chad Hasty, Cruz responded to the tweet with a couple words aimed especially at Romney — and his failed 2012 campaign. (The relevant section starts around the 12-minute mark.)
"Now it's interesting, in the past couple of weeks we've seen both Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, both of them talking about, 'Now take it easy, guys, you don't really need to oppose this Iranian nuclear deal quite so forcefully,'" Cruz told Hasty. "You know, it's interesting, two days ago, or three days ago, President Obama was in Africa. And he chose to attack me directly for saying that if this deal goes through, the Obama administration will become the leading global financier of radical Islamic terrorism. And he attacked me personally. But you know what he didn't do? He didn't disagree with the facts."
Cruz went on: "The unavoidable consequence of those facts is if this deal goes through, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry will be the leading global financiers of radical Islamic terrorism on the face of the Earth."
"One of the reasons Republicans keep getting clobbered, is we have leaders, like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, who are afraid to say that," Cruz added.
Cruz pointed to Romney's failed 2012 campaign against Obama as proof. "We all remember that third debate where Barack Obama turned to Mitt and said, 'I said the Benghazi attack was terrorism and no one is more upset by Benghazi than I am,'" Cruz said. "And Mitt, I guess listening to his own advice, said, 'Gosh, I don't want to use any rhetoric so okay, never mind, I'll just kind of rearrange the pencil on the podium here.' We need to stand up and speak the truth with a smile. The truth has power." Jeva Lange