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Talking Angela: An Accidental Misinformation Campaign

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 29, 2021

Games

The early 2010s was an era of mobile-gaming greats, with such classics as “Where’s My Water?” and “Cut the Rope” appearing on millions of smartphones. ‘Thingamajig’ style apps started appearing: these are the apps that allow you to interact with a single character or device on-screen, usually with a limited set of tools.

The more complex ones were like Talking Tom, a cat character who you could smack and give cake to. Talking Tom could also repeat things you said into the microphone, which made him very popular. The next generation of these ‘Talking X’ characters included Angela, who, unlike Tom, had a typed chat feature. She couldn’t generate her own replies, but she could give responses from a pre-made library that were roughly relevant to what the player had typed. The AI was fairly simple, but it kept kids entertained, and that was good enough. The app was PG-E with a child mode because it had in-game purchases. Naturally, the content was pretty tame even with child mode off.

It did ask questions about the user’s name and age as well as conversational topics, but that was with that child mode off. In the event that a parent forgets to set child mode to ‘on’ or the kid gets around it, Angela still couldn’t ask anything invasive. Her AI gave her pre-made responses, she couldn’t ‘learn’ beyond adding player inputs to her answers. There was just no way she could somehow get obscene or explicit. Or threatening, really.

Rumors

That’s where the problems start: Talking Angela being able to respond at all gave some people the impression she was actually talking to the player. The chat was on an open keyboard and not a preselected menu of answers, and if child mode was off, children tended to overshare.

Parents look over, see that their child has told some chat feature that they’re in their living room, they’re eight years old, and their name is X, and understandably panic! Talking Angela slipped right by lessons of Stranger Danger because she’s a cute cartoon cat. This information wasn’t sent anywhere – basically nothing got sent anywhere unless the player made a purchase via iTunes – but it was still scary to parents.

Parents takes screenshots and posts them to their Facebook group warning other parents, yadda yadda. It’s a fair reaction! They don’t know who’s running Talking Angela, they don’t know for certain it’s not recording the logs (it wasn’t). However, people took this a step farther. Some began saying that Talking Angela was being puppeted by a bad actor on the other side of the screen. Others said she started asking strange questions outside of her normal script.

Talking Angela quickly turned into a creepypasta.

Full-Blown Creepy Stories

Edited photos of text logs are usually pretty easy to spot. People with no experience think they’re easy to recreate, but tiny details like the time and font of the text make fakes obvious to all but the most gullible of conspiracy groups. Even so, edited pictures are enough to compel a lot of people, even if they don’t make logical sense. The most common non-text one is where Talking Angela has a reflection of a man in her eyes. Closely following are text-based edits of explicit questions to the user, questions about the user’s address and exact locations, responses warning the user that she’s on her way – basically, anything you wouldn’t find in a child-friendly chat-app was supposed to have happened to somebody.

Talking Angela made it to the top ten most popular games as a result of this, and you’d think the number of people trying it out themselves would disprove the insane stories. Nope, they made it worse, and the rumors spread to the app page itself as well as forums all over the internet. Somewhere along the line, a kid ‘went missing’ due to Talking Angela. Pictures of this alongside the eye pictures and the pictures of Angela herself circulated far and wide. Snopes, alongside a host of other internet skeptics, took on the case.

Disproving and Lies, Obviously

That kid never existed. There was no “Eli Moreno” matching the details given in the Talking Angela rumors. It was all lies! Snopes alongside basically every other reputable news site that had heard of it announced that this was provably false. It is. Nothing about it makes sense.

We know now that apps already know where you are. Even with ‘Exact Location’ functionalities turned off, they have your location history, which tells them that within a certain radius you’re probably at house X. The app store knows where you’re at as long as you have your phone on you.

So, Talking Angela wouldn’t have needed you to tell her where you are, firstly. Secondly, because App stores are always harvesting info from you to sell ads, they’ll also have an approximate age range and likes/dislikes list for you as well. Check out Google’s version here: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/162744?hl=en as well as Apple’s: https://observer.com/2018/10/apple-data-download-how-to-get-copy/. Wonder why you’re getting ads for cat food when you’re low, even though you didn’t search for it? They already know. They already know you. They don’t need some dinky little AI chat to get this info from their users or their kids.

Functionally, most aspects of Talking Angela’s predator hoax don’t make any sense either. Like those edited pictures where Angela’s eyes somehow behave like a two-way mirror over a digital connection. The front facing camera is at the top of the phone, the rest of the device doesn’t behave like a camera. The app asks permission from the user to turn the camera on anyway, but let’s assume Talking Angela has somehow disabled the phone’s native privacy features. It makes no logical sense for someone to be ‘visible’ in Talking Angela’s eyes – how would that even work? The eyes aren’t the camera, so the app-maker would have to both enable the theoretical predator’s camera and then program that video feed to appear in the cat’s eyes. The predator would also have to have their own camera on and unblocked, which isn’t necessary to view the user’s camera. If someone smart were programming this as a way to prey on children, surely, such an obvious sign that something’s wrong with the cat wouldn’t be intentionally programmed in? A total lack of understanding smartphones colored many of these rumors.

Not to mention the streaming costs of having video allegedly going both ways. Somehow, this doesn’t cost as much data as a Facetime call does, even though that’s how much data that function would consume – if it were real. In reality, Talking Angela behaves the same with or without internet, which wouldn’t be true if the cat was being controlled by someone remotely. And as several people have pointed out, Talking Angela has millions of downloads; it would take hundreds if not thousands of weirdos and creeps to filter out adults from snatchable kids. There’s just no way.

Sources: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/talking-angela-warning/

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/21/talking-angela-app-facebook-hoax-developer-outfit7

(Inspiration taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-IlDT7U2Hc )

The EA Pride and Accomplishment Incident

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 26, 2021

EA – You can’t just do that.

I’ve talked about the incident before in my article on loot boxes, but the event was historic.

Star Wars Fans – Some Background

Star Wars fans are some of the most intense fans out there. People form units of stormtroopers IRL and march in parades for fun. Replica blasters, replica lightsabers, and good replica costumes cost upwards of hundreds of dollars. Disney has (or had, at least) an entire section of their park dedicated to it. There’s no question: the original trilogy is near – universally loved, and many people adopted it as a cornerstone of their childhoods, an aspect of their personality, or a way of understanding the world. It brings people together, for better or worse.

 Make a good series or game based off of this universe, and rake in money – The Mandalorian, for example, is quickly becoming what the prequels could not. Make a bad series or game, and your name goes down in infamy. Even though they’ve said several times that their hands were tied when it came to the script, Kellie Marie Tran and John Boyega got nonstop harassment until they either left Twitter or responded forcefully enough to stop the constant complaints after The Last Jedi.

Anyway, what I’m saying here is that the Star Wars fan base is not the kind of fan base you can just toss IP at and hope they take it. It takes capturing the right ‘vibe’ of Star Wars, and even if you get the color palette, the story, and the general setting right, you can still produce something they don’t like if the concept itself is off.

EA – Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefront II

As a result, when a company stumbles upon something the fans really like, they’ll ride that horse as long as they can! Enter Star Wars Battlefront in 2004, one of the most loved action-based Star Wars games out there. I remember playing it myself! It really is a good game, even if you don’t like Star Wars. Very enjoyable. It came before a lot of other ‘contested’ or ‘non-canon’ content entered the universe, so fans were willing to trust and enjoy it from the get-go.

Star Wars is nothing if not sequels, though, so now we get to the point of this article (skipping over some other well-liked sequels and reboots to get there) Star Wars Battlefront… II.

The world has changed since the first entries into the series. Fans are more polarized than ever – the critics saying The Last Jedi was merely okay were said to have been paid off, because the idea that anybody even slightly liked the film was unbelievable in some corners of the web. This produces a lot of pressure for game studios. Their old work is put on a pedestal, and their new work has to live up to it. If it does live up to it, the game’s as good as gold. If it doesn’t, fans may remove themselves from the game network. Not everyone playing the game has to be a Star Wars fan, and not every Star Wars fan has to leave, but annoying too many fans of any franchise is a good way to throw away the money you spent on licensing. As such, it’s critical to maintain good relationships with the community.

 Anyway, Battlefront II released in 2017, and fans were pretty happy with it, at first. It’s online multiplayer was decent, it’s arenas were diverse and exciting, and the gameplay was really good, except for one factor. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker took 40 hours to unlock. Each.

Pride And Accomplishment

That’s an enormous amount of time. An entire workweek. You could play nearly the entire main line of Halo games in 40 hours. EA did not have the kind of record that would allow fans to overlook this.

EA has made mistakes that got it bad press before: it used to regularly acquire smaller studios, and then eat the content they had lined up before discarding said studios; it used to force developers into perma-crunchtime, so every week was release week; and it got into some nasty licensing issues when it owned exclusive rights to make NFL games with NFL logos and players. That’s barely even gameplay related! It got awarded Worst Company of the Year from Consumerist just months after BP spilled millions of gallons of oil into the coast with a burst pipeline. Why? The endings to Mass Effect 3 were all the same.

So it’s not unfair to say EA’s gotten into trouble with their public perception before. The issue this time is that they tried to explain themselves on Reddit, a public forum where anyone with an account is able to comment. Earlier, players had discovered that it was nearly impossible to earn the character Darth Vader in the game with in-game points. That’s frustrating – Darth Vader is a really good character. But whatever, right? Everyone’s on the same footing, so people with Darth Vader just worked really hard to get him, and spent like 40 hours getting credits to unlock him, and then 300 hours grinding for the top level, right?

Right?

You wouldn’t allow some players to bypass this system with real money, right??

Turns out, that’s exactly what they did! Players could purchase Darth Vader and gain an undue advantage over other players with plain ol’ cash. May I remind you, this game isn’t free-to-play. It cost 60$ just to play the game! Tacking on in-game purchases is already iffy on cheaper games, but a Triple A title? Obviously people were upset, and EA decided to comment where they saw negativity on the Battlefront subreddit. When asked how they could justify the double-charging for what was essentially the game’s easy-mode, they responded with this:

Screenshot directly from the original Reddit Thread

Note the number of downvotes. This is the single-most downvoted comment in Reddit history. There are roughly six times as many downvotes on this post as there were total members of the subreddit at the time. People point out how ridiculous it is to expect players to stay on their game for an entire work week’s worth of time. Others speculate that Darth Vader takes so many credits because they want users to spend all their in game credits on Vader, thus forcing them to buy the lootboxes in-game for upgraded gear. No matter how EA tried to spin it, the ‘sense of pride and accomplishment’ came down to spending money. The people running the Reddit account had no idea what they actually looked like in the customer’s eyes. Star Wars fans turned on EA – highly polarized audiences will meme on anything, and EA’s poor response splattered the front page of other subreddits.

How could they have possibly salvaged it, though? The gameplay plan was already implemented. They either didn’t listen to Beta testers or didn’t test for this specific issue – getting Vader was hard. Obnoxiously hard. The thought of the potential profits likely blinded them to the possibility of Star Wars fans not simply accepting new IP and being happy. After all, the series was good, right? Star Wars fans will shell out a lot of money for good content, right? Some did – many more were upset, though.

 Fixing it once the cat was out of the bag would mean shortening the length of time it took to get Vader and Luke, which would irritate the people who already bought him. They painted themselves into a corner, and their only option was to walk on the wet paint, one way or another.

Sources:

https://fortune.com/2017/11/29/ea-star-wars-battlefront-2-controversy-stock/

https://www.reddit.com/r/StarWarsBattlefront/comments/7cff0b/seriously_i_paid_80_to_have_vader_locked/dppum98/?st=JH2MUORV&sh=5997c5a5 (the original thread)

Folding Phones, and the Road to Get There

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 24, 2021

Brick Phones

The first portable phones were barely portable at all. A suitcase with a battery combined with an obnoxiously heavy phone apparatus made the first portable phones more of a novelty than an everyday item, useful only for the uber-important. The next step came with a battery packed right into the part you talked at and listened from, which could get exhausting to hold up if the call was especially long. Most phone manufacturers have some version of the infamous brick, and Samsung’s was both slightly later to the market and slightly smaller than many of them, a handheld phone released in 1988 called the SH-100. It’s the first mobile phone to be both designed and manufactured in Korea, but mobile devices weren’t particularly popular at the time. The perception was sort of like the Segway; why buy an entire mobile phone for X$ when you could simply use street- and building- phones? And who’s calling you, anyway? Obviously, this changed, but the initial launch was slow, each upgrade only adding tiny slivers of market share to Samsung’s slice up until they were able to compensate for Korea’s uniquely signal-blocking topography. They began to dominate other competitors (namely Motorola), and became a serious competitor in the emerging mobile phone market!

Folding Mobile Phones

Phone manufacturers knew that phones should reach both the ear and the mouth of the user at the same time. If it didn’t, the early microphones would make their voice indistinguishably staticky, or they’d have to shout. Phones had to have a minimum length to be comfortable to use, and they had to have a minimum size and thickness for the battery. Over time, batteries became flatter and smaller – Motorola releases the first folding phone in 1996, and the rest is history.

Manufacturers and designers soon realize that this is an excellent opportunity for customers to showcase their tastes and individuality, and so optimal design took many forms: phones could rotate. They could slide. They could simply flip open, or they could pivot. The world was an oyster, and the possibilities were unlimited.

Samsung had a number of worthy entries; some were classical flip phones with num-pads, some had tiny folding joints for an especially sleek profile when closed, some slid up to reveal tiny keyboards beneath large screens, one was a slide-up with both a 9-Key and a qwerty keyboard, nothing especially special in a world dominated by physical buttons. One phone managed to mix all of the actions, and featured both physical buttons and a tilt-a-whirl screen that could make watching videos easier. Phone manufacturers were all over the place trying to make the optimal shape… and all of that changed in 2006.

The First Smartphones – A Cultural Shift

Smartphones were revolutionary. Apple was the first to make one with the touchscreen as we know it today (previous models were too big for mobile devices or not sensitive enough to work under a light touch). But as their popularity grew, so did complaints about the system. Scratches, freezing, getting hacked, having so much info in one spot, breaking easily, expense – and yet, none of the foretellings of Apple’s doom came true. The product became a must-have. Competitors now knew the tech was possible and began pouring funds into R&D.

Samsung soon released their own smartphone (unfortunately timed right around the 2008 financial collapse) called the Behold, and took off in the arms race against Apple with different touchscreen technology – a resistive screen that could be used with styluses instead of Apple’s capacitive screen.

Gradually, smartphones become the default instead of an expensive VIP gadget. As such, features were constantly improving in a never-ending arms race among competitors. The easiest to measure and the easiest to achieve was screen size, and Samsung was a determined competitor. Screen size got bigger, and bigger.

Skinny Jeans – And A Desire for Smaller Phones

There’s a reason they stopped! There was a period of time where skinny jeans and ultra-giant screens from Samsung intersected. This may not seem it, but it turned into a huge problem: the pockets were physically too small to actually hold the phone. People with backpacks and purses were fine – most everyone else was not. They’d end up holding the phone in their hand or losing it out of their back pocket when they sat, across brands. (Apple’s iPhone 6 bent under the pressure of back pockets around this same time period, although part of that was a switch to an aluminum case, not just the device’s size.) Samsung, while not famous for bending, became famous for being too large to use effectively.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 in 2014 featured a screen that was 5.7 inches tall. Women’s pockets are often smaller than men’s – it’s a legitimate phenomenon, and skinny jeans only amplified the trend. In 2019, Aberdeen research discovered that only 40% of women could fit an iPhone X in their pocket, a phone with a screen size of 5.65 inches, barely smaller than the Note 4.

 The size also made using the phone with one hand difficult, even if you did have pockets. Many people hold their phone either with their pinky beneath the bottom of the device, or with it held tight against the heel of their palm. The size of the phone meant that many people could barely navigate half of the screen with their thumb if they only had one hand available.

Between skinny jeans for everyone and an oversized phone that was difficult to use and retrieve, marketers were beginning to realize that sometimes users wanted functionality over a device that could serve as a TV. Phone size stopped increasing, and things like cameras and wrap-around screens started appearing on top of the better hardware inside Samsung’s devices. Phones also continued to ratchet up in price.

Apple – And the Death of Steve Jobs

Samsung had a battery quality control issue first identified in 2016. Many people, some experts, some not, claim that this is all that kept Apple from becoming the minority in the market during the awkward transitional period of Apple’s new leadership. Jobs’s legendary ability to see beyond what was possible and market it made him the soul of the company; without him, Apple entered a long downwards trend of hiking costs on mundane items and selling it as a lifestyle instead of an innovation. Customers noticed, many promised to switch. Surely, Samsung could now take over?

The only issue was that Apple had just stumbled, not fallen – their marketing was the issue, not the products, and re-aligning their marketing to their products (which were now more about comfort and ‘luxury’ than innovation) kept them relevant while they sorted their organizational issues out. Apple and Samsung are arguably the two most recognizable smartphone brands out there – Motorolas have more of a reputation for ‘sturdy and cheap’, and Microsoft’s smartphone failed to launch.

Still, there was desire for innovation beyond better cameras and bigger screens.

Full Circle

Samsung made a folding phone. But wait – it made a touchscreen folding phone, something previously thought infeasible! Now that customers had warmed up to incredibly expensive new phones, the price needed to make that tech possible to sell was no longer such a deterrent. You can fold your phone again, and it only costs nearly a thousand dollars to do so. You can’t protect the screen as effectively while it’s open (the fold prevents most kinds of screen protectors from being useful), and it’s still honkin’ huge, but you can fold it and keep the screen away from your keys or rocks on the ground while it’s closed.

The only thing that prevented it happening earlier is a lack of flexible material that also behaved itself right as a resistive screen, the kind of touchscreen Samsung uses. Resistive screens work by including layers of material under the glass that, when pushed together by your finger, communicate the touch to the phone. Capacitives, on the other hand, work by your hand’s interference with the screen’s capacitance field, detecting the touch that way. Resistive screens will work when you’re wearing gloves, but capacitive ones won’t. Resistive screens also work with styluses – capacitive ones need their own special kind. Whether or not Apple, who uses capacitive screens, will be able to follow along, remains to be seen.

How Did They Do It?

Firstly, all of the mechanisms that other smartphones use have to be modified – that doesn’t matter so much for the CPU, but it matters tremendously for the battery, which is now below-par for other smartphones in the same price range.

Secondly, the phone is thicker – and now it has a joint in the middle. Earlier versions of the concept didn’t want to go back to the folding joint seen in flip phones, but they also didn’t want to compromise on size. The result was usually something too thin to drop or squeeze – remember, most phones are made out of aluminum or some kind of alloy, and the average person can already bend a smartphone with their bare hands. Samsung’s leaning towards ‘rectangular prism’ instead of ‘sheet of paper’ makes the device sturdy enough to withstand opening and closing over and over, even though the screen is soft.

Thirdly, the screen is soft! And still capable of operating as a resistive screen. This is possibly the biggest issue facing the screens themselves, and earlier versions of Samsung’s folding phones faced frequent complaints of scratches and dust ‘leaks’ inside the device, both of which were only made worse due to the lack of screen protectors available for their devices. Finding something tolerably soft and yet tolerably resistant to scratches required quite a bit of legwork by Samsung. Only now is the special polymer both cost-effective (as much as it can be for a thousand-dollar phone) and functional.

Sources:

https://www.pcmag.com/news/samsungs-smartphone-history-from-zero-to-galaxy-s4

https://www.theverge.com/2021/1/14/22231954/samsung-to-gradually-remove-chargers-earbuds-from-future-phones

https://www.cnet.com/tech/mobile/samsung-galaxy-z-flip-3-review-the-first-foldable-you-may-actually-want-to-buy/

https://georgiasouthern.libguides.com/c.php?g=612229&p=4545365

The iPhone’s Hard Reset Bug

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 22, 2021

Apple

Apple’s proprietary software is notoriously difficult to make malware for. It’s not that it’s impossible (so don’t go cavorting around sketchy sites without antivirus just because you have an iMac) it’s just tougher than Windows, and because Windows is more common, Windows gets the bulk of the viruses.

However, glitches and bugs are a different story entirely! Bugs are plenty common under the hood of the iPhone – some user inconvenience was deliberately introduced into older phones, allegedly in an attempt to make users upgrade. Apple paid out a pretty penny in lawsuits for that one.

Even on new ones, dropping the phone could make it seize up. Leaving it on too long? Seize up. Apps could crash so hard that the only way to get the screen to respond to inputs again was with a hard reboot. The iPhone isn’t flawless or impossible to break, it’s just hardier on the virus front. With that caveat, sometimes glitches can be used like viruses to disrupt normal use of the phone. The text glitch that forced hard reboots of the phone is one example that Apple’s R&D department won’t soon forget.

But how did it happen?

Unicode

Unicode, which Apple switched to in iOS 5, or somewhere around the release of iPhones 3 and 4, is very widely used. Unicode is a character library meant to homogenize the text you see online. It’s not the only one, but it’s one of the biggest! Unicode assigns a unique numerical value to each character in its library (letters, numbers, punctuation signs, etc.). The device can then show you, the user, the character behind the numbers when it receives that data from the other side.

You’ll notice when Unicode is out of date. If you have an older phone, sometimes you’ll see blank boxes where there should be a character or emoji, but your device doesn’t ‘know’ what character is supposed to correspond to the value it’s being given, so it shows a blank box instead. Sometimes the OS can fudge it a little and substitute characters that aren’t necessarily part of the Unicode (see Apple’s devil emoji vs. Android’s in texts) but generally the OS has to be able to read the character to represent it.

That aside, when it comes to breadth, Unicode is pretty impressive: even if it doesn’t have hieroglyphs or every new emoji, Unicode supports an incredible array of languages by default. Russian characters, Greek characters, Arabic, Latin, Cherokee, Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. are all represented in the Unicode library.

The Text

When you think of it that way – when you picture how many thousands of different characters and combinations you can create with the entire Unicode library at your fingertips – it’s not so surprising that someone found something that caused problems. In 2015, a string of English and Arabic letters combined with a couple of symbols could brick up the Apple iPhone so badly that the user had to reboot. One version of this used the iMessage notification to do so, so the only way to prevent it was to disable the notification from previewing the text on-screen – unfortunately, it also meant that if the phone tried to show the message again after rebooting, it could get caught in a death loop and need a reset unless the other user sent another text to replace the freezy one in the message previews. Apple did not introduce an update to fix the issue for weeks. Whether that was because they couldn’t or because they couldn’t replicate the issue on their own devices (it didn’t happen to every iPhone) is hard to say, but the text continued to circulate and collapse the iMessage app with little consequence.

Others

Not every iPhone was affected by this particular text. iPhones with iOS 7 or above didn’t shut down upon receiving the text, and neither did 5 or below. Androids seemed to be completely unaffected, and of course turning off notifications prevented it from happening to devices in the danger zone. That was for the Arabic/English/symbol text discovered in 2015… and people soon discovered it was not the only text capable of tanking a phone.

Apple patched the discovered ones once they realized it was an OS issue (and a serious one) but that didn’t stop people from finding new ones to send to their friends, restarting the cycle of ‘Discovered -> It’s Not Serious -> Oh No It IS Serious -> Don’t Worry We Patched It’ from Apple every time, a cycle that sometimes took weeks or months. Again, Unicode is absolutely massive, so there was no way to test every combo of characters before launch. One bug used Sindhi characters, another used Telugu to crash devices. In all cases (or everything searchable) it wasn’t the messaging app itself, but the notification – something about having to show the characters in the little notification box is what caused the iOS to flip out, further complicating fixes. Users could disable the notifications, but that would make iPhones slightly less user-friendly than they were, and with Android devices creeping up on them, that was a bad look.

Even worse, The Verge reported in 2018 that some of these bugs could cause MacOS to flip out upon receipt, as well as more recently updated iOS devices. While the original one was dealt with in 2015, echoes of it continued to wreak havoc on targeted iPhone users for years to come. It seems as though the latest phones don’t struggle with Unicode… so hopefully, the issue won’t be making another appearance.

Sources:

https://www.inputmag.com/tech/if-you-receive-this-message-your-iphone-will-crash

https://unicode.org/faq/basic_q.html

https://www.npr.org/2020/11/18/936268845/apple-agrees-to-pay-113-million-to-settle-batterygate-case-over-iphone-slowdowns

https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/15/17015654/apple-iphone-crash-ios-11-bug-imessage

The EA Hack

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 19, 2021

The EA hack isn’t a special case. Not anymore. Hack, after hack, after hack, data leak after data leak, stolen game engine and asset, one after another. Game companies are being targeted deliberately for IP and code theft because it’s one of the few things that hackers can still steal with relative ease.

EA’s Track Record

This hack was due to a mix of authentication fraud and social engineering – it also seems to be their first major hack, if the lack of news about anything else is any evidence. Even Wikipedia doesn’t have much to say about past security instances. The one chance hackers had to get customer data was sealed off back in 2019, when a white-hat hacker group discovered the vulnerabilities and then alerted them that a sufficiently capable team would be able to get in, and then steal all of their customers’ payment data. EA’s record is cleaner than the industry average.

EA has a good track record with overarching security – many companies in the same worth bracket, including other game companies, can’t say that! Fellow gaming company Capcom got dinged with Ragnar ransomware, and while it “only” lost about 350,000 people’s worth of account data, it also lost its internal logs and couldn’t tell if they also lost credit card data. Blizzard, another big company with a good track record, suffers from persistent bot plagues that they’re unable to clear out. Human players then lose their data to particularly conniving bots and data thieves directly, no middleman hacked server necessary.

This Particular Hack

This hack was especially devious. A hacker used authentication cookies (cookies that “remember” the device or browser being authenticated with a code) to get into an EA slack channel, and then socially engineered their way past IT into the company’s internal network.

From there, downloading stuff was easy.

More than 780 GB of data (most of it source code) was captured, but the hacker group states that they couldn’t find a buyer. Source code is often trademarked, after all, and the consequences of buying another company’s coding aren’t worth having it. Many hackers would much rather have payment personal info than code. They then tried to extort EA by promising to release it, and uploading a little bit of the next FIFA game as proof that they were capable. After EA refused to pay the ransom, they released the remainder of the code as promised. Once again, using another company’s source code just doesn’t make sense in the long run, so it’s unclear what the long-term consequences will be for the company. However, they’re not the first ones to get extorted in this way: CD Projekt Red’s failed ransom should have served as a warning!

The CD Projekt Red Hack

CD Projekt Red, the game studio that created such classics as CyberPunk 2077 and Witcher 3, was hacked early last year. At that time, the hacker group responsible stole their game engine, and not much else – their customers were surprisingly uncompromised after the incident. The hacking team seemed to have a personal grudge against Projekt Red, so I can only assume the customer information was better-secured than the game engines themselves: who wouldn’t steal customer data if they were trying to completely trash a company’s reputation?

EA similarly partitioned customer data away. This is a good thing! Sort of like in a cruise  ship, separating data means that the entire company isn’t compromised as long as a gate somewhere stops the water from getting into other rooms.

And Other Examples

A Blizzard hack snatched emails (but not the unscrambled passwords) of an estimated 12 million players in 2012. This was easy to recover from – resetting the password was good enough for most accounts, but having those emails made the players unfortunately vulnerable to password stuffing attacks in the long run.

In 2011, an even bigger attack on Sony’s Playstation Network compromised the details of approximately 77 million users. This one stands out because both encrypted and unencrypted data was taken – credit card information that was encrypted wasn’t theoretically unscramble-able, but Sony, even with a week-long delay, couldn’t determine how much a hacker could actually squeeze from that data. Unencrypted data, which was basically all of the other personal details that could be attached to a player, was useable as soon as the hackers obtained it. Events like these served as warning for Blizzard, who encrypted much more, and then eventually for Xbox, Microsoft, CD Projekt Red, etc. as hacks became more prevalent.

Sources:

https://therecord.media/hackers-leak-full-ea-data-after-failed-extortion-attempt/

https://www.newsweek.com/electronic-arts-ea-origin-account-takeover-hacking-cybercrime-check-point-cyberint-1445976

https://www.ea.com/security

Why So Much Criticism?

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 17, 2021

The Internet

The internet, once a source of incredible interconnectivity, has slowly turned into a terrible source of interconnectivity. Much like the TV of the past used to unite the baby boomers, memes could be recognized by any millennial as long as they were online. Things were still sort of separated into cubbies, but you could find things if you looked for them. And just like TV, those memes gave way to splinter cells upon splinter cells of image memes and communities until everything is small, and everyone is in everyone else’s business unwillingly. The cubby walls no longer exist. Certain online groups are downright offended by the sight of an Among Us crewmate or Sans from Undertale. People who aren’t interested in calculus get shown Tweets of calculus equations with lively discussions in the subtweets, and clutter it with ‘lmao I can’t do math why did I get this in my feed’. Young Earth Creationists are encouraged to offer their take on a recently unearthed fossil, whose picture has been tweeted by a museum. Atheists and fundamentalists get shown each other’s worst examples until both are convinced that the other is beyond saving… but not beyond arguing with.

The entire world is an open-concept office on Twitter, and different departments with no mutual interest are getting shown eachother’s work by the big boss, the algorithm. “Why am I seeing something from Marketing?” Accounting asks. “What, am I not interesting enough for you? I’m sorry you don’t understand it. Loser,” Marketing replies. Everyone laughs. Marketing is subliminally encouraged to be hostile because the feeling of everyone else laughing at their ‘joke’ now overrides the politeness they would normally use if they and Accounting were alone. Twitter’s algorithm might not have been made to cause strife, but strife is really good for engagement – and so it does it’s darnedest to keep that strife and the hot takes coming alongside inspirational posts and posts that get you to linger.

Hot takes are easiest to execute on smaller creators who don’t have a large fanbase to rally behind them in defense, leading to endless streams of arguing in their comment sections or Twitter feeds.

Frosting

For example, the channels frosting cakes. Cake is delightful. Cake is a joy. Many people, maybe even the majority of people, like cake. Cake decorating used to be its own little ecosystem, until content aggregators turned it into an industry alongside ‘life hacks’ and ‘recipes’. This content generation creates some pretty strange outcomes, not all of them edible, and understandably people grew concerned with food waste. Channels like HowToBasic (famous for incredibly messy, foul ‘recipes’) compensate for the food they use by only purchasing clearanced-out, about-to-expire food from places like dollar stores, which aren’t exactly bastions of freshness anyway. Larger commercial channels simply ignore the comments, make some donations, and eventually the comments go away.

 The inbetweeners, the content generators who also run side businesses alongside their demonstrations for decorating techniques, get caught in a pinch-point – they want to engage with the audience to please the almighty algorithm, but some of the comments demand things that don’t align with reality. Considering day-old, already-mixed frosting “food waste” and then asking the creator to stop making so much of it is one of those demands. The small amount of butter, eggs and sugar that went into the video-portion of frosting could have been something besides frosting – but who gets to decide what other people do with food products they purchased? Especially when those food products also serve as advertising, and may create excess that can be used in other batches of edible food, the way royal icing and the like often does? Content creators use cake forms and frozen, weeks-old cakes that nobody wanted to demonstrate certain techniques, which cuts edible waste down to nearly nothing.Food waste is a complex, multi-faceted issue that comes with every stage of food processing, so boiling it down to “people throw away too much frosting”, and correcting with “make less frosting”, is not the way the country is going to solve this problem.

Paranoia And Bad Faith

Somewhere along the line, commentors began asking questions. That’s totally fair. There’s been a large push to consume content critically, and analyze what motivations a piece of content may have for being a certain way so you don’t accidentally consume propaganda. Ads, for example, will never show the downsides of their product, because they’re trying to sell it to you; big tobacco paid money to look harmless until the law said it had to admit nicotine was addictive. Ads are very convincing. And now they’re everywhere.

However, consuming content critically doesn’t mean consuming it with the intent to critique no matter what, like so many people interpreted that to mean in the late 2010’s. Articles talk about paranoid readings vs. reparative readings, or the idea that even bad content can have good notes in it and vice versa (PDF link). Paranoid readings assume the worst about the author, and hunt for clues that the author intended bad things with their work; reparative readings search for the good intentions behind a piece of media, even if it’s clumsy, even if it’s not a masterpiece. Even if the author didn’t intend any deeper readings!

Paranoid reading makes experiencing the online world harder. It’s so exhausting to critique every piece of media that the quality of these criticisms degrades into criticizing people for making simpler and simpler mistakes, until they’re attacking things that aren’t actually issues at all (or are so minor compared to other, bigger issues that they may as well be meaningless). The internet has watched as paranoid readings start to come as a knee-jerk reaction – the first thing they can identify as a ‘problem’ is what they comment, and then they move on, leaving a petty argument missing context and nuance behind, ironically completely missing the point of critical consumption in the first place.

This is also why they don’t go out of their way to comment on the megacorps that are responsible for the largest amounts of edible food being wasted or research shelters with serious animal husbandry issues – these organizations aren’t putting out content, and so they’re invisible to the casual critic who only sees what the feed wants them to see. Someone else would have to shine a light on it for them to actually see it.

“I Didn’t Ask”

Before social media, you only had so many outlets to discuss things. You could talk to your friends; you could write to an editor for a local paper; you could read what the critics said about it. Conversely, there was only so much to consume. There was news, and there was TV and magazines, and games. Now, everyone is consuming everything. And I do mean everything, even things they aren’t interested in. Combined with the above point, the internet has turned into a nightmare!

In the case of the cake decorating videos, part of the issue is that those videos come into the harshest critic’s content consumption unwillingly. Especially on TikTok, algorithms will occasionally toss a video or piece of content that’s doing well in its own circle into other circles, and so it ends up in front of someone who has no context or familiarity with cake decorating.

 They might not even really want to be negative – but they’ve been trained by social media to comment on everything, and especially to find harm in things that didn’t mean any. “What’s the catch? Where’s the downside? How Is This Bad TM?”It’s not exactly slacktivism – they just don’t want to encourage bad things by accidentally dismissing something that might be harmful even if other content is caught in the crossfire, to everyone’s detriment.

They also didn’t want to see things that they weren’t interested in, and innocent hobbies with smaller, more insulated communities are being forcibly shown to the entire rest of the internet ecosystem with no say – and no way to stop it.

Sources:

https://www.curbed.com/2021/08/p-e-moskowitz-parallel-parking.html

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201411/the-science-why-good-people-do-bad-things

http://willpowered.com/learn/feeling-good-justifies-doing-bad

https://www.ias.edu/sites/default/files/sss/pdfs/Critique/sedgwick-paranoid-reading.pdf

https://www.rts.com/resources/guides/food-waste-america/

What’s a Wizard?

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 15, 2021

You’ve seen it before. Sometimes it’s during updates, sometimes one comes with a game, but it’s always needed for complex downloads: A “Wizard”. Install Wizard. Design Wizard. But what is a wizard?

Why is it called a “Wizard?”

The actual wizards that the programs are named after were the first generation of computer experts in the field.

Upon first release, many computers were still treated like simple calculators. Even with their limited memory, they could do more than that, it was just a matter of telling the computer how. As computers advanced, and computer manufacturers made their products more accessible and more usable, programs like Lotus spread far and wide, creating demand for expertise. The people who fiddled with the code inside these new programs seemed to make shells and displays appear out of thin air, writing in some arcane language only they and the computer shared. Hence, wizard!

Eventually, computer programs took over the role of wizard from the experts after computer manufacturers realized users needed a more consistent, reliable source of information. While people-wizards were cool, not every company had someone who could just ‘make it work’, and even when they did, sometimes their knowledge was limited. Wizards, as computers got better, started coming with the programming, albeit in a much simpler form than the wizards we have today.

What Does A Wizard Do?

Wizards come from an era where it was very, very possible to brick up a machine by clicking one too many times in certain menus. Menus the user would only be in if they had to follow instructions to, say, link up a printer or fax machine to their computer.

But a wizard can be a lot of things, not just the little popup box that makes installing things easy. In the late 90s, Microsoft wanted their users to be able to make their own pretty pages and nice-looking documents, but they were well aware that the layman – who they were marketing to – would have a hard time really fully utilizing what they were looking at (computers were still new!)

Imagine looking at the top of the Microsoft Word formatting bar again for the first time! And, to be even more accurate, imagine that everybody in your office has the same amount of experience on it, and none of you really want to touch it because Bill in accounting said that something in the Start Menu would make it shut down.

If you were like a lot of people in that era, and had some experience with typing on non-Word software (or hardware, typewriters were still in use) you know what a font is, you know what the size should be, and you understand the basic formatting of the page. But Microsoft wanted to take things a step further, and make it possible for even the newest office go-fer to make a beautifully color-blocked report. The Page Wizard was born.

What Kind of Wizard Are You?

The Page wizard is the first iteration of the wizard we know today. Page wizards were little more than instructions on making a nice-looking page, that broke down the structure of the page into easy to digest chunks of information.

From there, it only got more complex, and an easy way to keep users up to date is to simply keep making wizards, which were especially useful for preventing that “bricking” thing mentioned earlier when it got to settings more complex than the ones found in the start-up manual (which is also kind of a wizard, just on paper, by these standards!) However, eventually they ran into a wall. People are able to follow instructions for tables and spreadsheets, and they’ll still understand what they’re doing – but get into computer language, or trying to configure their local network connection to also hook up to the fax machine, and suddenly the instructions pages are a little too sparse to be understood easily. No problem for Microsoft!

The next iteration of the wizard is more familiar to users today and features the ability to narrow down a user’s potential choices into a clickable menu, maybe two or three for big items. Printers and internet configuration are a breeze when the Wizard simplifies your choices, right at startup. Would you like devices to be able to connect to your computer over the network? That’s three pages deep in settings, but the Wizard’s trawled it up from the menus, just for you.

The Downside to Wizarding

There had to be a downside somewhere. Computer menus get more and more complicated every update, even during the updates that are supposed to make things easier on the user. The path to get to the settings menu is now basically wizard-only, which takes some of the user’s ability to fix issues out of their hands. The wizard just makes things so easy for everyone involved that it’s easier when only the wizard can find files. Fixing issues is now a support issue, not a technical skill.

Sources

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/65728/origin-of-the-term-wizard-in-computing

https://news.microsoft.com/2001/10/15/for-10-years-microsoft-publisher-helps-small-business-users-do-more-than-they-thought-they-could/

How to make Form Fillouts Frustrating

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 12, 2021

1) Don’t Allow “Overflow”

Ever try to type in your phone number, but the field is divided into three separate boxes, and you have to either click or tab to get to the next one? Isn’t that annoying? Especially when it should know what you mean?

Doing this not only breaks up the user’s ‘flow’, it also prevents simply copy/pasting a number. That’s not going to ward off bots (programming three selections on the user/bot side is only marginally more work than programming one) but it is super annoying to humans, especially ones using mobile. Overflowing the box into the next one allows the user to type continuously, reducing frustration!

On the flip side, you can’t allow the end user to type endlessly in one box, because submitting 99 characters might interfere with your database on the other side. Proper form sizing is going to change depending on how much information the user actually needs to share (for example, an extension box may need room for seven or eight characters, even if on average companies only use three or four). While the vast majority of phone numbers are ten digits, a country code might be necessary for a company that ships internationally.

2) Don’t Allow Users to Type in Drop-down Menus

States and countries are often listed alphabetically in dropdown menus, so some states take more scrolling than others. On mobile, this doesn’t matter – you can’t type into that box because the keyboard doesn’t pop up, so you’re still going to scroll no matter what. Your screen behaves as both a mouse and a keyboard, so you don’t have to lift your hands anyway. On desktop, however, where keyboard and mouse are separate, typable dropdowns are a timesaver! They allow the user to simply tab over and continue typing to find their state, country, etc. without raising their hands from the keyboard. (Assuming you did your tab order correctly – but that’s more about the website’s deep setup options and less about forms).

While convenient, this isn’t necessarily a requirement… unless the list is very long, and you didn’t alphabetize your entries. If you do that and don’t allow users to type to find things, you’re wrong!

3) Make Things the Wrong Kind of Thing

You shouldn’t use a dropdown for things like zipcode unless you’re being very specific and only accept a handful of zipcodes. Not everything can be a dropdown. You shouldn’t use a text box for states unless you don’t value your sanity, and you shouldn’t use multi-select buttons for shipping speed. Radio buttons are a poor choice when a single question has more than, say, six or seven possible answers. If your user has to scroll to see choices for the same question, that can make it tough for them to pick accurately. Scantrons only have six options for a reason!

Many customers, maybe even most of them, will fill things out correctly if given bizarre form choices, but the break is likely to confuse some and toss out others. Some of these can be avoided with simple testing, especially custom forms for things like design quotes and the like. Can your user select two impossible options? Can they leave you with a broken, unusable address that should have been functional if the format had been correct, but they mistyped MB in the state line and now you don’t know what state they meant?

If the answer is yes, then congrats – you’ve got a form that will frustrate both sides!

4) Make Too Many Things Mandatory/Ask for Too Much Info

While filtering is important, the greatest balancing act in online for user-facing forms is asking for juuuust enough info to sort the user effectively. For example, a tattoo shop: not everyone goes to one knowing exactly what they want, or where they want it, or what style they want it in, so they may not know which artist they want. Giving the patrons who already know what they want the option to pick an artist is great, but making the choice mandatory isn’t ideal for undecideds, who will be relying on the shop’s guidance to pick a style and artist. Plus, coming in, deciding the idea would look better in American Traditional with the photorealist’s advice, and then having to reschedule the consult because the American Traditional guy is mornings-only is frustrating when the artists could have figured that out when they got the form… if the user had the option to let them. At the very least, when including questions about who the user will be interacting with or something they may be unsure of, include an “any” option.

Users who find your fillout too confusing to navigate may call – but that sucks time from other things that the form was designed to free up time for in the first place. If they call at all.

5) Narrow the Options

If you want to frustrate users and force them to call, narrow the options. To go back to the tattoo shop, say they allow the customer to pick a preferred day. But only one per form. If that day doesn’t work for the artist because the idea is a four-hour appointment and they only have two hours left free that day, what can they do but call the customer anyway? Allowing a range would have been better.

Or, look at a salon. If a hair salon offers cuts, colors, and styling, but the form does it radio-button style and only allows the customer to pick one instead of all three (which they do offer), they’ll have to call. Worse, they may assume the salon doesn’t offer all three on the same day and head elsewhere, costing sales.  

5.5) Or Leave Them Too Broad

Similarly, if the form wasn’t set up right and allows the customer to pick any hour the shop is open, and they pick ‘wrong’ (as in the during the wrong artist or hairdresser for the job’s shift) because the form let them, that’s also going to be a frustrating call. Sometimes these issues are legitimately just glitches (see Target accidentally setting TVs to 14.99$, for example) but sometimes it’s in the set-up, and a lack of testing before launch.

The form should, generally, be able to self-regulate with the inputs it’s getting. If it’s a calendar-based form, then it should know when a day is full, or what days the business is closed. If it’s based on supply, it should be easy for the owner to tell the form ‘we’re out of X as a topping’ and have the form prevent X from being picked while placing an online order until X is back in stock.

This goes hand-in-hand with #3 – making the form questions the wrong kind of thing. Some options don’t need to be text boxes or checklists, because if they are, the customer can do things like ask for cucumber to be added to their fries, or choose every topping, including mutually exclusive ones, at the same time. Most people are reasonable… ‘most’ is not the same as ‘all’. Setting limits within lists and setting limits on what people may add to their orders will save you calls. If the customer can select too many things for your process, then the text box or multi-select needs some limits!

6) Make Things Disappear if You Hit Submit

This is more of an issue for older web forms, the ones that didn’t ‘remember’ data and didn’t verify it all before trying to ship it off and clear out the fields. People have mixed opinions about cookies, but this is one of the times that they’re really, really useful – the data should stay in the field long enough to be sure it’s right, and if it’s not – and the user has to come back – the user should be able to just re-fill out the problem fields without starting completely over.

If you’re not essential and the buyer isn’t invested, this can cause them to quit. Even if you are essential, the customer might call to avoid the agony of filling out the form again instead of just starting over.

7) Don’t Use any sort of CAPTCHA

This one is for you, not the end user. If you don’t use CAPTCHA, or an anti-spam bot, or something to protect your form fillout box, you’re going to be flooded with spam bots offering things like writing services, website services, and advertising services – sometimes via the same bots. Our fillout box only went without CAPTCHA for about a day, and in that day it collected some pretty nasty stuff. One particularly bold example promised it could get past CAPTCHA, so anyone who bought services could hawk their wares to anybody with an online form… once CAPTCHA was set up, and the box protected, that was proven false. These things are everywhere!

Even if you don’t mind spam, you should still have something in between them and the fillout. If your website isn’t configured correctly, a spam filter can prevent disasters like SQL Injections or DDoS attacks from taking advantage of it. Not all spam is harmless text.

Internet Phenomena: the CopyPasta

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 10, 2021

What makes a good CopyPasta?

Copypasta is a term invented for the internet phenomenon of text that goes ‘viral’ and gets spread via copy/pasting. However, not everything can be a copypasta – many obnoxious failed attempts to start one in Youtube comment sections prove that. So why do some succeed in blasting off while others die out immediately?

1) It has an emotional response attached to it – and it’s not a feeling of defeat

This is part of why getting new copypastas started is so difficult. If the target stops reacting, and just ignores or accepts it, it stops propagating.  Many copypastas feature a lot of emojis or swearing as a result. For example, when EA made it’s famous ‘pride and accomplishment’ comment on Reddit, the copy-pastes of it featured moneybag emojis between every word. It’s hard to feel defeated when a copy-pasta is calling you names or telling you things that defy reality. Defeat? No, make everyone else feel vaguely irritated too! Irritating emojis and turns-of-phrase litter emerging copypastas.

2) It has to be obnoxious

The Navy SEAL copypasta, a famous rant where an alleged Navy SEAL who specializes in “gorilla warfare” and has “over 300 confirmed kills” tells someone they’re arguing with online that they’re going to wipe them from the face of the Earth with a drone strike, is several paragraphs long.

I Miss the Rage?!, a line from a song with an emoji added to the end, is just four words.

Why are they both copypastas? Easy! They can both be used to wall-out chats and forums. “I Miss the Rage?!” is used during live-streams, meaning that it’s posted so many times in a row that nobody else can post any visible text. This is tough to achieve, but because the text itself is so short, it’s easy for other people to copy/paste and join in.

The Navy SEAL rant is better suited to forums for the same purpose – since it’s long and since most forums don’t auto-scroll like live chats do, this can still be used to wall-out.

3) But not too obnoxious – or too bland.

It’s in a copypasta’s nature to be annoying, but if it’s too annoying, the people who are posting it don’t get eyerolls, they get banned. Examples of this are admittedly difficult to find – like I said, they get banned before they can spark off and don’t leave a trace. If the Navy SEAL copypasta were posted today, completely fresh, and nobody had any memory of it, the person posting it would almost certainly get kicked from wherever they were for hostility. It would be too much. Things that would be copy-pasta-able aren’t anymore, because the internet is no longer a Wild West like it once was.

Alternatively, there’s posting something that’s milquetoast. Something that asks too politely to be copy/pasted. Those are still scattered everywhere. Remember early 2000s humor? You could name something “Bob” or say, “I’m a potato” and get laughs. Now, that humor is outdated. Cringey.

“This is Bob. Copy and paste him so he can take over Youtube.” Was a copypasta that first appeared some time in the 2008/2009 range. Soon, it died there. Occasionally older videos about Nyan Cat or He-Man will have a Bob (or sometimes a Bob-tank) in the comments, but he’s been left behind for the next generation of children to laugh at as their parents rediscover the artifacts. The generation that first copy-pasted him has moved on to fried images and Instagram accounts packed with stolen memes.

4) It can’t assign an identity unless it’s ironic

On TikTok, copypastas come and go in the blink of an eye, but some fare noticeably worse than others. A copypasta requesting that readers change their profile pic to a blue-tinted image of some girl named Melissa and spread the message of the “Step-Chickens” appeared one day and scattered most of the videos on TikTok’s For You page (the For You page is generated for each user, but certain sorts of videos often get recommended to entire communities of people). The reason “Step-Chicken” flared and then died on TikTok was because the people posting it realized it was sort of cringey. The people who started posting it were requesting that other people call themselves step-chickens.

Remember that era where Youtubers used to name their audience? Subscribers weren’t just a fan of a Youtuber, they were a ‘Sparklenaut’ or a ‘Bro’ or something. Part of an ‘Army’. You don’t see that so much anymore, because inevitably someone who called themselves by the fanbase name was going to do something that was embarrassing for the fandom by proxy. Law of large numbers, it just happens – eventually someone throws a fit outside a McDonalds wearing merch or causes issues at a fan-meet. Step-chickens was much the same, as the cool people doing it ironically found out that other people didn’t know they were doing it ironically – they were a “step-chicken” indistinguishable from other, less-socially-aware “step-chickens” commenting the copypasta on videos where it was inappropriate or unwelcome. It was difficult to explain that no, I’m doing this as a joke in the moment when being criticized, especially because that’s exactly what someone who wasn’t doing it ironically would say to save face. If it assigns an identity, someone who has taken that identity is going to create issues for everyone.

5) It can make fun of something if that something is at the tipping point of popular and too popular

Rick and Morty is a TV show. Objectively, it’s a TV show aimed at adults with a record-breaking renewal contract from Adult Swim. More subjectively, it’s a pretty funny TV show with well-written jokes that span a range of comedy beyond just slapstick. Adult animated comedy shows often default to slapstick, so Rick and Morty was a welcome break in the monotony of Family Guy, American Dad, and others in that bandwidth.

However, just because it’s better-written than those shows doesn’t mean someone is smarter for enjoying it. To be clear – there isn’t any science or math in the show that the average American doesn’t learn in middle school. Rick resents being the smartest man in the universe and copes by self-destructing, which – while deeper than Family Guy – is not a new concept. Liking a smart fictional character with a smidge of depth doesn’t mean becoming smart yourself, but some of the worse fans seemed to think that’s how it worked, and even went so far as to say so on public forums.

The copypasta spawned when someone patted themselves on the back for understanding the high-brow concepts of the show. I’m certain it’s parody, but the attitude that Rick and Morty was “too smart” for the people who didn’t watch it was unfortunately more common than you’d think, on Reddit especially.

Via Reddit

6) Or unpopular, but well-known

Too popular, and there might not be a big enough countermovement to get the copy-pasta going. Too obscure, and people might not understand what the copypasta is referencing. However, if it’s unpopular, but well-known, the copy/pasting practically writes itself. See Dixie D’amelio’s music.

Most of the videos about her that get tossed my way by the algorithms of Youtube and TikTok are videos critiquing the music. Unfortunately, Dixie is still a teen, and she didn’t seem to have much experience with music before her sister got big on TikTok – they’re dancers first, anything else second. Her lack of experience with writing music is obvious upon listening, but she doesn’t seem to get feedback that could fix the mediocre lyrics and boring beats from her friends and producers. Instead, critique comes from outside, and most people would ignore strangers telling them their stuff is bad over friends and followers who seem to like it. Even saying that, I cannot honestly believe that anyone is listening to “One Day” because they stumbled upon her on Spotify.

Anyway, in the critique videos’ comment sections, lyrics to the song get posted over and over. Who could forget such lines as “Bueeyh sometimes I don’ wanna be happy!” and “One day, one day, I was really really really really sad”? Of course this turned into a copypasta, scattered with emojis and mocking misspellings of the actual words – her indie-slurring sounds together is not helping critics take her seriously, and the age and misplaced enthusiasm of her fans are not helping them take her in good faith.

Sources:

Be warned, some of the copypastas mentioned are unsuitable for work due to foul language and the site they’re hosted on.

StepChickens “”Cult””: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/style/step-chickens-tiktok-cult-wars.html

(I was also on TikTok during this event)

A Navy SEAL shares a piece of his mind: https://genius.com/Copypasta-navy-seal-copypasta-annotated (Genius Lyrics has better hosting than KnowYourMeme – I found them less difficult to navigate and less riddled with ads)

I Miss the Rage ?!: Screenshotted directly from comment sections of [email protected] 2021-06-01 post titled “I Miss the Rage (?! Emojis)”

Rick and Morty Is a Show for Smart People, first posted by user Niekisch in r/CringeAnarchy  https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/to-be-fair-you-have-to-have-a-very-high-iq-to-understand-rick-and-morty (please note – Know Your Meme may be difficult to navigate due to formatting and ads)

Assorted D’amelio Lyrics – screenshotted directly from comment sections of Charlie’s 2020-07-01 post titled “Be Happy music video out now link in bio dc @haleygilchrist_ (heart emojis)”

Twitch Quotes: https://www.twitchquotes.com/copypastas/labels/i-hate-twitch-chat

Bob and Tank Bob: https://www.reddit.com/r/copypasta/comments/3tihez/this_tank_bob_are_against_google/

Facebook is Horrible for Information

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 8, 2021

The 2016 and 2020 elections were some of the tensest elections Americans had ever faced, thanks, in part, to Facebook and Twitter.

Why is nobody defending Facebook, even as they begrudgingly defend Twitter?

1) Facebook Knows it Makes You Feel Bad – and it’s Okay with That

Studies show repeatedly that social media makes many people a little unhappier than they were before they opened it – or that a control group that didn’t go to social media sites was happier than the one that did.

If you feel like the internet got negative, and it used to be much easier to use without feeling like garbage after, you’re not necessarily wrong. The rise of engagement tracking means that different things are being used to keep your attention. People will spend more time replying to comments if they’re emotionally invested in the conversation – even the worst, most inflammatory, keyboard-smashing arguments are ‘good’ for algorithmically-based social media sites. Additionally, sad or alarming news generates more clicks than good news, and sensationalism has always sold more papers. It might not have been any website’s original intent, but because people are drawn to this stuff, it gets heavier weight by algorithms relying on clicks to determine ad value. More clicks means more money, so they make more of it. Facebook in particular is worse off for this – even if you go out of your way to block or unfollow things that make you unhappy, your network can still lead to exposure by proxy.

When social media only tracked account usage, and not the person using the account, people were encouraged to stick around in healthier ways. The content everywhere but news sites and intentionally dark corners was generally a little less stressful, and users weren’t exposed to it nonstop. MySpace had much less data on you, and image-sharing sites and forums were often civil by agreement even if they were anonymous. Not everything was peachy and friendly, and moderators still had their work cut out for them, but you weren’t deliberately being shown things that upset you by an algorithm.

2) Facebook’s Survival Depends on its Opacity to Outsiders

Facebook cannot let anyone see under the hood. If anyone could, they’d know how Cambridge Analytica happened, and how disinformation is still happening, and – I suspect – how little Facebook is doing to combat it. This opacity permeates every level of Facebook’s organization, so much so that employees feared that they were being listened to outside of work by their company-issued phones. It’s one thing for a tech company to say ‘no pictures, no phones inside the facility’ – it’s another entirely for the employees to fear discussing their employment at home because they don’t trust that spyware stayed at work. Reports of burner phones made the rounds a little while ago for exactly this reason.

It’s also difficult to tell exactly what they’re doing with valuable personal data – the Cambridge Analytica trial revealed some things, but left much in the dark. Zuckerberg navigated the questions so carefully and deliberately that memes about how robotic he sounded circulated for weeks. Facebook has trapped themselves between a rock and a hard place – continue to be evasive and opaque, or reveal that they’ve been behaving almost maliciously to keep growing.

It knows this is also a bad look, and so Zuckerberg planned on making them look good to consumers with what is effectively positive propaganda disguised as ordinary news in the news feed via Project Amplify. Project Amplify would mix positive articles about Facebook, some of them written by the company itself, in with the regular newsfeed.

The recent whistleblowing by Frances Haugen shows the enormity of the issue – more in-depth articles are already out there, and here’s a link to one: (https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/10/05/1036519/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-algorithms/?utm_source=pocket-newtab). This is really an article all by itself, so I won’t double the length of this listicle off of this one point – but it is a good read.

3) Facebook still has Troll Farms – And Won’t Get Rid Of Them

Twitter did admit it had bots – it’s mass-banning of them was a PR win. It was a relief. As of September 29th of 2021, Youtube has finally taken action to remove information that’s deliberately incorrect from its platform – not just demonetize it, which allows these alternate-reality peddlers to continue making content and potentially money off of other Patreon-like sites. This leaves Facebook as the last member of the triad, but Facebook can’t seem to figure out how to do the same on their own platform.

The fastest way to share information is images and memes. It requires no copy-pasting, it’s eye-catching, usually short, and basic bots and text crawlers can’t read it. Any ‘meme’ style infographic is immediately suspect now because Facebook has allowed troll farms to pump out these misinformative memes at high speeds. Even if they link back to a respectable source, the consumer now has to verify that the respectable source says what the meme said it did – otherwise, they can still be exposed to disinformation. ‘It’s your fault for not checking’, is a common rebuttal. ‘You can’t trust everything you see online’, is another.

And yet we’ve seen time and time again that people do trust these troll farms over doctors and scientists. They cannot possibly check every single picture they see. If it looks good enough, people will believe it, and the line between ‘skewed’ and ‘false’ has never been so tenuous. A comfortable lie with one big, bad enemy is obviously easier to stomach than the reality of the situation, and it’s irresponsible for Facebook to keep playing the ‘you should have known it was fake’ card when the troll farms are manipulative enough and spread out enough to make a narrative so convincing that it’s literally defying reality. Yes, they shouldn’t be trusting everything they see, but they want to trust something. They want something to be stable.

By allowing troll farms and the 12 or so accounts making up 67% of the misinformation on the site to continue posting, they’re tacitly agreeing that it’s okay to be so wrong that people die. Even worse – they agreed it was wrong! They planned to post good information in place of the stuff they were removing. In the first push before the pandemic was widely politicized, Facebook removed an enormous amount of posts containing mis- and disinformation from the platform, only to slow down – for some reason – as it became clear that their options were to take a stand and risk ad revenue, or stay the course and guarantee that certain viewers would cling, later on.

It’s one thing to try and protect free speech – every platform is struggling to juggle where deliberate, damaging disinformation begins and personal opinion ends. It’s another entirely to allow troll farms to continue pumping out disinformation after it becomes clear they’re doing it despite measurable harm to people who have reposted their memes, especially when the posts are still earning money for the farm behind them. Even Youtube didn’t allow their disinformation peddlers to make money off of it.

4) Facebook is Trying to Tie Itself To Everything Else to Make Itself Unremovable and Unavoidable

Oculus Rift. Instagram. Messaging apps. Facebook itself. And now, a meta-verse. Facebook knows it would die in a much more undignified manner than MySpace did if it ever stopped trying to grow, and so it is steadily trying to get its foot in the door of as many other industries as it can. It knows it can squeeze a few more drops of data out of its most loyal customers if it just keeps growing. It knows it can earn a few more percentage points of market share if cool, cutting-edge tech requires a Facebook account. Amazon, Nestle, and other ethically-debatable companies are also doing this. Once the company is big enough, the consumer would have to put in special effort to avoid that company’s products, and many won’t know or won’t bother.

Branching out in itself is not the problem: Colgate made TV dinners for a while, and Barnes and Noble sells board games and stationary alongside the books. The problem is in making an interconnected network that can stomp out competition, harvest data from multiple angles, and then use funding from itself to weather out storms that the remaining competition can’t.

Sources:

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/09/16/1035851/facebook-troll-farms-report-us-2020-election/?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140728-why-is-all-the-news-bad

https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-09-05/why-people-respond-to-negative-news

https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-employees-paranoid-burner-phones-2018-12

https://www.consumerreports.org/social-media/facebook-approved-ads-with-coronavirus-misinformation/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/17/covid-misinformation-conspiracy-theories-ccdh-report

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/10/05/1036519/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-algorithms/?utm_source=pocket-newtab