Trump’s take on gaming and violence was wrong in the ’90s and it’s twice as wrong now


A cobbled-together meeting at the White House is the latest chapter in the long, misguided crusade against video games. It would be comical if the country were not in a bitter ongoing debate about gun control and the safety of children; but since we are, it’s frustrating that time is still being spent on this long-settled “debate” instead of on practical matters.

The administration invited, on rather short notice, several major game studios, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, Entertainment Software Association, and several groups that have worked to limit violent games. Ostensibly the meeting was to hear both sides of the argument, though as with so many other issues, the scientific consensus is considerably more one-sided.

No link between gaming and real-world violence, or deleterious emotional or cognitive effects, has been established by any credible study. And over and over again major groups publish peer-reviewed work showing the absence of any link. One 2014 study even went so far as to conclude that “videogame consumption is associated with a decline in youth violence rates.”

Far from being impartial, the position of the White House itself is clear from the sizzle reel it published, apparently cut from violent games shown or reviewed on popular YouTube channels.

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(I don’t expect it will stay up for long, since one of the creators of the footage is sure to issue a takedown notice.)

Trump said in February that “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” but did not say who those people were, or whether they had actually looked into the topic.

At the same event he said “You see these movies, they’re so violent and yet a kid is able to see a movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved. Maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”

There is, of course, a rating system for that: the ESRB. Every game shown in the reel above is age-restricted.

In a statement regarding the meeting today, the White House said:

During today’s meeting, the group spoke with the President about the effect that violent video games have on our youth, especially young males. The President acknowledged some studies have indicated there is a correlation between video game violence and real violence. The conversation centered on whether violent video games, including games that graphically simulate killing, desensitize our community to violence.

No word on whether the President acknowledged the many studies that indicated no correlation, or even a negative one.

The argument clearly espoused by the Trump administration was wrong in the ’90s, when it was first advanced, and it’s doubly wrong now. Video games have become the most popular and widespread hobby on Earth, yet we have not seen violence erupt among young people the way one would expect from pervasive effects on aggression and empathy.

We have, on the other hand, continued to witness endless violence in our own country that has nothing to do with games. It’s sad and embarrassing that this ridiculous argument is still underway at the highest levels while deliberately ignoring years of research.

Senator calls on Tinder to fix a security flaw that lets randos snoop through your dates


Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is nervous about Tinder. He may not be swiping on the service this Valentine’s Day, but with a new letter demanding that Tinder resolve some security issues, Wyden is looking out for everyone who is.

Last month, a security report surfaced what it deemed “disturbing vulnerabilities” in the dating app. Wyden’s letter cites the research, demanding a fix for a security loophole that allows would-be attackers to view nearly everything about a user’s Tinder experience via an attack over unsecured wifi.

“Tinder can easily enhance privacy to its users by encrypting all data transmitted between its app and servers, and padding sensitive information to thwart snooping,” Wyden writes.

As the security firm Checkmarx explains:

“The vulnerabilities, found in both the app’s Android and iOS versions, allow an attacker using the same network as the user to monitor the user’s every move on the app. It is also possible for an attacker to take control over the profile pictures the user sees, swapping them for inappropriate content, rogue advertising or other type of malicious content (as demonstrated in the research).”

The report notes that stolen credentials are unlikely, but the vulnerability is a recipe for blackmail. TechCrunch reached out to Tinder for comment on Sen. Wyden’s letter and its plans to fix its security concerns but the company has not responded.

“Americans expect their personal information to remain private online,” Wyden writes. “To that end, I urge Tinder to address these security lapses, and by doing so, to swipe right on user privacy and security.”

Facebook staff reportedly interviewed in Mueller investigation


At least one Facebook employee has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into potential Russian interference with the 2016 election, reports Wired. But don’t put on your conspiracy hats just yet.

Wired’s source indicated that the Facebook staffer was associated with the Trump campaign, which could mean just about anything. For a major spender on social media, which that campaign certainly was, it is common for Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other properties selling ads to have a liaison with the client.

Since Facebook is also up to its eyes on Russia-related inquiries, it makes perfect sense that someone acting as go-between or advisor for the company and the campaign would be interviewed as a matter of course. Certainly no wrongdoing is implied.

The Facebook staffer would be the primary source for any information relating to Trump campaign spending, including whether or not there was any knowledge of or involvement in the Russian side of things — again, not to imply anything, just to say if there’s anything to know, that person would know it.

As Facebook was more strongly targeted by Russian bots and trolls during the election than its rivals, it makes sense that it would be pulled in like this, but don’t be surprised if others have a chance to chat with the special counsel’s team as well. I’ve asked Facebook for comment.

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Facebook and Twitter face a short deadline on Russian bot #ReleaseTheMemo reports for Congress


Two leading Democrats in Congress are calling for new disclosures from Facebook and Twitter about Russian disinformation campaigns on their platforms.

In a letter, Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, minority leads on the House Intel and Senate Judiciary committees respectively, called for the two tech companies to release any information that have about Russian ties to the recent social media campaign around a controversial memo written by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes. The pair argues that there is evidence that Russian bots promoted Nunes’ political agenda and the public deserves to know about it, citing last week’s Business Insider story “Russia-linked Twitter accounts are working overtime to help Devin Nunes and WikiLeaks.”

The new Russian bot debate surrounds a hashtag known as #releasethememo. #Releasethememo sprung up to call on Congress to declassify the Nunes memo, which is either a damning account of corruption in the investigation into Russia’s efforts to undermine the 2016 election or a craven gesture to create political cover for a doomed president, depending on who you ask.

As Feinstein and Schiff’s letter argues, #releasethememo is tainted by Russian influence:

Specifically, on Thursday, January 18, 2018, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Majority voted to allow Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to review a misleading talking points “memo” authored by Republican staff that selectively references and distorts highly classified information.  The rushed decision to make this document available to the full House of Representatives was followed quickly by calls from some quarters to release the document to the public.

Several Twitter hashtags, including #ReleaseTheMemo, calling for release of these talking points attacking the Mueller investigation were born in the hours after the Committee vote. According to the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, this effort gained the immediate attention and assistance of social media accounts linked to Russian influence operations.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal also published a similar letter on Tuesday calling on Twitter specifically to answer questions about Russian disinformation campaigns and related political hashtags.

The letter goes on to request that Twitter and Facebook examine these links to “Russian influence operations,” including “the frequency and volume of their postings on this topic” and “how many legitimate Twitter and Facebook account holders have been exposed to this campaign.” With a request for this information by January 26, the members of Congress give the two companies a deadline they’re unlikely to meet, assuming they choose to cooperate. If the companies do conduct an investigation and issue reports on #releasethememo, Feinstein and Schiff’s play could easily backfire. We should know by now that 1) these companies aren’t particularly good at conducting comprehensive internal analyses on foreign disinformation campaigns and 2) tons of fake news and political propaganda is generated domestically too. Still, the more info on this kind of stuff that Congress can wring out of Facebook and Twitter, the better.

Nunes, who serves as the chairman of the House Intel Committee, is a controversial figure. That committee, along with considerably less chaotic Senate counterpart, is investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election. Last year, Nunes created a lot of attention for himself by amplifying misleading claims that the Obama administration had “wiretapped” President Trump (for clarification on this bit, read a little about how a FISA warrant is obtained. Hint: It doesn’t involve the White House). His memo purports to provide evidence, or at least talking points, around the claim that the FBI somehow abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in its effort to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Given his proven track record of partisanship and pandering to the White House, it’s difficult to take something authored by Nunes that seriously, regardless of what it claims to prove. Still, a broader Republican effort to release the memo suggests that a chunk of Congress thinks (or hopes) it might cause a stir. Oddly enough, many of those same Republican members of Congress just voted overwhelmingly to support Section 702, a portion of FISA that would appear to contradict the position of outrage over recent “wiretapping” claims.

Whatever ends up coming of the potentially Russia-influenced effort to #releasethememo, it’s clear that after dragging Facebook and Twitter over the coals on Russia, some members of Congress are happy to casually knock on tech’s door for evidence that might undermine their political opposition. Whether that’s good (transparency!) or bad (partisanship!), it’s definitely strange, and we can expect tech’s relationship with Congress to get even stranger in 2018.

The full letter is embedded below.

Featured Image: Matt McClain/Getty Images

Twitter asserts that it won’t ban Trump because he’s a world leader


Just days after President Trump’s tweets antagonized a foreign adversary over who would be first to start nuclear war, Twitter has addressed calls for the company to ban the chatty, often bellicose U.S. president.

In a vague post called “World Leaders on Twitter,” Twitter awkwardly sidestepped the controversy over whether Trump’s Twitter account violates its terms of service altogether, instead asserting that it doesn’t matter if a world leader violates its terms of service  — they should have a home on the platform nonetheless. The post never names Trump.

Their words:

There’s been a lot of discussion about political figures and world leaders on Twitter, and we want to share our stance.

Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation. Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society.

Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.

We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly. No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.

We are working to make Twitter the best place to see and freely discuss everything that matters. We believe that’s the best way to help our society make progress.

Whether Trump has in fact violated Twitter’s policies on user behavior is an open debate. Most users can’t back up their casual threats with a nuclear arsenal, so it’s safe to say that the Trump Twitter situation poses some uniquely weighty questions. Some even argue that Trump’s Twitter threats are an exercise in nuclear deterrence and can be categorized more as bizarrely articulated military policy than the kind of tweet that might violate Twitter’s rules banning “specific threats of violence.”

While plenty of Trump’s older tweets dabble in online harassment, it sounds like anything goes for world leaders so long as they’re elected. But lots of despots are “elected.” Would Rodrigo Duterte get the same pass were he to threaten state-sponsored brutality in specific terms? Would Kim Jong-un? According to this, it sounds like yes.

If you’re still using Twitter, you probably won’t be surprised by the fact that the company retains its right to impose its own rules selectively — after all, it’s been doing so for years. Calling for Twitter to take an ideological stand in order to prevent a social media-spurred international nuclear conflict is a nice thought, but considering how deeply committed tech companies are to the illusion of neutrality — which happens to dovetail nicely with the spineless art of self-preservation — it’s not a very realistic one.

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