Straight-up nightmare fuel
Robots, namecore, internet shutdowns, autocorrect, Reddit cults and Googling abortion
Hi friends. Today is May 6, 2022.
And in the U.S., this week saw not one but two pieces of alarming abortion news.
Thanks to a forthcoming Supreme Court decision, it’s now overwhelmingly likely that abortion bans are coming to as many as half of U.S. states — forcing pregnant people who need them to travel across state lines or purchase pills from online pharmacies.
Separately, Motherboard reported that a broker called SafeGraph is already tracking and selling the location data of people who visit abortion clinics.
Put these two revelations together, and you’re looking at a world in which more and more people turn to the internet for reproductive care … even as investigators, prosecutors and nosy private citizens gain more power to surveil and punish them.
Advocates and attorneys have warned about this dystopia for years: Just think about the amount of online activity that goes into researching or pursuing any type of healthcare. You likely start with a Google search — “abortion pills,” for instance. Maybe you join a support community like r/auntienetwork or text a friend about your plans. You click over to the website of an organization like Aid Access. You get directions to an out-of-state clinic on Google Maps. Maybe you’ve even logged missed periods in one of the zillion apps that exist for that purpose and that have sold sensitive user data in the past.
Each of those steps creates a detailed digital record that could be used to pursue a variety of criminal cases against pregnant people and abortion providers. Writing in the University of Baltimore Law Review, the civil rights attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook has warned that investigators and prosecutors will come to “rely” on search history and other “unprotected digital trails” if/when abortion is criminalized again.
Should any of this strike you as paranoid, note that it’s already happened on a small scale: In 2018, a Mississippi mother of three was indicted for the second-degree murder of her fetus, based in part on online searches for abortion pills. Three years earlier, prosecutors had also used an email receipt from the site InternationalDrugMart.com to charge an Indiana woman with feticide and neglect.
Neither woman was ultimately convicted. And importantly, there are ways to shield your personal data.
If you read anything this weekend
“Our Misguided Obsession with Twitter,” by Cal Newport in The New Yorker. Covid struck me down at a pretty apt time, in that I got to skip most of the tiring Elon Musk takes. But I’m partial to theories of the “lol nothing matters” variety, like this one, which correctly points out that Twitter is less a “town square” than an “elite spectacle” these days. See also this lovely nano-essay from Robin Sloan, which predicts Twitter will soon go the way of Myspace. And fine, if you want a “real” analysis … this one, by Adam Serwer, was great.
“A Visit to the Human Factory,” by James Vincent in The Verge. Depending on your views toward extremely life-like robots, this is either a thoughtful exploration of the ethics and methods behind androids or … straight-up nightmare fuel! Either way, take heart in the fact that truly sentient robots are still a long way off — the stuff you saw in that viral Ameca video last year is essentially all smoke and mirrors.
“In the Dark,” by Peter Guest in Rest of World. Russia famously blacked out huge swaths of its internet in the interests of silencing dissent and obscuring its invasion of Ukraine. But it’s certainly not a novel tactic: Since 2017, dozens of governments around the world have initiated more than 700 (!) internet shutdowns — imperiling the existence of “the free, open, global internet.”
“Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: Inside Shein’s Sudden Rise,” by Vauhini Vara in Wired. Is there any company on earth more fascinating than Shein, the mysterious and impossibly cheap fashion brand that has somehow risen from complete obscurity to become the third largest private company on the planet? TikTok, perhaps. But its much-investigated effects on the ~youth~ have nothing on Shein’s environmental externalities and wildly abusive labor practices.
“Influencer Culture Is Everywhere — Even in Academia,” by Brooke Erin Duffy in Salon. Professionals of every type, from priests to pharmacists to landlords, feel increasingly compelled to nurture some kind of “personal brand.” But it’s driven less by narcissism or self-promotion than labor precarity and work dissatisfaction.
This is Bullshit and So Can You is a newsletter with dumb jokes, absurd rants, and oddly educational explainers.
Check out what critics are calling "tepid" and "barely a newsletter" and "the literary equivalent of soaking your eyeballs in bleach."
Packing books for vacation is fun until you realize those “best beach reads” lists are filled with the same popular books you’ve already read.
Namecore. Dirty soda. Spotifictional. Why ASMR techniques get in your head and how iPhone Autocorrect works. Strava outed a fake cyclist. Reddit addiction ruined a man (... with an assist from drugs). This week in YouTube: the rise of the longform video essay and the stunt talk show “Hot Ones.”
Why doesn’t the left have a @LibsofTikTok? Does the TikTok “not interested” button even work? Most importantly, is this a shoebox full of semen, or a bastion of “old internet” culture? Alexa really is spying on you. The squatter living in the basement of that viral Zillow listing speaks. “Cryptocurrency has characteristics that make it more prone to addiction than sports betting [and] gambling.” An appreciation of Facebook groups. WeWork died, but its aesthetic lives on. Last but not least, three recent happenings that do NOT inspire confidence in Twitter 2.0: a surge in racial slurs, a boost for far-right accounts and a wave of harassment toward a Twitter executive who happens to be a woman of color.
That’s it for this week! Until the next one. Warmest virtual regards.