Consequences matter. If there was one clear message from football’s temporary boycott of social media earlier this month, in protest at the torrent of online hate experienced disproportionately by black players, that was it.
The former England striker Ian Wright has said that he’d almost given up reporting the vile stuff he receives daily because nothing ever seemed to happen to the perpetrators. “It makes you feel very dehumanised. You feel like there’s nothing you can do, you’re helpless,” he said. So two cheers, at least, for the inclusion in this week’s Queen’s speech of a long-delayed online safety bill aimed at holding big tech more accountable. Who wouldn’t agree with the culture secretary Oliver Dowden’s desire to rid social media of what he called “the bile and the threats”?
For all the good social media brings, it has also created unrivalled opportunities for the resentful, the bitter and the frankly sociopathic to reach those they couldn’t previously touch. Children have been groomed for sexual exploitation, terrorists radicalised, the gullible sucked into conspiracy theories, teenage girls coached to self-harm, and hate normalised on platforms that have faced too little by way of consequence. Unlike some of the straw men set up by this Queen’s speech for ministers to knock down noisily, this problem is real. But as with too many of this government’s grand plans, it’s one thing to announce you’re going to fix the internet, and another to actually do it.
The case for action is so overwhelming that even Silicon Valley’s smarter players are actively lobbying for governments to step in and regulate them, like teenagers whose illicit party has been gatecrashed by some scary-looking characters and who just want an adult to step in and deal with the problem they unwittingly created. Facebook’s vice-president for global affairs, Nick Clegg, has long argued that its job would be easier if “some of the sensitive decisions we have to make were instead taken by people who are democratically accountable to the people at large” not by a private company. Let someone else take the flak for deciding whether Donald Trump should be banned for inciting riots, or in what circumstances posting an exposed nipple is acceptable. Judging by this rather vague and in places contradictory bill, however, it won’t be that easy.
The government’s proposals require tech companies to curb the use of their platforms for illegal purposes,under threat of sanction from Ofcom. So far, so clear. But it also imposes a “duty of care” on the biggest companies to prevent activities that aren’t necessarily illegal, but are potentially harmful – capable of causing “physical or psychological impact” – while simultaneously safeguarding the right to free expression, protecting political campaigners’ right to argue their case online and avoiding taking sides in political arguments.
All of which sounds eminently sensible, until you try applying it all in practice. Dowden ducked the question when asked by ITV’s Robert Peston whether calling gay men “tank-topped bumboys”, as Boris Johnson once did in a newspaper column, should be outlawed online. But that’s almost the easy bit.
To say that biological sex is real, and immutable, would be seen in some circles as transphobic hate speech, and in others as a perfectly reasonable statement of fact. Who decides what’s harmful to whom when teenagers on TikTok are shocked and upset by very different things to their parents on Mumsnet? What about comments that aren’t discriminatory but are obnoxious, stupid or exhausting enough to cause cumulative “psychological impacts” if you’re swamped with them? Where does an individual’s responsibility to walk away end and the platform’s responsibility to stop people feeling they have to leave begin? And how can a site not take sides in political arguments where one party chooses a liar or a bigot for a leader, and the other doesn’t?
Answering these questions will shape popular culture profoundly, making the still vacant position of the Ofcom chair – contenders for which reportedly include the former Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre – very powerful indeed. But they will also require from tech executives the judgment of Solomon, or at the very least, editorial skills more usually demanded of the BBC and newspaper executives – who won’t, incidentally, be covered by this bill. Online journalism is exempt in the interests of press freedom, but, interestingly, so is below-the-line comment by readers, meaning that what a person can write underneath a tabloidarticle about Meghan Markle may diverge sharply from what can be said about her on Twitter – or indeed in a student union debate, where a separate free speech bill will guarantee the right of controversialists to sue for compensation if they’re no-platformed by universities.
What’s the guiding principle here, the one rule that makes the boundaries of free speech clear to everyone? There isn’t one, partly because Dowden is right that in a democracy there are some things politicians shouldn’t dictate, and partly because setting hard-and-fast rules on this stuff is like nailing jelly to a moving wall. Yet the success of this bill depends in some ways on pretending that there is; that deep down we know what’s right, and that social media companies therefore have the power to fix things, if only they’re threatened with the right stick. Well, maybe. But if not, then the story of regulating big tech may continue to be one of a shrinking circle of people passing the hot potato endlessly, each one desperately hoping the music doesn’t stop with them.
In a countersuit released last week, Musk put his side of the argument. According to him: Twitter misled investors; it breached the agreement by failing to provide enough information on spam accounts; another breach occurred when Twitter failed to consult with him on business moves such as firing senior employees; and its misstatement of user numbers constitutes a material adverse effect, which substantially alters Twitter’s value and therefore invalidates the deal agreement.
“Instead, they contain numerous, material misrepresentations or omissions that distort Twitter’s value and caused the Musk parties to agree to acquire the company at an inflated price. Twitter’s complaint, filled with personal attacks against Musk and gaudy rhetoric more directed at a media audience than this court, is nothing more than an attempt to distract from these misrepresentations,” said the lawsuit.
Strong words, but Musk will need strong evidence as well to convince the judge.
Musk’s core argument is about user numbers
From the moment the deal started to go sour, the focus was on the veracity of Twitter’s numbers. It is at the centre of Musk’s countersuit as well. He argues that the number of monetisable daily average users (mDAUs) – authentic, active accounts that can see adverts (hence monetisable) – is falsely inflated by Twitter miscounting the number of false and spam accounts on the platform. As well as being a threat to the ad income on which Twitter depends, Musk said his plan to introduce a subscription service for Twitter would be affected because there would be fewer customers to target than first thought.
Twitter has consistently stated that it estimates the number of false or spam accounts on the platform to be less than 5% of its mDAUs base, which stands at just under 238 million currently.
The suit says that Musk became alarmed about how Twitter accounts for its mDAUs when, three days after signing the deal agreement, it admitted it had overstated its mDAU total for three years, by between 1.4 million and 1.9 million users per quarter. Twitter denies that the user change was a “restatement” (it describes the alteration as “updated values”) but admits it did not give the information to Musk prior to the deal being signed on 25 April.
Musk is not happy with Twitter’s verification processes
After agreeing to buy the business with minimal due diligence, the suit says Musk was “astonished” to learn about how “meagre” Twitter’s processes for identifying spam accounts were. It said 100 accounts a day were sampled by human reviewers in order to come up with the less-than-5% figure. Twitter’s CEO and chief financial officer were unable to explain how these accounts were selected to be a representative sample.
“Musk realised that, at best, Twitter’s reliance on and touting of its process was reckless; at worst, it was intentionally misleading,” says the suit.
Twitter argues that it uses a much more layered process for weeding out dodgy accounts, including using automated systems. It also pointed to the detailed explanations of how it polices spam accounts, which had been given to Musk, the press, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the public via a Twitter thread by CEO Parag Agrawal. In the most notorious episode of this takeover saga, Musk replied to the latter with a poo emoji.
But according to the countersuit at least Agrawal and Musk agreed on one thing. The document states that on 8 April Musk sent the CEO an example of a spam tweet saying: “I am so sick of stuff like this.” Agrawal replied, acknowledging “[w]e should be catching this.”
Citing “preliminary expert estimates”, the countersuit claims that in early July one-third of visible accounts may have been false or spam. This means that the true proportion of spam accounts among Twitter’s user base is at least 10%.
It says users that see zero or almost no ads account for almost all the growth in monetisable daily users. The majority of ads are served to less than 16 million users, the suit claims.
Twitter says that although not every user sees ads on a given day, in the first quarter “significantly more than” 229 million accounts contributed to Twitter’s average quarterly user number.
Regarding the 10% number, Twitter says it was based on a publicly available web tool, botometer, that has designated Musk’s own account as a likely bot.
Twitter made decisions without consulting Musk
One of the clauses in the merger agreement states Musk must be told when Twitter is deviating from its obligation to conduct its business in the “ordinary course”. In the countersuit, Musk claims that Twitter has made several “significant” changes – including firing two executives, starting a hiring freeze and initiating a legal clash with the Indian government – that occurred without his consent.
Twitter’s response is that axing employees or acting to protect users’ rights in foreign jurisdictions are part of the day-to-day business of running a company.
Information was not forthcoming
Musk is also claiming that Twitter failed to provide him with all the data and information that he requested “for any reasonable business purpose related to the consummation of the transaction”. The suit says Musk was sent reams of “stale data” that didn’t answer his questions.
It says, pointedly, that Twitter was happy to send data such as “a copy of its agreement with the Golden State Warriors for courtside basketball tickets and VIP parking”.
After more back-and-forth arguments over increasingly detailed information requests, the suit claims “the only conclusion the Musk parties could draw from Twitter’s obfuscation and delay was that Twitter knew that it had something to hide”.
The hyperscalers and public cloud providers are barreling ahead, unfazed by a rapidly deteriorating economic outlook, according to a recent Dell’Oro Group report.
In fact, these internet behemoths stand to benefit from the current market conditions in more ways than one, analyst Baron Fung told The Register.
As chipmakers like Intel, Nvidia, Micron, and others face increased pricing pressure across their lineups due to declining demand, hyperscalers are well-positioned to take advantage of this and add more capacity on the cheap, he explained.
“Looking at the recent Q2 earnings, it was really pretty impressive from a growth standpoint,” Fung said of the cloud providers.
Amazon and Azure in particular saw robust revenue gains in their most recent quarters. AWS saw revenues climb 36 percent from the prior year, while Microsoft reported its cloud biz saw year-over-year growth of 40 percent. However, things weren’t as peachy for Google, which saw a otherwise strong quarter for cloud revenue tempered by a $858 million loss in income.
Worsening macroeconomic factors may end up helping cloud providers as enterprises look for alternatives to capex-heavy server refreshes. We saw this phenomenon once before – in the early days of the pandemic.
These factors, combined with a wave of enabling technology – next-generation CPUs, GPUs, smartNICs, and CXL-enabled components to name a handful – will further accelerate hyperscaler spending, which is expected to grow 13 percent over the next five years, Fung said.
So it’s no surprise many chipmakers are optimistic about their cloud and datacenter-related revenues over the next few quarters, despite a slump in PC and gaming demand.
The analyst firm expects next-generation CPU platforms from the likes of Intel, AMD, and Ampere will be among the strongest drivers of hyperscale spending in the near term.
Intel and AMD are expected to launch their next-generation server processors later this year. Both of these chips pack a bevy of new features, including DDR5, and PCIe 5.0, in addition to having substantially higher core counts compared to the previous generation.
These chips are also among the first to support the CXL interconnect standard, “which will enable a new kind of paradigm in the datacenter,” according to Fung.
In its first iteration, the technology will allow systems builders to pack larger quantities of memory into servers than there are DIMM slots, using CXL memory-expansion modules. And in the years to come, the technology has provisions for tiered memory, memory pooling, and disaggregated compute architectures.
The operational and resource efficiencies enabled by the tech may eventually trickle down to customers in the form of lower prices, Fung added.
But it won’t just be the x86 stalwarts leading the charge in the datacenter. Fung also expects Arm chipmakers, like Ampere, to continue gaining traction in the hyperscale arena. Here, the chipmaker’s Altra and Altra Max processors have already attracted several high-profile customers including Microsoft Azure, Google, Cloudflare, and Oracle – to name just a few.
Finally, Dell’Oro predicts hyperscalers will drive edge infrastructure deployments – a market that Intel currently dominates – to 8 percent of the total datacenter infrastructure market by 2026. ®
The Irish-based study lead said food scientists, medical scientists and pharma companies must work together to produce functional foods to treat chronic conditions.
A team of researchers based at the Bernal Institute in University of Limerick (UL) have developed a new guide to designing functional foods to treat various chronic conditions.
Functional foods are foods that provide nutrition and act in a way that positively affects the body, similar to medicine.
According to the research, food has the potential to help in the treatment of heart diseases such as atherosclerosis.
“The capacity for our food to do more than provide us with nutrition is huge and relatively unexplored,” said study lead Daniel Granato, professor in food science and health at UL.
“Cardiovascular diseases are a main cause of death but they can be prevented. By bringing food scientists, medical scientists and pharma companies together we can employ the same methods used in producing medicinal drugs and produce foods that might mitigate health conditions,” Granato added.
The study has been published in Trends in Food Science & Technology, an academic journal. The UL researchers were joined on the project by academics from the Federal University of Alfenas and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil.
Granato and his team proposed an accurate computational approach to designing functional foods by predicting their bioactivity. This allowed the researchers to map how different food components benefit the body.
The study also drew attention to the potential of functional foods to treat illnesses and lessen the burden on the world’s health services. Functional foods are not too available on the market, despite their potential to help prevent conditions such as type-2 diabetes and glucose intolerance. These are both major contributors to heart disease.
Food science, cardiovascular disease therapy and computer modelling should be linked to produce functional foods that can mitigate atherosclerosis, according to Granato. He urged food and pharma companies to take note.
“This is critical to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in good health and wellbeing, as well as ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages, by optimising discovery of bioactive compound sources, and reducing time to market for new functional foods,” he said.
Granato’s co-author and senior lecturer in the UL Department of Biological Sciences, Dr Andreas Grabrucker, said this approach could go far beyond heart disease.
“It will be the basis of a new research project at UL that aims to identify functional foods that lower the risk for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” he claimed.
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