New Week Same Humans #50
The Chinese government bans mid-week video gaming. New research reveals why online trolls gonna troll. Plus more news and analysis from this week.
Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
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This week, the CCP issues strict new rules on video gaming for under 18s.
Also, new research casts light on the psyche, and success, of online trolls. And skate brand Vans opens a playground in the metaverse.
🌐 Game over for the global internet?
Under-18s in China are now banned from playing video games for more than three hours per week. The CCP issued stringent new rules on Monday.
Back in New Week #43 I wrote on how gaming giant Tencent had instituted tighter restrictions for young gamers. That move was intended to prevent a full-frontal assault by the CCP; clearly it failed to do so.
Under the new rules issued by China’s National Press and Publication Administration, games studios must operate real-name ID verification and limit minors to one hour per day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only. The CCP has previously described video games as a form of ‘spiritual opium’.
The news comes amid the launch of a landmark report on internet freedom. Published by digital civil rights non-profit Access Now in partnership with Alphabet’s think tank Jigsaw, the report says that authoritarian regimes are increasingly using internet shutdowns to ‘stifle opposition, quash free speech and muzzle expression.’
Access Now trace the disturbing trend back to Hosni Mubarak’s five-day shutdown of the internet during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Since then, governments worldwide have carried out partial or nationwide shutdowns at least 850 times; 90% of them happened in the last five years.
In the first five months of 2021, Access Now documented 50 shutdowns across 21 countries. They constitute, it says, a new form of humans right abuse.
⚡ NWSH Take: The CCP’s action against video games isn’t an internet shutdown, but similar underlying principles are at work. Authoritarian regimes thirst for control: of culture, ideas, leisure, everything. But online, people are free as never before. That truth makes these governments uneasy. All over the world, they’re moving against internet freedoms. // Rewind ten years and we believed that the internet would prove an unstoppable force for globalisation; nothing, we thought, could stand in the way of the unifying power of the open web. It’s clear now that we were wrong. The decade ahead will be shaped, instead, by the rise of the splinternet: the emergence of several internets governed by nations or regional power blocks, each with its own rules and information filters. The primary split, of course, will be between China and the rest of the world. // What does it mean for global culture, and power relations, when 1.4 billion Chinese citizens see a radically different internet from those of us in the Global North? We’re about to find out.
👺 Troll with it
People who are toxic online are also toxic in real life, says a new study.
At first hearing that conclusion may seem superficial. In fact, it challenges one of our central theories on internet culture.
It’s often said that social media encourages hostile behaviour because it depersonalises our interactions; sitting behind a screen, so runs this argument, people behave in ways that they never would IRL. But researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus University analysed data from eight cross-national surveys and behavioural studies, and found little support for that idea. Instead, the data exposed a quite different reality: internet tossers are just tossers, whether online or in real life.
In other words: the internet isn’t making people rotten, it’s just handing the rotten people a bigger microphone.
Another new study this week offers a window on to why that is such a problem. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that their GPT-3 chatbot was almost twice as likely to express agreement with offensive Reddit comments as it was with non-offensive ones. The reason? The chatbot is simply mimicking human behaviour. Analysis also revealed that across 2,000 Reddit threads, toxic comments saw a response agreement rate of 42%, against only 13% for non-offensive comments.
⚡ NWSH Take: Taken together, these studies sketch out a revised model of what online culture does to our discourse. The internet offers toxic people a new outlet for their bile; that bile attracts other toxic people, who amplify it. Meanwhile, moderate views expressed in non-offensive language attract far less attention. Over time, the public conversation becomes dominated by angry narcissists. // Even this model is hardly revelatory; it’s become increasingly clear over the last few years that this is, indeed, a central feature of internet life. So, what to do about it? It took hundreds of years to evolve the rules for civil discourse that still, for the most part, govern IRL political debate. We need a supercharged process for developing the online equivalent. // Twitter just launched a new Safety Mode that auto-blocks abusive accounts. If they’re really serious, though, they’ll make radical changes to their algorithm, and accept that lower engagement may be a consequence.
🛹 From the block
Vans World is a persistent, shared space inside the game, and features real-world branded locations such as the House of Vans skate park in London. Gamers can customise their avatar, try on virtual shoes, and practice their tricks.
The Vans brand has always been about youth culture and self-expression. Roblox has 44 million daily active users, most under 18.
Brands are coming for the metaverse; this story is only just beginning.
📖 War for talent
Substack landed its first novelist of international significance this week, when Salman Rushdie announced that he has joined the platform.
Rushdie wrote the Booker Prize-winning Midnight’s Children, and was forced into hiding when Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him after the publication of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.
Now, he will publish a new novel, as well as short stories and literary criticism, on his Substack. Much of this new writing will be free, but the novel will be for paid subscribers only.
The partnership came about after Substack wrote to Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie. Rushdie says he hopes that writing on the platform – which, in case you hadn’t noticed, also sends you this email – will allow for ‘a slightly more complex connection’ with readers.
⚡ NWSH Take: The signal could not be clearer: the war for talent inside the creator economy is raging. Rushdie won’t say what Substack have paid him, but his agent is known in literary circles as ‘the Jackal’. Wylie won’t have lifted the phone to speak to his extremely famous client unless the number was high. // That makes sense. Rewind 12 months, and Substack had the newsletter renaissance to itself. Since then, Twitter bought Revue and Facebook launched newsletter platform Bulletin with Malcolm Gladwell as a featured writer. Massive platforms are fighting to own this space. // That means more huge cheques are soon to be written. And the publishing industry will be permanently transformed. Not so long ago, the idea that a literary superstar and Nobel candidate would self-publish his new novel on the internet would have been laughable. Will the novel come to be seen as primarily an online form? And will that prove a rebirth, or the beginning of the end?
🗓️ Also this week
📺 The creative agency behind CryptoPunks, a series of NFT avatars, has signed a deal with a major Hollywood talent agency. Larva Labs say their partnership with United Agents will help them pursue projects in film, TV, and video games.
🚫 Reddit has banned its most active COVID-misinformation subreddit, NoNewNormal. The move came after many popular subreddits went into private mode this week, to protest the platform’s previous refusal to take action.
🇨🇳 More than 1 billion Chinese citizens are now online. That’s according to new data from the China Internet Network Information Centre, which also says that 297 million of those citizens live in rural areas.
🛥️ A Norwegian company says it has created the world’s first zero-emissions autonomous cargo ship. The Yara Birkeland is scheduled to make its first journey, between two Norwegian towns, before the end of the year.
🍏 Apple staff say the company banned an internal Slack channel about pay equity. Meanwhile, the company reportedly plans to lobby against US corporate tax raises intended to help pay for Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan.
🧑🚀 The International Space Station could soon suffer ‘irreparable failures’ according to a Russian official. Vladimir Solovyov said that most in-flight systems in the Russian segment of the ISS had passed their expiry date.
🚲 Dutch ebike company VanMoof have raised $128 million to fund a dramatic expansion. The company say they want 10 million people on their bikes within the next five years.
🏭 A new report says air pollution is a bigger global killer than smoking, car crashes, or HIV. Scientists at the University of Chicago say the average citizen loses 2.2 years of life due to polluted air. In India, the worst affected country, that figure is 5.9 years.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,890,242,931
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7917102653
💉 Global population vaccinated: 27.0%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 67% complete
📖 On this day: On 1 September 1972 Bobby Fischer beats Boris Spassky to become the world chess champion.
Thanks for reading this week.
I’ll keep watching stories such as this, and attempting to make sense of what they mean for our shared future.
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I’ll be back this Sunday. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.