This week's notable links
This is my regular digest of links and media I found notable over the last week. Did I miss something? Let me know!
Simon Willison called this, and it makes sense: the George Carlin AI special was human-written, because that's the only way it could possibly have happened.
It's a parlor trick; a bit. It's also a kind of advertising for AI: even as you're horrified at the idea of creating a kind of resurrected George Carlin against his will, you've accepted that idea that it was technically possibly. It isn't.
Unfortunately for the folks behind the special, it's still harmful to Carlin's legacy, and putting his name on it in order to gain attention is still a problem. We'll see how the lawsuit shakes out. #AI
Joe Sacco, the graphic journalist who wrote Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza, and Safe Area Gorazde, has started a new series, The War on Gaza.
It's accompanied by this statement from Fantagraphics:
"We want to state clearly and emphatically that we stand with the innocent people of Gaza. At the same time, we emphatically condemn the massacre of innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas on October 7 as a war crime and acknowledge with deep regret the grief and trauma Jewish people are enduring in its aftermath; but this barbarous act does not warrant Israel to commit its own war crime and to inflict exponentially greater grief and trauma in return." #Culture
"In order to combat the fracturing of social media platforms, a Google discoverability crisis fueled by AI generated spam and AI-fueled SEO, and a media business environment that is in utter freefall, we need to be able to reach our readers directly using a platform that we own and control."
For every publisher right now, email seems to be the only option. This is the first time I've seen this argument about AI scraping: usually the need to own your own relationship comes down to avoiding the thrash of different social media business models, which I've written about plenty of times before.
This idea that putting your content out there for free will only lead to it being rewritten by AI and repurposed by spam blogs could be the death of the open web. This is particularly true in light of Google's apparent refusal to downgrade machine-written content.
The idea is simple and awful: these spam sites rewrite human-written articles in an effort to capture search engine clicks themselves, instead of the people they stole from. They run ads against this spam. Because it's all machine-written, they can do it at scale.
Even if you don't agree that the web needs to be intrinsically protected (hi, we're enemies now), it seems obvious to me that incentives should be aligned towards publishing unique, useful information rather than superficially grabbing clicks through AI-driven SEO spam. I don't know what's going on inside the search engine businesses, but they need to consider what's going to be good for their businesses in the long term. This isn't it. #AI
Honestly, what a lovely thing: a nonprofit newsroom doing important things for news, media, and democracy, for the right reasons - with a women-led, diverse team. And thriving.
60% of the team is BIPOC; nearly 40% is LGBTQ+. And that diversity allows them to tell the sorts of stories that many other newsrooms struggle to reach.
And this allows those stories and perspectives to spread far and wide: "Our free distribution model led our stories to be republished hundreds of times, in national outlets like the PBS NewsHour and HuffPost; local outlets like MinnPost and Connecticut Mirror; and community- and issue-specific outlets like Capital B News and Inside Climate News."
I was once a member of the team; now I'm a cheerleader. I want to see much more of this kind of newsroom - and this newsroom in particular - in the future. #Media
"In 2018, the indie women’s website The Hairpin stopped publishing, along with its sister site The Awl. This year, The Hairpin has been Frankensteined back into existence and stuffed with slapdash AI-generated articles designed to attract search engine traffic."
This is one of the worst kinds of AI-generated spam: a real, much-missed website has been purchased and spun into an LLM fever dream. It's now just a part of a Serbian DJ's thousands-deep portfolio of spam sites.
But the point made in the article about succession planning is really important. Media properties should be thoughtful about what happens to their domains once they've outlived their usefulness - even if the owner has shuttered completely. Otherwise anyone can scoop up the domain and abuse the goodwill built by its former owner for any purpose they like.
This is particularly true for journalism publishers. I recommend that they never let their domains expire for this reason, even if they've fully fallen out of use. You never know who might pick them up and abuse the trust of their community. #AI
"Proposed legislation would prevent trans people from being able to update driver’s licenses, hold public office, use public restrooms, or take shelter from domestic violence unless they do so according to their sex assigned at birth."
I'm grateful, as ever, for The 19th's (and, specifically, Orion Rummler's) reporting here, digging into the details and impact of this proposed legislation.
One ray of light: "The ACLU and other civil rights groups are tracking a lot of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year, and expect another record-shattering year. However, advocates want the community to remember that although a record number of anti-trans bills were introduced last year, the majority of anti-trans bills — hundreds of them — never passed into law." #Society
"What we’re sharing today is the result of applying our lessons learned from running a company with transparent salaries for a decade." I've been following Buffer's open salaries initiative since the beginning; this is a great update.
An open salary system is smart for all the reasons listed here: most importantly, it eliminates person-by-person bias.
Systemic inequalities between certain job functions, particularly with respect to gendered work, aren't completely addressed here given the system's reliance on market salaries, but I liked the way they adjusted their customer service salaries when they realized how important they were to the business.
The initiative is also a great way to signal an open culture to the world, and this post is thoughtful and thorough. I wish it was more standard. #Business
The 19th News Network is "a collective of national, regional and local publishers seeking to advance racial and gender equity in politics and policy journalism."
Partners include USA Today, the Texas Tribune, Teen Vogue, The Nation, and Ms. Magazine. Partners get early access to 19th stories, which they can republish on their own sites, and partner stories will be featured on The 19th (and on each other's site).
The whole thing is made possible because of Creative Commons licensing: every story is released under a CC license and made available to republish as easily as possible. But it's made viable and vibrant by a dedicated editor who works to connect partners together and help identify stories to co-report. I think it's brilliant. #Media
A robocall used a deepfake of Joe Biden's voice to encourage New Hampshire voters to stay home. "It's important that you save your vote for the November election."
It's not a perfect deepfake, but it doesn't necessarily need to be - for call recipients who don't understand what's happening, it has the potential to be enough to move the needle.
It's not clear that this is the first time that this has happened, but it certainly won't be the last. It's also not clear how this might be prevented except to block robocalls entirely (and even then, one can imagine using a live agent with a deepfaked voice, so that every call would be different). #AI