Cancel culture creates a storm

Hello, Friday! 

I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks that readership drops a bit on Fridays; average Friday open rates are in the low 30s compared to weekday rates north of 40, so I’m going to take the foot off the gas pedal on Fridays.

Instead of one deep dive into a topic, I’m going to experiment with a couple quick bites for you. Let me know what you think.

Bite one: Cancel culture.

The talk of the town this week was “The Letter,” where a whole bunch of famous, semi-famous, want-to-be famous writers and thinkers and pseudo-thinkers signed an open letter in Harper’s about their fears of a mythical environment where people are fired for sharing and vigorously defending their ideas. If this is the first you’re hearing of it, congrats. Seriously. 

The reaction to the letter was fast, furious and plentiful. Here’s a taste of the criticisms, and the criticisms of the criticisms.

Washington Post: Letter signed by J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky warning of stifled free speech draws mixed reviews

The New York Times: Artists and Writers Warn of an ‘Intolerant Climate.’ Reaction Is Swift.

CNN (Opinion): The problem with ‘The Letter’ 

National Review: On The Letter

GEN: ‘Cancel Culture’ Is How the Powerful Play Victim

Washington Post (Opinion): Cancel culture is a real problem. But not for the people warning about it.

Reason: The Reaction to the Harper's Letter on Cancel Culture Proves Why It Was Necessary

As the week wrapped up, there’s a tangential aspect to this discussion playing out in ad land, as on Tuesday, BuzzFeed reported that there was a rift between the two co-founders of Sleeping Giants, the once-anonymous group that puts pressure on advertisers to not sponsor websites or tv shows that promote hate, racism or sexism. 

On Thursday night, Nandini Jammi posted a first-person account of why she’s breaking away from Sleeping Giants, levying claims of gaslighting, subtle racism and not-so-subtle sexism against her now-former partner Matt Rivitz. And she brought receipts. 

Inevitably, this has led to a loud chorus on Twitter ‘cancelling’ Sleeping Giants. What happens next, who knows, but I do wonder if some of the teeth of the Sleeping Giants movement just got rounded off a bit. This rift also comes the same week Sleeping Giants was a leader of the StopHateForProfit Facebook boycott, which apparently was Rivitz, not Jammi. 

One last thing of cancel culture: when the CEO of a company praises the President, you can see what’s gonna happen: 

Bite two: Facebook’s tentacles

You may have noticed your apps on your iPhone aren’t working this morning. That’s because there was a bug in Facebook’s SDK, or software development kit.

Earlier this week, Vox went deep on SDKs, giving an explainer to what they are and why they’re important:

Your phone is the ideal tool for advertisers and data brokers, both as a means of collecting your information and serving you ads based on it. This is usually done through software development kits, or SDKs, which these companies provide to app developers for free in exchange for the information they can collect from them, or a cut of the ads they can sell through them. When you turn on location services for a weather app so it can give you a localized forecast, you may be sending your location data back to someone else.

This morning, Facebook confirmed there was a hiccup in its SDK for iOS causing apps to crash. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account or even the app, it doesn’t matter. 

And this is exactly why Facebook is too big to fail. Its tentacles wrap around the internet, intertwining itself with the architecture, meaning that no advertiser boycott or possibly even regulation can curtail Facebook. The company has embedded itself so deeply into the architecture of the web. We talk about its ad platform being this behemoth, and it is; and we talk about Google and Amazon’s platforms, but as the web as evolved from an academic to an open system (the World Wide Web is itself an application layer on top of the foundational Internet), we’re now in an environment where these big companies hold the power. 

I keep thinking about this NBC News report from this week:

On Wednesday, newly published research from the technology accountability nonprofit Tech Inquiry revealed that the Department of Defense and federal law enforcement agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, have secured thousands of deals with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard and even Facebook that have not been previously reported.

Thank you for allowing me in your inbox. If you have tips or thoughts on the newsletter, drop me a line! Or you can follow me on Twitter. 

Have a great weekend. 

25th anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s last concert:

Some interesting links:

  • TikTok Considers Changes to Distance App From Chinese Roots (WSJ)

  • Carl Reiner, Perfect (NYT)

  • CNBC is just the latest news org to be embarrassed by a leak prosecution (Washington Post)

  • How Coronavirus Cases Have Risen Since States Reopened (NYT)

  • Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley’s War Against the Media (The New Yorker)