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At SXSW, Tech Reckons With the Problems It Helped Create

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Hangovers are a fixture of South by Southwest. Free branded booze abounds, turning late nights into too-early mornings filled with product demos and repetitive panels. But determined marketers and wide-eyed founders pitch on through the pain, in the unbridled belief they might just be SXSW’s next breakout star. Or at the very least, its next Meerkat.

But this year, the conference itself feels a lot like a hangover. It’s as if the coastal elites who attend each year finally woke up with a serious case of the Sunday scaries, realizing that the many apps, platforms, and doodads SXSW has launched and glorified over the years haven’t really made the world a better place. In fact, they’ve often come with wildly destructive and dangerous side effects. Sure, it all seemed like a good idea in 2013! But now the party’s over. It’s time for the regret-filled cleanup.

An entire track of panels at this year’s conference revolved around technology under President Trump. In endless others, speakers related how the very platforms that were meant to promote a marketplace of ideas online have become filthy junkyards of harassment and disinformation.

On Sunday, journalist Julia Ioffe and Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone frankly discussed the rise of anti-semitism online. After Ioffe wrote a campaign season profile of Melania Trump in GQ revealing, among other things, that the model-turned-First Lady had a secret half-brother, Ioffe was inundated with death threats and Holocaust memes. At first, she said, she found the trolls’ Photoshop skills funny. Then, she began waking up in the middle of the night to phone calls asking if she’d ordered a homicide cleanup or a casket.

“These trolls had found my information online, and they were going to these vendors’ websites and putting my contact info in,” she told the audience.

Ioffe, who eventually filed a police report over the threats, said she went public with her story because even though she risked feeding the trolls, she wanted the world to know that “something in the discourse, the water, and the air had changed.” As she spoke, a woman in a hijab sitting in the second row nodded knowingly.

Life online has been no easier for pop star Kesha. The singer, who accused her former producer, Dr. Luke, of raping and abusing her, says she can no longer even look at the comments posted about her online. “I use the internet to connect with my fans, but aside from that it isn’t a healthy place for me,” she said Tuesday, during a packed panel on reclaiming the internet.

It’s not just harassment that circulates more easily online. Yasmin Green, who leads an incubator within Alphabet called Jigsaw, focused her remarks on the rise of fake news, and even brought two propaganda publishers with her on stage to explain how, and why, they do what they do. For Jestin Coler, founder of the phony Denver Guardian, it was an all too easy way to turn a profit during the election. “To be honest, my mortgage was

Read More At:  https://www.wired.com/2017/03/sxsw-tech-reckons-problems-helped-create/

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