Weekend edition—Fake news, Chinese mushroom diplomacy, #AI economics

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” its word of the year this week, and suddenly everyone is talking about the problem of “fake news.” Well, OK, not “suddenly”; the US did just elect a president whosewhole strategy was based on it. (And still is; his campaign manager this week denied Donald Trump ever called for a registry of Muslims, though he did so explicitly, on camera.)

But the fake news problem does now look even worse than we thought. Not only were Macedonian teenagers making a fast buck by publishing fake pro-Trump news (oh, and so was a guy in Arizona, who claims he hates Trump, but the money was good); a BuzzFeed analysis found that fake news got more engagement on Facebook than the top real news stories.

Now Facebook is under fire for exacerbating the fake-news problem; CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in denial; and Germany is worried that Russian-led fake news and hacking could disrupt its own election next year. (“Welcome to the club, guys,” say countries (paywall) with weaker media institutions, where truth fell victim to Facebook’s algorithm years ago.)

The good (real) news: Facebook and Google are going to starve the most egregious fake-news peddlers of ad dollars. Journalists arebanding together against the threat. Some Facebook staff are rebelling against Zuckerberg. Some college kids even hacked together a solution over a weekend. (Yay!)

But even if Facebook shuts down the Macedonian teens, it won’t cut out extremist behemoths like Breitbart, or even more moderate partisan sites on either side. And that’s the real problem. Liberals and conservatives in the US—and in many countries—already live in two entirely different news realities. As Orwell observed long ago, totalitarianism destroys the “common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal.” We’ve done that job for it.—Gideon Lichfield


10,000 words ranked by their Trumpiness. Analysis of tweets associated with locations and their voting patterns in the US reveals a distinctive spread. “Crap” is very Trumpy. “Fuck” is very not-Trumpy. “Truck”; Trumpy. “Pizzeria”; not-Trumpy. Nikhil Sonnad and Keith Collins map the hidden politics of everyday American English.

The awkward truth about policy discussion. Liberals complained that the US election was all about mud-slinging and hatred instead of policy. But articles about policy were being written equally in both left- and right-wing media, find Sarah Slobin and Christopher Groskopf in this data analysis. The difference: people on the left read them a lot less.

China’s mushroom diplomacy. Across Africa, Chinese agricultural centers are bringing new equipment, crops, and techniques to local farmers. But as Lily Kuo discovers in Rwanda, their goal is to create a gateway to the continent for Chinese companies.

How American veganism split, and grew up. Vegans remained a fringe movement until a breakaway group of pragmatists began agitating for animal welfare instead of opposing animal consumption altogether—angering the principled absolutists, but, argues Chase Purdy, having a bigger effect.

Farewell to the world’s greatest online music library. What.cd, which shut down this week, was illegal and famously hard to get into, but once in, its users had access to the most complete and meticulously organized music file-sharing site in history—and the only source at all for many rare recordings. Nikhil Sonnad laments the passing of music’s Library of Alexandria, now equally destroyed.


Barack Obama mulls his legacy. Four days before the US election, was the outgoing president feeling confident about the outcome? “Nope,” he confessed to New Yorker editor David Remnick, who was with him before and after the vote. Obama, who has publicly sought to reassure Americans and his own staff, offered Remnick his first candid assessment of Trump’s victory, which is less sanguine.

Donald Trump’s Thomas Cromwell speaks. “We’re going to build an entirely new political movement… If we deliver… we’ll govern for 50 years.” Leave your echo chamber behind and savor the opportunity to hear directly from the the power behind Trump’s super-classy throne: Steve Bannon, his controversial chief strategist, who talked to Michael Wolff for the Hollywood Reporter.

A risk-based theory of voting. Pundits assumed voters wouldn’t choose Brexit or Trump because they were too risky and unknown. Actually, explains Christophe Heintz for the International Cognition and Culture Institute, behavioral economics tells us that when people feel they’ve lost something—as Trump and Brexit voters did—the riskier option can seem more attractive.

China’s great leap backward. Since Nixon, US presidents have been able to assume China is getting gradually richer, freer, and easier to deal with. Its inward turn, slowdown, and crackdown under Xi Jinping are upending those assumptions, writes James Fallows in the Atlantic, and that bodes ill for the two superpowers’ relationship.

The reassuring economics of AI. A salve to the worries about robots taking our jobs, from Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb at HBR. Machine intelligence is good at prediction, but acting on predictions still requires human judgment. As prediction (e.g., medical diagnosis) gets cheaper, demand for actions based on it (medical treatment) will go up.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Trumpy words, and rare musical recordings to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.



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