Idée Fixe Interlude #19

2020 was all about content moderation, content distribution and disinformation.

Thank you for being here. You are receiving this email because you subscribed to Idée Fixe - the weekly newsletter for curious minds. If you are new to Idée Fixe, welcome.

I’m Toni Cowan-Brown and each week I share with you insights from tech, politics, and pop culture that matter and dominate our minds. I’ve also added a section on the latest in the F1 2020 season. And each month I dig into one specific idea that is particularly top of mind. 🧠


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First up.

Apologies for missing a few weeks with this newsletter and appreciate you all for bearing with me. I honestly just needed to lighten the workload for a few weeks.

🎙 F1 - the plane that never takes off (Another Podcast w/ Benedict Evans)

It has become more important than ever to demonstrate just how little our society is siloed and how much all these industries overlap with each other. That’s not to say there is still a massive gap and lots of misunderstanding between these industries.

On this episode of Another Podcast, our two obsessions - Formula 1 and 50s experimental aircrafts - overlap in interesting ways with technology, innovation, and creation. Both have a long history of providing technological development that has much wider implications than simply making fast racing cars and powerful aircraft.

👀 The economics of Formula One

Complementing the above discussion I wrote this piece about the history of Formula 1, regulating this industry over the years, and the business and economics of it.


What I’m reading.

💼 Future of Work: 7 trends for 2021 by laëtitia Vitaud. 💡 This post about Substack has gotten me thinking about the future of content distribution and the treadmill I sometimes find myself on when producing content. 🏋️‍♂️ Bro Culture and Empire in Decline. 👩‍🏫 We have had to change many things this year and how we learn (and teach) is at the top of that list - Parents who barely knew each other are suddenly running makeshift schools together. What could go wrong? 👑 And finally this story about The Rise of Saudi Prince - more specifically Mohammed bin Salman. 🚘 Tesla mania vs. economic reality. 📚 And finally, this story got me equally angry and very sad. Just buy and read the books you want to read - Washington’s Secret to the Perfect Zoom Bookshelf? Buy It Wholesale. (h/t to David Pierce, Protocol for flagging this story).


Politics 🗳️

Just how broken is our political information ecosystem, anyway? (NiemanLab, October 2020)

It is not new to note that in the USA, Democrats and Republicans live in two very separate information bubbles. The information they seek out, the news they consume and the facts that they hold true are far from the same. And so it should not surprise us anymore to hear that “nearly half of Trump supporters surveyed still believe he’ll be sworn in for a second term in January. Not that he should be — that he will be.” And yet it is wild to think that in a democracy where a new President has been democratically elected, so many people do not believe this to be factually accurate. Or rather, and far more worrying, many know and acknowledge that Biden has been declared the winner of the 2020 elections by the media and yet they still think that Trump will be sworn in for another term in January.


Technology 📱

APIs All the Way Down (Not Boring by Packy McCormick, December 2020)

There are a few things in tech that I believe to be vastly underrated - APIs (Application Programming Interface) and payment processors are the two currently on the top of my list. They are not the sexy, fun and cool things in tech to talk about and yet both are increasingly important pieces to the tech infrastructure that underlines a lot of what is possible online today.

McCormick’s piece on APIs is a great first look into APIs - what they are, what they allow companies to do, and the value they create.

Should Spotify Be Responsible for What Joe Rogan Does? (Vulture, November 2020)

When Spotify signed The Joe Rogan Experience to a hundred million dollar exclusive distribution deal this summer, practically everyone wondered how the audio streaming platform would handle the next time Rogan brought on Alex Jones, the notorious conspiracy theorist whose provably false and harmful provocations got his ass de-platformed by several major tech companies — including Spotify itself — in 2018.

The debate about who is responsible for moderating hate speech online is not going away in 2021. If anything it’s only going to get louder and increasingly more complex. Apps and platforms such as Clubhouse, Substack, TikTok (to name just some of the recent additions) are offering the technology and the network to creators allowing them to both host and distribute their content. A distinction that is incredibly important and one that is harder to define. Is the company merely providing the content creator with tools to create and host their content or is also helping said creator to get in front of an audience?

The solution is most likely going to be a messy mix of pan-European/global regulations and more responsibility from the software companies and networks, the content creators, and the users. The Joe Rogan and Spotify case is an example of the complexities that lie ahead. I still stand strongly by the statement that the solution is certainly not more censorship across the board.


(Pop) Culture 🍿

In 2020, disinformation broke the USA (Buzzfeed, December 2020)

A long but important read as we look back on one of the big topics - disinformation - of 2020, especially in the midst of an election cycle, a global pandemic and a global social justice movement.

Disinformation is not going away. It will dissuade people from taking the vaccine. Protesters will be lied about as police brutalize them. And the propaganda machine Trump fueled won’t grind to a halt just because there’s a new president.

Eric Sartori, the nurse in Arizona, is now thinking about how he will try to combat skepticism around the upcoming vaccines, separating real anxieties from the disinformation that’s already circulating.

“I think it’s the subtle things that chip away at reality that are the most troubling,” he said.


Formula One 🏎

The 2020 F1 season is over and it was one hell of a season, to say the least, and the surprises kept coming right till the end - some good and some bad. The off-season will be short and we will be back at it in March 2021. If you need a year in review, this 90-minute video might do the trick. I also highly suggest you watch the film, Grand Prix 1966. It’s a beautiful trip down memory lane, it’s an incredible reminder of how far the sport has come in terms of safety and security, and it feels like the 60s version of Drive to Survive.

The Red Bull musical chairs finds a new player

As predicted, Alex Albon lost his Red Bull seat to Sergio Perez who now has a one-year contract with Red Bull. As I mentioned previously on TikTok I do think that ‘Checo’ has the right ‘aggressive driving’ that fits the Red Bull vibe and style. And indeed, it does seem like Albon is a victim of the exact same mess that got him his seat at Red Bull.

FIA presents a report demonstrating motor sport’s contribution to health, safety, environment. (FIA, December 2020)

Very much in-line with that F1 podcast episode and the piece I wrote about the economics of F1, this year in review from the FIA focusing on all the spillover that happens in F1. The examples of how the tech developed behind closed doors will often find its way into other industries are plentiful.

A beautifully designed graphic of every driver and team change for the 2021 season (Reddit)


How does the porn industry work? (Business Casual with Kinsey Grant)

“There’s a lot of money to be made in adult entertainment...but not everyone can make it. Today, let’s take a deeper look at pitfalls and possibilities of becoming a porn entrepreneur.”

I have spoken about the adult entertainment industry and porn more times this week than I have in the past six months. I was particularly interested in three specific areas:

  1. The monopoly within the porn industry (held by GeekMind - which owns some of the biggest names/companies in the industry). Especially in the past few weeks, we have seen so many new cases antitrust cases against big tech monopolies. Why has the porn industry been able to avoid any such controversies?

  2. What are the platforms (who benefit a lot from the creators using their platforms) doing to support this creative process, ensure that the platform is safe and void of violent and harmful content? And what is being done to hold these platforms and companies accountable?

  3. And finally, the barrier for funding disruptive companies in this space and the stigma attached to working in this industry - a stigma that is alive and kicking.

Side Hustle Stack

Side Hustle Stack is a resource for finding various platforms to earn income—ranging from side hustles to building a full-time standalone business. With COVID-19, many people in our communities are looking for ways to supplement their income, and we wanted to create a resource for those looking for work.


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