Friday Reading S08E09

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from the Guardian’s Martin Belam, covering journalism, media and technology, and other interesting nerdy things. It is also available as an email newsletter. Sign up here.

I wonder how much time and money has been spent and wasted on this ‘plan’ that literally anybody who understands how the internet works would have told you was unenforceable: “UK drops plans for online pornography age verification system”

Truly we are governed by idiots.

Also, not that I’m bitter*, but every time I pointed out these plans were unworkable on the Twitters a chorus of people would immediately howl at me “Why do you hate the children, Martin, and want to make them see bad things on the internet?”. They have all been very quiet this week.

The Open Data Institute on “Why should we care about data ethics?”

This is from a couple of years back but all the advice still holds true: “I spent two hours with a mobile video genius and learned 26 useful things” – Tom Whitwell

One of the tips in that should have been ‘question the numbers’. I don’t think people are talking enough about how Facebook inflated the metrics for video views, gullible businesses looked at them, and then chucked tons of resources at making videos til they bankrupted themselves. And nobody was watching any of it. Pivot to video my arse.

I’m quite fortunate that at the Guardian we have a culture of putting scrutiny on metrics and thinking about what we really value – regular visitors and attention time. One of our first Facebook live streams got a gazillion views, apparently, but when you dug into the numbers Facebook was saying that 97% of the people who’d watched it had the sound off. The clip was a live interview and a music performance with no subtitles. It was obvious the numbers were bunkum.

Talking of Facebook and numbers: “How A Massive Facebook Scam Siphoned Millions Of Dollars From Unsuspecting Boomers” and made Facebook $50 million in the process. Yes that’s right, $10m more than they just paid out in the fine for the video views scandal.

On the other hand the NCTJ’s Will Gore tells that “Facebook Community News Project enabled local reporters to go back to basics – and it worked”

“One reporter working in Liverpool told me that when she first took up her job she was met with a degree of scepticism. But by being a visible presence and by listening to people, she had gained their trust and had unearthed their stories. After a few months, she was regularly receiving unsolicited emails from locals she had met around and about, offering potential leads. She was trusted because she had demonstrated an understanding of the context in which her readers were living their lives and she was trusted because local people understood the context in which she was doing her journalism.”

“The Corrections: The Carbonara Case”. BBC podcast outlining how wrong The Times were with their “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care” story. Incidentally, just like the Mail articles about the MMR vaccine being dangerous, the original articles are still up, uncorrected, on The Times’ website.

This piece is absolutely horrible marketing guff to read – so don’t – but buried in “Does Vertical Video Make a Difference? We Spent $6,000 on Tests to Find Out” is a reminder that “square video (1:1) results in 30-35 percent more video views and an 80-100 percent increase in engagement compared to landscape video (16:9)” because “square video takes up 78% more real estate in a person’s mobile newsfeed than does landscape video”. It doesn’t help me sell my retro-VHS-looking 4:3 aspect music videos on social, but it might help you.

“The report also recommends that the Electoral Commission should keep a database of political campaigners’ social media accounts to keep track of the material they are posting. This would mean that, for example, Boris Johnson’s Twitter account and the Facebook page of the People’s Vote campaign would be monitored by the UK’s election watchdog.”

“Fight fake news by tracking political parties’ social media, says Oxford study” – Rowland Manthorpe, Sky News

Here’s the full report here: “The market of disinformation – Oxford Technology and Elections Commission”

The terrible idea of people having to show photo ID to vote is being floated again by terrible right-wing blowhards in the UK. Here’s why it is such a terrible idea.

“But in an age in which social media is lamentably central to – and sometimes a substitute for – life itself, just how ‘dictator loving’ is Twitter? More broadly, has Twitter wilfully politicised itself, or is it merely haphazardly finding its way in a chaotic and often unregulatable digital realm?”

“Does Twitter love dictators?” – Belen Fernandez

“Punishment is a constant. The prisoners are forced to take pills and get injections. It’s for disease prevention, the staff tell them, but in reality they are the human subjects of medical experiments. Many of the inmates suffer from cognitive decline. Some of the men become sterile. Women are routinely raped.”

“A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here’s What Really Goes on Inside” – David Stavrou tells the story of Sayragul Sauytbay


“What has happened to the people who told their stories has been intense and strange and often difficult. It has included some celebration and relief, sure, but also unwelcome exposure, threats, and thrown drinks and epithets; the undermining of their characters, the misconstruing of their intentions; a realignment of their identities; familial and romantic rifts; money and jobs lost.”

“The Toll of #MeToo – Assessing the costs for those who came forward” – Rebecca Traister

Kevin Blowe has been giving legal assistance to people arrested as part of the Extinction Rebellion protests. Passionate essay from him about how sending flowers to the police was yet another mis-step from them, showing how XR seem particularly blind to issues affecting the working class and BAME people in the areas they are targeting for action: “It is not just a bunch of flowers”

This is a great way to teach kids about Colombus.

“‘It begins on the premise that there’s this monstrous crime in the years after 1492 when perhaps as many as 3 million or more Taínos on the island of Hispaniola lost their lives. It asks students to wrestle with the responsibility in this’. The students play the role of the defendants and are asked to defend themselves against the charges, and to explain who they think is guilty and why.”

This is great journalism, and where you end up when you vote to put austerity politicians into power for a decade. I wish people were more angry about this than Brexit.

“Teachers at Moorside are constantly dipping into their own pockets for things like art supplies, glue sticks and food for cooking activities. Although they can submit receipts for expenses, most don’t as they feel guilty doing so when the school is under such financial pressure. ‘We would rather that money was put into support staff for children to talk to and have that shoulder to lean on,’ said Dawn Crowther, a Year 1 teacher.”

“How Funding Cuts And Rising Poverty Are Pushing Schools To Breaking Point” – Aasma Day

“So does Dril’s work move in an ‘ideal direction’? Upon proper consideration of his work, it would be hard to argue that it doesn’t. Dril is a remarkable writer whose work not only helps us understand but helps us to respond to the world in which we are forced to exist.”

“Give the Nobel Prize in Literature to Dril” – Tom Whyman

This is a cut above your usual NASA conspiracy buff because the guy who wrote it, Gilbert V. Levin, was actually involved in the NASA missions to Mars during the 1970s: “I’m Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s”


Do you love #Torchwood? Are you a writer with an agent? Big Finish are keen to get more stories from communities under-represented in their audio range and would love some pitches from different voices. If you want to find out more, send your details to

The Athletic is looking for podcast producers.

The European Journalism Centre publishes a newsletter “100 Paths to Journalism” – subscribe to their newsletters here.

You know you want to.

Oh my god. Someone made an error in Open Street Maps, and now there is “The island where you can’t play Pokémon Go”

“Pioneers – William Morris and the Bauhaus” is the first exhibition in the UK to fully explore the relationship between the English Arts and Crafts movement and the Bauhaus, the ground-breaking German art school established by Walter Gropius. And it is free and on in Walthamstow.

Questions you never knew you needed the answer to #1,057: “Why are there sex shops on the A1?”

My old pal Matt Round says on Twitter: “I launched in August hoping to nudge upwards from 100ish views a day to maybe a steady flow of 1,000 after some time if I kept adding things. It just reached half a million page views. Maybe there’s still a place for quirky standalone websites after all”. I endorse this message. Vote

Twitter account recommendation of the week: Who Targets Me/@WhoTargetsMe – “Who’s using Facebook ads to win your vote – and how are they doing it?”. Basically monitoring online political social media campaigns so you don’t have to.

I went to an open-mic electronica night in Shoreditch and one of the acts was doing pro-Brexit synthpop and I’m not entirely sure they had read the room.

S25 Industrial Unit – a two-piece off-shoot from Factory legends Section 25, are playing in Walthamstow in November.

A lot of coverage for the anniversary of Hats by The Blue Nile. It’s one of those weird ones that is very clearly the sort of stuff I liked at the time, was hugely critically acclaimed and people love it. But it leaves me absolutely cold and I don’t know why. I’ve tried on a few occasions over the years to listen to it and get into it, but it has just never happened. But then I wonder if it is actually a side effect of this album: “Into The Night” by Botany 5. it came out a couple of years later and immediately sank without a trace. It’s very much cut from the same cloth, maybe slightly more up-tempo, and I absolutely adored it. But now when I hear Hats I just think “Oh, I must dig out that Botany 5 album” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Googling around that led me to this lovely old blog post by Bruce Percy about his musical past, which mentions them by-the-by. It’s got this wonderful paragraph about having stopped doing music and having a creative hiatus:

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is this: you need to look after your creativity. Nurture it. Don’t abuse it, don’t be overly critical of yourself, and above all else: remember to enjoy it. I beat myself up so much about my music that I stopped enjoying it. I also took it far too seriously. I wish I hadn’t. At the moment, I’m just grateful to have found a second creative outlet and that this one has been much kinder to me. I hope I can continue to be creative for many years to come. I feel very philosophical about my musical past: it’s mine, I own it. I also feel that everything we do is a stepping stone. I know for sure, that I needed to go through the process of working on music for so long, in order for me to be doing what I do now. We are after all, products of our accumulated experiences.”

Someone set the story of Mr Nosey to the theme from The Exorcist. Because they could, I guess. It becomes incredibly sinister. Did you ever notice, as a grown-up, that basically all of the Mr Men are wankers?

I make electronic music about the paranormal. I’ll be supporting Agent Side Grinder in Dalston in October. You could come and watch me if you wanted. It will look a bit like this. But with me standing in front of it, pulling worried faces at my laptop. Tickets here.

[*I am bitter]