Friday Reading S13E10

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 he found on the internet this week. It is now in its thirteenth season. Sign up here.

"Western anti-vaccine groups and conspiracy theorists have shifted quickly from parroting falsehoods about the global pandemic to peddling misinformation about the war, often from Moscow's viewpoint."

"Anti-vax conspiracy groups lean into pro-Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine" – Laura Kayali and Mark Scott, Politico

It is very interesting that you can pretty much correlate how any public political figure is going to pronounce on Russia's invasion of Ukraine with how they reacted to Covid-19 restrictions, isn't it? I can't stop thinking about this George Galloway tweet:

"Me Farage Hitchens Carlson and Rod Liddle are a pretty broad front of people who think NATO expansion to the borders of #Russia was a pretty bad idea. Maybe pause and think about that?"

and that maybe, just maybe, it isn't their view on Russia that is the common denominator among five ageing white men whose media careers have depended on attention and contrarianism for decades between them.

Delightfully funny professional shit-poster Hussein Kesvani (I have to say this otherwise he will charge me for soup next time I order coffee and his bosses will do nothing about it) has written about this: Forget Russell Brand – tech companies are to blame for the spread of conspiracy theories:

"To some, Brand’s seemingly sudden change to preaching extreme conspiracies has been surprising. For others, his transition from a mainstream comedy darling to a sentient comments section was inevitable, rather than implausible … What Brand does isn’t that dissimilar from what other columnists and professional commentators you regularly see on talkRADIO, LBC or GB News do on a near daily basis. Moreover, his appeal has much to do with the current structure of the internet itself. In an increasingly sterile, sanitised and policed internet, where we often feel powerless to the algorithm, Brand does what nearly every successful piece of viral content does – from the “Ice Bucket Challenge” to Mr Beast’s Squid Game – invite the viewer to participate directly."

SEE ALSO: Russian propaganda on Ukraine's non-existent 'biolabs' boosted by US far right – Russian and Chinese officials have also pushed the theory, associated with QAnon, which has reached mainstream conservative media in the US.

"Most of the conspiracy theories claim that the US was developing and plotting to release a bioweapon or potentially another coronavirus from 'biolabs' throughout Ukraine and that Russia invaded to take over the labs. Many of the theories implicate people who are often the targets of far-right conspiracy thinking — including Dr Anthony Fauci and President Joe Biden — as being behind creating the weaponized diseases in the biolabs."

This one is a good read, although I'm not entirely sure I'm as optimistic of the claims that "the golden era" for disinformation originating from Russia is over:

"Critically, the Kremlin seemed to understand that while our online worlds are a key part of us, we behave differently there because it taps into our magical thinking. It is real and unreal at the same time. We troll each other, scream at each other, and produce millions of hours of ever-weirder porn, all because that world is slightly unreal. Few of us would do any of those things IRL. Yet, it is our real life, and the things we do online all have impacts, both positive and negative, on our psyche. The same holds true for disinformation. Our screens open up something akin to our spirituality, and from there we can make wild leaps of faith as to what is and isn’t real that translate from online to our offline thinking."

"The Spectacular Collapse of Putin’s Disinformation Machinery" – Tom Southern

When you see the audit trail on a story like this it looks absolutely ridiculous but equally it is my absolute worst journalism nightmare made flesh, that of course I'm not going to try and wake up Leo Dicaprio's agent in the middle of the night if the story has already been in 1,057 other major news sites etc etc: Fact check – How a false story about Leonardo DiCaprio donating $10 million to Ukraine spread around the world

Tomorrow's Merseysiders is a 1974 documentary made by the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post for the opening of their new £8.8m office and printing facilities in Liverpool and is exactly the gold that sounds like that. They would definitely have asked Dicaprio's agent for confirmation via Telex.

I'm fascinated by some of the stuff in this Vulture 'exit interview' by Kathryn VanArendonk with Rachel Shukert talking about how Netflix cancelled her show The Baby-Sitters Club (which I've never seen to be honest) last week. It is interesting because of some of the stuff she says about how Netflix works with shows.

"I think we had the bad luck to come out at about the same time as Squid Game. Numbers that were totally respectable and successful last year were suddenly seen in a different way. At Netflix, it’s more about if your show works on the platform than if the platform is working for your show."

She's also interesting about the way the industry treats "air-quote" women's stories "end air-quote", saying:

"I think female audiences are trained to not take their own stories as seriously. Stuff men were obsessed with when they were 9 is treated like Hamlet. How many Spider-Man movies are there? How many Star Wars? They tell it over and over again from different perspectives. That’s all fine, obviously. But what if someone treated something for girls that seriously? Even with a fraction of the money."

Obviously I'm an old fuddy-duddy and most of my TV production knowledge is still about rehearsal read-throughs in Lime Grove studios in 1967 for a now missing episode etc etc, but I do wonder if streaming platforms haven't accidentally broken their own model by prioritising making A LOT of content all in one rush and prioritising subscriber growth over gently nurturing long-living TV properties beyond their second season.

"The Baby-Sitters Club Wasn’t Enough for Netflix Anymore" – Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture


"Don’t give me any of this nonsense about how the latest Batman movies are better than the ’90s ones. Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a ton of silly ice puns in Batman & Robin. Know who found them delightful? Me! Because I’m a human being who has yet to learn long division and still kind of believes in Santa Claus. And it’s not just Batman. There isn’t a beloved childhood property that you people won’t destroy by rebooting. One of my favorite Disney classics is 101 Dalmatians. A beautiful, funny, dramatic story about family and perseverance. And then what do you do? Make a whole new movie about the character who murders dogs!"

It honestly does my head in that aged seven or eight I got to see Superman and Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture but to take my seven or eight year old kid to see a super-hero movie I've got to hope Pixar make one cos otherwise I've got to dress him up to pass to be aged 15 and make him watch 37 previous movies in order to be able to follow the inevitably grimdark origin-story-for-the-14th-time-but-now-in-a-different-multiverse-timeline plot. Adam West was the best fucking Batman. Make movies more like that, fuckers. Shark Repellent FTW.

Ron wants to be sure that you didn’t miss this week’s Guardian Thursday quiz: Leo’s home, Italian kings and Tom’s Diner – take the Thursday quiz

Sarah Drummond is making a short film about the impact on people from Section 28, both about their experience during the implementation of the law and the longer term impact post abolishment. She is currently in the early research phase and has a form where you can get in touch with her.

Sharando Aldis writes Excluded, Exploited, Escaped, about how easy it is for kids excluded from school to get dragged into selling drugs.

“Working for a ransomware gang is surprisingly mundane, according to these leaks” – Danny Palmer at ZDNet writes about how someone leaked months of Conti ransomware gang internal chat logs, which show the day-to-day reality of its operations.

“USA Today Owner Gannett Co. Gave Advertisers Inaccurate Information for Nine Months” – Ooooooooooooooft

“Gannett owns USA Today as well as news outlets in 46 US states … advertisers thought they were buying an ad on one Gannett site—very often the flagship USA Today—but actually purchased space on another, such as one of its many local outlets … The error was added to Gannett’s ad systems by one of its employees in May 2021, and was detected and corrected by the company on March 4 as it worked with a partner to integrate new technology.”

There are some absolutely galaxy-brain takes out there that all these stories linking Roman Abramovich, the former Governor of Chukotka, with corruption are coming out in the media now because of some obvious narrative collusion between government/media/oligarchs etc etc rather than, say, he suddenly can’t employ the most expensive most intimidating legal tactics to effectively suppress the publication of these stories anymore ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This week, founding members of the European Super LeagueTM Chelsea tried to get their FA Cup match with Middlesbrough played behind closed doors for “reasons of sporting integrity”. That would have punished Middlesbrough financially, and banned their fans from their stadium, all for the sanctions that have been imposed on the London club. When people show you who they are, believe them.

Jonathan Liew writes like how I can only dream of writing:

“Now, as it turns out, an entire country can be wiped from the sporting map almost overnight if the will is there to do it. And for political reasons, rather than anything it has done on the field of play. This was possible all along! Why, then, was Russia allowed to host the 2018 Fifa World Cup? Why was the genocidal regime in China rewarded with this year’s Winter Olympics? Why have abusive governments in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia been allowed to own football clubs and cycling teams? Why is this year’s World Cup in Qatar?”

“Should it take a war to show that sport and politics are forever linked?”

It’s a video of a crow appearing to deliberately and repeatedly snowboard down a roof using a plastic cup lid or something for the LOLs. Thank me later.

This is long but I do not think I can ever read enough about Crossrail.

“What gets built is not theoretically the best solution, but the most likely to be achieved in the circumstances. It is never really possible to know, once it’s built, how a given project would compare with imaginary alternatives. So maybe there is a better, smarter £18bn theoretical transport project than the one that is about to open, that will never be seen. But, for now, the natural reaction to Crossrail is to be deeply impressed.”

“A megalopolis of engineering: the verdict on London’s £18bn new Crossrail line” – Rowan Moore

The people moaning about the cost and the delays would never have built the east or west coast mainlines in this country. “Does anybody *really* need to go through Carlisle etc etc”

It was a lovely old sunny day in London Town on Friday, and with the day to myself, I went to the middle of nowhere to watch some people building a brand new London Overground station.

I suspect Barking Riverside won’t look quite so massive once they remember to actually build anything remotely near to it.

TWITTER ACCOUNT OF THE WEEK: @dogsdoingthings – it isn’t actually pictures of dogs doing things, it is short cryptic descriptions of dogs doing things that would be weird and disturbing like “Dogs bursting into the shared Google doc like Cosmo Kramer” or “Dogs firing a shotgun at an inbox full of emails.”

I know, I know, hate the game not the player but fuck PlayStation 5 scalpers into the salted earth:

“Jack Bayliss is a 24-year-old former investment banker who started reselling six years ago. His profit margins were huge – sometimes he would buy Yeezy trainers for £150 and sell them for up to £1,000. He decided to quit his day job and start Aftermarket Arbitrage – a reselling company that teaches others how to scalp. Through subscriptions alone, Mr Bayliss says he has made £456,000 in revenue since starting the company 18 months ago.”

Style-guide tip, BBC News, you’ve accidentally spelt “absolute total cunt” as “former investment banker” there.

I feel like that was a Ratner moment for P&O this week. Can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d ever use their services again. Mind you, every time I think surely people will see through this all now, absolutely nothing happens:

“Sources at the DfT said the department was made aware of the impending mass sackings and suspension of ferry services on Wednesday night. Boris Johnson’s official spokesman had said on Thursday: ‘We weren’t given any notice to this.'”

Government knew of P&O sackings the day before, No 10 admits

80% of UK police accused of domestic abuse kept jobs, figures show – not so much one rotten apple spoiling the barrel as a rotten barrel full stop.

DOCTOR WHO CORNER: They’ve added some Doctor Who stuff into Fortnight and the comments underneath all the official posts about it are full of entitled man-babies absolutely furious that the BBC hasn’t made an open-world multi-dimensional AAA RPG etc etc …

Why I can never give up Twitter, example #1057. One person in this thread has remastered and remixed this Beatles recording from the original master tapes. The other … not so much.

This bit from Wet Leg’s Angelica:

“Knows exactly what’s she’s doin’
I watch as she commands the room [pronounced rou-im]”

is very much from the Martin L Gore school of “houses/trousers” rhyming couplets isn’t it?

I really like it though – it’s one of the tracks when I saw them and had never heard it before and was like “Oh yeah, there’s a bit more to them than those two singles isn’t there”, reminds me of early Blur in a good way.

Great footage of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “godmother of rock’n’roll”, playing at a train station in 1964.

I make 80s-sounding electronic music about ghosts as m-orchestra, and you can find it on Bandcamp, Spotify, and all good electronic streaming services. PaulMacca15 probably knows better than me how I recorded them.

I’ve got a new 7-track 21 minute mini-LP coming out next month. There’s a song about a magic candle made of human fat, and one about a spirit waiting to drown you. There’s one about a werewulfe, and one about a man who has slipped back in time, and there’s even *gasp* a bit of me singing on it …