America wakes up to the dark side of the internet - Axios
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America wakes up to the dark side of the internet

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

For decades, the internet has been seen by most Americans as a democratizing force that makes life easier and more enjoyable. But the increase of instances of abuse on the open web is challenging our conventional notion of the benefits of the internet.

Why it matters: Advances in technology always create unforeseen consequences, which is why laws are usually written to address broad use cases. But recent incidents show that the country is reaching a tipping point, and regulators seem eager to revisit outdated policies to protect Americans from an internet turned ugly. How to go about that, however, is still unclear.

A year of reckoning: Very public abuses of the Internet by bad actors became national headlines this year.

  • There have been more breaches of personal information than ever before, exposing consumers' financial information, emails, purchase history, etc. — things we always thought would be safe locked behind passwords and security keys. The recent Equifax breach showed Americans just how vulnerable our identities are online. Identity theft hit an all-time high last year, with 41 million Americans reporting having their data stolen.
  • Foreign actors are using bots, fake accounts and social media to meddle in our elections and sow discord in the country. Russian-backed groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on illegal ads on Facebook, Twitter, Google and other tech platforms. More than 126 million Americans were exposed to Russian propaganda on Facebook.
  • Terrorism and threats to national security are unfolding on social media platforms, with bad actors spreading messages of hate and destruction with the aim of radicalizing people on our own soil. YouTube experienced a major advertiser boycott earlier this year in response to ads running against extremist content.
  • White nationalists, bigots and Neo-Nazis have found homes on the internet, organizing and collecting in private chat rooms and on social media, challenging the values and core principles of our society. A subculture that remained hidden online for years finally surfaced during the Charlottesville attack.
  • Studies show that teens suffer from increasing depression and anxiety due to social media and that smartphones are making teens feel isolated, immature, and suicidal.
  • More and more gruesome acts of violence and suicide are occurring on social media platforms that are struggling to take the content offline quickly enough. Facebook recently unveiled artificial intelligence technology to combat online suicide.
  • Child pornography and content not suitable for children is flourishing online, making the web a more dangerous place than ever for kids. YouTube published a blog post last week outlining their strategy to better protect families and kids on their platform from inappropriate and misleading videos.
What they're saying: Policymakers on the left and the right expressed concern this week about the downward spiral of some corners of the internet.
  • Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents part of Silicon Valley, said at a hearing on algorithms yesterday that, while she cares about protecting free speech on social media platforms, "we also know there are bad actors that have used the best of what we have invested to divide us, and something needs to be done about that."
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a speech to the Media Institute that web platforms are responsible for polarizing Americans politically and alienating them personally. Social media, he said, "has to some extent enabled the worst of human impulses," and he asked: "Is social media a net benefit to our society?"
  • Margrethe Vestager, Europe's chief competition regulator, told Recode that she's concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability around the algorithms used by tech giants. "This is the biggest wake up call we've ever had," she said. "If we don't relearn to trust technology, then we'll never make any good of the potential."
Internet users feel more vulnerable than ever, even though internet use and social media use continues to climb, per the Pew Research Center.
  • An Axios/SurveyMonkey poll found most Americans don't trust tech companies or the government to prevent foreign manipulation of online platforms to influence elections.
  • A majority of Americans (64%) say they have been a victim of a major data breach, according to Pew.
  • Roughly four-in-ten (41%) of Americans say they've personally experienced online harassment (up from 35% in 2014), and 62% consider it a major problem, per Pew.
  • Roughly half of Americans don't trust the government or social media sites to protect their personal data, per Pew.
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Ascension, Providence consider mega hospital merger

Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni is eyeing a large health system merger. Photo: Aijaz Rahi / AP

Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health are in discussions to merge, which would create the largest hospital system in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports citing people familiar with the merger talks. The combined system would have 191 hospitals, numerous clinics and roughly $45 billion in annual revenue.

Why it matters: Although the Ascension-Providence deal is not guaranteed, it shows how health care has turned into the Wild West for mega-mergers. CVS Health is buying Aetna, Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health are merging, and Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care are combining, among other deals. Yet, research shows mergers don't lower health care costs or improve care for patients.

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Sneak Peek: Pence to the pyramids

Pence listens as Trump announces his Jerusalem move. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

With President Trump's announcement on Jerusalem lighting up the Middle East, Vice President Mike Pence embarks Saturday on his first trip to Israel since taking national office.

The vice president will be gone for a week, with stops in Egypt and Germany:

  • Pence takes off from Washington, lands in Tel Aviv and goes straight to Jerusalem for a bilateral meeting with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Pence then will light a menorah at the Western Wall.
  • An aide said that Pence's message in Israel will be that Trump, as he said in his speech recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, is committed to working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Pence will use his meetings with leaders in the region to reaffirm the administration's commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East and to "defeat radicalism."
  • On Monday, Pence will give the signature speech at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. The speech will be aimed at the region overall. Pence will emphasize that he is there on behalf of the president, and detail why Israel is a most cherished ally of the United States.
  • Pence will then fly to Cairo for a bilat with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The two will discuss security and joint efforts to fight ISIS.
  • Pence will visit the pyramids and will talk with media with the ancient wonders as a backdrop.
  • Pence will fly home through Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and will do a meet-and-greet with troops.

The takeaway: A key theme for Pence's remarks and interviews will be U.S. efforts to stop persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.

Go deeper: Palestinians won't meet with Pence.

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Exclusive: Policy official leaving White House

The White House South Portico is adorned with Christmas lights. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Paul Winfree is leaving the White House, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the decision. Winfree, who declined to comment, has resigned from his position as Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Director of Budget Policy.

  • Why this matters: Winfree's departure is part of what we've been forecasting will be a wave of White House staff departures after year one of the Trump presidency. His last day in the White House will be Friday.

Winfree, a respected policy wonk with strong ties to the conservative movement, is the second senior official to announce a departure in three days. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell told colleagues she's leaving to return to her family in New York.

What Winfree has been telling friends and colleagues:

  • He and his wife are expecting a second baby boy in a few weeks.
  • He'll return to the Heritage Foundation, where he will run economic policy.
  • He also plans to start his own policy consulting business. -
  • Starting in February, he will teach a seminar on policymaking at a top university, where he will draw on his experiences working in the White House, the U.S. Senate, and with think tanks.
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NYPD adjusts interview techniques for sexual assault victims

New York police officers march. Photo: Andres Kudacki / AP

Amid a flood of sexual misconduct allegations — some of which have turned into police investigations — the New York Police Department has taken a new approach to questioning victims, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The bottom line: "The focus that’s occurring on sexual criminal conduct coming out of the Hollywood celebrities and members of Congress may be a watershed moment,” NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Osgood told the Journal. He says more sensitive and open-ended questioning techniques may lead to breakthroughs in cold cases that have been abandoned for years.

The backdrop: Police tactics in dealing with victims of sexual assault have long been controversial, with critics saying harsh questioning puts undue scrutiny on victims and pushes them to silence. These critcisms were thrown into the spotlight when ProPublica, in conjunction with the Marshall Project, published "An Unbelievable Story of Rape" — an investigative project which showed how a police department in Washington state coerced a woman into retracting a rape allegation.

NYPD detectives in the Special Victims division received training in Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) techniques this year. The methods include asking victims of sexual assault open-ended questions such as, "Tell me about your experience," instead of specifics about the perpetrators appearance and the time and place of the incident.

How it works: Such specific details are "stored in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which shuts down during traumatic events. In FETI training, the detectives are instructed to ask broad questions that tap into a victim’s primitive brain, which maintains sensory information of those events. Channeling this part of the brain can result in a more substantial narrative," per Osgood.

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White House: "Unfortunate" that Palestinians won't meet with Pence

Vice President Pence's office has called the decision by Palestinian officials not to meet with Pence on his visit to the region "unfortunate. The Palestinians are refusing to meet with Pence over President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The statement:

"The Vice President very much looks forward to traveling to the region to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President el-Sisi. It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the Administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan."
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The mental health crisis among young Americans, by the numbers

Illustration: Sam Jayne / Axios

One in five American young adults under the age of 25 lives with a mental illness or behavioral disorder, NBC reports, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Per the CDC's research, the state of young adult mental health in the U.S. is only worsening, with the suicide rate among teenage girls reaching a 40-year high in 2015. Here's a look at the numbers that tell the story of this crisis.

The numbers:

  • 15 million, or 1 in 5, American children and young adults battle mental illnesses or learning disorders.
  • 10 million, or two-thirds of them, are undiagnosed or aren't receiving treatment.
  • Among children ages 3 to 17: 6.8% are diagnosed with ADHD, 3.0% suffer from anxiety, 2.1% suffer from depression
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The case that bitcoin is a bubble

A man uses a Bitcoin ATM in Hong Kong. Photo: Kin Cheung / AP

The case against bitcoin, stated concisely by the Economist:

"It seems that every day, Bitcoin seems to hit a new high. But the reported price can move up and down by $1,000 or so within a few hours. This might have made it a great investment for those who got in at the right price and are nimble enough to get out in time. But it doesn't make it a useful means of exchange. When the price is rising fast, those who use bitcoin will be reluctant to part with it; when the price falls, those who sell goods will be reluctant to accept it."

Bitcoin as bubble: "This blogger remains convinced it is a bubble. Indeed its exponential rise only reinforces the argument. The beauty of bitcoin is that its intrinsic value is impossible to determine and that makes any value plausible to true believers. This is not the same as saying there is no merit in electronic currencies or blockchain technology; of course there is. But the range of prices which can be found on cryptocompare shows this is a narrow, illiquid market."

Go deeper: Read the whole article for an excellent Monty Python reference.

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The state of racial inequality in 12 major U.S. cities

The March Against Racism in Boston Common in 1974. Photo: Frank C. Curtin / AP

A deep-dive into racial inequities from the Boston Globe's Spotlight team reveals the cities where gaps between white and black residents are closing and the cities where little has changed since the 1970s.

The big picture: A survey commissioned by the Globe found that 54% of African-Americans feel Boston isn't welcoming to people of color, the highest of the cities surveyed. That percentage is 34% for Chicago and 28% for New York. Atlanta fares best, at 16%.

Boston

  • 7% of residents are black; 73% are white
  • 54% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 4 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations meaning, per the Globe's analysis, "At least 15 percent of the residents are black; and among the black residents, at least 30 percent had a four-year college degree and their household income was at or above the median for their metro area."

New York

  • 16% of residents are black; 48% are white
  • 28% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 150 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Washington, D.C.

  • 25% of residents are black; 47% are white
  • 119 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Philadelphia

  • 20% of residents are black; 63% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 36 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Chicago

  • 17% of residents are black, 54% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 33 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Atlanta

  • 33% of residents are black; 49% are white
  • 16% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 110 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Dallas

  • 15% of residents are black; 49% are white
  • 50 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Houston

  • 17% of residents are black; 38% are white
  • 57 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Miami

  • 20% of residents are black, 33% are white
  • 24% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 38 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Los Angeles

  • 6% of residents are black; 31% are white
  • 24 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Charlotte

  • 35% of residents are black, 45% are white
  • 38% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color

San Francisco

  • 6% of residents are black, 54% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 9 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Go Deeper: The full piece from the Globe is well worth the click.

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Nikki Haley: Trump's accusers deserve to be heard

Diverging from the White House line, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the women accusing President Trump of sexual harassment and assault "should be heard."

"I know that he was elected, but, women should always feel comfortable coming forward and we should all be willing to listen to them," she said. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has denied all of the dozen-plus claims and said Thursday that "the people of this country addressed" the allegations when they elected Trump.

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Sen. Shelby says Alabama "deserves better" than Roy Moore

Shelby. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Richard Shelby, Alabama's senior senator, told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that the Ethics Committee will have to investigate Roy Moore should he be elected on Tuesday, and the Senate will have to make a decision as to whether he's fit to serve.

Why it matters: As the NY Times' Jonathan Martin notes, "The most senior Ala R goes on nat’l TV to torpedo his would-be colleague!... Shelby has been in Cong for 40 years. He knew exactly what he was doing accepting this Sunday show invite."

  • "I'd rather see the Republican win, but I'd rather see a Republican write-in. I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore."
  • "There's a tipping point.... When it got to the 14-year-old's story, that was enough for me."