Smart Ideas: Google Is Ill-Equipped to Deal With Extremism

Plus: How Donald Trump killed The Weekly Standard.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Dec. 16, 2018, 8 p.m.

The messy politics of Google’s algorithms

Noam Cohen, writing for Wired

Google’s PageRank algorithm is not controlled by “far-left” engineers, as many lawmakers at Tuesday’s questioning of Google CEO Sundar Pichai implied. But their concern about Google searches is not totally unwarranted: Algorithms are not effective at dealing with sensitive political questions. "This is why we have entire professions—journalism and library science come to mind—whose ideal is to inform accurately. ... Traditional journalism doesn’t traffic in conspiracy theories,” and a librarian “wouldn’t simply recommend the book” someone is most likely to agree with. Here’s a more concrete example: “Before [Dylann] Roof killed nine African American worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston,” South Carolina, he searched “black on white crime” on Google, and was directed to a racist hate page showing, in his words, “brutal black on white murders.” Imagine that “Roof walked into a public library. ... To start, he would be interacting with a person, maybe even a black person. … Maybe the librarian would see if he was upset about something else and try to get him help. It would be the human thing to do.”

Donald Trump’s destruction of center-right media

The Editors, writing for The Economist

While some conservative outlets came around to supporting Donald Trump—The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Fox News among them—The Weekly Standard had been steadfast in its opposition. Now, the magazine is "a casualty of Donald Trump’s takeover of conservatism.” The Standard has “struggled under its unenthusiastic owner,” Philip Anschutz, “who also owns another conservative publication more friendly to Mr Trump, the Washington Examiner.” Cofounder Bill Kristol and editor-in-chief Stephen Hayes “are said to be interested in starting a publication to succeed it. They will need patrons who do not mind being snubbed at Mar-a-Lago.”

Reimagining USPS’s universal-service mandate

Nick Zaiac, writing for the R Street Institute

The U.S. Postal Service could follow Denmark’s example as it pursues fiscal health and a mandate of “regular, universal mail service at reliable, if not quick, speeds—nothing more, and nothing less.” Following a 16 percent decline in letters sent from 2015 to 2016, Denmark streamlined its mail offerings to just standard letters and express mail, and also expanded the definition of “letter” to include packages smaller than one cubic foot and less than 4.5 pounds. “As a result, Danes have little reason to send bulging envelopes to skirt higher postal prices like Americans do, as they can simply put stamps on small boxes. PostNord also reduced its delivery schedule to only five days per week or every non-holiday business day. Guarantees on how fast letters arrive were also slowed from three to five days.”

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