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  • The damage of virtual fossil fuels — #109

The damage of virtual fossil fuels — #109

Just because it's not real doesn't mean it's fake.

Good morning,

I've spent this week following the news from Israel and Gaza. And yes, you can stand firmly against what's happening without getting into a political argument or taking sides.

This episode of The Rest is Politics captures the ongoing situation well, both the intense emotions and the political leadership needed now. It gives some critical perspectives on what Israelis and Palestinians need from the rest of the world: Help to de-escalate the conflict and help to see peace as an option.

While it is easy to think, "It's such a complex conflict, I don't know what to think". It is also pretty straightforward:

  1. Thousands of civilians have been killed – including hundreds of children.

  2. Organisations like the United Nations are desperately calling for de-escalating the conflict on humanitarian grounds since millions of people are trapped in the Gaza Strip.

  3. The Human Rights Watch has confirmed Israel's use of chemical weapons (white phosphor), a war crime.

  4. Other global powers like the United States and the United Kingdom support the offences for historical reasons. The US State Department even told their diplomats in a memo not to publicly use three phrases that would urge calm.

Just think about that last fact for a moment. US diplomats are instructed not to urge calm.

Isn't reduced conflict the whole point of diplomacy?

Also, there is a massive disinformation surge, and Israel and Hamas strategically use the internet to fulfil their military goals.

This made me join the Bellingcat community of investigative volunteers. To practically help sort between true and false online in some small way if I can. People worldwide are decoding the actual locations, timing and motives of images and videos, claiming to tell the truth.

It feels a lot better than scrolling aimlessly on Instagram.

But one aspect that surprised me is how aware this community is about viewing disturbing online content and the "vicarious trauma" you can get.

They write ... "Realise that once you put something in your head, it will be there for the rest of your life".

This insight is essential. Violent content spreads like wildfire online, and many young people are watching.

I'm not saying we shouldn't shed light on the horrible war crimes committed. However, we must be aware of the information we share and consume online and the consequences of watching explicit content.

And you don't have to investigate war crimes on Discord voluntarily.

Instead of consuming news content on social media 24/7, I think many people could benefit from watching a daily news broadcast—20 minutes at 9 p.m. Curated by professional journalists.

It will give you all the insight without the trauma.

And if you have kids on TikTok, you should tell them that "if you put something in your head, it will be there for the rest of your life".

Let's get into the rest of the insights.


Five Small Things

Music — Belgian singer Mentissa and her debut album La vingtaine 

DigitalHow AI reduces the world to stereotypes. Rest of World analysed 3,000 AI images to see how image generators visualise different countries and cultures.

Tool — Using AI to dub your videos, Lipdub lets you speak any language in seconds. Everyone should watch the demo, and you'll realise why I keep pointing out the challenges with deepfakes.

The News Section

Shell Gets Negative Feedback On Fortnite Campaign Aimed To Influence Young Audiences View on Fossil Fuels

Climate, Marketing

Shell has created a Fortnite world called "Shell Ultimate Road Trips", which features six different areas to explore using cars. Within the world, a Shell gas station acts as the map's hub in an attempt by the giant oil company to promote its fossil fuel products to younger audiences.

The campaign is part of Shell's strategy to refocus on gasoline over cleaner energy sources. The idea behind the Fortnite map is that players must refuel at the Shell gas station using Shell's V-Power® NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline to navigate obstacles and courses.

Various TikTok creators and Twitch streamers have promoted the campaign. According to Media Matters, the creators promoting Shell's campaign have a combined audience of 8.5 million TikTok followers, 5.5 million Twitch subscribers, 1.5 million Instagram followers, and over 11 million YouTube subscribers. Three content creators also advertised the ShellxFortnite map on Shell's official YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram accounts.

The reception to Shell's campaign has been largely unfavourable, receiving negative comments and feedback.

A 2021 survey of young people aged 16-25 revealed that about 75% found the future frightening due to climate change. This makes it challenging for oil companies to promote gasoline and diesel to this demographic, aware of the environmental impact.

Fake UK Labour Leader Audio Clip Show How Audio Deepfakes Threaten Politics

Artificial Intelligence, Politics

On Monday, an audio file began circulating on X (Twitter) during the United Kingdom's Labour Party conference in Liverpool.

The clip allegedly featured Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, verbally abusing a staffer. The 25-second recording was posted by an X account, "@Leo_Hutz", established in January 2023.

The authenticity of the audio recording—whether actual, AI-generated or impersonated—is uncertain and British fact-checking organisation Full Fact is still investigating the audio's authenticity. But Glen Tarman, Full Fact's head of advocacy and policy, pointed out potential signs of the audio being fake.

Audio deepfakes significantly threaten the democratic process, especially as many countries approach elections in 2024. A similar incident occurred in Slovakia's election campaign, where an audio recording circulated, suggesting the leader of the opposition Progressive Slovakia party discussing plans to rig the election. Other countries, such as Sudan and India, have also faced challenges with alleged deepfake recordings.

Manipulated audio content is becoming more affordable and straightforward, making it challenging for fact-checkers to identify fake recordings quickly. (You can try tools like FakeYou, Speechify and Typecast yourself, and several others exist).

Detection tools for deepfake media are not widely available, and there's no shared standard for watermarking or reporting the origin of AI-generated deepfake audio. The challenge of verifying the authenticity of audio recordings can be exploited by politicians, who might claim real audio is fake, putting pressure on fact-checkers.

X's manipulated media policy states that deceptively altered or manipulated videos or audio should be labelled or removed. However, no action has been taken on the post in question.

EU Commissioner Breton Reminds Tech CEOs of New Obligations Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict


European Commissioner Thierry Breton has been sending letters to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, X owner Elon Musk, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

The letter reminded the Social Media CEOs of their companies' obligations under the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA) to prevent sharing illegal content and disinformation related to Israel's conflict with Hamas and to protect children and teens in the EU from violent content.

Breton highlighted a surge in illegal content and disinformation in the EU via specific platforms following the terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel. Breton also expressed concern about disinformation in elections and asked for details on measures to mitigate deepfakes, especially in light of upcoming elections in several European countries.

YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi stated that YouTube removed tens of thousands of harmful videos and terminated hundreds of channels following the events in Israel and Gaza. YouTube's teams are continuously monitoring for harmful content.

Meta published a blog post detailing its efforts to address violent content, including establishing an operations centre with fluent Hebrew and Arabic speakers.

Additionally, the EU initiated a formal investigation into X's handling of content related to the terror attacks in Israel, where Elon Musk himself have regularly been retweeting misleading information. X CEO Linda Yaccarino responded to Breton about her company's efforts.

The Insights Section

China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea Lead in Nation-State Information and Cyber Operations

Disinformation, Geopolitics

Cyberattacks have affected 120 countries in the past year, driven by government-sponsored espionage and rising influence operations. Nearly half of these attacks targeted NATO member states, with over 40% of the attacks aimed at organisations involved in critical infrastructure.

While many attacks focused on destruction or financial gain, the primary motivation for cyberattacks has shifted towards espionage, secret communication monitoring, and information manipulation. Also, nation-state actors often combine information and cyber operations to manipulate opinions, especially during armed conflicts and national elections.

Some of the most active governments are:

  • Russian intelligence agencies have intensified their cyber espionage activities related to their conflict with Ukraine.

  • Iranian efforts have transitioned from network disruption to message manipulation and data interception.

  • China has broadened its spying campaigns for intelligence related to its Belt and Road Initiative, regional politics, and spying on the United States.

  • North Korean actors have been stealing secrets, targeting companies involved in submarine technology, and conducting cyberattacks to steal cryptocurrency.

The United States, Ukraine, and Israel are the most targeted countries, but attacks have expanded globally, especially in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

Russia and China are increasing their influence operations against diaspora communities, for example, large groups of Chinese, Russians abroad, or groups within their borders who share a cultural and regional origin, like the Xinjiang population in China.

Attackers are using AI to refine phishing messages and improve influence operations. However, AI is also crucial for defence, aiding in threat detection, response, analysis, and prediction.

US Class of 2023 Records Worst Performance on Standardised College Admission Tests in Over 30 Years


In the United States, the class of 2023 had the worst performance in over three decades on the standard college admissions test, ACT.

The declining scores continue to show the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on education, and both academic performance and test scores have declined at all age groups and educational levels due to the pandemic.

The 2023 cohort was in its first year of high school when the pandemic began. However, ACT scores have fallen for six consecutive years, starting before the pandemic.

The 2023 composite score for the ACT was 19.5 out of 36, which was the lowest since at least 1991. The score was slightly lower than last year, with a score of 19.8, a 30-year low.

More than 40% of seniors don't meet the ACT's college readiness benchmarks, representing the minimum scores for predicted success in college courses.

College enrollment has also declined for three consecutive years, with more colleges and universities eliminating or making the requirements for standardised tests optional due to decreasing enrollment.

Despite Tech-Savviness, Gen Z Hesitant About Incorporating Artificial Intelligence at Work

Work, Artificial Intelligence, Gen Z

While Gen Z is often perceived as "tech-savvy," they are cautious about adopting generative AI in the workplace. Only 48% feel prepared for employers to incorporate AI into their daily tasks. Gen Z workers do not see generative AI as a threat, with 59% saying they are not concerned the technology will replace their jobs. But while they expect the introduction of the technology to be inevitable, only 23% expressed excitement about its use in the workplace.

This is uncovered in a report from Adobe, which dives into Gen Z's career aspirations and workplace expectations in the United States, surveying over 1,000 individuals working in medium to large-sized companies.

Furthermore, Gen Z is vocal about their desire for meaningful work and mentorship. A significant 83% believe having a workplace mentor is crucial, yet only 52% reported having one. Regarding company culture, Gen Z prioritises work-life balance, connection with colleagues, and equitable treatment. They also emphasise the importance of aligning with company values, with 78% highlighting the significance of resonating with them. Corporate social responsibility is also a priority, with 56% expressing a desire to work for companies that are vocal about social issues.

The number of consumers who want brands to take a political stand on current events is decreasing in the United States

Marketing, Politics

According to a report from Gallup and Bentley University, less than half (41%) of Americans believe businesses should take a public stance on current events. This is a decline of 7 percentage points from 2022.

The decrease in support for businesses taking public stances is mainly driven by weakening support among Democrats. In 2022, 75% of Democrats believed businesses should adopt public stances, but this figure dropped to 62% in 2023.

Few Americans support businesses taking stances on major sociopolitical issues such as religion (15%), political candidates (19%), and abortion (26%). However, climate change (55%) and mental health (52%) are the only issues where a slim majority of Americans believe businesses should take a public stance.

Younger Americans are more supportive of businesses speaking out. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 53% want businesses to take a public stance. This is reduced to 47% of 30- to 44-year-olds, and only 35% of Americans aged 45 and over believe businesses should speak out on current events. These differences create a significant divide between younger consumers and the older executives who run many businesses.

Black Americans (61%), Asian Americans (61%), and individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ (57%) are particularly likely to say businesses should comment on current events. Younger Americans are also more likely than adults over 60 to support businesses taking public stances on LGBTQ+ issues, climate change, racial concerns, and abortion.

Democrats are more than three times as likely as Republicans and nearly twice as likely as independents to support businesses speaking out. But due to a decline in Democrats' support for the practice, the gap between Democrats and Republicans has decreased by 13 percentage points since last year.

That was all for today! I hope you enjoyed the reading. Recommend the newsletter to a friend and make my day. ✨