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  • 🔮 The Politics of Taylor Swift — #124

🔮 The Politics of Taylor Swift — #124

The blurred line between Influencer and Influence Operation

Good morning,

The world had a terrible week.

The death of Alexei Navalny reminded me about how incredibly unfair the world can be. And how important it is to have people like him to lead the way, fighting for basic human rights and democracy.

But, when the state of the world feels uncertain, I try to hold on to the fact that we can do something about it. We can.

A while back, I talked with a friend about how other people's fear of the future and discomfort with change limit their space of possibilities. And she said: “They limit not only themselves but everyone close to them”. 

And it made me think about the people who cannot see something else as potentially better. A different life. They stick to what they know and dismiss anything that challenges their current state.

A lack of intellectual curiosity.

While it may be practical to live in the present, it also makes for boring conversation when someone never challenges themselves with new input. People's constant development and self-reflection are what makes them interesting to me. I love the fact that our thoughts and experiences shape us.

However, I increasingly feel that the topics I find most interesting personally make people uncomfortable. Psychology, geopolitics, a changing world. Occasionally, I wonder if I need a strategy for “pretend conversations”. To improve my ability to sit through a dinner party and be pleasant and easygoing, make polite small talk without saying anything of substance.

But life is too short to spend time optimising boring conversations. And if I need a strategy, it should probably focus on getting invited to more fascinating dinner parties —not trying to paint the cage of uncurious minds.

Change is the only constant. We can either lead it or try to fight it.

I know what choice I feel is most productive.

Enjoy the reading!


Talk — Condoleezza Rice was the 66th United States Secretary of State, serving under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. Rice is now the director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In this 30-minute lecture, she gives some great context on Russia, China and the return of Great Power Conflicts.

BookHigher Ground: How Business Can Do the Right Thing in a Turbulent World by NYU Ethics Professor Alison Taylor shows leaders how businesses can use ethics to build trust and achieve long-term strategic advantage in a turbulent world.

Tools — I’ve been experiencing the pain of coordinating schedules to book meetings for podcast recordings lately. It takes so much back and forth. There are many solutions, including Calendly, Cal.com and the cute Koalender.

Interactive — Buying roses is a terrible idea regardless of the day of the year. This interactive piece by The Washington Post explains why and provides you with what flowers to buy instead.

AppGentler Streak is a health and fitness app alternative to the built-in activity trackers, providing a more self-compassionate approach to exercise, where recovery is as important as intensity.

OpenAI Unveils Sora: A Revolutionary Generative Video Model Transforming Text into Film

Artificial Intelligence, Ethics

This week, OpenAI introduced Sora, a new generative video model capable of creating high-definition film clips from text descriptions, producing videos up to a minute long. The model has yet to be released to the public, with OpenAI sharing it initially with a small group of safety testers.

Tech behind the scenes: Sora is built on the technology behind DALL-E 3, using a combination of diffusion models and a transformer neural network to process video data in chunks across space and time. This innovative approach allows the model to dissect video data across space and time, promising unprecedented detail and realism in generated content.

Showcasing potential: OpenAI aims for Sora to enable creative professionals to explore new storytelling possibilities. It showcased the model through four sample videos demonstrating advanced capabilities in text-to-video generation. The sample videos demonstrate a deep understanding of details, dynamic scenes and interactions. From bustling Tokyo streets to serene underwater worlds, Sora's potential as a storytelling tool was vividly displayed.

Ethical considerations at the forefront: OpenAI remains cautious of potential misuse amid the excitement. With deepfake technologies already stirring controversy, safety measures for Sora include filters to block requests for inappropriate content and the adaptation of a fake-image detector from DALL-E 3, along with embedding C2PA tags in all outputs to indicate how an image was generated. The aim is to balance innovation with responsibility, ensuring Sora's capabilities are harnessed for creative, not deceptive, purposes.

Concerns and Conspiracies: Yonadav Shavit, on the OpenAIs policy team, writes on X/Twitter that he hopes the release will “kick a social response into gear”. But he does not further go into what kind of response he wants.

In connection to this tweet, the Reddit community is conspiring about the quality of OpenAI's models in testing internally if this is what they now release externally—connecting it to the news from last week about Sam Altman’s new chip venture.

What’s Next: With the first big launch after the CEO troubles at the end of last year, OpenAI clearly shows that they want to progress the field of AI at large. While Sora's immediate availability is limited to a select group of testers, it bridges the gap between imagination and visual representation, redefining creative expression in the digital age. However, the debate around AI ethics and the potential misuse of models is likely to intensify.

White House Confirms Russian Space Threats But Downplays Any Immediate Danger

Geopolitics, Space

White House sheds light on Russian space threats: The White House has confirmed that Russia is developing an anti-satellite capability — to bring down satellites in orbit, sparking a fresh wave of concern over national security. Although not yet deployed by Russia, this disclosure comes as the global community watches Kremlin closely, and continued support for Ukraine is withheld by the Republican party.

Details emerge: The issue came to the forefront after Republican Mike Turner announced a "serious national security threat". But the National Security Council's John Kirby emphasised the non-immediate threat of this capability, aiming to ease worries about its potential harm to safety. “We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth,” Kirby said.

Political dynamics: It was Republican Mike Turner who announced a "serious national security threat". Heavily criticised by his own party, who are now issuing an investigation, some speculate that Turner's move aimed to strengthen Ukraine funding support — a narrative echoed by the Kremlin in response to the reports. However, the US say they seek dialogue with Russia over its space ambitions but that there might be complications from these disclosures.

Intelligence and transparency: The controversy has sparked debate over the balance between national security and public knowledge. While some call for declassification of related intelligence, a strategy used heavily in connection to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, other officials stress the importance of discretion. This chess game unfolds as the United States confirms long-standing awareness of Russia's anti-satellite pursuits.

Broader implications: Beyond diplomatic circles, the development poses a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities in space, a domain critical for global communication and security. As nations navigate these celestial challenges, the quest for stability and safety in the final frontier becomes more pressing.

Meta won't recommend political content on Threads

Politics, Internet

Meta's Threads steers clear of politics: To expand its existing Facebook and Instagram policies to Threads, Meta announced it won't proactively recommend political content from accounts users don’t follow on Threads. This approach comes as the tech giant seeks to fine-tune its stance on political discourse ahead of looming elections.

Background: Threads launched outside the EU last summer and within the EU this fall. It aims to be a less combative alternative to X, welcoming communities from Instagram and other platforms seeking calmer dialogues. Threads leadership has stated that the platform aims to avoid promoting hard news or politics and is now outlining specific measures to achieve this.

User Control and Content Policy: Threads users can follow political accounts but won't get such content recommended unless they actively opt-in — an option that will soon extend to Instagram and Facebook. Users who post political content can check if they've been posting too much political content to be eligible for recommendation. They can adjust their posts or request a review to be recommended again.

Misinformation Criticism: Meta has recently adjusted its algorithms on Facebook and Instagram to prioritise viral entertainment videos over polarising news and political content. These changes were made in response to criticism over the spread of misinformation during the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Big Picture: 2024 is an important election year in many countries, and Meta's strategic pivot towards depoliticising Threads and Instagram is most likely a way to prevent criticism about impacting the democratic process. The interplay of social media and politics is complex, and so far, the platforms have been one step behind those exploiting the platforms for political gain.

Poll Reveals 32% of Republicans Believe Taylor Swift Part of Covert Effort to Reelect Biden

Taylor Swift, Politics

One-third of Republicans seem to believe Taylor Swift is an influence operation. A Monmouth University poll found that 32% of Republicans believe Taylor Swift is part of a "covert government effort" to reelect President Biden in 2024, while 57% of Republicans disagree.

Room for Interpretation: The interpretation of "covert government effort" varies widely among those surveyed, with some drawing parallels to outlandish theories involving the NFL and the Super Bowl and others pointing to Swift's previous endorsement of Biden in 2020.

News Media’s Impact: Nearly half (46%) of Republicans have been exposed to news about this theory. Among those familiar with it, opinions are nearly evenly split: 44% believe in the covert effort, while 47% do not. Republicans who had not heard of the theory predominantly do not believe in such an effort (66-21 margin).

Republicans at Risk: The poll reflects a broader trend of a significant portion of the Republican Party inclined to believe conspiracy theories. The poll's findings are part of a pattern of Republicans believing in various baseless conspiracy theories. According to the Washington Post:

  • 38% of Republicans believed the FBI planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago, 23% disagreed, and 39% were unsure.

  • The majority of Republicans considered it "probably true" that the FBI planted classified documents.

  • 58% of Trump supporters claimed the Capitol riot was mostly an Antifa-inspired attack despite no evidence.

  • 34% thought it "probably true" the FBI organised the Capitol attack; about half as many saw "solid evidence."

  • 42% of Republicans believed top Democrats are involved in child sex-trafficking rings; 35% thought mass shootings were faked for gun control; 28% believed COVID vaccines were used to implant microchips.

  • 60% of Republicans believed in the control of the world by a secret group, compared to 28% of Democrats.

  • Consistently, over 60% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, despite no evidence years later.

Zooming Out: This trend underscores the powerful role of (partisan) media in shaping political perceptions and the growing divide in American politics, where ideological alignment increasingly predicts one's susceptibility to conspiracy theories. Despite a lack of evidence, the persistence of these beliefs points to a deep-rooted scepticism towards the world and a challenge of bridging the informational divide.

South Korea's Radical Strategy Against Demographic Decline: $75,000 Baby Bonuses


South Korea faces a demographic crisis, with the world's lowest fertility rate of 0.78 in 2022 and a rapidly ageing population. Corporate giants now offer substantial financial incentives for employees welcoming new family members in a bold move to fight the plummeting birth rates.

Baby Bonuses: Booyoung Group leads the charge, offering a staggering $75,000 bonus per newborn, totalling $5.25 million for 70 babies since 2021. Other companies, including Hyundai Motor and Posco, are also on board, offering up to $3,750 per child.

Presidential support: These efforts have garnered support from President Yoon Suk Yeol, who lauds the companies' actions as "very inspiring" and suggests further government incentives to encourage childbirth.

Detailed Decline: South Korea's population is steeply declining, projected to drop 30 percent from today’s 51.6 million to 36.2 million. Even worse for the South Korean government is that the population composition is expected to become considerably older, impacting South Korea’s labour market.

Cultural Challenges: Both government and corporations see problems ahead and seek solutions to reverse the trend without forcing women to choose between career and family, which is challenging in a country that often penalises working parents.

Psychology, AI

New AI study decodes therapy efficiency: New research used artificial intelligence to analyse speech patterns in psychotherapy sessions, focusing on personal pronouns and hesitations. It uncovered how speech patterns can influence the “therapeutic alliance”, the bond between therapists and their patients, a fundamental element of effective psychotherapy.

Two Main Findings: The study suggests that specific speech patterns, including pronoun use and hesitations, can predict the strength of therapeutic alliance and interpersonal trust. Findings revealed that:

  1. Therapists' use of "we" and both therapists' and patients' use of "I" were negatively correlated with the alliance ratings, challenging the notion that inclusive language automatically strengthens connections.

  2. Patients' “non-fluency”, marked by hesitations and fillers like "um" and "like," was positively correlated with the alliance ratings, suggesting these patterns may enhance authenticity in therapeutic communication.

Why it matters: The therapeutic alliance, defined by mutual understanding and partnership between patient and therapist, has long been recognised as crucial for successful therapy outcomes. However, traditional assessment methods, relying on subjective interpretations, have struggled to capture the essence of this dynamic relationship accurately.

The details: Conducted by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the research involved 28 patients and 18 therapists from New York City outpatient clinics, covering 28 distinct therapy sessions across various psychiatric conditions. Before the therapy sessions, patients completed online surveys assessing their alliance with previous therapists and their attachment styles.

The big picture: This research highlights the importance of language in therapist-patient relationships and marks a step forward in applying machine learning in healthcare. Despite the study's limitations and small sample, the method will likely be developed further to improve therapy practices.

Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something new. ✨

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