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The Download: Russia is spreading misinformation about chemical weapons in Ukraine

Today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

March 14, 2022
A Ukrainian firefighter helps a man remove belongings from a destroyed building after it was hit by artillery shelling in Kyiv in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, March 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
AP Photo/Felipe Dana

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

Western officials are increasingly worried that Russia is preparing to use chemical weapons to attack Ukraine, then spread disinformation that the attack came from the Ukrainians themselves. On NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ program yesterday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that Russia’s accusations that the West is preparing to launch chemical attacks are a “good tell that they may be on the cusp of doing it themselves.”

Russia is making false claims that Ukraine is running chemical weapons labs with US assistance, according to a statement by Ned Price, a spokesperson for the US State Department. These conspiracy theories are then being repeated by Chinese officials.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag yesterday that any Russian chemical weapons attack would constitute a war crime.

Officials from the US and China are set to meet in Rome today as part of diplomatic efforts to head off growing tensions between the two countries linked to events in Ukraine. Talks between Russia and Ukraine are also due to resume today, with both sides expressing cautious hopes of progress. 

Tensions between Russia and NATO escalated over the weekend after Russia launched a barrage of attacks against a military base in Ukraine that’s located just 11 miles from the Polish border, killing at least 35 people. Poland is a member of NATO, raising fears the conflict could spread beyond Ukraine. 

The war on the ground is inevitably mirrored and accompanied by a fierce battle over the information people see online. The White House briefed TikTok stars about the war last week, in a nod to the significant role the platform has been playing throughout the war so far.

The information getting through to Russians is increasingly tightly controlled and filtered amid a broad crackdown on dissent inside the country. A block on Instagram comes into force today, and Facebook and Twitter have been cut off in Russia too. 

In the West, many tech platforms are giving up on the illusion of neutrality. Facebook has lifted its ban on calls for violence in the case of Russian soldiers, and even DuckDuckGo, which has previously promoted itself as apolitical and neutral, has announced it will start downranking sites associated with Russian disinformation (a decision that provoked a swift backlash from the far-right.)

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Parts of China have gone back into lockdown
A surge of cases in Shenzhen is likely to be linked to the crisis in neighboring Hong Kong. (Bloomberg $)
  + Foxconn has had to shut its plants. (FT $)
  + South Korea reported over 380,000 new cases in just one day. (NYT $)
  + Covid is not over yet. In fact, some countries still haven’t even got through the worst of it. (NY Mag)
  + It’s been two years since covid-19 became a pandemic. (TR)
  + A better pandemic response would have saved millions of lives. (NYT $)
  + Vaccinating kids has never been easy for any disease. (The Atlantic $) 

2 Tech companies are racing to hire Ukrainians
The country has a well-respected tech sector with a deep pool of talented people. (CNBC)
  + Meanwhile, tech workers are fleeing Russia, along with much of its middle class. (Rest of World

3 Can you inherit cryptocurrency?
In theory, yes. In practice it’s often impossible. (Vox)
  + How people make (and lose!) money from crypto. (Wired $)
  + It’s a year since Beeple’s $69 million NFT sale. (NBC)
  + Some NFT myths, busted. (Wired $) 

4 Facebook office workers are going to have to start doing their own laundry
My heart bleeds, it really does. (NYT $)
  + Facebook has a major child safety problem. (Wired $)  

5 What Google Search doesn’t show you 🔍
It’s getting worse, yet it’s so deeply embedded now that we struggle to imagine using anything else. (New Yorker $)

6 Your Uber journeys are going to get even more expensive
It’s implementing a fuel surcharge to offset rising gas costs. (WP $)
  + To weather the Putin price hike, Americans could try driving a bit slower. (The Atlantic $) 

7 Where does captured CO2 go?
Shipping companies are rushing to join in the nascent carbon capture boom. (IEEE Spectrum)
  + The plant that captures carbon from the air. (TR

8 Your bosses start spying on you before you even start 👀
Delete those embarrassing social media posts. (The Economist $)

9 The psychology that explains why conspiracy theories take off
They can be a collective response to threats. (Wired $)
  + Gen Z isn’t immune to misinformation. TikTokers are trying to set them straight. (NBC)
  + How to talk to conspiracy theorists—and still be kind. (TR

10 How Chico the cow went from social media star to therapist 🐮
And helped to heal a regretful game designer in the process. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“It is an epidemic in the making.” 

—Felicia Grondin, the executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, tells Recode that Americans should be more worried about the explosive growth of gambling apps.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

  • An amazing photo of the International Space Station crossing the moon.
  • How BBC 6 Music became the UK’s coolest radio station.
  • Read the story of the one-legged Paralympic snowboarder who built an ingenious prosthetic for himself—and his opponents.
  • Another Batman-related ranked list! This one’s of the villains
  • If you haven’t read Vanity Fair’s bonkers interview with Grimes (in which she reveals she has a second, secret baby with Elon Musk), now’s your chance.
  • RIP Mary Coombs, the first woman to program a commercial computer. 
  • If you’re also a sucker for red carpet snaps, check out the ones taken at the BAFTAs last night.

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