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The Download

The Download: Twitter’s toxicity, and what China’s protestors want

Plus: reinventing recycling for plastics

November 30, 2022

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.

Elon Musk has created a toxic mess for the LGBTQ+ community. I would know.

By Scott Wiener, a California state senator who represents San Francisco and northern San Mateo County.

A mere day after Elon Musk reactivated Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter account, she tweeted that I’m a “communist groomer,” presumably because I’m a gay Jewish Democratic elected official from San Francisco.

In the past when Greene has gone after me with homophobic or transphobic tropes, I’ve received increased abuse on social media, but this was an escalation beyond what I’m used to. And that escalation, which was especially pronounced after the Club Q massacre, was due less to Greene than to Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk.

Since finalizing his purchase of Twitter, Musk has brought some of the platform’s most notorious banned users back to the flock. The reinstatement of these accounts, including Donald Trump and Kanye West, will make Twitter far more toxic than it was before. And bringing them back not only forgives their past behavior, it validates and enshrines their rhetoric as pillars of Twitter’s platform going forward. Read the full story.

What Shanghai protesters want and fear

Nearly three years after the pandemic started, protests have erupted in cities and towns across China. People have taken to the streets to mourn the lives lost in an apartment fire in Urumqi and to demand that the government roll back its strict pandemic policies, which many blame for trapping those who died. 

It’s the largest grassroots protest in China in decades, and it’s happening at a time when the Chinese government is better than ever at monitoring and suppressing dissent. However, while discussions among foreigners have too often reduced the protests to the most sensational clips, the reality is more complicated. While all the protestors are against the zero-covid controls, their reasonings—and motivations—for pushing change vary wildly. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on everything that’s happening in the country. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

How chemists are tackling the plastics problem


What’s happening: We tend to lump all plastics into one category, but water bottles, milk jugs, egg cartons, and credit cards are actually made from different materials, meaning time and money needs to be invested into separating them at recycling facilities.

Now researchers have developed a new process that can transform a mixture of several types of plastics into propane, a simple chemical building block that can be used as fuel or converted into new plastics or other products.

Why it matters: A major benefit of the new approach is that it works on the two most common plastics used today: polyethylene and polypropylene. Coupled with policies and environmental protections, reinventing recycling could play a role in preventing some of the worst damages from plastics. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

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

1 Twitter has scrapped its covid misinformation policy
It could open the floodgates for even more untrue claims about vaccines and the virus. (WP $)
+ Twitter’s former safety boss says Musk ignored his warnings. (WSJ $)
+ Left-wing activists say their accounts are being suspended. (The Intercept)

2 FTX spent millions of dollars on cars and homes
And the right to name Miami’s national basketball stadium, for some reason. (FT $)
+ Black investors have been disproportionately stung by the crypto crash. (The Atlantic $)

3 It’s very hard to predict when we’ll fall ill
And that’s not terribly helpful when we’re entering a winter of illness. (Vox)

4 Google isn’t delivering on its abortion protection promises
Data that could help to prosecute people is still being collected, contrary to the company’s pledges. (The Guardian)
+ Texas’ abortion ban is weighing heavily on doctors in the state. (Slate $)

5 A drug has slowed Alzheimer’s cognitive decline for the first time 
It slowed the progression of symptoms by a quarter after 18 months of treatment. (BBC)

6 Chinese influencers are skirting YouTube’s propaganda ban
It’s been banned in the country since 2009. (Rest of World)
+ Alibaba’s Jack Ma is living in Tokyo. (FT $)
+ The city of Zhengzhou has closed hundreds of buildings it’s declared high risk. (Bloomberg $)

7 Hollocaust survivors have been offered free DNA tests
It’s a bid to help them track down their families. (ABC News)

8 A hydrogen jet engine has been tested successfully 
It could pave the way to reducing aviation emissions. (The Verge)
+ This is what’s keeping electric planes from taking off. (MIT Technology Review)

9 China’s astronauts have arrived at its space station
They’ll live and work onboard for the next six months. (Reuters)

10 Amazon wants to grade your sleep
Tech and sleep don’t tend to be traditional bedfellows. (NYT $)
+ I tried to hack my insomnia with technology. Here’s what worked. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“There are two types of people in the world. People who check their phone in the bathroom, and people who lie about checking their phone in the bathroom.” 

—Nir Eyal, an author and lecturer who writes about habits, explains the extent to which we can’t bear to be separated from our devices to the Washington Post.

The big story

The architect making friends with flooding


December 2021

For years, Beijing landscape architect Yu Kongjian was ridiculed by his fellow citizens as a backward thinker, partly thanks to his opposition to dams, those symbols of power and progress in modern China.

Yu’s transgression: he advised working with water, rather than trying to control it. He’s at the forefront of a movement that aims to restore the ebb and flow of water to urban environments.

His goal is to create flexible spaces for water to spread out and seep underground, both to prevent flooding and to be stored for later use. And while it may seem radical, making space for water in populated areas is possible, and potentially our best chance at reducing future floods. Read the full story.

—Erica Gies

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.)

+ Airports are super expensive. Know your enemy.
+ The eclectic Assassin’s Creed soundtrack reflects its genre-bending gameplay perfectly.
+ If you’re starting your Christmas shopping early, these music books all sound fantastic.
+ I would also like to see this.
+ To think, we could’ve had glad Goombas!

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: the Saudi sci-fi megacity, and sleeping babies’ brains

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. These exclusive satellite images show Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up…

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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