An Article a Day: 12 June 2017

by Maha Rafi Atal

Last week's general election results caught many - including us - by surprise, but here are some of the best attempts to make sense of the chaos, and news from around the world:

1. One reason so few people saw Labour's surge coming is that pollsters tend to discount young people in their models, because young people - even when registered - often fail to vote. A key piece of Labour's revival this year is due to turning out those young voters in big numbers. The Guardian has an in-depth look at how the party did this, including new campaign software, effecitve use of social media messaging, and a string of celebrity endorsements. The approach echoes the way in which Jeremy Corbyn won his two leadership contests within the Labour Party in 2015 and 2016 -the New Statesman has previously reported on the key role of Facebook in those campaigns.

2. A hung parliament has Prime Minister Theresa May turning to Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to stay in power. While outside of Northern Ireland, much of the coverage has focused on the DUP's social conservatism on issues like LGBT and women's rights, within Northern Ireland, as BuzzFeed's Siobhan Fenton reports, the chief concern is the way a Tory-DUP alliance will affect the ongoing peace process, which has faltered in recent months. Historically, when the parties in Northern Ireland have not been able to form a power-sharing government (as the peace agreement requires), the UK government has served as a neutral 'honest broker' between them. If the UK government is in an alliance with one of the Northern Irish parties, its neutrality is compromised and that, along with the fallout of the Brexit referendum, is raising serious questions about the viability of peace. 

3. With all the focus on Russian state influence in foreign elections, the Financial Times has a welcome look at Russia's domestic politics, and the ongoing conflict between President Putin, opposition politicians, and growing protests around the country that may affect the outcome of elections next March. 

4. The Guardian takes a long look at the Internet of Things, including wearable gadgets like fitness trackers, and ontrollers for the home that allow you to do everything from turn on your radio to make purchases on Amazon by voice command. While anxious thinkpieces about the implications of these new technologies are commonplace, the Guardian piece is notable because it looks at how the convenience of these gadgets shifts moral calculus, making it easier, and therefore more acceptable, to do things we might have disapproved before: 

This is how Google’s assistant works: you mention to it that you’re in the mood for Italian food, and then, in the words of one New York Times article, it “will then respond with some suggestions for tables to reserve at Italian restaurants using, for example, the OpenTable app”.

This example shows that though the choices these assistants offer us are presented as neutral, they are based on numerous inbuilt assumptions that many of us would question if we were to truly scrutinise them.

Ask restaurateurs and front-of-house workers what they think of OpenTable, for example, and you will swiftly learn that one person’s convenience is another’s accelerated pace of work, or worse. You’ll learn that restaurants offering reservations via the service are, according to the website Serious Eats, “required to use the company’s proprietary floor-management system, which means leasing hardware and using OpenTable-specific software”, and that OpenTable retains ownership of all the data generated in this way. You’ll also learn that OpenTable takes a cut on reservations per seated diner, which obviously adds up to a significant amount on a busy night.

Conscientious diners have therefore been known to bypass the ostensible convenience of OpenTable, and make whatever reservations they have to by phone. By contrast, Google Home’s frictionless default to making reservations via OpenTable normalises the choice to use that service.

5. The New York Times Magazine has the first true profile of Chelsea Manning, in her own words, since she was released from prison this spring. The profile covers her career in the military, her decision to leak documents, the US military's treatment of her in prison, and her identity as a transgender woman. Of particular note for political observers are Manning's early attempts to leak to an established news organization rather than to Wikileaks and the contrast between her own views that the documents ought to have partially redacted to protect sources and Wikileaks' own decision to publish them in full. A note: the article contains at-times graphic descriptions of Manning's incarceration and mutliple suicide attempts, which may be disturbing for some readers.


About the Author

Maha Rafi Atal

Maha Rafi Atal is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge and the Senior Editor of In The Long Run.