Cyber Saturday—The War on InfoWars

Good evening, Cyber Saturday readers.

A number of tech companies excised the rantings and ravings of Alex Jones, a pundit known for promulgating deranged conspiracy theories, from their digital repositories this past week.

On his website, InfoWars, Jones has been known to push baseless, detestable claims; for example, that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and the September 11th attacks were orchestrated by the government. Fed up with Jones’ antics, Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube—with the notable exception of Twitter—corked his megaphone.

Add this confrontation to the longstanding tug-of-war between free speech and censorship on the web. One of my favorite contributions to this dialogue was supplied last year by Matthew Prince, CEO and cofounder of Cloudflare, a startup offering services that improve website performance and security. By policy, Prince’s firm chooses to protect all comers, whether that’s the webpage of an ecommerce startup or a black market site. Cloudflare has long maintained that policing the Internet is a job for, well, the police—not for itself.

Until Prince broke his own rule. As the CEO described it in a blog post, one day he felt a customer crossed the line. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi sympathizing site, said that Prince’s company was a secret supporter of its ideology. That went too far—and to prove the point, Prince gave the site the boot.

“Now, having made that decision, let me explain why it’s so dangerous,” Prince wrote. “Without a clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and cannot be online.”

Subverting his own decision, Prince continued: “Law enforcement, legislators, and courts have the political legitimacy and predictability to make decisions on what content should be restricted. Companies should not.”

I don’t have an easy answer for these predicaments. But as I considered Facebook’s move, the words of the company’s parting security chief, Alex Stamos, rang in my ears. “We need to be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues,” he said in March, part of a letter addressed to Facebook that leaked publicly. “And we need to be open, honest and transparent about our challenges and what we are doing to fix them.”

Amen to that. What do you make of this debate, dear reader? I would like to hear from you. What is the right course of action for these companies? Is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the right for keeping Jones afloat, or not?

Do write. I welcome your thoughts.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

This Viral Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant's Safety Brief is Hilarious. But There's 1 Big Problem

You’ll crack a smile at least when you watch the Southwest Airlines flight attendant’s safety brief that I’ve embedded below. It’s pretty funny, although she does talk quite fast.

But it’s time to ask a serious question: Would you remember any of what she said in an actual emergency? 

That’s the big debate right now, as airlines do whatever they can think of to make people pay attention to safety videos and briefings. And we’ve reached a point where yes, some of the messages are in fact quite funny.

(The Air New Zealand one with the naked flight attendants for example will make you laugh, and the new Turkish Airlines LEGO Movie one, which you can also see at the end of this article.) 

But while these are entertaining videos and briefings, they’re hiding a giant problem: Passengers often don’t actually remember what they’ve been told to do, in a high-stress, emergency situation. 

Southwest and Delta

In this age of social media and instant video, we see fast proof. Let me give you two quick, recent examples:

  • Southwest flight 1380 last April, the emergency landing in which passenger Jennifer Riordan died. Viral video and photos show that almost all of the passengers wore their oxygen masks wrong. They would have been useless if the pilot hadn’t descended quickly enough to get to breathable air.
  • Delta Air Lines flight 1854 the following month. Flight attendants I heard from were livid, as they watched passengers evacuate a smoke-filled cabin, but stop to get their carry on bags in violation of a major safety rule.

As Zoe Chance of Yale University explained to the Los Angeles Times recently, the airlines’ funny safety briefings are like the companies that spend millions on Super Bowl ads, only to learn that people loved their ads–but can’t remember what they advertised.

“Just having naked flight attendants doesn’t work if the passengers don’t remember the message,” she said. “They just remember the naked flight attendants.”

S-P-O-R-T-S

So what’s the solution? One idea might be if airlines at least passed some of the safety equipment around on planes occasionally.

It might be helpful, for example, if the first time most passengers ever see an airplane oxygen mask or an under seat flotation device, it’s not during the panic of an actual emergency.

However, some airline pilots and other employees have told me they don’t think that is practical, in this era of shaving seconds off turnaround times in order to meet on-time departure goals.

So barring that, I’d suggest looking to the the U.S. military, which has spent decades learning to teach people to execute complex procedures in highly stressful conditions. 

Quick example: It’s been 15 years since I fired an M16A2 rifle in the Army Reserve, but I remember what to do if one jams in combat, because of the mnemonic they drilled into us: S-P-O-R-T-S: SLAP the magazine, PULL the charging handle, etc.

The military understands that stress makes it really hard to concentrate and remember things. Under intense stress pressure, people will literally forget things like which side of a weapon is the dangerous side (“FRONT TOWARD ENEMY“). 

Same as people will forget, under intense stress, that you’re supposed place the mask “over your nose AND mouth.”

Passenger-proof

Air travel is safer than it’s ever been, so maybe we’ve been lucky, or maybe this is not as big a problem as it might seem. But it would be great if we could figure out memorable, stressed-out-passenger-proof ways to teach these safety instructions. 

That said, I do find a lot of these briefings funny, and I don’t think I’ve ever personally had a bad experience on Southwest Airlines or Delta. And I do want to give credit where it’s due for being entertaining.

So we’ll end with a few of the funnier safety briefings–including the most recent Southwest one to go viral, along with the classic Air New Zealand video, and the brand new Turkish Airlines one.

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