Weekend edition—Election security, too-big tech, anime inspiration

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Federal oversight of American voting systems is worryingly lax, and many observers expect adversarial groups and nations will continue to weaponize social media to upend US elections. Two reports released this week underscore the threats facing next year’s US elections, and by extension, American democracy itself.

One, a policy paper from the Brennan Center for Justice, notes the US government regulates everyday consumer products more tightly than it does the nation’s voting systems. The vendors of the machines are not mandated to report system irregularities or foreign ownership or control, nor are they required to perform background checks on employees.

The second, a review of a simulated stress test performed on a fictitious city in a fictitious swing state on election day 2020, said the exercise ended in abject chaos. “Operation Blackout” pitted ethical hackers against participants from the FBI, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, and Virginia police, presenting real-world possibilities pushed to an extreme. The gameplay, which forbade any actual hacking, was strategic, not technical, and a team of cybersecurity professionals, monitored by US government observers, decided the outcome.

In the end, a series of vehicle attacks killed dozens of people, hundreds were injured, and authorities were ultimately forced to cancel the vote. The fact that it happened in a simulation, and not in real life, means authorities can now better guard against such likelihoods.

“In a country as fragmented as the US, the number of people needed to influence an election is surprisingly small,” said event participant Yonatan Striem-Amit, formerly a cyberwarfare operator  in the Israeli army. “We attempted to create havoc and show law enforcement that protecting the electoral process is [about] much more than the machine.”

As retired US Army general Stanley McChrystal and Democratic media consultant David Eichenbaum wrote in a recent op-ed about election interference, “America is totally unprepared for what is coming because it will be like nothing we’ve seen before. Everyone is vulnerable, and everyone will be affected.”

Understandably, today’s focus is on the Trump impeachment inquiry and how it could influence next year’s election. But attention should also be paid to the integrity of the voting system itself. —Justin Rohrlich


Embracing failure. The intense pressure to succeed in South Korea comes in many forms, including economic, social, cosmetic, and educational, writes Isabella Steger. But as unhappiness mounts at society’s intolerance of failure—perhaps manifested most clearly in the country’s persistently high suicide rate—the government is stepping in to encourage more acceptance of second chances.

Monopoly matters. After years of evading antitrust scrutiny, the tech giants are suddenly in the spotlight. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are investigating Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon for potentially anticompetitive behavior. In a Quartz member exclusive, Alison Griswold outlines the history of monopoly power and asks whether the companies that dominate so much of our lives have gotten too big—and what can be done about it.

The expanding sneaker-verse. Nike is spreading the digital tools it currently uses with fanatical fans more widely across its business to engage a larger community and capture more data, reports Marc Bain. The question is, will a strategy that has succeeded with sneakerheads work with the rest of us?

Why millennials never want to leave their apartment anymore. If you want to seem cool online, just post a meme about the joys of canceling plans and staying home in your pajamas. Sarah Todd explores the economic and social shifts that have prompted today’s young people to celebrate staying in—and how internet culture encourages us to engage in the public performance of solitude.

Life imitates anime. Neon Genesis Evangelion is no longer merely a beloved anime series. To many Hong Kong protesters, its premise of idealistic children uniting to fight against evil and corrupt adults speaks far more deeply, writes Vivienne Chow. That title and other classics of the genre have appeared in protest art, tactics, and discussions in online forums.


Cold call. The fact that Japanese fishermen catch far fewer salmon in the Sea of Okhotsk than they used to might seem to be only a local issue. But as Simon Denyer and Chris Mooney explain in the Washington Post, it speaks to a bigger problem. The body of water is the “most dynamic sea ice factory on Earth,” and it’s rapidly warming. Besides driving away temperature-sensitive fish, that’s creating a cascade of environmental consequences that extend well beyond Japan.

Amplifying acrimony. The writers of the US Constitution created mechanisms to slow the ability of strong partisanship to inflame citizens with “mutual animosity” and make them forget about the common good. But today, contend Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell in the Atlantic, social media has greatly intensified hostility and the speed at which outrage spreads, serving as a “powerful accelerant for anyone who wants to start a fire.” A few tweaks, they suggest, are in order.

Ripple effects. When SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son unveiled the $100 billion Vision Fund in 2016, he emphasized the potential of AI and was hailed as a visionary. But he became enamored with Uber-like businesses around the world that used contractors, as Nathaniel Popper and others write in the New York Times. Today, as many of those firms flounder, the independent workers and small businesses lured to work with them are paying the price—and revolting.

Sound strategy. Earlier this year a YouTube channel operated by T-Series—a music label and film production company in India—became the world’s most popular. For Bloomberg Businessweek, Ari Altstedter and Lucas Shaw describe the Bollywood juggernaut’s humble origins and rapid online ascent, simultaneously telling the tale of a changing nation that is now the biggest source of consumers on the open web. They also ask: Can the company survive Netflix?

That’s a wrap. Think about Amazon, and images of highly automated warehouses might come to mind. Goods sold by third-party sellers flow through those warehouses, but only if they’re packed in a way that meets Amazon’s demanding requirements—which has led to a booming business of prep centers ensuring they are. For The Verge, Josh Dzieza visits a town in Montana that has become a hub of such operations, though you’d never guess it.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, extroverted millennials, and packaging materials to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.