Facebook Vigilantes, Ugly Laptops, and Red Tide: Best Gizmodo Stories of the Week

Illustration: Elena Scotti/Jim Cooke (Photos: Alex Cranz/Shutterstock)

Read anything interesting in the news lately? No, really. I’m still catching up, because for much of the past week, I was vacationing in lovely Cook Forest, Pennsylvania, during which my access to the internet was limited to whatever stretches of 4G could be obtained amid supply runs to town. This was indeed lovely—an excuse to regroup all of those neurons that have been battered into retreat by the news cycle in 2018 and also go kayaking—but I’m still wary I missed a brief war, everyone at the Gizmodo offices has secretly been replaced by pod people infiltrators, or something like that.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to get back on the same page with this week’s roundup of the best of Gizmodo, where we’ve got everything from Facebook vigilantes and ugly-ass gaming laptops to red tide and “mini-moons.” Let’s get caught up, shall we?


The Vigilantes on Facebook Who Stream To Catch a Predator-Style Ambushes of Alleged Pedophiles

Illustration: Jim Cooke ( Gizmodo)

The texts would come at all hours of the night, numbering in the thousands. “Have you been with an older guy?” “You’re really hot, so it’s worth the risk of getting in trouble.” “Has your daddy fucked you today?”

For a few days, Jennifer, a 40-something stay-at-home mom from South Dakota, received messages like these from strange men who thought they were talking to an underaged girl. Jennifer was acting as a decoy for Hunted and Confronted, a rogue online community dedicated to tracking down and ambushing pedophiles. She since stopped. She had to. “I was having dreams about this,” she told me. “Those men just got to me.” She then transitioned to being an admin for the group’s Facebook page, but recently stepped down from the group altogether because it was too overwhelming.


Next-Gen Baggies Are Transforming Legal Weed

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Shutterstock)

After a recent trip to her local dispensary, my mom recalled how, when she was young, black-market cannabis was really only available by the “lid”—usually, a sandwich bag partly filled with ground-up plant, the official size of which tended to vary. Today, she can choose rich, cleverly named buds by the gram or quarter ounce from hundreds of California locations; they come tucked into dark plastic pop-top vials, or windowed envelopes lined with golden, scent-blocking mylar, or—increasingly, as mainstream tastes and funds flow in—are served up as a prerolled botanic experience for a few dollars more.

The Media Tried To Game The Machines and You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next (Facebook Won)

Illustration: Jim Cooke

Just five years ago, not only was it possible for a reputable outlet to flatly characterize Upworthy—a website that didn’t make much but a system for testing what drew clicks on Facebook—as the “fastest-growing media company of all time,” but it happened more than once. By 2013, a year after its founding, Upworthy had favorable print profiles and $12 million in funding from people like Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian. Its founder was making the rounds advising other sites hungry for traffic to “stay away from politics” and “focus on Facebook, not Twitter.” Michelle Obama guest-edited the site.

From the beginning, Upworthy’s social-justice curation machine was based on a specific, paternalistic set of ideas. It proposed that the internet is inherently addictive; that young people are attracted to the shiny and uplifting; that aggregated videos play better online than original material; and that with a little massaging, all that terribly boring stuff about policy and food shortages in Africa could trap eyeballs just as well as heartwarming cats could.


This Ugly-Ass Gaming Laptop Has Exactly Three Great Things Going for It

Photo: Alex Cranz ( Gizmodo)

The MSI PS42’s look is so bad, it might derail you. This laptop looks like it was made five years ago and probably by Acer or Toshiba. When I pulled it out of the box, I immediately made quite a few unpleasant noises about its appearance. Then I used it for a week, and while I still find the MSI PS42 to be one of the ugliest laptops produced in a while, I can’t deny the charm of its performance or price.

‘This Guy Is Super [Nuts Emoji]’: Elon Musk on Whistleblower Accusing Tesla of Illegally Spying on Employee

Photo: Paul Sakuma ( AP)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Thursday moved to discredit a former employee and self-proclaimed whistleblower whose attorneys have accused Musk of authorizing Tesla to allegedly engage in “unauthorized wiretapping and hacking” of another former employee of the electric car manufacturer.

“This guy is super 🥜,” Musk told Gizmodo over Twitter DM. (That last bit is an emoji of peanuts, in case it doesn’t display properly on your device.) “He is simultaneously saying that our security sucks (it’s not great, but I’m pretty sure we aren’t a branch of the Sinaloa cartel like he claims) and that we have amazing spying ability. Those can’t both be true.”


Ajit Pai Knew FCC Cyberattack Was Fake for Seven Months but Kept Quiet

Photo: Dell Cameron ( Gizmodo)

Asked only once at a Senate hearing Thursday about the fake security incident that’s needled his agency for more than a year, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, acknowledged for the first time knowing secretly for several months that his office likely fed U.S. lawmakers false information.

Here’s When We Think Game of Thrones’ New Age of Heroes Spinoff Should Take Place


Game of Thrones may be ending in 2019, but the song of ice and fire will continue. HBO has greenlit a prequel series about Westeros’ Golden Age of Heroes, helmed by Jane Goldman (the Kingsman series, Kick-Ass) and A Song of Ice and Fire creator George R.R. Martin. This age spans thousands of years, and there’s no way a show is going to be able to cover all of it. So, here’s what we think this new show could be about—and furthermore, should be about.

The Importance of People Like Rebecca Sugar

Good people work on Steven Universe.
Image: Cartoon Network

I will not cry at work. I will not cry at work. I will not cry at work...

Entertainment Weekly recently did a profile on Rebecca Sugar titled “Steven Universe creator has done more for LGBTQ visibility than you might know.” (Definitely click over and read the whole thing.) At first I huffed at the thought. Even though, as a journalist, I know headlines often have to be easily accessible to those who may not know about the topic at hand or tease what’s to come, I couldn’t help but think, “I already know Rebecca Sugar has done tons for the LGBTQ+ community at large!” But, as any good internet reader should, I read past the headline for context. And then I found myself tearing up.


How Weta’s VFX Team Brought the Most Epic Moments of Avengers: Infinity War to Life

Can you believe that this fight on an alien world between a billionaire in a suit of super advanced armor and a space alien wielding a gauntlet of vast cosmic power was almost entirely done in CGI? Me neither.
Gif: Avengers: Infinity War ( Weta Digital)

Avengers: Infinity War has just hit Blu-ray and DVD, which means it’s time to sit down and spend multiple hours watching your favorite Marvel movie heroes get beaten into bloody pulps by Thanos all over again. They’ve done so in a rather beautiful manner thanks to the work of Weta VFX—and we sat down with Visual Effects Supervisor Matt Aitken to learn more. We’ve also got an exclusive look at the team’s fantastic before-and-after work.

Why Is Florida’s Red Tide Outbreak So Bad Right Now?

Photo: AP

It’s been a summer of algae for the Sunshine State. Last month, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in counties whose waterways were befouled by blue-green algae blooms. On Monday, Scott found himself declaring another emergency for a separate red tide algae outbreak taking place across the state.

The current red tide bloom developed last November off the coast of southwest Florida and is now in its tenth month. High concentrations of algae have been measured in coastal waters from Tampa Bay to Sanibel Island, where 267 tons of marine life have washed up dead since July, according to the Guardian.


So, why is this algae outbreak so bad?

Puerto Rico’s Farmers Face a Long Road to Recovery

Graphic: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty)

On the morning of September 21, 2017, Carlos Lago and Justina Díaz Bisbal emerged from their household into a post-apocalyptic world. Their once-lush five-acre fruit farm in southern Puerto Rico was entirely stripped of its foliage. Tree limbs were broken or twisted; pieces of metal from nearby homes, trash, and even a mattress were strewn across their property. The damage wrought by Hurricane Maria was unlike anything the older couple had ever witnessed.

“Upon seeing all of the destruction, we looked at each other,” Díaz Bisbal told Earther in Spanish. “I asked, ‘What do we do now?’ He [Lago] answered, ‘We start over.’”


Earth’s Undetected ‘Mini-Moons’ Could Make for Exciting New Astronomy

Artist’s concept of an asteroid
Illustration: NASA/Caltech

Every once in a while, our planet captures a “mini-moon,” a tiny asteroid that hangs out in our orbit for a bit before venturing back into the depths of space. New research suggests these small, temporary natural satellites carry tremendous scientific and commercial opportunities—but the trick will be in finding them.

Twelve years ago, astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey detected our planet’s first and only known natural satellite other than the Moon. Named 2006 RH120, it measures about 6 to 10 feet in length (2-3 meters), and it temporarily enters Earth’s orbit every 20 years or so, before returning to its ordinary orbit around the Sun. Surprisingly, and despite steady improvements to telescope technology, it remains the only known mini-moon, or TCO (temporarily captured orbiter).


Sleep-Deprived People May Infect You With Loneliness

A lonely pug.
Image: Free-Photos ( Pixabay)

Not getting enough or the right kind of sleep is notoriously bad for physical health. But a new study out of the University of California, Berkeley suggests that poor sleep can be a nightmare for our social lives too. It just might turn us into lonely outcasts, capable of spreading our misery to others.

We already know that poor sleep quality is linked to negative experiences like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Many of the studies exploring this connection have suggested loneliness worsens our sleeping habits. But there’s been less research on whether the opposite is true. So the scientists behind this latest study decided to perform a series of experiments, using both offline and online human volunteers, to find out.


Surprising Accelerator Finding Could Change the Way We Think About Neutron Stars

That big black ball is the CLAS detector
Photo: Douglas Higinbotham ( JLAB)

Neutron stars are having a renaissance, as far as space objects go. These ultra-dense collapsed stars are the source of last year’s most important astrophysical discovery, and they could supply the universe with much of its gold and other heavier elements. But, confusingly, many of their most important properties may not come from the neutrons they are named for. Instead, protons might hold to key to many neutron star phenomena.

Scientists using data from an American particle accelerator compared how protons and neutrons behaved in collisions between electrons and atomic nuclei. It’s an important nuclear physics result that has interstellar implications when it comes to understanding neutron stars.


New Evidence Contradicts Theory That Easter Island Society Collapsed

Easter Island statues, or moai.
Image: Dale Simpson Jr.

The indigenous people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, experienced a societal collapse after the 17th century because they stripped the island clean of its natural resources. Or at least, that’s the leading theory. An analysis of the tools used by the Rapa Nui to build their iconic stone statues suggests a very different conclusion, pointing to the presence of a highly organized and cohesive society.

You Can Really Feel the Samsung Note 9's $1000 Price Tag

Photo: Sam Rutherford ( Gizmodo)

Since the beginning, the big honking screens on Galaxy Note phones have been their most memorable characteristic. But as the rest of the smartphone world caught onto the jumbo display trend and screen sizes from various makers started to converge around six-inch displays, the throne on which Samsung’s Note phones lorded over lesser devices just didn’t have the same kind of sway. So now, the question is: What’s the purpose of a big ass flagship handset in 2018, especially one that starts at pearl-clutching price of $1,000?

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post