Longform’s Picks of the Week

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPhone or iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.   The Laborers Who ...

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPhone or iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.


The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed, by Adrian Chen, Wired

The grim world of outsourced content moderation.

As social media connects more people more intimately than ever before, companies have been confronted with the Grandma Problem: Now that grandparents routinely use services like Facebook to connect with their kids and grandkids, they are potentially exposed to the Internet’s panoply of jerks, racists, creeps, criminals, and bullies. They won’t continue to log on if they find their family photos sandwiched between a gruesome Russian highway accident and a hardcore porn video. Social media’s growth into a multibillion-dollar industry, and its lasting mainstream appeal, has depended in large part on companies’ ability to police the borders of their user-generated content — to ensure that Grandma never has to see images like the one Baybayan just nuked.

So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them — a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000” — that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.


The Ebola Wars, by Richard Preston, New Yorker

How genomics research can help contain the outbreak.

All the drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests for Ebola depend critically on the virus’s genetic code. The researchers knew that the code was changing. Could Ebola be evolving away from the defenses against it? Where had it come from? Had it started in one person or had it begun in different people at different times and places? Could Ebola become more contagious, and spread faster? 

Sabeti and her team conceived a plan to obtain samples of blood from people infected with Ebola. They would read the genomes of whatever Ebola they could find in the patients’ blood. When monks copied texts by hand in the Middle Ages, they made mistakes. Since Ebola makes errors as it replicates, each genome was like a hand-copied text, and detectable differences would emerge among the genomes; there isn’t just one “strain” of the virus. Ebola is not a thing but a swarm. It is a vast population of particles, different from one another, each particle competing with the others for a chance to get inside a cell and copy itself. The swarm’s genetic code shifts in response to the changing environment. By looking at a few genomes of Ebola, the scientists hoped to grasp an image of the whole virus, which could be conceived of as a life-form visible in four dimensions, as vast amounts of code flowing through time and space.


Monaco Murders Reveal Six Hidden Real Estate Billionaires, by Tom Metcalf, Bloomberg

Monaco’s richest woman was shot in ambush outside a hospital. Her heirs stand to inherit over a billion dollars each.

“There was real astonishment. She was an extremely discreet individual and the Pastor family aspired to be completely normal business people,” said Frederic Laurent, a Monaco historian. “They’re the richest family in the principality but their business affairs were perfectly normal.”

Over the next seven weeks, police pieced together phone records, closed-circuit television footage and DNA found on a soap bottle in the gunman’s hotel room. The trail led them to Wojciech Janowski, the longtime partner of Pastor’s daughter, Sylvia. His personal trainer Pascal Dauriac told police that Janowski gave him 140,000 euros ($180,000) in cash to arrange the attack, Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, said at a June 27 news conference.


The Beggars of Lakewood, by Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times Magazine

A small New Jersey town is world-famous among Orthodox Jews as a place to come ask for handouts.

Once a year, Elimelech Ehrlich travels from Jerusalem to Lakewood, N.J., with a cash box and a wireless credit-card machine. During the three weeks he typically spends in town, Ehrlich — a white-bearded, black-suited, black-skullcapped, wisecracking 51-year-old — haunts the many local yeshivas, schools where Jewish men, mostly in their 20s, study the Talmud and other texts. Sometimes he loiters around the condominium complexes where students live with their young wives and growing families. Some days he hires a driver to take him to the houses of local ashirim, rich men. Throughout town, he greets old friends, asking after marriages made since his last visit and new babies. And at every stop along the way, he asks for money.


The Dog Whisperer, by Rebecca Frankel, Foreign Policy

How a British colonel altered the battlefields of World War I, and why his crusade still resonates today.

In April 1917, in Villers-Bretonneux, northern France, war was raging. The Germans were advancing on the British; a small brigade of Australian soldiers had emerged from the trenches repeatedly to push them back. The enemy captured a strategic position, knocking out all lines of communication, but one member of the Allied forces was able to make it through the heavy shellfire that pounded down on the treacherous seven miles separating the command from the front: a small retriever, a messenger dog named Darkie, who covered that distance in only 55 minutes. Of all the reports sent from the front, Darkie’s was the only one received.

All along the front during the months of heavy fighting, communications were dispatched via messenger dogs. It was dangerous work. One dog was shot; a bullet split his jaw, nearly detaching it. Still, the dog, ironically named Smiler, crossed almost two miles in only 20 minutes. Sulky came close to having her leg cut off. Dick caught shrapnel spray and a bullet. Despite the injuries, his handler reported, he returned in “good spirit.” But shrapnel had also “lodged close to the spine,” the handler later found. “Through all his sufferings the dog carried out his duties cheerfully and most faithfully until he was overtaken by death.”

 Twitter: @s__engler