Facebook’s Real News Algorithm, Justin Lin, and More: Today’s Recommended Reading

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Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. Today we’ve got an editorial on the real algorithm behind Facebook’s news service, a bitter remembrance of the ’90s swing revival, a profile of director Justin Lin, and the history of Playgirl magazine, which used to be good but now…is not?

First, Wired‘s look at director Justin Lin, who they call “the most important blockbuster director you’ve never heard of.” (Really, it’s in the headline!)You’re hearing of him now, but maybe you already have. Not only has Lin directed Fast and Furious films, he was also heavily involved in the regrettable second season of True Detective. Now, he’s moving on to Star Trek, and is sure to break out into some kind of household fame that’s been eluding him for years. And he’s come a damn long way.

It sounds a bit like the immigrant biography of Lin, who learned to hustle by watching his parents start over in a new country. He spent his early childhood on a family farm in Taiwan, where he remembers that his father, an airline pilot, would bike three hours to work to save money on the commute. When he was 8, the Lins invested their life savings in a fish-and-chips shop in Anaheim, California, and moved to nearby Buena Park, where they worked nonstop, overstayed their visas, and lived in fear of deportation until President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act granted them amnesty in 1987. In that greasy shop in the shadow of Disneyland, Lin saw the way customers either respected his father, his hero, or regarded him as “just an Asian immigrant, and they’d treat him like shit.”

Playgirl magazine is now seen as mostly a punchline to the joke of Playboy, but, as this Fusion article makes clear, that wasn’t always the case. Like Playboy, Playgirl was, at one point, a monthly magazine with articles worth reading and centerfolds worth ogling. Now, it’s a shell of that former thing, staffed by freelancers and released at irregular intervals. (Visit for the words, stay for the emoji-fied nudie pics.)

If you identify as a female who is sexually attracted to men, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ve probably never held a copy of the nudie magazine in your hand. You’ve probably never read any of its articles, either. And you’ve likely never spent time gazing at photos like this one, part of a spread from a recent issue titled—wait for it—“Cocky Sutra.” The reason you’ve never held, read, or seen any of these things is because the magazine has all but vanished, both from circulation and cultural consciousness. I write about sexuality for a living and I confess that, until recently, I thought the magazine had gone the way of Sassy—until my editor stumbled on a copy at a Barnes & Noble in midtown Manhattan, buried in the Women’s Interests section.

If you were old enough to be aware of MTV in the ’90s, you were old enough to witness what is now known as the Frightful Revival of Swing Music and Culture and Dance, featuring the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and other bands with equally awful names. We’re sorry if you’d blacked this stuff out, and are now experiencing trauma. But, since you’ve already been exposed to the swing, go read this remembrance at Stereogum. It’s a lot of fun, and will also maybe make you appreciate Taylor Swift.

I loved this shit. I loved it so much. In my high school newspaper, I wrote that Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Hot was the best album of 1997. I wanted to honor the album so much that I ignored that it had come out in 1996. (My #2 of the year was Missy Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly.) In maybe a two-year span, I saw every one of the bands from the swing revival big four live. In the summer of 1998, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy played a free radio-station afternoon show in Baltimore, and I ended up randomly seated between my then-girlfriend and an ex. So I wasn’t just into the swing revival; I was also dating girls who were into the swing revival. So I watched Swingers many, many times, and I may have even spent a couple of days trying to talk like that. And I was one of many.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the New York Times editorial that discusses the real way Facebook serves up its news posts. To those of us who are already studied in the nature of the platform, it’s not surprising that the more popular (liked, commented) a post is, the more visible it becomes. This is inherent in the way Facebook has operated for years now, both in viral stories and also in the way you see someone’s vacation pictures: if someone you know likes something, the algorithm figures you’d maybe like that thing, too. And yet, algorithms, though numbers and figures, are not completely unbiased.

Algorithms are often presented as an extension of natural sciences like physics or biology. While these algorithms also use data, math and computation, they are a fountain of bias and slants — of a new kind. If a bridge sways and falls, we can diagnose that as a failure, fault the engineering, and try to do better next time. If Google shows you these 11 results instead of those 11, or if a hiring algorithm puts this person’s résumé at the top of a file and not that one, who is to definitively say what is correct, and what is wrong? Without laws of nature to anchor them, algorithms used in such subjective decision making can never be truly neutral, objective or scientific.