Laurel, Mississippi is home to a little over 18,000 people, more than 61% of whom are Black. On Tuesday, the town's mayor, Johnny Magee, issued a historic executive order to remove the state's flag from the City of Laurel government properties—a moment that moved him to tears.

In a state that once declared its official position as "thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world," and listed as one of its reasons for joining the Confederacy the fact that the Union "advocates negro equality, socially and politically," the removal of a symbol of the fight to enslave Black people is a big deal. But the history of slavery is just the beginning. Mississippi was the most segregated state in the country in 1964, a full hundred years after slavery was abolished. Racism has always been rooted deeply in the history and culture of the state—including the state flag, which includes the battle flag of the Confederacy in its upper left corner.

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When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

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