Saturday, September 22, 2018

Informal discussion at Electronic Frontier Foundation (with me) over future of blogging and conventional hosting given political pressures



On Friday, September 21, 2018 I did meet with an EFF attorney near the headquarters in San Francisco.  Generally EFF does not have the time for meeting with individual donors unless it is about specific litigation, and the work tends to be issue and case specific.  But we did have a serious conversation about alarming developments lately in monitoring and censorship of user generated content not only by social networking platforms (especially Facebook, given the session at World Affairs Wednesday night about “Antisocial Media”), but even domain name registrars and conventional hosting companies commonly used for corporate and individual domains wrapped around Wordpress blogs.  
  
I had written this to their “info” email address:

“I've noticed that EFF has run many targeted "take action" campaigns on many separate issues that affect the future of user-generated content on the Web and on social media. These include FOSTA/CDA230, net neutrality loss, the European Articles 11 and 13, and the broader problem of the propagation of "fake news" by foreign enemies posing as Americans.  My concern is that a member spends her own "political capital" on  just one of these issues at a time and forfeits her own effectiveness for any future issues.   My own contribution, at least as a blogger, has been in trying to "connect the dots" among them and look for common strategies. 
  
“I have my own vulnerability, which I would call the "implicit content" issue, a concept relatively little discussed but important (it got mentioned the day I visited the COPA trial in 2006).  It means that the message behind speech is influenced by the listener's perception of the motives of the speaker.   It's a kind of legal "quantum relativity theory".  This of course has a bearing especially on the misuse of social media platforms for propaganda.  

“I had an incident with this back in 2005 when teaching (I talked about it with Lee at the time), and recently I've just had a bizarre incident with Facebook myself.  I'll explain if I see you.”

We have concern about blogging, as we know it, in the future, from a business model perspective, and the increasing exposure to downstream liability to hosts as some legal protections like CDA230 are weakened (as with the Backpage FOSTA law).


Generally, hosting companies have not been concerned about customer behavior, despite some restrictions common in AUP’s (no online pharmacies, for example). This seemed to change suddenly in the US in August 2017 after the Charlottesville white supremacist march and tragic death (with Ford Fischer’s “Zapruder film”).  (It had happened in Europe, although the obvious concerns over terror promotion since about 2014 are mitigated by the fact that much of this content had been hosted offshore or was already on the "Dark Web".) Upon some user complaints by victims, Saily Stormer and a few other supremacist sites were knocked off in a chain reaction.  In at least one case, domain name registrars retained “property rights” and would not allow the site to be moved anywhere else.  A chain reaction “heckler’s veto” and blackballing occurred, just as has happened more recently on conventional social media with some accounts (like Alex Jones).

Furthermore, Cloudflare is seen as having a “monopoly” on large scale DDOS prevention.
      
There is a sudden change in perception with a younger generation public that is more collectivist (in contrast to the activism over net neutrality) and that is more willing to expect speakers to be held responsible for assessing the literacy of their likely readers. 

My recent incident with Facebook (post on Sept. 19 here) shows that companies are more concerned about self-funded “influencer “ or “provocateur” speech which is offered for free. It’s a bit ironic, that “not advertising” and asking for consumers to participate with purchases, donation, or personal activism now draws suspicion over possible foreign influence. (A long these lines, there was a curious “influencer” graph circulated on Twitter Friday).  It's possible to imagine future developments where account holders are screened and expected to show that their operations are profitable on their own ("skin in the game"), insurable, and have backup. Although there seems to be little open discussion like this, developments like this can evolve very suddenly, as after future political shocks. 
  
As for the specific issue of a boost to the post discussed Sept. 19, it now appears that FB is asking me to consider soliciting others to become secondary admin’s or advertisers on my own page in order to show my “identity.".  I can’t really elaborate further right now. 
  
I did view the Apple (including Apple Park and visitor center), Google, and Facebook campuses Thursday.  Apple’s is overwhelming in size. More comments to come.

Update: (later today)

Ned Burke explains Facebook's policy on Medium, as effective May 24 here.




Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Now Facebook seems not to want to run advertorials at all unless posters are actually "selling something" and charging for it




Well, I’ve followed up with Facebook and responded to the code provided by their NCOA mailer.

Now they say, "We reviewed the information you provided and can’t confirm your identity. The third-party service providers that help us with identity confirmation can’t find a match with your information in any of their databases. As an alternative, you could ask another Page admin or ad account advertiser to go through the authorization process and run ads from your Page."

Two reactions:  the only “products” I have ever run ads for are my four books and the only place I have paid for such ads is on Facebook!   Catch-22.  

I could make light of this.  Washington DC’s Metro probably would not accept poster ads for my books on subway cars because they don’t accept ads with political relevance.  (“Gays in the military” has political relevance.)

This all may change by 2019 as I finally get the novel ready, and also some music.  That’s another discussion.

But note the ad suggest having another business interest run ads for its product from my page.  Right now, that would not be appropriate for what I do otherwise. 

Put all this together:  Facebook doesn’t want to promote “advertorials” from parties who don’t have actual products and services to sell and charge for.  I can see that this could fit their concern about foreign intervention in US politics, although it also admits the same vulnerability, ironically. But it also fits Nicholas Taleb’s theories about “skin in the game”. It also begs the question “Who gets to be viewed as a journalist”?

But this is quite disturbing. Gradually, tech companies are showing the dis-ease with the idea that individuals (acting on their own outside established non-profits, fund-raising and associated familiar social bureaucracy – indeed, usually “indentarian”) speaker on national issues, possibly like those with grave importance (North Korea’s threats), on their own.

Maybe the advertorial would have been accepted had it been accompanied by an ad for Faraday bags for electronics, or it I sold them on my site.  That would make me look like a right-wing survivalist pimp. 

This sounds like good material for a “Timcast”. And I wish Reid Ewing's lovely short film "It's Free" (2012) were available again.  It's never been more relevant. 


Saturday, September 15, 2018

"Protect the Protest" group forms to counter SLAPP's




David Ruiz has a major story on Electronic Frontier Foundation about the formation of a group called “Protect the Protest” to discourage SLAPP suits and assist targets of SLAPP’s in states with weak laws. SLAPP's are frivolous lawsuits by established powerful interests to force smaller competitors to spend legal fees defending themselves, a kind of legal bullying that comports with authoritarian thinking. 

So far there is no federal SLAPP law.  The problem also occurs in Canada, as the video below shows.


The EFF article goes into the issue of the lawsuit against Tech Dirt for disproving the claims of another party about “inventing email”. That case reminds me of the issue of questionable software patents based on frivolous claims. 
  
I wanted to make a note about a previous post (Aug. 22), where I reacted to a “Timcast” (Tim Pool, with Ford Fischer from News2Share) by asking “who has the right to call himself a journalist?”  I’ve made that claim myself, but I realize that what I offer is mostly commentary and interpretation, not original news (although sometimes I do see and film stuff as it happens). The reason this matters is that I generally do refuse to join other people’s narrow causes or to specifically advertise (with donate buttons) or represent them on my own social media pages.  I was a bit glib there and will come up with a more detailed answer of my motives, on Wordpress, although a lot of it is there already.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

EU Copyright Directive "passes", leading to a maze of uncertainty even in the US; can the EU "export" article 13 (and "the right to be forgotten")?



The news of the EU vote is now circulating, although the major US news media are slow to pick it up.

The EU parliament did pass the directive early this morning EDT time, although it is not clear yet as to exactly what is in the compromise.  The EDRI press release is here.  It appears that the next vote would come in January (maybe as late as April) and implementation, by country, would start in the early summer of 2019 after the next EU elections.


Julia Alexander has a detailed article in Polygon as to how it may play out, here.
  
My own biggest concern is how it could affect bloggers (and video vloggers) in the US with material uploaded from outside the EU.

While most of the attention is been on how Google (including YouTube) and Facebook would handle it, we could wonder about the downstream liability risk for conventional hosts. 
  
Theoretically, even a blog posting uploaded in the US could cause an infringement liability if it happened to mimic European content, even through translation (even given language idioms and the like, as in "Paul" on Language Focus -- the new EU rules would encompass text).  I can’t imagine how a host could screen for this.  Remember there is no allowance for US fair use, or for “creative commons” as we understand it (unless this changes as more details emerge). It might be possible for a hosting  to cut off access to European viewers for non-EU content (much as China does with some sites) to lower the risk.  Google, for example, could stop allowing EU access to Blogger content through “co.fr”, etc.  That would mean someone traveling in Europe could not even look at his sites, let alone update them, until returning home (unless he had teammates or employees to do it). (It’s ironic: since the who EU Article-11-13 problem exploded, my own European traffic – especially from France – soared, especially new unique visitors, and exceeds my US traffic.  I do get traffic from China, where I am supposed to be banned, Russia, and Muslim Middle East countries.)
    
Even that might not be enough. A country could fine a host (whether conventional hosting like GoDaddy, Bluehost, etc, free blogging platforms, or social media like Facebook and Twitter) for allowing “infringement” (even against Fair Use law and with no allowance for Creative Commons) in the US of European materials.  This could seriously compromise all user generated content as we know it now, because no host can know in advance if a particular user is going to infringe. I personally quote European sources rarely (I do refer to UK sources a lot).  It could also lead to international “Righthaven” type suits against even US bloggers by troll farms, although it is hard to imagine if they would get far in US courts.  A good question remains as to whether US-based hosting and social media companies can segregate liability with separate per-country incorporation. There could be questions about whether common ownership (Endurance, near Boston, owns many web hosts) undermines such segregation. Ironically, Trump's "MAGA" views may work in US users' favor, as might having more conservative judges (Kavanaugh) who won't allow foreign countries to interfere with US policy. 
  
The New York Times has an op-ed by Daphne Keller, Sept. 10, curiously coincidental and prescient with the EU Copyright Directive vote, “Don’t force Google to export other country’s laws”. It discusses a “right to be forgotten case from Austria, and I was told at Cato yesterday that there is another similar case in France. That seems to apply even more to the Copyright Directive. I have been told (as at Cato) that it is easier to separate from Article 11 outside the EU than from Article 13.  (And the EU knows that protectionist, "no spectators" Article 11 was a flop when tried by Spain.)
  
One might imagine a consequence where Europe turns into another China, as China’s rules don’t have significant effects on ordinary American speech, unless work requires them to travel to China or they need to do business in China and deal with Communism.  You can say something similar about Russia, where the anti-gay propaganda law can become consequential for American visitors or travelers. But European business has always been critical to mainstream tech companies and hosts, who have never segregated off them the way they have with non-democratic countries (and Google now creates controversy in considering offering a censored search engine in China). 




Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Facebook post-boost (for me at least) requires identification verification by mail for political discussions that don't actually sell anything (for "advertorials")



Yesterday (September 10, 2018) I placed a major posting linking to my own Wordpress post on my concerns about the way the mainstream media covers the threats to the electric grid(s), on my Facebook Author Page.  I also placed it on the account timeline (normally fed to “Friends”).  But the Page is more like a news blog than a “friendship” thing; it’s more intended for professional purposes. 
   
Facebook offers the ability to “boost” a post in a geographical area to show it to more people who don’t know you (that is, me). Typically it costs about $10 a week. 
  
Facebook first accepted the post (after a few hours) but then sent the email

“We have reviewed your ad more closely and have determined it doesn't comply with our Advertising Policies. This ad will not be active any longer until you edit it to comply with policy. You can click the ad name below to see why it wasn't approved and make edits.”

The reason (illustration) was that “your page has not been approved for ads relating to politics or matters of national importance.”  FB gives a link for approving political ads. 
  
I had successfully boosted similar posts on progress with North Korea (post Singapore) and onthe EU Copyright Directive issue, without incident.

It would appear that ads normally are intended to actually sell produces or services.  This post is more like a paid “advertorial” in a newspaper.

But it is odd that the ad was first approved and then rejected.  The wording of the advertorial started by noting that I don’t generally run fundraising campaigns for non-profits under my own name or brand, but expect visitors to go to the news articles and makeup their own minds. So perhaps I am not “playing ball”.  Then, the topic of this advertorial was of a particularly grave security matter, potentially.  This may have gotten their attention.  (Do datacenters for tech companies have Faraday protection?  Maybe.)  So then I have to prove I am not from the IRA in St. Petersburg, Russia.
   
Essentially, the edit of the application required (1) setting up two-factor authentication (2) submitting a passport or driver’s license photo (front and back) to confirm residence in the United States and (3) last four of social security number.
  
I had trouble with the photos.  They have to be high definition (1000 x 1500 pixels) and the first set of photos was rejected for glare. The second set was accepted.  I have to wait for a letter address verification by US mail to send back as the final step in verifying identity.
Only then can the boost be re-approved.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Without Section 230 (passed in early 1996) we would have none of the platforms we use today; you'd have to "get published" the old-fashioned way, or work with others in groups to be heard



As we ponder challenges to ungated distribution of self-published speech, from problems like FOSTA Section 230 erosion, the whole “fake news” fiasco, and even European copyright, it’s well to remember how “lucky” we are when it got started.

Congress passed its Telecommunications Act on Feb. 1, 1996 (which Bill Clinton signed on Feb. 8). The “censorship” portion was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997, but the Section 230 downstream liability protections were in place in early 1996.

At the time, I was readying the first big draft of my first DADT-1 book for review by a literary agent. I “bought” my first domain in March 1996 and put one file on it, a synopsis of my intended book (which at the time I had called “A Gay Conservative’s Opus”).  I think the company was in the Owens Valley in California, around China Lake.  It was fairly expensive.

AOL first offered the ability of users to post images on “hometown AOL” in early 1996.  For a long time, you could have only one text file.  In October 1996 (the first Sunday, as I recall), it added the ability to FTP individual files in a website structure (under “members.aol.com/youraccountname”).


In August, 1997, shortly after I officially “published” my first DADT book on July 11, I purchased a domain hosting account for $100 a year from a small company, “virtualnetspace” operated by a coworker. I used WS-FTP to upload files to it. It worked over a reasonable phone connection (I think it was already 56K).  I used the site to update my book’s content with “footnote files” before, around the end of 1997, I started venturing into independent essays. Because I was concerned about the stability of hosting, I kept a mirror of everything on the Hometown AOL account. 
I think it’s pretty clear, that none of this would have existed, probably, had Section 230 not been passed in early 1996.

Google found my material quickly, and that is how I sold a number of books myself, and, moreover, was able to influence the debate disproportionately on gays in the military, the “don’t ask don’t tell” issues.  Without the web and the ability to post content without someone else’s approval, I could have had very little or no impact on the debate with my own narrative.

Instead, I could even say that, without Section 230, we probably would not have gotten a repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2011.  And HRC and Lambda Legal would have much bigger (and more bitter) things to fight in the military than Trump’s transgender “ban”.

Consider also the history of blogging platforms.  Blogger, on which this post is published, started in 1999, and was sold to Google in 2003.  Automattic’s Wordpress, the gold standard today, started in 2005. AOL abandoned Hometown AOL in 2007, but provided conversion tools to Blogger.

Yet, Wikipedia notes  in a reference to an ACLU article, state attorneys general wanted to seriously gut Section 230 in 2013.  Now we have, well, Backpage-FOSTA.

Consider the debate going on in Europe, the “Copyright Directive”, previous post, where some interests (spoke for by Axel Voss) want essentially to shut down user-generated posts without review and approval because it jeopardizes people’s jobs in legacy publishing and newspapers.  It’s really about protectionism.
  
And some activists (mostly on the Left, or some alt-right populists, too) would like to shut this down to force individual speakers to work in more solidarity with their oppressed or neglected intersectional “groups”, or to coerce more people into voluntarism. This pretty much how Chinese “communism” thinks now.

Picture: My visit to a nuclear power plant in Virginia recently, in conjunction with reporting on security for the power grid.  Independent journalism matters, folks. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

EU will hold critical meeting on Copyright Directive (Articles 11 and 13) Sept. 12, and the timeline and probable outcome is quite uncertain



I’ll make this one quick:  The European Union “parliament” (I won’t get into their political processes) will debate Articles 11 (the “link tax”) and Article 13 (mandatory pre-screening for copyright infringement) September 12, 2018 in Brussels.  There are reports that it will vote then but it is not completely clear if that is so, or if debate comes later. Here's the agenda link from the EU itself  (I can’t get this site to connect under https – that alone is interesting and alarming.)
There are various “Chicken Little” posts popping up right now, which I summarized here

But I wanted to draw particular attention to an overlooked blog post by Glyn Moody, the italicized quote in the middle   JURI (apparently Voss) sees the low-cost “competition” with legacy media from blogs and sites like mine as an existential threat to people’s jobs that should not be allowed.  It’s not about piracy or plagiarism – it is simply about “gratuitous” speech as a way of building a reputation.
  
A critical issue if this goes into effect (maybe the start of 2019) is whether if affects posts outside the EU (in the US) hosted by companies that can operate in the EU.  My guess is that hosting companies can segregate their operations by country legally when they have to – because technology companies did that when I was working. 

 This sounds like one of Nicholas Taleb's "Skin in the Game" issues. 

Update: Later today

Moody tells me on Twitter that the final vote should happen in early 2019.  So maybe we have a little more time. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

European science group guarantees open access for its publications by 2020; publishing industry cries Chicken Little



Jack Andraka, who should be back soon from his Truman scholarship assignment in Sierra Leone, tweeted a story about open access: The European Science Coalition has announced that by 2020, any peer-reviewed paper it publishes must be available to the public without a paywall. 

The Science Foundation story by Martin Enserink is here

The academic publishing community is resisting, however, claiming that publishing with strict peer controls would not be sustainable.

  
Andraka has often said that without open access (effectively through the lab at the University of Maryland) he could not have come up with his pancreatic cancer test.  He also says that it would have been difficult to even propose the project to get his foot in the door to do the project, on his own resources.
  
Picture: By Laura Lartigue - USAID website http://africaphotos.usaid.gov/search_details.cfm?Keyword_ID=321&Country_ID=28&Sector_ID=10&Photo_ID=3805&StartRow=1 [dead link], Public Domain, Link   Sierra Leone had a civil war around the year 2000 which Sebastian Junger wrote about in Vanity Fair. My own mother's caregiver before she passed away had emigrated from Sierra Leone. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Many small businesses lose revenue from Facebook's algorithm changes early this year, in response to foreign meddling problems



The NBC Today show early Monday morning (Labor Day) reported that many small businesses have been hurt by Facebook’s recent changes reducing not only news feeds but also product advertising or literature from outside the circle of friends.  Some small businesses report enormous drops in revenue as a result.  The NBC News story is here

Examples include “Quirky Momma” and “Little Things”.  But I was able to find accounts for both of these this morning with material.

The rules changes discourage small businesses from sharing products or affiliate links from other publishers.  Sites like “Mommy blogs” are expected to share mostly content they create themselves.

This has not affected me, but I don’t depend on my sites for income.  But that raises other ethical questions (maybe community security issues) that I have covered here before.

  
At first, after Facebook’s announcement in February, I didn’t notice that much of a change. But since around the first of June I’ve seen much less content fed to me from news outlets.  They are still there if I look for them.  But, for example, if I want to look at Vox, CNN, Fox, NBC, etc, I just go to those sites myself, and don’t use Facebook.  I personally look at a lot of sites on my own all the time.  Yes, sometimes I look at Breitbart and at “Dangerous” (Milo).  Lately I’ve started looking at Timcast videos.  It keeps changing.  I also buy print media (including some newspapers, especially in small towns when traveling, to see what is happening).  I don't get fooled by a social media feed. 
  
One site that I used to get feeds from all the time that stopped is The Survival Mom.  She’s still out there.
  
I do get posts from organizations (DC Center, GoGayDC, Asylumist).

Tonight, NBC reported from NBC's "war room" to remove foreign fake accounts in advance of the midterm exam elections. Here's a link (May 2018) on becoming a Facebook content monitor, but this is something to look at more closely. 
  

 Facebook is making it clear that it is no longer "comfortable" being viewed by many account holders as a news dissemination service with no intention to socialize. Look at how it encourages pimping of charities. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Blackstone Formulation, due process of law, and utilitarianism



Here’s an important Timcast video today, “We must give everything to protect the falsely accused”
  .
  
Tim Pool discusses Blackstone’s Formulation  of this idea.  He takes up the #MeToo expansion and asks if it better that 1 innocent person go to prison to keep 10 guilty people in jail and therefore (according to utilitarianism) prevent more victims.

Authoritarian leaders tend to prefer to punish the innocent to ensnare more of the guilty, and often use extrajudicial operations. Pool points out Ezra Klein’s position (Klein helped found Vox media) that sexual harassment doesn’t have easy solutions.

My own feeling is that there indeed some moral ambiguity when a person’s gratuitous activities increase the likelihood of his being targeted and causing others connected to him to be targeted.  I’ve talked about this on my “Notes” blog for my book (such as here) .  So I could raise the idea "Payback's a bitch" (quote from the soap "Days of our Lives") and even ask Timcast if he thinks retrial defendants (like on Dateline) should take Alford pleas. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

I post an article on electric power grids' security on Medium, asking mainstream media to take this problem more seriously



Today I have posted my first article on Medium, “Mainstream media needs to take electric grid security seriously; its peril is more immediate than climate change”, link here

Medium is a low-cost member subscription platform, which in practice reaches a pretty wide audience on trendy topics.  The overall political slant seems to be generally “neoliberal”, although there are some writers advocating socialism (like Umair Haque, whose moral vision is certainly interesting and controversial).

I am starting to experiment a bit with other platforms, as a way to gain more traction and “credibility”.  This seems to be a good idea given the political climate regarding the role of user generated content on Web and on social media.

I expect to put a version of this article on my Wordpress news blog next week, possibly after an interview that I expect to have Tuesday with a cybersecurity expert.

I have posted links to it on Facebook and Twitter, and may promote it next week on my formal Facebook page (which is different from the account). I expect to talk to some media outlets about this issue directly in the coming weeks.
  
Let’s get back to the topic:  the mainstream media is not adequately covering the existential threats to out way of life that asymmetric enemy “Black Swan” attacks on the grid (especially from those like North Korea who could decide they have “nothing to lose”).  Fox (“conservative’) is still paying a lot more attention to this problem than is CNN, and Vox is somewhat ambivalent.  Huffington, however, has started to cover it.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ninth Circuit says hosts are usually not responsible for guests' use of their Internet connections unless they "know"; Trump's threat to regulate search engines and social media



In early 2017, when I was considering hosting (asylum seekers) I looked into the liability questions if a host supplying an Internet connection could liable, particularly on a guest account, for a guest’s copyright infringement in an illegal download.

Apparently the Ninth Circuit thinks, no, and this is reassuring.  That is, if the Internet connection has lawful uses and the host has no reason to suspect illegal downloads will happen.

EFF tweeted the result today, here in a case Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzalez, where the defendant offered an adult foster care home in Oregon. The text of the court opinion is here

The case would seem to have application, perhaps, with Airbnb rentals.

Of course, this is only one circuit.  The opinion is not technically binding in other circuits, but would probably provide good psychological cover.

Holding hosts responsible for guest behavior would hamper goodwill and charity in many situations, including helping some immigrants.  The last paragraph of Part II of the Opinion outlines the court’s reasoning.  Were this to go to the Supreme Court (after a future conflicting opinion in another circuit) there could be questions as to whether is moral reasoning, or whether there is something more literal in tort law, contracts, or previous opinions that serves as some sort of guide (Gorsuch-type thinking).
It looks like defendants had to pay attorney’s fees.



On another matter there is a question about Donald Trump’s silly threat to “regulate” Google over unfavorable results from search engines emphasizing “fake news”.  Of course, this is rubbish.  Google’s axioms for search engine placement have long been changeable and not quite transparent. But generally Google today will favor mainstream publications as sources of material when possible, and more “mainstream” publications are center to liberal than conservative; and furthermore Trump’s brand of conservatism really is, numerically speaking, a small portion of the material.  Google does not consider political ideology in ranking results, but what you get is a statistical expectation.


When I first started writing on the web under Web 1.0 in the late 90s, I ranked high in search engines because I didn’t have as much competition, and because my sites were simple (plain html, without databases) to index, according to the technology of the time. Of course, my material doesn’t rank as well now as it once did, but I am also not as dependent just on Google searches to be found.
  
Trump’s statements are a little alarming for another reason.  Back in December 2015, in pre-primary debate, Trump threatened to “shut down the Internet” if necessary for national security.  Consider that remark now.  Also consider Trump’s own use of Twitter.  The Dec. 8 2015 posting here reports that threat in terms of cutting down recruiting of potential terrorists. Trump, at the time, had little experience in using personal computers and didn’t trust them.

Update: Aug 30

Paula Bolyard writes in the Washington Post (paywall, p. A15 Aug. 30) "Trump cited my Google study but I oppose regulation".  She does criticize the social media company is in some cases.  Why did YouTube restrict access to some Prager U videos on some troublesome questions? (story).  She recommends readers take the initiative to visit sites on their own, and donate, subscribe, or enable ads for these sites to enable their writers to make a living so these sites can stay up.  OK, some independent bloggers (myself) don't need the income to stay up, but they may need to be allowed to stay up in the current political climate if self-funded (which is ironic). 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

John McCain: "a cause ... that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone"



Let’s take a moment to contemplate one of John McCain’s inevitable epigrams, listed here

“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”

Well, by definition, anything defined by my existence alone that did not reach others, that others did not hear, would be worthless.  That’s like saying you can’t see the rest of the universe if it moves away too fast (expands faster than the speed of light).  The marketplace gives some hint to this.  If others don’t pay for your content (at least indirectly through ads) you have to wonder if you meet anyone’s needs.

But does these needs have to be up close and personal?  Is music alone a "cause"?


McCain stayed with things in the Vietnam war because he thought it was absolutely catastrophic for the country to lose the war (“as a road game”) even if it had not been correct to get into it at first.  He felt similarly about George W. Bush going into Iraq (to eliminate Saddam Hussein).

I do remember that in December 2010 he asked tough questions on removing “don’t ask don’t tell” from the military, before the final bill to repeal – because he did come from old school values about unit cohesion, which had gradually evolved with younger generations. He also came around to supporting the service of properly qualified transgender members.
  
There is an ethical problem – of responding to people when the goals you have been pursuing as chosen by “you” no longer seem acceptable to others or to meet their more pressing needs.  It is very important to me to follow my own mission, to pursue goals I have set for myself.  But to some extent, the appropriateness of goals depends on the outside world and sometimes ideas that were acceptable and even favored no longer are as permissible.  We see the world moving away from valuing individually crafted speech and favoring action, even joining up, even breaking down social barriers of propriety, as the results of inequality, and the vulnerabilities inequality leaves, even when viewed at the group (or intersectional) level becomes more pressing. This is somewhat the “skin in the game” problem of Nicholas Taleb.  It is very difficult for me to accept, if coerced to do so, the “lifting up” personally of someone whom I would have disapproved in the past.  Yet that is a benefit I have accepted from others in the past.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Google and Facebook terminate bot-like accounts from Iran (and more from Russia) for meddling with public opinion



Both Google and Facebook have just more terminated bot-like accounts associated with Iran and Russia recently.

CNBC reports that Google terminated a small number of YouTube accounts, Google+ accounts, and even Blogger accounts (at least six of them) associated with “politically motivated phishing”, and apparently connected to the Islamic Republic of Iran broadcasting.  It’s not clear how a blog would phish, but in the past (especially about ten years ago) if was common for spam blogs to be removed.  YouTube and Google+ content can be curated and directed toward users by algorithms; blog content generally cannot.   We’re familiar with spam in email; but repeated bot postings directed at a user by algorithms would function very much like spam. Indeed, many of the sites offered might have malware.

Facebook reportedly took down 652 accounts and pages associated with Russia and Iran  (Guardian).
  
Jessica Guynn has a more detailed and illustrated story on USA Today on how Iran tried to manipulate the more vulnerable visitors on the Left as well as the alt-Right.  Claiming “an immigrant took my job” in a photo – is that something on the Left or the alt-Right?   They are pretty much the same.


Still, at this late time (less than 90 days until the midterm elections), we are left wondering now, two years after the 2016 elections, social media users would be so vulnerable to propaganda and manipulation and obviously questionable claims.  Don’t visitors and voters have some moral responsibility for how they consume news sources?   Ask David Hogg.

I’ve never completely bought the theory that Russian social media manipulation threw the 2016 elections.  They may have matter more in the Republican primaries; still the zombie-like chants at Trump rallies sounded like scenes out of dystopisan Hollywood movies.  Even on Nov. 7, they were chanting “Lock her up!” 
  
Unfortunately, the only usable YouTube video on this story came from Russia Today – which really “isn’t that bad”.  

Sunday, August 26, 2018

New charity in Baltimore takes personalization of volunteering (especially mentoring) to a new level ("The Thread")



I haven’t seen an op-ed by David Brooks in August, but a late July piece in the New York Times, “Where American Renewal Begins”, certainly looks personally challenging. 

The piece describes an organization started in Baltimore by a biomedical graduate student, Sarah Hemminger.  It is called “The Thread”.   It seems to be affiliated now with AmeriCorps.
  
The group organizes volunteers as personal mentors to at risk high school students. 

It’s hard to tell from a cursory look at the site if it is present outside of Baltimore, in other cities. The site says that a volunteer should meet with a student at least once a week. But the article mentions the idea of “Head of Family” which suggests that the personal engagement is much greater than that. 


This is pretty heavy stuff, given my own history, for example, when I worked as a substitute teacher (2004-2007) in northern Virginia.  Generally, I am aloof with respect to seeking relations and see “playing family” as particularly challenging.

But there are provisions in my own trust, which I won’t get into here right now, that could lead me to become more involved in something like this. (For example, I don't know if any beneficiary organizations have ever considered starting something like this; but the "head of family" reminds me of Save the Children's idea of "sponsorship".)  But I need to finish the work I am engaged in first and see it through (the novel, screenwriting, and music projects I have discussed here under “strategic planning”). Yet, I can imagine a world where I (childless) have to demonstrate community engagement in a personal level to even be allowed to keep my own voice up.

Friday, August 24, 2018

FOSTA has marginalized sex workers by denying them any right to get help online in escaping from predators; was this what the "right" wanted?



Victoria Law has an important article today in Truthout about the effect FOSTA is having on sex workers, with the title “Anti-trafficking laws are hurting, not helping, but sex workers are fighting back”, here. 

That’s because any reasonable interpretation of FOSTA seems to imply that a website’s accepting an ads or announcements related to sex work breaks the law. Woddhull’s litigation (still open) certainly makes that point.  The article starts with an account of how it was no longer lawful for a women’s group in Sacramento to advertise a safe house for abused sex workers, because doing so would amount to promoting prostitution (by some invocations of logic).

The law is seen by many as more a way to “crack down” on prostitution (not just trafficking) by driving sex workers to the margins and forcing them to depend on the underworld, just as with the case of criminalizing marijuana (or, in the past, gay sex with sodomy laws).  The law is doing very little to stop the actual hiring or people for sex work against their will.  The news stories even report underground fundraisers. 
  
  
In some cities, there is an issue as to whether condoms can be used as evidence of prostitution. 
  ‘
A law which purported at first to curtail the obvious subterfuge of Backpage (which was shut down anyway before the law was signed) has had ramifications of shutting down lawful Internet hookups.
  
Woodhull’s latest supplemental brief is here
  
The video above is from Subverse, which has some large videos from Tim Pool.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Why conventional activists dislike independent journalists, to the point of wanting to close "us" all down


On Monday, I discussed a video by Tim Pool on the problems of local journalism, and on how activists seem to be trying to make a “hostile takeover” of independent journalist activity.
  
Before moving on, I want also to share a video where Tim interviews Ford Fischer, from News2share, a small online newspaper started a few years ago by some American University students in Washington DC. (Why isn’t it https?)  It does appear as though the service focuses on political demonstrations from the more extreme factions on both the Left and Right.


In this video (made Aug 14) Tim interviews Ford on Facebook’s taking down his live stream of the abortive “United the Right 2” on Aug. 12, and this event did not amount to much. I’ll let the viewer watch the video for explanations, but I want to move on to the main point of this post.

Recall that in the Monday video, Tim had described the practice of “mission driven” reporting, where reporters seem to be trying to get viewers to support a particular cause, or to volunteer to provide service to those in some specific need, or (often) a combination of both.  (I’ll add that piecemeal service experiences don’t work for me unless I am dedicated to “the cause”, but that gets out of bounds here.)

This leaves me with the basic question:  Who gets to call him/herself an independent journalist or citizen journalist and function as such?  Electronic Frontier Foundation has said, anyone.  In the earlier days of the Internet, it seemed as though citizen journalists were adding much nuance to debate and keeping politicians and major media honest.  Overseas, they were helping foment uprisings, like the Arab Spring. But since about 2012 interests of those in power have encroached on this and perverted it, leading to the enormous political meddling on social media by foreign interests, especially before the 2016 election.  As Tim’s broadcast Monday showed, it is harder for guild and established professionals in legacy media to make a living today, not so much because of piracy (SOPA, 2011) but partly because of amateur media produced practically for free and channeled into social media, competing with legacy. Actor/writer Reid Ewing had hinted at this problem back in 2012 with his own short films based on the idea “It’s Free”.  

At this point, it’s important to note that Tim Pool does say he makes a living with Timcast, and he does ask for a small subscription donation. I do donate to Patreon (small) and I can’t comment further right now on how it works. Ford Fischer’s video today also discusses issues with YouTube monetization, which implies that revenue from his work does matter.

My own “business model” however is different.  Most of my material is free (except the printed and Kindle/Nook books) and advertising revenue (Adsense, Amazon associates) is very small and not critical to my operation.  I am “retired” from information technology and can support the work with accumulated savings, some of it inherited. (Some of the inheritance remains in trusts, so there are legal limits on how I can use that part of it.)  I don’t have impressive numbers or sales, but on a few occasions I am pretty sure I have had a disproportionate impact on public policy for just one person. 

 OK, that sounds “wrong”;  nobody voted for me;  I didn’t run a for office a conventional way.
      
I got into this whole activity, as a second career, in the late 1990s with my first book (“Do Ask Do Tell I”) motivated by the gays in the military debate and my relation to it given my own autobiography. The first printing of the book in 1997 did sell reasonably well, but in time I got attention mainly by putting the book, along with many notes, online and getting, over time, some hundreds of thousands of visitors from search engines, with almost no marketing effort on my own. Yet, the world of conventional activism would see me as a "watcher" or "spectator" (the villain in the Netflix film "Rebirth"), definitely not to be admitted to Burning Man in Nevada. 


My normal IT work career ended at age 58 at the end of 2001 (after 9/11); although I did sub-teaching and debt collection and other odd jobs, my career settled into blogging – but about almost everything on policy.

The military ban (and don’t ask don’t tell policy) was an unusual issue in that formed a kernel around which to encase most other public policy issues involving the tension between individualism and socialization. That’s practically everything, especially free speech and First Amendment issues, but also getting to race and also to immigration and gun control.  For example, I became a plaintiff against COPA, under EFF sponsorship.

One problem is that my style of work, developed with flat sites dependent on search engines before modern social media (esp. Facebook) took hold, made me very public and in time precluded me from working for anyone else.  How could I credibly court people to sell them financial products (following my own IT career)?  How could I credibly have direct reports in the workplace if people could find my writings easily and develop the idea I could have “discriminatory” views of some subordinates?

I’ve written about all this in great detail before.  But what I want to focus on now is that the respect for the value of free self-distributed speech, which had evolved quickly in the late 1990s with the WWW and which we had come to take for granted (that is partly what the 2006 COPA trial was about) has deteriorated gradually since about 2012, especially in 2016 with the Trump campaign, election and presidency.

One of the basic concerns about a model like mine is asymmetry.  I don’t seem to have much personal skin in the game (although in the past I did). Actually, when it started, it probably came across as Timcast’s idea of  “mission driven” (ending the military ban, which was more than just DADT). But I was unusual in that I would present “both sides” with some thoroughness, and I never tried to urge readers to “take action”.  I was willing to discuss the “barracks privacy” and “unit cohesion” arguments, for example; these are largely forgotten today but held considerable sway in the Clinton years.  9/11 would cause many more nuances to develop in the issue.
  
But today an activist, particularly on the Left, would see me as just meddling.  I would bring up arguments that activists see as already settled;  my mentioning them would only have the bad effect of encouraging others to resurrect them.  Conventional activism, especially intersectionality, was taking on tribalism and solidarity, requiring a collective combativeness to protect others in the group. 

While my own speech did not usually get fed into echo chambers by algorithms, it probably would be viewed as part of the same problem:  gratuitous speech (“I told you so”) which gives the speaker the psychological luxury of feeling better than the “losers” who had turned to tribalism. Why won’t you wear shorts in public, Bill?

In today’s environment, when combined with other problems (especially FOSTA and other erosions of Section 230), platforms might see speech like mine as attracting unpredictable risk and therefore unwelcome.  The Ford Fischer video emphasized the fact that it is just very low cost competition, maybe driving people out of jobs.

One idea that could contain the risk is to require that all websites (and “professional” social media pages) be self-supporting by normal standards of accounting  (unless belonging to companies or organizations somehow registered, which then have to give their own accounting), carry media insurance, and offer multiple contact points.  I don’t think it requires too much imagination, however, to realize that this would lead to a system much more like China’s. It would also be much smaller in the number of jobs offered, at least as American industry is set up now.  But that leads to the whole discussion of trade, tariffs, and business models that Trump has made so much noise about.

You can imagine a similar idea with the self-published book POD industry, where books (might) have to actually sell a certain volume or be taken down.  True, many self-published (especially "vanity")  authors don’t need to make money on what they publish, but the argument is, this is bad for the reputation of the industry and for authors that do need to make a living just from writing.  It almost sounds like a variation on the vaccination denial problem.

But it is useful, at least as a “dangerous” (following Milo Yiannopoulos’s trademarked vocabulary) thought experiment, to imagine what such a regime would require of someone like me.  

Remember, until the late 1990s we really did not have the capacity for unregulated user generated content to attract attention to one’s own political theories.  Put simply, if you wanted to be heard, you had to join up with others with similar concerns.  Yup, this sounds pretty much like left-wing ideas of solidarity and tribalism.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly claimed “I am your voice” to his base.  And sites like Truth-out repeatedly beg for money and claim only they can speak for me (often in a threatening tone).

Yup, in the world before the Internet, you had to be used to the idea that you had other people’s backs and they had yours, politically, even if many of them did not appeal to you. This could be a big problem when you wanted to argue “personal responsibility” in the context of gay rights and we were coming out of the worst of the AIDS crisis of the 80s. 

One of the ideas that kept shifting underneath conservative social values was that the way people accept risks or pass on them and let others take them on, itself has moral significance. That is somewhat the heart of Nicholas Taleb’s “Skin in the Game” book and argument. It certainly was a big factor in the way we thought about the draft.  Risk sharing was more clearcut in a world where gender was binary and valued as such. That whole way of thinking gets wiped away, however, in a world where everything having to do with gender has to be “fluid”, and to say otherwise is “hate speech”.  See how “The Left” especially wants to take a lot of things off the table and force people to be organized into their structures.  But the alt-right wants to do the same thing, with a different set of parameters and players.

One of the “benefits” for some people of rigid social systems (with enforced "rightsizing", maybe even leading to Chins's planned social credit scores) is that it is easier to get off on them in building one’s own relationships.  There is a tendency toward upward affiliation socially, and an insistence that one not ever have to look at the lepers, the untouchables, those left behind. What seems like personal freedom in such a structured world becomes a personal fascism and can invite political fascism (as opposed to pure socialism or communism).

The only good antidote to this, in a world where some freedom of speech dissemination has been taken away, is to be more open to personal interaction to those one would have tried to avoid in the past.  “Better Angels” as an organization seems to be saying this, but it goes beyond just the association of people with different political outlooks;  it gets to real need.

Such personal action comports with social capital, and that usually starts with the family.  But the Left is insisting this does not go far enough, because it won’t recognize the cumulative effects that various intersectional groups experience as collective oppression by the power structure, or established system, against groups it has historically and systematically oppressed. But this insistence on the Left to put everything back on the system takes the personal and social aspect out of it, and defeats the Left’s real intention of establishing social solidarity, which is supposed to replace the freewheeling speech (often gratuitous and by implication, hateful or at least critical) today. 

Modern social media, to its credit, is trying to address this issue by directly encouraging members (especially within Facebook) to interact with others in ways that might have been unwelcome in the past.  For example, I prefer to keep most of my charitable giving private and out of social media, and try to avoid the appearance to taking sides or playing favorites, or even “joining up”.  But that is exactly what Facebook now is trying to get me to do, quite publicly.  There is a theory that mass activism campaigns through personal contact (email lists, phone calls, door-to-door, "Take Action" buttons even on narrow issues) have gotten a bad reputation (spam, robocalls) because so many people now have gotten out of having to do things this way, leaving everyone else weaker.  

Of course, then the end result, is that it needs to be more acceptable again to have other people’s backs and let them have yours if you take a chance and something goes wrong (skin in the game, again).
  
I personally like the idea of winning the arguments, rather than mindlessly pimping a group’s line to win converts.  But the rapidly devolving social climate, away from individual expression, may well force me to accept a lot of social connections and barrier shedding just, as in John Travolta’s 1983 movie, to stay alive.