Monday, December 22, 2014

NYC police tragedy recalls debate on automated trolling of social media

Again, the violence in Brooklyn, NY this past weekend is stimulating debate as to whether content service providers (like Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, Blogger, YouTube, even conventional web hosts) should be expected to troll user-generated content for threats. 
It’s not so unlike debating the Section 230 issue, because we couldn’t have the world of UDC today (and the self-promotion that comes with it sometimes) without downstream liability immunity for providers, and there is a parallel issue with the DMCA Safe Harbor for copyright.
It also reminds one of the Elonis and Justin Carter cases that I discussed here Dec. 1 (Elonis is now before the Supreme Court).  When is an angry metaphor a real threat? 
Nevertheless, we know that service providers actually have done some automated screening.  

YouTube can screen for some kinds of copyright infringement, looking for watermarks.  Likewise, YouTube and Gmail can scan for digital marks for known images of child pornography, as identified by the NCMEC in Alexandria.  And almost all email providers scan for spam, although it is a fuzzy process, and actual whole blogs or sites (and submitted comments for moderation) are auto-scanned for spam or “link farming”, again a bit unreliable.  So it sounds plausible that some providers could scan for some keyword combinations. 
The “screening” issue has surfaced with “demands” that Sony remove all trailers and materials for “The Interview” from the Internet.  I just checked (6 PM Monday), a corporate trailer is still there .  
No, I won’t embed it because it might disappear.  But imagine (as I discussed Dec. 19) if service providers were “blackmailed” into removing all USG that discussed a particular country or dictator or extremist group, or even a particular user because he or she had somehow insulted a group.  The only real protection against going down this route is much more reliable security in the first place.  Giving in to pressure is an admission you don’t have good security. I do think that Silicon Valley companies are much better prepared in this area than Sony “was”. 

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