Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Asymmetric "psychological warfare" could change the perspective on Internet user-generated content

So, is asymmetric speech a good thing?
A good part of my strategy for all these years was simply to post it, let the search engines index it, and let people find it.  I covered almost everything, even though my starting point had been the unusual aspects of the “gays in the military” debate in the early and mid 1990s.  This a way of “keeping ‘em honest” – the professional lobbyists and “organizations”. 

I’m generally reluctant to find too much purpose in belonging to single-cause organizations, because they can’t (by definition) be objective.  Of course, that sounds like I’m saying I’m “above” the indignity of walking in a picket line.  I know the line – if I had kids…    My own worst hour of need from the political system came in the 1980s, when AIDS created a personal political threat, more than a medical one (as I didn’t get infected).  I was a joiner then, to an extent.  By even then, with my pre-Internet letter writing campaign on an old Okidata printer and Radio Shack or ATT 6300 in a Dallas garden apartment or condo, I insisted on exploring all the public health arguments as they could be understood at the time.
But over time, some of the quirky aspects of my thinking could come through, like, how I perceived certain aspects of other people.  That had been an issue earlier in my life, as  when living in a dorm (William and Mary) and then as an “inpatient” at NIH (1962), where my ideas could be viewed as making others less confident in their own ability to start families later.  This was particularly true of my movie reviews, and Urchin or Analytics reports would show that people were catching on and searching for them. 
The biggest breakpoint came in 2005, with the major flap over my short film screenplay “The Sub”, while I was working as a substitute teacher (July 27, 2007 here).   Suddenly, my intentions seemed to be flipped on their heads.  Why would someone in charge of kids even suggest online that he could be “tempted”?  On the other hand, I could say, my screenplay (even if the protagonist resembled me) warns teachers of what can happen if they’re not wary.  I could also say that as a sub, I wasn’t paid enough for such an assumption of how I fit in to a social hierarchy as a role model in someone’s world. I’ve called this problem “implicit content”, which actually got mentioned at the COPA trial in Philadelphia in 2007.
As I noted yesterday, the biggest societal risk from low-volume (and non-commercial) but broad-based individual searchable speech may be attracting the rare bad actor.  A quirky idea can be defended as just a “fantasy” (as in the New York cop case, March 21, 2015).  But the speech could be viewed as “useless” and likely eventually to have the effect of attracting lone wolf who really will act out on hostile fantasies.
We see that idea now playing out in discussions on how ISIS recruits through social media accounts (especially Twitter) that reach thousands of possible visitors.  But search engines don’t come into play;  instead visitors are directed to “dark web” site are not indexed, and that have all kinds of violent propaganda that would normally violate TOS.  The idea is that the tiny fraction who do act when finding such material can mount what amounts to asymmetric warfare.  So this sounds like a “do no good” argument, but it also throws a different spin on how we might interpret free speech rights.  Normally, in an individualistic legal culture, you can say what you want, and if some other psychopath does something because of being inspired by something he finds online (even that “you” wrote), he alone is held responsible by the criminal justice system.  But if this asymmetric technique is actually crafted into a way to wage war, even psychological warfare, that could change how the original speaker and his output is viewed.

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