Sunday, October 14, 2018

ProPublica watches Big Tech and may be increasing the pressure to purge extremist content

Fast Company has a major article by Katharine on  “How ProPublica Became Big Tech’s Scariest Watchdog”.  The explanation of ProPublica’s work  (as led by Julia Angwin) with bots makes for some challenging reading.

It starts out by calling Facebook a “political battleground”. 

Here’s a random story on ProPublica’s findings.

I’ll cut to the chase. There is no reasonable way with algorithms to identify “hate speech” with all possible protected groups, because the definitions of the groups are too controversial and too malleable.  Outside of the N word, maybe.  Even the F or Q words get used, for example, by gay writers in satire or to make ironic political points.

It might be easier to scan posts in some heavily inflected foreign languages, where endings actually pin down meaning outside of context.  For example, in French, from subjunctive mood, it is much easier for an algorithm to identify writing that examines a supposition rather than claiming a fact – than it is in English, where context is all you have.
ProPublica, remember, augmented the public outrage of family separations at the border with its reporting. But it is still necessary to get all the hard facts on everything that is going on, and what the other risks are, before screaming about the emotional impact of what is happening and making uncompromising demands.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Tribal culture is rapidly undermining free speech in the US

Reason offers an important piece by Matt Welch from the November 2018 issue, (tribal) “Partisans united against free speech” with the byline “The culture of free speech has been deteriorating for long enough that politics, sadly, is catching up.”  Tribal partisans on both the right and left erode it, especially the left.

Reason notes some pro free speech rulings by the Supreme Court, with the retired Anthony Kennedy as among its most ardent supporters.  In particular, SCOTUS has ruled against “compelled” speech as with public union “dues” being applied to collective political activism.

That’s an important clue to the problem   The Left sees activism in terms of group oppression (lately, especially with respect to race, but sometimes even with issues like gender fluidity) and needs to amass loyalty among its troops when it comes to raising money, stomping for favorable candidates, and advocacy for less appealing “victims” in our increasingly unequal world. Their style of activism gets compromised when there are too many “moderate to libertarian” pundits like me insisting on “personal responsibility” more connected to individualism.  The effect of the highly individualized speech by libertarian-leaning bloggers, vloggers, and citizen or “independent” journalists is to make activism supporting the truly disadvantaged or more obviously needy much more difficult.  (Example: it’s harder to get support for transgender in the military than for cis-conforming gays in the military.)

Reason goes on to note some damaging legislation (FOSTA, applied even retroactively) and hidden anti-trust actions against media companies (especially Sinclair). It also says that now “voters want to see speech suppressed” as the more collectivist-thinking groups are willing to become increasingly combative and dox speakers whose output is seem to attract jeopardy to their disadvantaged or oppressed groups.
“Independent” journalists (especially if they don’t actually make a living off it) may have moral questions:  why are they so offended by being asked to give up their right to cherry-pick their own causes?  Why are they so put off by volunteerism or joining in with others in group demonstrations? (EI’s video is interesting and it makes you realize that what makes sense for the individual can be devastating to groups representing people in need). 

Yet one problem that far Left misses is that it sabotages its own moral arguments, on how better-off people should behave, when it makes everything about race and even symbolism of oppression like Civil War monuments.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Tim Pool offers a good explanation of what really happened with Facebook Purge 3.0

Tim Pool ("Timcast") has a good explanation of what drove the sudden Facebook Purge 3.0 Thursday.

Pool thinks that a lot of the accounts used the Facebook multiple admin system improperly. He gives the example of Rachel Blevins.  If you allow other admins on your page and they break the rules, then you get banned to.  It is similar in concept to “link farming” in blogging (previous post).  An irony is that Facebook encourages the use of multiple admin privileges on a page, and I was told that when my attempt to boost a "political" non-commercial post on a page was turned down because I couldn't be identified by their third party advertisers (see my Sept. 18 post). 

He also thinks that Facebook shares information with Twitter on some of its account closures, because Twitter says it will close accounts for some off-platform behavior (as last December).
He doesn’t think Facebook and Twitter are being “ideological” but they may be trying to weed out the extremes about what can be discussed in public on their platforms before the elections.  I would worry about not only the content per se, but a filter on "who" should be allowed to speak, based on ideas like "skin in the game" or "community engagement" or rejection of "privilege". 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Facebook removes domestic spam disinformation pages; some of the deletions appear questionable and Twitter may have coordinate some of them

Sheera Frenkel has another story about disinformation campaigns, now run from within the US, which makes it much harder for Facebook to verify “identity”.  The link is here

There is an example of “Right Wing News” and stories about Chrstine Blasey Ford. (Let me share a good article on Ford's testimony on Arc Digital by Cathy Young, here.)
There were “left wing” pages too, like “The Resistance”, which got removed.  There is some discussion of “Reverb Press” which doesn’t look that fake, just silly.

The pages were set up to generate quick clickbait.

Earlier, on Aug. 14, the NYT had run a story on rallies and protests that actually were inspired by “Black Elevation”.
The AP and Washington Post report that Facebook removed over 800 “spam” pages today. 
The desire to use advertising agencies to verify identity for post promotions or boosts becomes more understandable.  It is much less likely (ironically) that a commercial account regularly selling real products or services and funded by actual business income could be fake. 
Ford Fischer of News2Share tweeted that the Anti-Media's Page was removed by both Facebook and Twitter within a short time. The Daily Haze has a more detailed story on Facebook's "The Purge II" today (like Universal's movies) as an attack on "independent media" and considers in the detail The Free Thought Project.  The content looks reasonable to me, typical of free speech sites (especially "conservative" or libertarian).  There is graphic information on years of work wiped out.  I cannot personally assess Facebook's claims of TOS violations from the facts I see. SputnikNews interviewed many of those deleted (story).   The Twitter blacklistings (for example Carey Wedler) without no explanation seem very disturbing. 

 The last part of the Twitter Rules do name some behaviors that are often engaged in (for example, many tweets with only links) but that (may contrary to intuition) result in suspension. The link tweets are troubling because many sites encourage them with Twitter icons. Twitter, last December, suspended some people merely for evidence of membership in white supremacist or possibly other violent groups. 

 Later in the evening, I found some more level-headed explanations of Facebook's intentions with US accounts, as on Gizmodo.  One concept is similar to link farming among blogs or sites belonging to the same entity. 

Monday, October 08, 2018

Facebook page boosts appear to require business accounts, from what I can determine so far

I’ve looked further into the issue of how to get my Facebook post regarding my Medium essay on the power grid “boosted” (Sept. 22).
I tried to contact FB through the help pages and got caught in an endless loop of automated replies.  In general, it seems as though the identity verification step is failing because of what Facebook means by “identity” – that is, commercial “identity” or continuous source of funding.  Blunty, even if "you" are in the U.S. as a citizen or otherwise legally, they need to make sure you don't have enemy foreign funding. 
The upshot seems to be that I would need to establish a Facebook business account and then reclassify my account page (not the friending account) as business.  That would allow other persons to act as page admins or as account advertisers.  Conversely, that would allow me to act in such a role on other people’s pages.
I’ve already provided some details on a Wordpress blog; look at the comment made Oct. 5 to this posting. 
The business account should apparently be active in real commerce, use its own email account (as from a hosting provider on its own server, and not gmail or AOL) and be able to process real transactions (like credit or debit cards under PGP or through PayPal).  It could be a non-profit that asks for donations or it could ask for crowd-funding, or it could get income from ads in a conventional way.
But it appears from what I see that Facebook will not boost a “journalistic” post unless from a company or group that actually sells (not gives away) news to the public in customary ways.  But this might, for example, include sufficiently credible commercial YouTube channels.
But a Facebook user could consider asking other companies to be authorized on his page once he/she has a Business account, or could reciprocate and ask other companies to boost a post on their pages.

The idea is that page boosting is primarily for commerce. There is an element of Taleb's "skin in the game" and promotion of risk symmetry in this idea.   For example, a company selling Faraday bags could logically want  boost my post (although I didn’t find any such pages yesterday when I looked quickly).  Even though this is not “journalism”, there is nothing wrong with a for-profit company selling a service or product from writing a detailed article on a scientific or political topic and take on a tone of some objectivity and present and respond to other viewpoints.
The FB rules for boosts do not affect non-boosted posts on either pages or regular accounts. But the motivation behind them is troubling. It seems to reinforce a belief that self-published issue-oriented or "political" content (provocateurship) needs to be regulated by showing the ability to attract diverse support and not just one's own accumulated savings (and ironically that's because self-publishing doesn't cost much.) 
 This FB practice would seem to comport with a theory, explored Sunday Oct. 7 on the "Issues" blog, that a "political" or issues oriented" page is really a kind of non-connected PAC.
I will not have a setup to sell items in large quantities myself from a website until the novel ("Angel's Brother") is ready for publication some time in mid 2019.  

Sunday, October 07, 2018

"SOLID" offers users a decentralized web experience with their PII completely under their control

Tim Berners-Lee has announced plans in detail for offering users a new decentralized way to interact with the Web, from cloud-controlled “pods” that they control that contain all of their PII.  These pods then connect to various apps, including social media sites as we know them now, as well as ride-sharing, news downloads, weather, all kinds of things.

The best article describing this facility, called SOLID, is at “Private Internet Access”, here
SOLID, or "social linked data", is currently hosted at MIT in Cambridge, MA.   There is a start-up called Inrupt, which will administer the open source. 
Conventional access to Web 1.0 sites from the pods probably would not be affected.  But the project certainly reflects a generation of users who are more interested  in direct communications with others than in raw content. And it's hard to see how the business models of current social media giants could continue to work the way they do now. 

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Not everyone agrees that Facebook should be held responsible for the illiteracy of many of its users (and vulnerability to "the Russians")

Tyler Cowen on Bloomberg has a somewhat dated (Nov. 2017) perspective on Facebook’s vulnerability to foreign manipulation: “Would you blame the phone for Russian interference?” The tagline is “No?  Then why is Facebook under such pressure from Congress?

Well, Facebook does make its money from algorithmically channeling content to users matched up with advertisers.  So it sounds reasonable that Facebook should take some responsibility for knowing the authenticity of the source of the content.

In fact, Facebook’s long-standing policy of “real names” for accounts would seem to have been intended to prevent this sort of thing, but it did not. In that context, the Cambridge mess is particularly shocking.

Thomas Frank of the Guardian has maintained that Facebook’s problems castigate liberals as much as the right. Jessica Guynn of USA Today reports on this FB tool to see if you've been fooled by the Russians, story here

Of course, as we know, Siva Hyanathan’s book “Anti-Social Media” maintains that Facebook’s basic paradigm and business model, as a tool, made exploitation by autocrats almost inevitable.
We’re back also to the question as to whether writers and speakers need to “care” more about their less literate readers as people.  Facebook manipulations did not fool people with well-developed critical thinking skills as individuals (and unfortunately undergraduate colleges are not teaching these as they used to, with all the speech codes, trigger warnings and safe spaces).  The people most vulnerable were indeed the masses, “the people” in a populist sense, those who get their information from social structures around them (mostly families), who depend more on intimacy (it strikes me that Alex Honnold in “Free Solo” presents an ironic “test case” on self-direction vs. relationships with others) and whose lives are more locally centered.
In any case, Facebook, as we have seen from recent draconian changes in its political ad approval process, is suddenly very sensitive to the issue of the gullibility of "ordinary users" and is trying to push more actual personal interaction and actual fund raising rather than just "news propaganda" that doesn't ask its users to do anything (but wait). 

There are a lot of recent reports about how little American millennials understand history that occurred more than a generation ago – and that makes them more prone to collectivism (see American Experiment ).  For example, many don’t understand how the draft affected the Vietnam generation – and don’t want to hear it mentioned today for fear it comes back. 
The young people will win – but only the well informed ones.  David Hogg as his own individual person does have great critical thinking skills, as do his best friends.  Not all his followers do, however.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

EFF, Wired recommend everyone use highly secure messenger apps to deflect spotlight from real activists -- "community hygiene"

Here’s a particularly provocative idea.  Electronic Frontier Foundation today, in a piece by Gennie Gebhart, urges everyone to communicate only with highly secure message apps (with full security, including instant deletion from the Cloud) like WhatsApp and particularly Signal.  In fact, Wired had articulated a similar idea in Nov. 2017 in a piece by Jordan McMahon, recommending only Signal, because WhatsApp owner Facebook has too much invested in collecting user data in its business model (how true that turned out to be early in 2018 with Cambridge, etc). EFF used the idea of “team player”.

There is also the controversy over Telegram.

This is indeed a community hygiene (or "nerd herd immunity") argument that reminds me of the vaccine debate. EFF particularly points out that when “average” users don’t use highly specialized apps for better security in ordinary communications, the activists stand out and are more vulnerable to intrusive government. 

This may well be more true overseas in places like Turkey, Egypt, Singapore, less democratic countries. (China doesn't count.) 

The trouble is you can extend this argument.  Should all users prefer Snapchat to Facebook and delete their posts to cover the activists?

Are the rest of us endangering activists by using gmail, Facebook and Twitter messenger?  (By the way, a lot of high-profile Twitter users don’t enable messenger.)

What about bloggers (like me) who film and write but don’t shout, carry picket signs, or offer to get arrested?  This still sounds more like an old fashioned solidarity argument (vs. “lowballing”).
Why not say that everyone should use TOR, then? 

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

I "contribute" to a couple of org's to encourage them to work together; significant lawsuit, related to FOSTA and CDA230, against Facebook

I am starting to follow up a bit on the issues I raised Sept. 18 with my Facebook “advertorial”.
I’ve made initial donations (relatively modest) to the Center for Democracy and Technology, and to the Cato Institute.  I will probably follow up with small monthly donations from my trust accounts, but those are done privately (I do discuss how I do these a bit on the Wordpress “Notes” blog supporting my books).

There would be the possibility of encouraging one of these groups to run the essay on its page and get the post boosted. 

I already work with Electronic Frontier Foundation and visited EFF while in San Francisco two weeks ago. However EFF mostly deals with actual litigation in progress, or with actual bills already proposed (particularly in Congress, sometimes with states, sometimes overseas as with the EU Copyright Directive issue).  The other two organizations seem to be more “strategic” in nature.
I generally don't join "groups" or promote them "gratuitously", but I am rethinking my "strategy" given the political climate, indeed. 

Also, there is some news relevant to FOSTA.  A woman is suing Facebook for allowing someone to make himself a “friend” and then lure her into sex trafficking when she was 15.  She is represented by the same attorney who is assisting other plaintiffs sue hotel chains.  NBC Washington has the news story here. It is not clear yet from the story whether Facebook would have been protected by Section 230, or whether FOSTA could hold it responsible now (even retroactively, according to the language of the statute) or would do so if the offense occurred today.
It does seem stupid to meet someone who just “friended” you on social media under questionable circumstances.

This could be an important story.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Is Kavanaugh exhibiting denial reinforced by privilege?

Kavanaugh Is Lying: His Upbringing Explains Why”.  So writes Shamus Khan in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post, September 30, 2018. 

Is this about “private law”? About nobility and feudalism?

Is it about Umair Haque’s idea that some people believe they are “born better” than others? 

Is this about brain denial by creating an alternative universe?  
It reminds me of the whole mentality that undergirded student deferments from the military draft during the Vietnam War, and how that played out in my own experience in Special Training Company.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Is web-based social media in decline? Should privileged people keep quiet on things they don't experience?

Here’s a piece by Michael K. Spencer on Medium that is dangerous to your confidence in your future on the web, “2018 Is the End of Social Media as We Know It”.
Perhaps this piece is a bit of a strangelet. Millennials seem to be growing less interested in news content as cynicism about politics increases, and seem to be withdrawing back into their own interactive worlds. They’d rather see video (which is time consuming) than read (even on Medium).  Concepts based on interaction (like Snapchat, with instant delete) than content seem to do better now.  So the not only is the Web 1.0 world getting buried, so is 2.0.

Yet the article doesn’t talk about the existential threats to user generated content as we are used to it:  FOSTA (erosion of Section 230), EU Copyright Directive (if the effects spread beyond the EU), an increased willingness by big media platforms to kick off users and blackball them (post Charlottesville), and, to a lesser extent, loss of net neutrality.

Millennials seem so indifferent to understanding the issues of the relatively recent past.  They think if you deplatform something, the idea will go away and be forgotten.  And they are using feeling, emotion and tribal affiliation a lot more than reason.

Vox, on Friday during the Kavanaugh mess, unleashed a piece by Zack Beauchamp, “Lindsey Graham, Brett Kavanaugh, and the unleashing of white male backlash” with tagline “I’m a single white male from South Carolina and I’m told I should shut up, but I won’t shut up.”  I sent this piece to Tim Pool and his Timcast video on it appeared shortly.

“The White Male Backlash Is Upon Us”:

I was concerned about the part where Beachamp says “white men in positions of privilege don’t have experiences with hostile sexism or racism and should listen to people who have.” Later there is talk of when white men should remain quiet and learn what vulnerability because of membership in an oppressed group means.
Beauchamp also argues that there is no real danger white men will be “silenced”.  But there is an idea that people should not talk about things in which they don’t have “skin in the game”, which would undermine objectivity in a lot of our discussions and lead instead more to reparation.  This could eventually have implications for censorship or silencing of some speakers on the Web.
 Oh, yes, does Lindsey Graham's bachelorhood mean anything more? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Federal judge in Washington DC dismisses lawsuit challenging constitutionality of FOSTA on lack of standing

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a news brief by Karen Gullo and David Green, reports that Judge Leon has dismissed the lawsuit by Woodhull and others to have FOSTA declared unconstitutional.

The judge feels that the plaintiffs do not face a credible threat of prosecution or frivolous litigation.  However, EFF argues that the law has a “chilling effect” and therefore presents First Amendment problems.

This is a developing story and more careful reading of his Opinion will follow.  He places a large emphasis on "mens rea" and the idea that a platform must intend to facilitate the breaking of a specific law against prostitution (or trafficking) in a specific circumstance. 
Woodhull doesn’t seem to have commented yet, but here is an important posting from June on SESTA.

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 hereThis change has surprised many small publishers.

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 “”, 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 “”).

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.