Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Major news sites report passage of FOSTA but differ in how they cover the Section 230 undermining



Major stories on the passage of HR 1865 have appeared in at least three major sources:  The Washington Post (by Tom Jackman), The Wall Street Journal (John D. McKinnon), and Ars Technica (Timothy B Lee).  I couldn't find it in the NYTimes, or in the printed WSJ today. 

How much of a problem this can create for sites other than “bad actor” advertising sites is far from clear.  Social media sites would seem to be more exposed than, say, web hosts or telecoms, but someone needs to sit down and analyze the downstream liability exposure of the businesses that enable user generated content. There is even an irony when it comes to concerns over telecom behavior if net neutrality really ends, because some behaviors could increase downstream liability exposures.  Congress seems na├»ve in the range of business models on the Internet;  most providers don’t know their customers as well as Backpage did.

One observation is that the House apparently considered piggybacking the Mann Act rather than attacking Section 230.


Another (as Lee notes) is that social media companies have to wonder whether increased monitoring actually increases or decreases downstream liability exposure.

Still another problem is that trafficking or prostitution enablements before passage of the law might enable litigation, which sounds like an unconstitutional breach of ex post facto.

I am told that some attorneys are concerned over the language concerning "reckless disregard".  Theoretically operating a service that allow users to commit crimes without being watched might be regarded as that by some lawyers, by analogy to a website's having insufficient security to prevent identity theft, for example. But many things provided by companies have good and bad uses.  Is Apple responsible for the fact that people can text while driving?  Apple is trying to stop it, out if this theory.  The idea that much user speech is "gratuitous" (doesn't pay its own way) could become significant. 

The law was supposed to go into effect immediately when signed, giving tech companies no time to prepare. 
  
This still needs a lot more detailed attention.

Update:  March 8

EFF reports that the Senate will vote on some form of SESTA in a few days, 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

FOSTA passes House by overwhelming margin; unclear what happens in Senate; lawyers debate what "reckless disregard" standard means for intermediaries



Elliot Harmon at Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that FOSTA has passed the House 388-25.  Here is the latest link on Twitter. 
  
I talked to him just now by phone.  SESTA has not passed the Senate. It may be fillibustered, or rewritten to be more like FOSTA.  There is no reliable information on how long it will be before some damaging version of this law goes into effect.  
  
There seems to be some misinformation in Congress, who seem unaware of the different business models on the Internet and who believe that only classified ads sites can be affected.
   
I’m told that there are serious legal problems with the way the “reckless disregard” standard is worded but I can’t explain further. 

UPDATE:
EFF has a new story now on the passage of FOSTA.

Read the text of the passed bill on Govtrack. Note Section 3(c) and (4).  Tricky to interpret. Does this apply to web hosts or only to advertising sites? 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

House about to vote on FOSTA with troubling new change to Section 230, as per EFF


Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning that the House will soon vote on the amendment to FOSTA (HR 1865)  weakening Section 230 in relation to sex trafficking.
  
EFF, in an article today by Elliot Harmon, warns that the House seems to have tightened FOSTA in relation to SESTA, and apparently no longer includes the safeguard that a service provider must “knowingly” be part of trafficking.  EFF calls it a “Frankenstein Monster”.  EFF provides a PDF of the recent changes.

I tried to peruse the House’s latest explanation today, here.  It does look like what happens in Section 230 is that a section 230 defense is no longer available when 2421a (promoting prostitution) or 1591a (promoting trafficking) is involved at the state or federal level.  However, at a very cursory reading both of these laws seem to invoke some prior knowledge of the agent distributing the offending material.

It will take a lot more time to sort this out in the detail necessary.
  
EFF points out the victims of sex trafficking will be among the people most likely to have their speech censored. 
  
This topic needs to be followed closely.  The wording is tricky to interpret.  Congress obviously believes that only “bad actor” classified ads websites or services are affected.  It is less clear that the underlying hosting companies would be affected.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Credit card companies may refuse to do gun business; could this spread to speech areas (as last summer with extremist web sites)?



Andrew Ross Sorkin, yes, the screenwriter, writes Tuesday in the New York Times, “Congress fails to curb guns; could bankers?” 

There is talk that the credit card industry will refuse to accept transactions for most private gun sales. That could certainly slow them down.  Paypal has already done so, since Peter Thiel existed.  Cards apparently cannot be used now to purchase digital currency.


The idea has already surfaced with condom sales.

This reminds me of the flak last summer after Internet companies refused to host at least one alleged "white supremacist site", the Daily Stormer (and maybe others). 

You can put this all together and imagine private regulation of some sort of social contract as to how people behave.

Put this all together, if you will, with George Soros: (Milo’s own recent account ).
  
You could see public speech that is privately driven and funded without accountability as adding to social instability – and that would not be good for me.  You could imagine, for example, expecting community engagement as the price for being heard.  Or, else, you pick a tribe.
   
I’ll add in here a Washington Post report on a new law in Germany requiring private companies to identify and delete hate speech  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Russian bots on issues like gun violence tend to make extreme positions look mainstream, make it hard for politicians to pass practical reforms



Russian bots are still at it, with bots pushing relatively extreme positions into controversial debates, getting legitimate people to repost them so that outlier ideas gain traction.  That process makes it harder to pass reforms on narrower issues, like gun control and especially school safety.
  
That’s the thrust of a front page story today by Sheera Frenkel and Daikuse Wakanayashi in the New York Times. 
  
This problem seems more subtle than just possibly perturbing elections.  The Russians are trying to make it appear that open speech is dangerous to society, because it distracts electorates and keeps elected politicians afraid to settle issues and pass reforms.   This is also a serious future problem for “individual” speech like mine that isn’t connected to one side or another – which is ironic inasmuch as I see my speech as an answer to tribalism. Instead, you could wind up requiring everyone to join one side or the other.

  
But generally it’s distractions on the right-wing side that are more troubling. For example, I’ve pointed to arguments that the “absolutist” position on the Second Amendment as an individual right (including access to assault weapons) tends to feed the doomsday prepper narrative, that some day citizens will need to function without a central government after a calamity.  In this environment, it’s harder to focus on the grief of victims of major attacks.  It’s easier to maintain an atmosphere of personal aloofness  -- the so called “stoicism” problem, which may in turn feed to extreme right-wing or Nietzchean narratives that might suit oligarchical enemies, like Putin.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

In-line linking and embeds of images can be copyright infringement after all, in shocking finding by New York judge


There has been an important and troublesome development regarding the concept of in-line linking or embedding of copyrighted images and probably videos.
  
In the case of Goldman v Breitbart et al  a federal judge in New York, Katherine Forest, has rejected a supposed legal standard that copyright infringement occurs only when an infringing image actually resides on a publisher’s own site (and hosting server).  This has apparently been accepted law in the Ninth and Seventh circuits for about ten years. Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story here by Daniel Nazer. 
  
An attorney named Eric Goldman (no relation to the plaintiff) has a more detailed blog posting on the case, link here. The judge invited the defendants to make other defenses, including fair use, and seems to believe that her ruling would not apply to “innocent” embedding in normal social media use. But the attorney points out that social media companies are likely to make more restrictive TOS changes, to the point that they could work.

  
A good question would come from  applying the ruling to embedded YouTube, Vimeo, etc. videos.  According to the logic of the judge’s finding, the actual video would not be infringing because a user has to click to play it.  But images that are shown in a preview might be.   It’s important to realize that an original publisher can mark a video as not embeddable if she doesn’t want to allow in-line display, but an illegal “pirated” copy won’t get so marked.  Normally YouTube takes the video down when there is a DMCA complaint, and embeds on other sites just turn gray and nothing else happens. A similar concern could apply to previewed news stories shared on Facebook and Twitter, at least to any images in them.
  
Other major news media accounts include The Verge (belonging to Vox, one of the defendant companies) and Hollywood Reporter, which replicates the image (which shows when I post that story on Twitter myself – so “sue me”).
  
Attorneys are uncertain as to whether the defendants even need to appeal her ruling in order to win the case on other grounds, which could leave a troubling problem for social media companies.  The judge apparently believes that DMCA Safe Harbor policies will protect these companies. 

It does seem to matter if the end user is likely to realize that there is an indirect link. 

It may also matter that the original photo was shared on Snapchat, where the normal intention is that the content disappears.  I don’t use Snapchat.

One could become concerned that in the long run a ruling like this could attract Righthaven-style copyright trolls if it were allowed to stand.
  
This story needs to be watched closely and I will cover it in more detail soon on Wordpress.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Some sites will offer allowing ads as alternative to paywalls, and some may offer bitcoin mining



Some sites are offering visitors a choice between allowing ads (disabling ad blockers) or paying subscriptions, as they say they cannot stay in business without revenue.  Atlantic will start the process on April 10 (source: Digiday )

The Atlantic announced this policy as it converts to https, which Google and other search engines prefer.

  
The Verge reports that Salon is allowing users the option of allowing their sites to run a javascript embed that mines for cryptocurrency.  This may increase electricity or battery consumption, and might be bad for the motherboard (overheating) of some computers.  The script comes from CoinHive.  Trend rates that site as safe but others consider it unacceptable and classify it as malware.  Webmasters should be wary of invitations to run third party scripts on their sites.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Teacher in Louisiana adopts one of her students, breaking the usual norms of distance



A 24 year old single (white) female elementary teacher (Chelsea Haley) for “Teach for America” went out of the box completely in adopting an underprivileged (African American) boy and his brother, as reported on ABC Good Morning America.
    
  
It’s hard to imagine volunteering to become a single parent, before having one’s own children (if possible) and before marriage (if possible).  In fact, teachers have typically been discouraged from interacting with students away from the job. In fact, when I worked as a substitute teacher, my “inaction” in some situations became a problem.

But the normal social distance that I grew up with and that was part of the culture now seems to be a problem.

I wanted to add to yesterday’s post about Internet mistakes (as Dr. Phil has called them) or mishaps, that there was also case in the summer of 2016 (well before the election) when a FB message (with political significance) that I had sent to someone and his answer were deleted by the other person.  This has happened only once.  I didn’t see anything wrong with what we said, but I guess he would rather have carried out this conversation on Snapchat, which I don’t use.

Monday, February 12, 2018

For first time ever, Facebook marks a couple of my comments with URL's as "spam"



It doesn’t happen often, but on rare occasions I get my fingers slapped on the Internet.  (We used that term when I worked for the Navy Department and people got demerits if they left anything out on their desks when they went home.  In middle school we called it getting detention.)

Like over Thanksgiving weekend in 2015 an otherwise good friend in the music world blocked me on Twitter, and no one else ever has.

Sunday morning, as I was about to go out for the day, I found a story on Facebook in the news feed from local television station WJLA (liberal, but belonging to Sinclair, conservative) on a science fair in California removing a student exhibit on race and IQ, along the lines perhaps of some of Charles Murray’s past work. I made one comment to the effect that the performance on IQ tests in various groups can be influenced by accumulated environmental factors, such as health and poverty and even past colonialism, as in sub-Saharan Africa.  I then tried to add two more references on the issue on the superior results from Asian populations, one of them from “8Asians” and one from the New York Times.



I added these as separate comments, because Facebook will preview only one URL per post. I quickly got notifications that they were marked as spam.  Soon the disappeared from the WJLA post.  I tried to combine them as one post and that also got marked.



So I shared the WJLA story to my own timeline and added the separate comments to my own timeline and those book took.



The notification invited me to review the comment and once let me mark one as not spam. But then the review button just took me to the top of the WJLA feed.

Looking around, it seems that now Facebook may be marking as spam a second comment on a post if made less than an hour after the first comment.  I’ve done this before, however, without incident.
Yet I’ve heard of cases where people say most of their comments get rejected. 

I made single comments (not multiple) on other feeds Sunday, and so far, no Facebook jail.
Of course, the subject matter of the originating post is sensitive stuff to some people, gratuitous to some, and an inconvenient truth for others.  
   
Yet I keep getting pimped to create funding drives, wave at people, honor birthdays, etc.  That isn’t my “brand” to behave that way.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Controversy over dating apps and "pseudo-discrimination" in people's personal choices; Facebook pushes for more social interaction



The site “Intelligence-squared debates” offers his video on “Dating apps and discrimination”.


The short video discussion seems to imply that some people believe that refusing to date someone of another race is a sign of discrimination or bigotry.

A lot of us are fine with the idea of people dating and marrying (and having children by) other adults of their own choosing, including those of other races.  It’s a long stretch to say that not wanting to creates a problem.  This is an idea Milo Yiannopoulos would have called “Dangerous”.

I do remember the scene for (heterosexual) singles clubs as far back as 1970, as in southern New Jersey at the time, when clubs said that, because they were private, they were for one race only.
I’ve noticed at gay discos that minority women will approach me to dance (when I’m “watching” as if I were in the movie “Scanners”) and get upset if I don’t.

There’s one little distractor that doesn’t get mentioned openly very much.  Caucasian males (perhaps because of evolution in mostly colder and darker climates away from the Equator, and maybe even with some distant past Neanderthal mixing) typically have more visible body hair than most males of other races.  That can mediate ideas of sexual attractiveness in a population, as well as how children will look.   This is common with animals (bird species vary in whether males have colorful plumage; male lions, being social animals, have manes but tigers, very closely related but solitary, do not).  There should be a scientific term for this.



I’ve noticed that Facebook is starting to get a little more aggressive in trying to get users to interact personally more.  I get notifications of people (usually women) “waving” and to “wave back”, at at 74 U have to say that online flirting is unwelcome.  Lately I’ve started using the check-in feature, because I do want a few friends to know specific places I visited. Facebook keeps asking me to review the place (maybe it’s only once per place). It won’t allow you to use any external url’s in the review (which does not go on your timeline).  If you want to use a url, you have to write a separate update to your timeline. Thursday I used an LA Fitness for the first time after renewing (on a telemarketing call), and got attention on Facebook for a whimsical picture from there of male laser hair removal.  Ties in to what I talked about a few paragraphs above.  Is that what equality means, make everyone the same?  That’s commie-pinko.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Are we too stuck up for small talk with people very different from us? When does it need to "go get personal"?



I had a bizarre experience at dinner tonight in a steak house near Bailey’s Crossroads.

I ordered a six-ounce steak, salad, mashed potatoes, at the bar as the place was pretty full for a weeknight.

Next to me a disheveled African American man sat, with a somewhat foreign accent.  He tried to start a conversation. He asked me which knife was the steak knife.  His steak was larger than mine, and he asked me if I wanted it.  Then as I pulled out my silver visa card to pay for the meal, he offered to pay for it.

I wanted to get out of there. I even left one set of car keys there but they were still on the bar five minutes later when I noticed my mistake.

So, how many of us are willing to talk to strangers who don’t seem to belong to our cognitive space?  
  
So these social barriers need to be broken down at a personal level? Do the norms of dealing with unwelcome social overtures need to be overcome?  (I write in passive voice.) 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Facebook seems to prod users to pimp out "other peope's" fundraisers



So here is more buzz on Facebook doing a “go get small” on the time you spend on the site. 

And Facebook is “bragging” about slightly less time being spent on the site, as New York Magazine analyzes.  

Yesterday, Facebook tried to goad me into setting up a fundraising campaign on my (friends) page.  It even named other friends who had done so. When I spot-checked a couple of these pages, I could not verify that they had done so.


 I generally do not raise “other people’s” fundraisers under my own branded public Internet pages that are based on my name or wordmarks.  I report on many things, and these include many nonprofits.  I usually link to a nonprofit’s home page and sometimes to fundraising or petition pages, and I am perfectly fine with visitors “taking action” when they find these button pleas on these pages if they choose to do so.  But this happens only after linking to another page. This way I maintain a certain objectivity and neutrality, which is important to me.




It is of concern to me that Facebook would try to “push” personal interaction by trying to get people to use their sites to run fundraisers.  Frankly, I do use social media sites to “publish” with some social interaction (like I visited a friend in Florida in November) but conversely I don’t like to use social media as the main tool of interacting with others.  I don’t have the “fan base” or following to tell others (even with some strategy involving relative privacy settings) what choices they should make, as to charitable giving for example.  My own charitable giving is generally private, a lot of it through trusts, and some of it reflective of a deceased mom’s wishes, as well as obligations spelled out in a trust to beneficiaries.  Social media would not be the right place to carry this out.
  
I’m quite struck by the culture of aggressive online behavior that developed in the past (especially during the first dot-com boom) in order to monetize content, which admittedly is often necessary to pay its way (think about the paywall problem).  That is running into resistance to emails (spam and malware) and ads (popups), and I rarely engage ads myself on websites. 

Monday, February 05, 2018

Sermon last Sunday talks about openness to sacrifice in relation to common resilience


Sunday, Feb. 4, a visiting pastor Tracy Hartman gave a somewhat challenging message at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC. , “Mixed Messages”.

The sermon used Matthew 2:22-24 as a reference, where the boy Jesus is presented to the temple for a “purification” ritual where doves are sacrificed.  The mention of “purification” seems double-edged. Later in life it might mean initiation, or running some sort of gauntlet, or some sort of ritual meaning risking you old sense of self (possibly in the context of accepting hazing in the past).
Early in the 20-minute address she spoke up for both refugees and asylum seekers.

But later she told the story of a young man who had been a popular athlete.  After a what seemed like a slight leg injury, he was diagnosed with a bone sarcoma and had a leg amputated, very suddenly, above the knee. 

He went downhill, with drinking and drugs.  His life turned around when he met a young woman who was a double amputee, when they fell in love and got married.

I don’t know if undergoing such an insult to bodily sanctity is the “sacrifice” (like in Stravinksy's "Rite of Spring"). I’ve never been willing to accept such an idea personally, although I know intellectually that in a group of people this capacity is very important for the group’s resilience (from enemies, for example, as many tribal Bible stories show). That’s why someone who flaunts a “dangerous” (Milo, indeed) difference can be disruptive to the group. We could get into a discussion of what I would call “motivational integrity”. 

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Ad placement business shows just how complicated making a living through online publishing has gotten


Many Internet publishing businesses really do have to pay their own way to stay up.  These would include those owned by public companies, as well of those owned by entrepreneurs depending on them to make a living.

So many of them turn to companies like Outbrain or Taboola for ad placement management. 
The need for enough revenue from each page may account for the plethora of ads and popups on many sites, and other pimpy behaviors like making you keep clicking on to ad-filled pages in suspense to find more ways something in your life is going to break down.
  
An article by Lucia Moses in “Digiday” explains how these ad placement companies work. “In a shift, publishers can no longer counton content-recommendation guarantee checks”. 
  
The article gives a feel for how much marketing activity goes on to make “free content” make money for its providers.  Of course, this is not the same as the topic last Sunday, the purchase of followers which are usually fake.
  
But there’s an ecosystem and its hard to see how it sustains itself. It depends on willingness of users to engage ads and act.  A lot of us don’t, or have blockers, or don’t play ball.  So that’s one more reason why paywalls have become more common. 

One site that I often see on Facebook, ThinkProgress, says it is "blacklisted" by advertisers because it covers "controversial political content" including "white racism."  I don't focus on that particular oppression claim, but I suppose a lot of advertisers would block me for, say, covering North Korea.