Wednesday, May 30, 2018

When the identity of the speaker determines the permission to render certain content with speech



Does the lawfulness or availability of speech rightfully depend on the identity of the speaker? 

An eye-catching op-ed on Truth-out today titled “Speech is never free in a world of racist surveillance and repression” by William C. Anderson on Truth-out explored this idea with moral paradox, at one point saying “Depending on who the speaker is, our society dictates what speech is and isn’t acceptable.”

But the problem is that both the far right (including the alt-right) and far Left (which Truth-out seems to present) both believe this. The far Left doesn’t want people with privilege to speak – but that gets back to the “Skin in the Game” concept in the new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb which I will review in detail soon. But the far Right does seem to want to use the idea to stop the opposition from organizing, as the article explains imprisonment of Rakem Balogun as a “black identity extremist”, and then later gets into the history of Cliven Bundy.  I think Nadine Strossen (with her recent book on hate speech and why it should be legal) would disagree with a lot of this article. 

My own incident when working as a substitute teacher (July 27, 2007 post) also illustrates this point. That gets into the murky area of "implicit content", the apparent purpose of the specific author/speaker and desired actions from readers. 


I had an odd problem today – I pulled up the Truth-out article fine on my iPhone but on a Windows computer I get an HTTP 403 error “forbidden” in Chrome, but can view it in Edge.

Truth-out is always sending out "deadline" pleas for money and implying the sky will fall – which sounds like playing victim and doesn’t sit well with me.  Yet many of the articles do have valuable journalism.

I’ll also heed an Intellectual Takeout op-ed today by Annie Holmquist, “Rejecting values and responsibility was a big mistake  Two-thirds of today’s generation believes that right and wrong are relative to the individual (and that person’s group associations or intersectionalities).
   
Think about it, though: the teens and young adults who make the most difference do so because they understand abstract thought, and that actions have long term consequences and possible “tail risks” for others (“skin in the game” again), and believe they should own their own choices.  It does take good parenting to pass this on, preferably two parents.  David Hogg, for example, obviously believes in absolute right and wrong, even that belief produces an end result that "liberals" want. 


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Prosecutions have happened for making others ill with Internet postings



Virginia Heffernan offers an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about trolling, somewhat as an extension of hate speech, where she starts her arguments about right wing trolls depicting David Hogg as a “crisis actor” in a nefarious plot to repeal the Second Amendment.  But she characterizes these videos not as bullying but as propaganda.  Indeed, Hogg would be impossible to bully.

“Politically themed porn – trolling, conspiracy theories, propaganda, stokes our chronic political arousal.  Why do we keep turning to it?”

  
She mentions a theory in the early days of the Internet where someone deliberately caused seizures in an epileptic by leading him to Internet videos with strobe lights in certain patterns, an idea that reminds one of “The Manchurian Candidate”.  In 2008, someone (in the early days of Twitter) tweeted such a video to NYTime reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who actually had a seizure and the speaker was prosecuted.  Eichenwald was known for his reporting on Internet trolls looking for minors.

Friday, May 25, 2018

California's proposed bill to require bots to be identified could have sinister implications


Electronic Frontier Foundation has an important article by Jamie Williams opposing a Califronia bill S.B. 1001 requiring disclosure of bots online.
  
This is not so much about fear of artificial intelligence as it may be a way to reign in on fake news and the beginnings of a trend to require hosting companies especially to be more familiar with their “customers”, since so many may be overseas or may intend to spread dissent with no “skin in the game”.
  
  
EFF also points out that it would undermine anonymous speech and suppress constitutionally protected speech.

Here's another perspective on fake news and the speed of social media v printed page, "The Wounded Printed Page Strikes Back" from Wesley Pruden of the Washington Times. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Europe's privacy rules could affect US users and bloggers; more on FOSTA creeps in



Emily Stewart has a detailed explanation of Europe’s new rules on data privacy, which, yes, will hit Facebook particularly hard.  
  
Stewart also gives an account of Zuckerberg’s apparent flippancy in Brussels.
  
But European regulations are forcing all major tech companies to reissue their privacy policies.
One of the most controversial is “the right to be forgotten”, which has long caused Google to honor search engine delete requests in Europe.
  

Theoretically, even Bloggers (who normally have to publish privacy policies to satisfy advertisers) would have to publish rules for the EU.  Blogger has separate tld’s for European countries, but these won’t separate out for custom domains.
  
I don’t have very many instances were European citizens would have some reason to have a reference to them removed from a blog post.  But back over ten years ago, I got two or three requests to remove names from the flat website files associated with my books (including at least one book footnote mention, which stays in the POD version).

As I’ve noted before, new concerns about downstream liability exposure (as after the Backpage FOSTA law) could lead web hosts, as well as social media, to want customers to become more transparent about how they are funded and about their intentions, and how their online presence is setup.  Mine has evolved over the years and become complicated.  As a reminder, the master index now is here

The Hill has a recent article on FOSTA, with its defusing of arguments of sex workers and its sloppy use of terminology: “accountability of Internet service providers”.   Go back and reread the Vox article by Ajit Romano linked here April 24.  I was rather shocked to see that Google had actually reviewed Google Drive content for trafficking. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

"New Company Shift Forum" panel looks at First Amendment erosion, and threats posed by Backpage FOSTA law



John Battelle, of the New Company Shift Forum, hosts a forum between Cindy Cohn (EFF), Carol Christ (UC Berkeley), and Nellie Bowles of the New York Times, on the First Amendment, “A Magic Shield that Lets You Be an A’Hole” with the curious byline, “Now that digital platforms drive physical conseqeunces, what does free speech mean anymore?”

The forum explains that the First Amendment controls government, but not private corporate censorship, or how platforms want to monitor users.

Cindy sums it up: “The Internet of the 1990s was about choosing your own adventure.  The Internet right now over the last 10 years is about somebody else choosing that adventure for you.”

Cindy also explains the harm of FOSTA, how it could apply even to a small site that accidentally allows an ad for sex trafficking slip through, even in a comment.  FOSTA, she says, will make it too risky for individuals or small companies to do startsups that allow users to input content, because there is no way to know in advance what might include sex trafficking – and she seems to feel that Congress believes that sacrifice from everyone is OK to protect vulnerable teenagers – except that it won’t work.

  
I don’t accept comments now with unresolvable or suspicious links that I can’t check.  But the volume of the issue for me is very low.  But what about people hosting me?  How could they know in advance what I (or anyone) could post?

Friday, May 18, 2018

When foreign enemies hack journalism; and could a blogger go to jail for publishing "accidental" classified leaks?


Here’s an important column from the New York Times on Mother’s Day, “When Spies Hack Journalism”.

Foreign enemies can influence public opinion not only through social media but also by flooding legitimate news outlets.
  
And the pressure to publish a scoop, if credible, is enormous.
  
But in this age of Internet asymmetry, a good question would be, could a journalist be criminally liable for publishing classified information that he or she stumbles on.  Even an amateur blogger could face the question.  “Accidents” do happen.
  
  
NPR takes up that question in a March 2017 story by Mark Folekenflik , “Could the US prosecute reporters for classified scoops?
  
The article discusses the Pentagon Papers (the Washington Post and New York Times in 1971, and the film “The Post”) as well as the labor case Bartnicki v. Vopper.  Although the Supreme Court may have been skeptical of claims of irreparable harm in these cases, the idea of “prior restraint” has never been legally settled.
  
Trump, it has been reported, had asked James Comey to prosecute journalists who publish classified information, before he fired Comey.
  
As a practical matter, there are some situations I can imagine where I would contact authorities and not publish, at least immediately, in the “see something say something” idea.  I have held security clearances (Secret) before, but not since 1972. There is also, of course, the issue of respecting confidentiality (PII, and trade secrets) of information learned in the workplace.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Misuse of social media; the "too much information" problem, along with social stratification and unearned privilege


Today I have a potpourri, and I’ll lead off with Suzanne Field’s editorial (pardon, op-ed) in the Washington Times about “too much information”.    That leads to another bombshell Guardian-msn story about info spam, from Chris Wylie, who now accuses Steve Bannon of trying to “suppress voters.  And I’ll give David Hogg credit for suggesting how I could put my own white privilege to work, for his cause. (Hogg can't be president for seventeen more years.) 
  
Yes, I made a second career choice of pumping out TMI (“too much information”) largely for free, for two decades, to let people find it. I let the algorithms use it as they liked.
  

And we’re finding the narrow idea of personal responsibility, that served libertarian arguments so well in the late 90s when I put out my first book, collapse.
  
Yes, I get pestered and pimped by people who challenge me as to why I did what I did.  But other career choices (like selling anyone else’s product) would have presented its own problems.  But that’s part of the problem.  People-centered employment and career choices have been somewhat compromised by the chain effects of hyperindividualism.  Nobody wants to be tracked or get cold calls or door-to-door now.


  
I did want to pass a few words to the wise on some specific recent problems. One of these was a stream of sudden Facebook Friend requests late last week, mostly from females.  Facebook has changed its referral algorithms with “friend of friend” logic (remember Saddam Hussein?)  I suspect this was a bot.  I got lots of stupid flirtatious messages.  No, I don’t like superficial flirting or unwelcome approaches.  (They will happen in discos when I am “watching” or “scoping”).  You can see a couple of examples in the pics here. 


  
There was a case in late 2015 where someone I think I have a legitimate connection to (music) blocked ne on Twitter (nothing like that has happened since, as far as I know). I discussed it on a post here Dec. 4, 2015.  I can see now, by comparison, how one or two tweet replies I sent could have been misconstrued, although there was a bigger context I thought he should have gotten (“lifelong process piece”)’ none of that is there in simple flirting.
  
There is a bigger question about how I can break away from TMI to help other people.  I can say at the outset that generally, a cause needs to be “mine”, and something my own life had something do with, to be effective;  hit or miss volunteering (as on Thanksgiving, or even once-a-month Community Assistance) is not very effective on its own terms.  I was moderately effective as an AIDS buddy in the mid 1980s in Dallas because this was part of my life, and I had, in my own mind, participated in amplifying the problem.  I can’t say the same thing about, say, Puerto Rico. 

I feel put off by being prodded by Facebook to add non-profit campaigns to my page.  They have to be mine first.  Likewise, I generally don't respond to "Take Action" calls from non-profits to call politicians about narrow issues.  I will write politicians by email for bigger issues and go into detial when something is more than crying wolf about one constituency.  For example, the hype about network neutrality sounded like Chicken Little;  but the damage done to free speech by the FOSTA-Backpage-Section 230 issue seems more serious, as are the implications of foreign manipulation of US social media ("the cretins"). 

Generally, I won't waste "speech capital" on one narrow issue.  I won't be recruited to in turn raise money or bring others into a one-sided campaign if I believe both sides have validity, and it is "somebody else's" problem that I am personally distant from.  I would work in a dedicated manner on the EMP threat issue but not on bathroom bills.  

But there is a difference in incentive to political activism as opposed to directly assisting others. 
      
The refugee and particularly asylum seeker issue was closer to my court, because I was living in an arguably oversized and inherited (read unearned) house.  That issue broke open (for the LGBT community) in the summer of 2016 (well before the election) partly because of the efforts of “liberal” mainline churches as well as the gay press and community itself.  Yet, outside of the bureaucracy set up for refugees which could not help asylum seekers, it was difficult to get activists to pin down what they were asking for.  It sounds like more sacrifice and risk taking and shoe sharing on my part, with unpredictable outcomes.  So we get back to tribalism, and the need to belong to groups.
  
So here I am, in a condo, having unloaded the house.  That’s what I did about it so far.
  
We have an environment where the spontaneous self-published user generated content that I have leveraged for the past two decades cut be, at least partially, shut down in time over downstream liability concerns that have increased with respect especially to sex trafficking and foreign political manipulation of the illiterate.  Indeed, it is partly the idea that some people are not “good enough” to be care about that foreign powers were able to leverage.
  
So we could find the future environment more coercive, as with the idea of expected community engagement.  Then things become a matter of personal purpose, not just performance.  It’s not wrong to want to politicize addressing privilege.  As above, David Hogg has a point.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Is Palintir (Peter Thiel) an example of surveillance capitalism?


Bloomberg has an article (by Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman and Jordan Robertson) about a company in Jersey City called Palintir, founded in 2004 in large part by PeterThiel, a company that does a lot of ordinary meta data mining of ordinary citizens for national defense purposes, link here
  
Thiel, openly gay and founder of PayPal, spoke at the Republican Convention in July 2016.
  
The article documents the incredible pressure from investors on tech companies to monetize data.
  
  
The article also notes that people have been arrested merely for being topologically connected to gan members on the database.  

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Calling for more transparency in content moderation by social media and even hosting platforms



FOSTA has left social media and even hosting companies with the “moderator’s dilemma”, which Senator Wyden tried to fix at the last moment.  Then a few weeks later the House holds a hearing on abusive moderation and censorship practices!

Nicholas Suzor has an article exploring how social media posts get moderated.  YouTube is by far the most transparent, as many posts get taken down in the first two weeks, largely for copyright (DMCA) issues, sometimes for obvious hate speech.

Suzor also mentions his group’s publication of the “Santa Clara Principles”, here.


Sometimes posts are removed as “spam” also.  Blogger has had big issues with this, particularly around the time of 2008 (ironically, shortly before the financial crisis).  The appeal process, according to many reports, was not always very transparent.
   
In contradictions to the value of anonymous speech, platforms might, out of future downstream liability concerns, become much more concerned about the identity and motives or “business model” of the user or speakers. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Websites with "alt-right" names registered by a company that supported Trump's lawyer; seems to relate to tech company concerns about extremist-connected content-providing customers



A number of websites with “alt-right” included in the domain name, or with bizarre names suggesting spammy content, were registered to a company Columbus Nova, a company that paid a lot of money to Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen, according to a story that broke on CNN Thursday night. 
      
The story gets notice now because recently some hosting providers and domain registrars have unplugged some sites associated with the “alt-right” as reported here Saturday May 5.


The upcoming ending of network neutrality (right now, on June 11) could conceivably open the doors to some US telecom providers to allow connection to some sites.  Most providers are saying they will not block “lawful” content.  It is possible that some sites associated with illegal foreign operations would be unlawful?
  
Gradually, there seems to be a developing sense that hosting providers may need to “know their customers”, like in finance.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

A trip to Harper's Ferry and the deja vu of substitute teaching; Trump threatens press credentials



I got a feeling of a retrospect of my substitute teaching history today, as I visited a cafĂ© for lunch im Harper’s Ferry W Va after watching some 8th graders reinvent a Civil War battle outside.

I sat with the history teacher and showed him a blog post about the proposal to repeal the 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators) along with the recent stories about proposals to break up California and Texas – leading to discussion of the electoral college and the election of Trump.


The teachers said he had been a Republican but was disgusted with how today’s crowd just wants to line the pockets of the rich.

  
I also talked about Nadine Strossen’s recent forums on free speech and the constitutional protections of a lot of “hate speech”, as well as Trump’s threats today to reverse press credentials for stories he doesn’t like. I had a similar day like this at this restaurant in July 2013 on my birthday where a college student seemed to be in charge of the middle schoolers.  

Monday, May 07, 2018

Lawsuit from Parkland shooting against security guard raises troubling implications



The parents of Meadow Pollack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, FL have filed suit specifically against the security guard who apparently did not attempt to go into the building and approach the shooter.  The papers call the guard “pusillanimous” (a good vocabulary word). The Washington Post account is here.  It is true that we don't normally use the word "coward" today the way we used to a half-century ago. 

  
The Post has an embedded PDF of the lawsuit papers here

The lawsuit also names three mental health services, as well as the Snead couple, who hosted Cruz, for failing to secure his weapons.

The suit is disturbing.  First, if someone is being hosted by a family (let’s say, an immigrant), the family takes on more legal liability risk that it might not understand.

The duty to defend part would sound obvious since he was employed as a guard.  I do wonder what he was paid and how he was trained.  Are we counting on a low-paid employee to lay down his life?  It reminds me of how we used to think about the (male-only) military draft.

I would wonder about a scenario where someone is accosted or a robbery is attempted in a public place, especially somewhat confined like a bus or subway car. The victim resists. The attacked, perhaps because of a political rather than economic motivation, kills someone else on the conveyance to make a statement about the first person’s resistance.  Could the first victim be held liable?  I hope the courts will think about questions like this.  




Here is a related writeup from 2014. 
   
This is a different kind of downstream liability exposure than what we usually discuss with Internet providers or even gun manufacturers. 

Saturday, May 05, 2018

"Alt-Right" domain banned by Godaddy as tech companies become more wary of "hate" content (not necessarily because of FOSTA)



Tech companies, recall, have started pulling a few extremist sites or accounts (especially from the alt-Right) off the Internet.  Remember Daily Stormer was taken down by Cloudflare and others in August.  Now Buzzfeed and the Verge and others reported May 4 that GoDaddy had pulled “Alt-Right” from domain registration and apparently from actual hosting. 

Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute remains online.  There is another forum site called StormFront which is still online (although it has had issues, as the Verge explains in an earlier detailed article.) 

Spencer has had trouble getting representation and keeping donation nodes up, also, according to Buzzfeed.

  
Last December, Twitter said it would “Purge” members that it found associated with certain extremist organizations, even if not misbehaving on Twitter.  Some alt-right accounts were purged.

Tech companies so far say they are acting only when a site advocates or tries to organize actual violence.

But these incidents show that even web hosting companies are capable of monitoring some content for grossly illegal or objectionable material, such as child pornography, drug trafficking (online pharmacies), terrorist recruiting and apparently can do some watching for sex-trafficking in view of the recent passage of FOSRA/SESTA.  All of these companies outline impressible content in their AUP’s. It's important to remember that in the U.S. companies are not legally required to shut down hate speech (they are in the EU and UK) and for now are still protected by Section 230, although the companies are probably bracing themselves for that to change and believe they have to adhere to international norms of morality. 
  
I am not defending the alt-right.  But it is troubling to try to say who can organize and who can’t.
  
Furthermore, the meaning of “hate speech” often is in the eye of the beholder.  For some people, meta-speech about an oppressed group from someone not belonging to the group is hate speech.  The appropriateness of speech could depend on the identity and circumstances of the speaker (my own substitute teaching incident, described here July 27, 2007).  We could be headed toward a social code regarding speech more like China’s (with its social credit score idea).

The banning of one of Specer’s sites was reported May 5 on CNN by the special “The Dark Side of the Internet’ which I will review soon on the TV blog.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Paying for internet publication of peer-reviewed science articles seen as a threat to "good science"



Here’s an article, at first glance seeming to apply to the narrow topic of wildlife management (from the Journal of Wildlife Management), that challenges the whole concept of self-publishing.  The title is “How publishing in open access journals threatens science and what we can do about it”.  The original PDF costs 38$ (sounds like a secret plot to make it expensive to read someone’s argument against you) but you can read the abstract on Wiley here. 

The authors apparently object to the practice of researchers paying for having to have peer-reviewed articles available on the Internet.  They claim that will weaken science with weaker articles and weaken the credibility of the peer-review process. 

Here is a reddit criticism of the article. 

The piece was also shared on Twitter (link  ).

This is 180 degrees counter to the ideas of Aaron Swartz, and to the open-access for science that Jack Andraka has often advocated in Ted Talks. 
  
The irony of the appearance in a wildlife journal is not lost on me.  The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, in which I grew up, is next to the “Wildlife Building” in Washington, near Dupont Cirlce.  
  
While we're on the subject of wildlife, watch this Facebook video maintaining that crows are as intelligent as seven year old children..