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. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

EU will hold critical meeting on Copyright Directive (Articles 11 and 13) Sept. 12, and the timeline and probable outcome is quite uncertain

I’ll make this one quick:  The European Union “parliament” (I won’t get into their political processes) will debate Articles 11 (the “link tax”) and Article 13 (mandatory pre-screening for copyright infringement) September 12, 2018 in Brussels.  There are reports that it will vote then but it is not completely clear if that is so, or if debate comes later. Here's the agenda link from the EU itself  (I can’t get this site to connect under https – that alone is interesting and alarming.)
There are various “Chicken Little” posts popping up right now, which I summarized here

But I wanted to draw particular attention to an overlooked blog post by Glyn Moody, the italicized quote in the middle   JURI (apparently Voss) sees the low-cost “competition” with legacy media from blogs and sites like mine as an existential threat to people’s jobs that should not be allowed.  It’s not about piracy or plagiarism – it is simply about “gratuitous” speech as a way of building a reputation.
A critical issue if this goes into effect (maybe the start of 2019) is whether if affects posts outside the EU (in the US) hosted by companies that can operate in the EU.  My guess is that hosting companies can segregate their operations by country legally when they have to – because technology companies did that when I was working. 

 This sounds like one of Nicholas Taleb's "Skin in the Game" issues. 

Update: Later today

Moody tells me on Twitter that the final vote should happen in early 2019.  So maybe we have a little more time. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

European science group guarantees open access for its publications by 2020; publishing industry cries Chicken Little

Jack Andraka, who should be back soon from his Truman scholarship assignment in Sierra Leone, tweeted a story about open access: The European Science Coalition has announced that by 2020, any peer-reviewed paper it publishes must be available to the public without a paywall. 

The Science Foundation story by Martin Enserink is here

The academic publishing community is resisting, however, claiming that publishing with strict peer controls would not be sustainable.

Andraka has often said that without open access (effectively through the lab at the University of Maryland) he could not have come up with his pancreatic cancer test.  He also says that it would have been difficult to even propose the project to get his foot in the door to do the project, on his own resources.
Picture: By Laura Lartigue - USAID website [dead link], Public Domain, Link   Sierra Leone had a civil war around the year 2000 which Sebastian Junger wrote about in Vanity Fair. My own mother's caregiver before she passed away had emigrated from Sierra Leone. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Many small businesses lose revenue from Facebook's algorithm changes early this year, in response to foreign meddling problems

The NBC Today show early Monday morning (Labor Day) reported that many small businesses have been hurt by Facebook’s recent changes reducing not only news feeds but also product advertising or literature from outside the circle of friends.  Some small businesses report enormous drops in revenue as a result.  The NBC News story is here

Examples include “Quirky Momma” and “Little Things”.  But I was able to find accounts for both of these this morning with material.

The rules changes discourage small businesses from sharing products or affiliate links from other publishers.  Sites like “Mommy blogs” are expected to share mostly content they create themselves.

This has not affected me, but I don’t depend on my sites for income.  But that raises other ethical questions (maybe community security issues) that I have covered here before.

At first, after Facebook’s announcement in February, I didn’t notice that much of a change. But since around the first of June I’ve seen much less content fed to me from news outlets.  They are still there if I look for them.  But, for example, if I want to look at Vox, CNN, Fox, NBC, etc, I just go to those sites myself, and don’t use Facebook.  I personally look at a lot of sites on my own all the time.  Yes, sometimes I look at Breitbart and at “Dangerous” (Milo).  Lately I’ve started looking at Timcast videos.  It keeps changing.  I also buy print media (including some newspapers, especially in small towns when traveling, to see what is happening).  I don't get fooled by a social media feed. 
One site that I used to get feeds from all the time that stopped is The Survival Mom.  She’s still out there.
I do get posts from organizations (DC Center, GoGayDC, Asylumist).

Tonight, NBC reported from NBC's "war room" to remove foreign fake accounts in advance of the midterm exam elections. Here's a link (May 2018) on becoming a Facebook content monitor, but this is something to look at more closely. 

 Facebook is making it clear that it is no longer "comfortable" being viewed by many account holders as a news dissemination service with no intention to socialize. Look at how it encourages pimping of charities.