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.

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