Tuesday, October 16, 2018

EU Article 13 will affect US users of social media (EFF explanation)

Electronic Frontier Foundation offers an update on the European Union Article 13 implementation, by Cory Doctorow, predicting “EU Internet Censorship Will Censor the Whole World Internet” 
Doctorow gives an example with Twitter and interactions of several individuals in different countries. But it’s also possible to maintain that the really big social media companies may not have much trouble with the actual pre-screening (although it is to include text as well as images and video).  
The rollout is expected to take about a year or two after another vote in early 2019, and it can lead to different implementations by country.  Spain, for example, already has the strictest link tax, predicated on not allowing publishers to lowball one another out of collecting it. 
A big question would be how it affects web hosts operating in multiple countries.

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.