Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Facebook explains its banning of Tommy Robinson and creates more concern; WSJ reports on how Paypal bans some accounts

Wow, the last 24 hours. 

First, Tommy Robinson (whom I’ve paid little attention to, said to be a far-right person in Britain) is banned from Facebook and Instagram. 

NBC News has a basic story on the incident, but it is so disturbing that Facebook found it necessary to write a corporate blog post just on its reasoning, “removing Tommy Robinson’s page for violating ourcommunity standards”. 

I have to note some concern personally for this. The text reads “Our rules also make it clear that individuals and organizations that are engaged in “organized hate” are not allowed on the platform, and praise and support for these figures is also “banned”. That is, Facebook says it will ban a page or account that “pays or supports” another entity that generally believed to be promoting hate. Project Veritas has a story about controversies in Facebook's content moderation policies. 

This can be a very slippery slope.  Media reports on groups or individuals often turn out to be wrong, as we found out from the recent Covington Boys news scandal – and the supposed “hate” seemed to be in the eyes of the beholders of partial videos (how someone interprets a “smirk”, no less). People would believe that a group or individual is an enemy more based on tribal belief than actual facts.  The Jussie Smollett affair so far seems to have some of the same problems in reporting. 

Could someone be removed for having, for example, reviewed Milo Yiannopoulos’s book “Dangerous” based on Milo’s reputation as an "enemy" of some on the Left? The book itself doesn’t cross any boundaries of what we are used to as acceptable,  True, Wikipedia has some disturbing claims about his alleged behavior since then (as well as the Twitter ban).  This concept (“praise or support”) could be leveraged to remove someone from the Internet completely by a notion of contagion. 
There are people out there who claim that saying you won’t date a trans person is hate speech – hence Martin Goldberg’s video yesterday would cause trouble. (Twitter has a rule regarding preferred pronouns, misgendering and deadnaming.)  We simply don’t have much rationality on this beyond obviously making threats or doxing. 

Then, today, Tim Pool reports on reports in the Wall Street Journal (Pete Rudegeair, paywall) and Breitbart (Charlie Nash) about Paypall’s removal of accounts from fringe groups. 

Tim Pool released a video today that is quite disturbing.  At 2:00 he even says that “libertarians” could be banned.  Does that mean candidates for the Libertarian Party or all of their supporters?  

Pool also plans a video soon on “parallel economies” which presumably means crypto currency (Monday’s post) as more people might get shut out of the normal one.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Robert Kraft arrest for prostitution leads to more attention to FOSTA as CDT appeals; Facebook may whack anti-vaxxers

The arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft apparently for soliciting prostitution at a parlor in Jupiter, FL has called heavy attention to Florida’s reputed sex trafficking problem centered on these businesses, as CBSNews reports

The argument advanced is similar to that for drugs – that the users drive the criminal underground with their demand.  That now has even extended to prostitution. The libertarian position is the reverse: criminalization makes it worse. 

The news reports have not gone into FOSTA much, but the attention to international sex trafficking is bound to make social media and hosting platforms even more skittish. 

In the meantime, the Center for Democracy and Technology has submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Federal Circuit, Court of Appeals in Washington DC of a dismissal of an earlier lawsuit by Woodhull et al. The wording of FOSTA extends to prostitution. 

On a tangential matter, there is a lot of pressure on Facebook to shut down pages encouraging people not to get vaccinated.  Again, while I agree with the herd immunity theory and that vaccinations are “safe” when given properly, it’s disturbing to see additional pressure on Facebook to behave like an editor or publisher and screen content.  There is at least a theoretical argument about individual rights from those who do not want to vaccinate their children, although these parents and their kids benefit from the majority who do get vaccinated. 

Given my own history, I’d love to see a vaccine for HIV, and something generic that could stop another 1918-style influenza, or a “bird flu”. Vaccines would be an important homeland security protection against bioterror. 
Facebook is likely to use rationale similar to past purges (inappropriate coordinated behaviors) on this matter.

Monday, February 25, 2019

If you want to join and blog on a site tied to cryptocurrency, there are some steps to go through first

Today, I started looking at the Minds site (Tim Pool and Ford Fischer have put a lot of stuff on it recently), and went to the wallet link.  It invited me to buy tokens, but when I went to the link, it asked for a key that would come from the first link.  But it really doesn’t.  You have to go to an external cryptocurrency facility like Ehterium to set yourself up. 

This essay from Medium by Attores is as good an explanation as any I have found. 

There are many YouTube tutorials, like this one. 

Essentially, you download a zip file that matches your operating system.  In a highly secured environment (it’s a good idea to turn off Internet) you set up public and private access keys, which get converted to UPC codes which you print as a paper wallet.  You need to safeguard the wallet, preferably a copy in a safe-deposit box. I’m not sure if it is OK to print it with an ink-jet (which I have right now) rather than laser.  But it looks like you can use the public key to trade on Minds (or Steemit) and the private key for certain payments.  The private key is never shown to anyone.

Minds explains its “attention and participation” economy in this white paper PDF which clearly sets up a separate ecology for its “attention economy” and has ways of rewarding participants in a system walled off from the outside pressures (especially since Trump won an election and then Charlottesville happened) for political correctness. 
This seems like a “new way to work” that may eventually leave some of the older transactional world (dependent on subscription or patronage, as I’ve talked about before) behind, as the latter has become suddenly vulnerable to mob political social justice ideologies. In two or three years it could become the only way real political debate takes place online, but enough people would need to learn to use it, and have the resources to.  Otherwise, it might be roughly like comparing Gab to Twitter. 
ThioJoe has a longer video on how to get set up in cryptocurrencies (see  newer April 3 video). 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Federal judge rules that the male-only part of US Selective Service law is unconstitutional because women now can serve in combat

The draft helped build a large part of what I argued in my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book regarding gays in the military back in the 1990s, and a federal judge in Texas has ruled the male-only aspect unconstitutional, although he didn’t order his opinion implemented. 

A San Diego newspaper, story by Pauline Reppard, reported the opinion by Judge Gray Miller Rostker v Goldberg (1981) had upheld the practice, but at the time women couldn’t serve in combat.

The article mentions the social culture of male disposability from the past. That idea had been noted in writings of George Gilder (Men and Marriage) and Warren Farrell (The Myth of Male Power) in the past. 

Some observers claim that the 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote, was necessary because previously a male-only vote had been predicated on male-only conscription.

The idea of military conscription has always seemed to contradict the aims of the pro-life (anti-abortion) movements.  

Registration is based on sex at birth.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Major advertisers demand YouTube crack down on some normally legitimate but edgy content, creating "Adopocalyse"

Tim Pool has new videos on the problem that YouTube is demonetization of channels, or at least some videos on channels, because of the content of comments.  This gives enemies the ability to get channels demonetized by deliberately trolling them.  This is called “Adpocalypse”. 

The video below is the second of these so far. Pool says he will not disable comments for now (although he seemed to threaten to last night on Twitter).  The first had said "This is going to be bad".  Like a "process piece". 

Several companies (like ATT) have pulled advertising from YouTube until it removes all “offensive” content.  But what is that?  Some people have complained about minors being shown in gymnastics, because some people view it as “pornography”.  (Is legitimate view wrestling videos with college students as homoerotic?)  Advertisers complain about ads showing up physically adjacent to edgy content, and there is nothing that can be done about this. 

YouTube has also said it will ban videos which spread “conspiracy theories”, but has had to restore videos in few cases where the allegations turned out to be true (Covington and now Smollett teach us some lessons about jumping to conclusions).  Lior Lesig includes the rule in a tweet

We’ve noted that in Europe Articles 11 and 13 seem to be driven by a desire of legacy media to have protection from low cost competition from “amateur” or small media. The same seems to be happening here, as many interests are trying to destroy YouTube monetization by playing the inappropriate content card – something that in the legal world Safe Harbor and Section 230 are supposed to handle.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Anonymous political speech as free speech, and campaign financing reform; could there be a conflict?

Matt Christiansen, in 2017, had made a video explaining the importance of anonymous speech as free speech. It ought to be viewed now. 

Christiansen made the video in part on a CNN broadcast that had maintained that maybe anonymous speech should not be protected, because we don’t know how its broadcast was paid for. That’s an idea inherited from previous controversies about campaign finance reform, discussed here before. 

Free speech, he says, is not based on your identity, at least publicly. Electronic Frontier Foundation has often defended anonymous speech based on the importance of anonymity or pseudonymity as an antidote to the potential tyranny of the majority or mob.

I can certainly remember how it was three or four decades ago, when people were afraid to be seen on television when marching in gay pride parades or at gay rights meetings or even at MCC. 

Yet, today, protesting or marching in large mass events is in practice the most important example of speech that is not supposed to be traceable to your own personal identity – or is it – because you feel proud or determined enough to be seen and photographed – but it also means you feel some solidarity or belonging to a group or tribe that believes it is oppressed. 

I have, however, turned Christiansen’s idea around.  Starting in the late 1990s, when I self-published my first DADT book and set up my first websites, I was very proud to use my own individual speech as my own brand.  That was partly because of the unusual issue of the centerpiece of my own activism – the gays in the military issue, and how it intermingled with my own personal history rather like an occluded front in meteorology. My treating this way would indeed have a future permanent impact on my own reputation, and I wanted that.  It had the potential to set up “conflicts of interest”.
Christiansen gives some good examples of anonymous speech with leaflets in the past – starting with the Federalist papers, and then with Benjamin Franklin’s pseudonyms. 

I’ll add that I used my nickname “Bill” based on the legal middle name of “William” for my books – which might create a trademark issue some day, or even issues with domain names, but at the time was used this way because “Bill” was how I was known publicly.  

I did intended to become a public figure and understood the legal consequences if anyone ever defamed me (see remarks about Clarence Thomas, yesterday’s post). (Yet, Wikipedia says I still don’t have or haven’t had enough “notability”. )

Where anonymity runs into a problem now is indeed with political speech – because we’re seeing additional concerns return in accounting for how it was paid for.  The “low barrier to entry” for speech compared to the past seems democratizing. But it could unintentionally give people with more resources and more money to have more influence on policy decisions.  That’s why I’m concerned about personal sites offering opinions on political issues that don’t seem clear as to how they were funded.  This will become an issue again, and contradict our respect for anonymous speech. 
But anonymous speech is supposed to be unbranded.  Still, is it OK to have a political website, use a pseudonym, and reveal nothing about your resources?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Libertarian blogger has scuffle with Youtube over community standards; Sandmann sues Washington Post; Clarence Thomas echoes Trump on libel laws

There are a couple more interesting news developments with individual personalities. 

Libertarian video blogger Matt Christiansen from Bozeman, Montana, known for carefully crafted and intellectually argued criticisms of Leftist behaviors (rather like Tim Pool and “Economic Invincibility” at times), found that YouTube had penalized him with a Community Guidelines strike, apparently when he “unlisted” an obscure video presenting some of the violence at an early 2017 kidnapping incident in Chicago where a white person with special needs was targeted.  The incident had apparently been livestreamed on Facebook before being removed.  It is true that many video bloggers make commentaries where they include third party excerpts from violent events filmed by others. 

It is also true that a video marked unlisted (which means it is found only when hyperlinked) or private can be subject to YouTube’s rules.  And Lior Leser (YouTuberLaw) has sometimes advised creators not to appeal strikes because they may lose the ability to appeal future strikes.  This problem may be compounded by recent incidents with fake or unjustified copyright strikes from questionable complaints.

However Christiansen reports this morning that the strike was removed and he can livestream again. 

In the meantime, Nicholas Sandmann (and family) have sued the Washington Post (Jeff Bezos). 

The lawsuit complaint text is worth reading as it details Sandmann’s steady behavior during the encounter with Phillips, and says his own political views are not formed (because he is a minor). 

Sandmann is 16.  But David Hogg was still 17 when he delivered his “no more” speech on March 24 in Washington (really, which side of the political spectrum is expressed doesn’t matter to me).  

Mature and gifted minors can be very capable of implementing very complex ideas.  Taylor Wilson and Jack Andraka both came up with their scientific inventions at age 14.  Sandmann appears to be very mature and have similar intellectual capabilities. 

But I would agree that the public and the press should not expect a minor to defer to the “political correctness” of others when meeting someone in a public place who purports to be from a disadvantaged minority.  Sandmann simply treated it as an individual encounter and kept the incident calm. 

In many of   these cases it seems that the far Left is simply appealing to nothing more than “us v them” and looks for whatever straws it can find to identify enemies. The far Left seems to brag about collective victimhood and that gets in the way of any healing and resolution of our growing inequalities.  The Parkland “kids” (Hogg, etc) have thankfully been much better than that (they seem to accept capitalism and free markets) and are really getting somewhere with gun control reforms. 

Clarence Thomas has attractive controversy by criticizing the 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan ruling, meaning that public figures have a much higher standard (recklessness or malice) of proof against defendants in libel suits.  But who gets to be a public figure?  The notability for a Wikipedia page?  Or just a video channel or influential blog? 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Internet lawyer recommends reform of DMCA Safe Harbor and clearer definition of Fair Use, to fend off "false copyright strikes" on YouTube

YouTuberLaw discusses “False Strikes and Free Speech”.   The video appears to be motivated by reported increases in "copyright strike scams" against YouTube creators. 

Lior Lesig discusses the differences between how DMCA Safe Harbor (1996, for alleged copyright infringement) and Section 230 (for most other torts) for downstream liability exposure for platforms.

Legacy media lobbied hard for something like the DMCA Safe Harbor process. 

DMCA is set up to presume that a content creator is guilty of infringement, requiring a platform to take it down immediately, and making the creator follow a specific process to appeal. 

This of course could be compared to the Article 13 proposal as part of the EU Copyright Directive, which aims to prevent infringing video from being uploaded at all by “amateurs”. 

Lesig thinks that Fair Use needs to be defined more precisely in Copyright Law, and be retrofitted into the DMCA process. 

He also recommends that YouTube (which already has ContendID and counter claim processing), could punish filers or false claims by banning uploading content (but not preventing future claims).  
 He says this could be a parallel process to change the “balance of power”. 

Update: Feb. 19

Ars Technica has a detailed article by Timothy B. Lee on the incident where The Verge / Vox filed a DMCA takedown request against two videos that mocked an earlier video about building a gaming PC.  Someone at Vox apparently asked for copyright strikes (which could get a video creator banned) and was vengeful.  The strikes were removed in a few yours after the video creator was notified. This seems to be the incident tlat Lior is emphasizing. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Facebook collars pages owned by Americans distantly connected to partly Russian funding sources, raising the ante about political website owenrship transparency

Facebook has suspended some pages run by Maffick Media, which apparently are critical of American military or foreign interventions, and associated with an American journalist Rania Khalek  and her In the Now

The reason was that some of the funding for the pages supposedly came from Russian interests, although legally (if indirectly).  CNN Business has a detailed story (and mobile summary).  Presumably Facebook might restore the pages if funding becomes more transparent.

This reminds me of the issues I had in September when I tried to have my Facebook page post about power grid security boosted (Aug 30).  Facebook said, after some convoluted attempts to use their identification procedure, that they couldn’t identify me with actual domestic advertisers, and that I should let other companies admin and sell on my page to become known – a practice that actually contributed to the October Purge 3.0!

Tim Pool’s video, above, also notes that Newsguard will not give a green rating to a site that does not make its funding sources clear to the public.
Let’s put this all together, connect the dots.  Any website that discusses political and social issues and doesn’t have obvious or transparent pay-your-own-way funding sources could eventually be de-platformed if there were enough political pressure put on web hosts or social media companies. Patronage and ad revenue (clickbait) might be acceptable if it could be easily tracked.  But such a policy could eliminate many independent web operators. 
I fund my work, in retirement, from savings accumulated for all the years I was employed (in IT).  It is funded by assets accumulated by capitalism (which I guess Ocasia-Cortez  or Umair Haque doesn’t like). There is inherited wealth, but only money in my name (and properly distributed from trusts first) is ever used.  I guess I could prove that if I had to (I’ve talked about this more on the “doaskdotellnotes” blog recently). But there is no way an external third party could know that I didn’t receive money from foreign interests, even Russia or China.  I didn’t (as far as I know).  But I can’t prove it because of it is private. (The trusts are grantor trusts, to make the tax accounting easier, but that even complicates accountability for this issue if someone wants to go fishing).

Saturday, February 16, 2019

SEC, in supervising cryptocurrency exchanges, warns that a programmer could need a "license to publish" code, a medieval European concept

Although we look to the federal government to reign in on abusive or collusion practices restraining fair competition (as with YouTuberLaw’s recent project to file a complaint against payment processors in the Patreon case with the FTC), it can go too far. 
Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a recent piece by Rainey Reitman, notes that the Securities and Exchange Commission has warned some publishers that disseminating code (maybe open source??) related to cryptocurrency might be viewed as running a securities exchange illegally, story

This has to do with the decentralized exchange EtherDelta

EFF argues that the SEC statement could imply an administrative law requirement of a “license to publish,” an idea that was prevalent in Europe after the printing press was invented (I actually covered that in my 1998 “Our Fundamental Rights” book so I probably have some reason to look into this further again, for my DADT Notes blog.) 
EFF included a link to a PDF of a letter it sent. 

The SEC’s language was:

A system uses established non-discretionary methods if it provides a trading facility or sets rules.  For example, an entity that provides an algorithm, run on a computer program or on a smart contract using blockchain technology, as a means to bring together or execute orders could be providing a trading facility. As another example, an entity that sets execution priorities, standardizes material terms for digital asset securities traded on the system, or requires orders to conform with predetermined protocols of a smart contract, could be setting rules. Additionally, if one entity arranges for other entities, either directly or indirectly, to provide the various functions of a trading system that together meet the definition of an exchange, the entity arranging the collective efforts could be considered to have established an exchange.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

EU Articles 11 and 13 pass trilogue and are even worse, as France and Germany make "peace"; is blockchain a workaround?

Despite the ringing criticism for the EU Copyright Directive even from large media outlets noted last week, the final version from the February 13 trilogue seems to be “even worse” according to the latest story from Copy Doctorow on Electronic Frontier Foundation here.

Article 13 now has deleted clauses to protect artists and scientists. It’s ironic that only the big tech platforms in the US would be able to afford to have the filters.  No one has talked about hosting companies, which work very differently from social media companies (everybody forgets that).
All sites that have been around for more than 3 years or make over a certain amount would have to install filters for user-generated content.  This is supposed to be the compromise between France and Germany.
And Article 11 now makes no exceptions to the link tax from even ordinary bloggers or non-profits if they have any income at all.  What would be interesting would be a video channel (like Timcast) that presents detailed paragraph-by-paragraph critical commentary on news articles (although right now these are only article originating from EU companies).
The channel below (from Sweden) says that platforms are held responsible if users make unlicensed links to European sites in affected countries.
One question is, why don’t paywalls serve the same purpose.  You could link to an article, but a consumer could not read it without paying for the content the way you would buy a hardcopy newspaper or magazine.  This has recently led to discussions of the idea that paywalls could be bundled.
The main reason seems to be pure protectionism:  legacy media is to be protected from the amateurs who have no overhead.
It would seem that web hosts and social media sites in the US would need to block content from North American users from the EU entirely.  Blogger now warns its users about complying with EU privacy rules. What would it say about Article 11?  Would the country TLD's just disappear and no content go to the EU?
Axel Voss believes users have no rights unless they become part of the legitimate, unionized and employed establishment before they do journalism. 

The EU parliamentary vote happens March 25-28 and April 15-18 and there are major EU elections in May.  

Yet American media has paid or no attention to this problem so far.
The video above discusses the latest development and mentions the idea of searching blockchain, and Google’s plans to do so.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Leader in supposed far right group reportedly denied personal banking services by Chase, taking "deplatforming" to a new level

Saturday, there was a disturbing story that Chase Bank had closed the personal account(s) of Enrique Tarrio, an individual said to be in the leadership of the Proud Boys, although black and Cuban.  This story needs to be read in the context of a Daily Beast report by Aron Gupta in April 2019 that POC are joining the group for reasons that would seem ironic, to say the least.  

Timcast broke the story Saturday on his main YouTube channel.

Tim Pool’s video focused on a story from “Big League Politics” which NewsGuard marks as red.  But WeatherInternal and TiPolitics, not rated yet, carried the story.
I have noticed that many “conservative” sites are marked red by NewsGuard.

The story included a photo of the letter from Chase.

However, Slate, which is marked green by NG, had reported that payment processors had removed support for Proud Boys merchandise.  There seems to be a suggestion that Roger Stone's arrest has something to do with all this. 

It’s important to get the facts right on this group, and there still seems to be some factual controversy among journalists as to whether this group really is “dangerous” to others. Wikipedia characterizes the Proud Boys unfavorably, although it says that the stories that the FBI has labeled the group have been retracted.  Southern Poverty Law Center, whose characterizations of some groups has led to controversy and even libel litigation, had labeled them as hate.  However some Proud Boys members had been arrested after a scuffle with police in a brawl with Antifa  (Daily Beast). 
Milo Yiannopoulos had been denied a Patreon account because of his past association (on at least one event) with the Proud Boys.

It is very disturbing that anyone’s personal banking account would be closed, absent evidence of criminal use (which has not been reported). Pool mentions China’s social credit system and wonders if we are heading for the same place.

On the other hand, some people believe that at some point you have to accept peer support for the idea that a particular group has become an enemy, and this is very much a perception with the alt-right and far-right, much more so than it was even with radical Islam a few years ago. It is very difficult to report objectively in a heavily tribalized, polarized political climate.

Trump’s election and behavior, along with the US’s own sorry history with respect to past slavery and race, make the alt-right “threat” more real to many people today.

Banks and payment processors, as we have seen according to evidence with the Patreon problem, seem much more spooked by the American and European far right than they have been with radical Islam.  Lior Leser (YouTuberLaw) has been working on an FTC complaint about possible collusion among payment processors. 

We’ll have to see if major news outlets talk about Tarrio’s loss of personal banking services.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

EU Copyright: "Deal" between France and Germany seems to fall apart just before Feb. 12 vote

The next Trilogue vote on the European Union Copyright Directive apparently will happen on Tuesday, Feb. 12. 

But, as Copy Doctorow of Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, the entire deal over Article 13 between France and Germany seems to be in shambles.  
And the largest media company in Germany, Bertlesmann, claims it is unworkable.  I don’t think it is interested in collecting a link tax from me for this.  Italy has also practically refused.  Portugal has a grass-roots movement against it. 

Again, it would seem to take into 2020 to implement, and it is unclear how US platforms would deal with this – simply treat the EU as if it were another China?  US hosts and social media company platforms have hardly mentioned this so far.

Update: Feb. 10

Interview with Glyn Moody on Farmablog, in French (use Google translate), here

Friday, February 08, 2019

More newspapers and periodicals act like they want to monopolize readers with paywalls, and that's bad

Max Read, of “New York” Magazine, argues that paid digital subscriptions are working fairly well as a business model, and not just for the New York Times.
With periodicals (even this one), there is similar success.  Conde Nast is going to full paywalls. 
I’ve recommended paywall consolidation (into "bundles") as a business idea before. I think periodicals should sell single digital issues without full subscriptions, so you can buy individual copies the way you would in a supermarket or even a Barnes and Noble.

It’s important that readers be able to vary their publication diet to avoid the echo chambers and algorithms.  I don’t even expect anyone to be monopolized by me.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Video channels are more likely to hold their own financially than blogs, although this is a fairly recent development

Just to follow on yesterday’s discussions:
It’s apparent that in the past few years (starting maybe in 2013 or so), video channels seem to have replaced blogs in popularity, for the most part.  Some video bloggers can make six figures in patronage and advertising and some subscriptions a year. Like anything else, there is a bit of winner-take-all, and there is a finite limit on how much the public would pay for this.
Video blogging in the US is done mostly on YouTube, which is on its surface a free service.  It has been very stable and very secure. The ContentID has been manageable, but sometimes it does flag videos for unintentional background music (usually without copyright strikes).  As with Blogger, there is some risk in using “somebody else’s free service” (without phone support) and recently YouTube has become stricter on what it will not allow (weapons demonstrations and sales, for starters).  But in the later part of 2018, a number of “conservative” vloggers found themselves kicked off patronage platforms apparently from left-wing pressure on payment processors following Charlottesville and even Trump’s election (and right-wing unrest in Europe).

Video blogging from EU countries would be severely restricted it Article 13 were to go into effect.

But blogs became prominent in the early 2000’s, most of all Heather Armstrong’s famous mommy blog, “Dooce”, a verb she invented to mean fired for an online reputation problem.  Typically blogs were dependent on search engine placement for visitors and revenue, but some of them do get fed into social media algorithms.   Blog content usually is free and supported by ad revenue (clicks and especially product purchases, which happen today less often because of social media competition).  But most blogs (outside of mommy blogs) make money only when connected to an already successful business.  Blog success was tied to building email subscription lists, which became more objectionable as time went on because of spam and phishing concerns.  Blogs were usually managed technically by hosting companies, which also sold domain names.  Generally, hosting companies had good phone support.  Although they had AUP’s against obviously bad or illegal behaviors, generally deplatforming was not a problem until things changed suddenly with Charlottesville, as companies came under pressure not to become associated with white supremacy or some of the “alt-right”.  Typically they had not been as concerned about radical Islam or foreign influences.   Security concerns are more likely to occur with hosted content than with free services from very large platforms (Facebook, YouTube).  In a polarized political climate, these could become more significant with “free” by otherwise obscure content.

Blogs can be read and easily cross referenced over time with labels and tags. So they are easier to do research from. But videos, while taking longer to consume, now are much more popular with most visitors and more likely to hold their own financially.
 In watching the video above, please remember that there have been controversies with Patreon recently, as explained in other blog posts here or from many other sources online. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Could Internet "free content" be collared as a genuine national security (if political) risk?

Since Donald Trump is going to talk about “national security” tonight at least in terms of the southern border and about the idea of a declaration, I think we do need to stop for a moment and ponder the national security implications of how Internet use has gone in the past few years.
The most obvious issue is the vulnerability to foreign and sometimes domestic enemies who want to leverage the fact that our “neo-liberalism” and hyperindividualism (starting especially with Reagan and shareholder capitalism) have left so many people behind.  Now, it’s not just government;  major corporations are wondering if the absolute commitment to individualized personal responsibility can work, and if freely self-distributed speech (more than just “hate speech”) that does not take into account the literacy of “average” users, especially of social media, is sustainable.

A lot is made of the growing security vulnerabilities and malware and threats to infrastructure and power grids (across air gaps – and thankfully the “liberal” media is finally waking up to the ideas in Ted Koppels’ “Lights Out” (Books, Nov. 10, 2015).  A lot is made of surveillance capitalism and the compromise of user privacy, built into big Tech business models. But the biggest problem seems to have been the gullibility of “average” users particularly in social media echo chambers, created by algorithms and fed my curious personal addictions and some breakdowns in real world interpersonal relationships.

Someone else will say it if I don’t, so here we go with “I told you so.”  You could shut down this problem if you didn’t allow any Internet content to be free.  That’s pretty extreme and maybe unworkable and I’ll get into the obvious variations in a moment.  In the days of Web 1.0 when people used search engines to find what they wanted, echo chambers weren’t much of a problem, although “online reputation” shaping up as an issue.

The problem is not tweets and Facebook posts themselves, it’s the articles that they can dynamically preview and link.  As we know, particularly since about 2014, increasingly these have come from foreign troll farms. And the underlying characteristic is that they’re usually “free”.    That is also true of the manipulated video clips that fed the explosive false narrative that fooled mainstream media two weeks ago with the Covington-MAGA Internet smear storm.

Some observers (music composer Jaron Lanier, for example) have suggested that every piece of content linked by social media (or posted) result in a micropayment (maybe even digital currency tokens) to the creator. That might give social media companies incentive to become more restrictive on what can be posted – and they would probably become more like publishers, without downstream liability protection. That seems to be the direction that Europe has proposed with Articles 11 and 13 (although these may suddenly be running into more resistance during trilogue, thankfully).

Another idea is that all web content is either behind a paywall, or else actually sells something.  That would pretty much shut down blogs like mine, because I can’t reasonably expect people to pay to subscribe it. 
Of course, there are variations.  Many sites are supported by ads and surveys – but many more which offer them are not self-supporting this way.  And crowdfunding or patronage (despite the recent censorship scandal with Patreon and payment processors) is very popular.  If a podcaster does receive patronage income, at least he/she has shown that the audience wants what “they” have to offer. Partronage sites often offer much of their content free (some with paywalls), but they could be prodded to go to fully subscription models.

I’ve written before that a lot more could be done (technically, with new startups) to consolidate access accounts to publications with paywalls at discounts (rather like the consolidated magazine subscriptions of the 60s and 70s) to give average readers reasonably priced access to more newspapers and quality opinion periodicals, rather than just depend on one or two.

The tech community could, however, grow wary of sites that seem to be self-funded and have relatively low audience volume or engagement (as shown by analytics, like Google’s own product or by Urchin, etc) with intense, even if centrist, political or issue-oriented content. They could be concerned about invisible “Black Swan” risks not covered by operating income, or lack of transparency.  They could become concerned that, political content especially, becomes fodder for algorithm stuffing, even if picked up by foreign agents.  I see no evidence that this has actually happened with mine, but I can’t prove a negative – that it couldn’t’ happen.

In the past, when there little self-publishing (until the 90s) content had to generate revenue to stay in circulation.  Books that didn’t sell went out of print and could disappear, except from used books shops and resellers.  Today, in the POD industry, they can stay up, but that could change eventually, inasmuch as in the past few years (since maybe 2012) POD companies have been much more aggressive with authors in encouraging them to sell and actually run businesses, not just talk. 

I have to mention, of course, that all of these observations are very bad especially for anonymous speech, which Electronic Frontier Foundation has vigorously defended.

All of this builds up in a polarized political environment where free speech (especially when self-published) seems much less supported by ordinary people than it was maybe even just three years ago. The combative nature of identarian groups, which regards any gratuitous remarks about them as a possible threat, is part of the problem. We saw this before with radical Islam but now we see it especially with the US Far Left (and curiously European far right). Identarianism tends to attract people who experience life much more as part of a group than do individualistic speakers who run YouTube channels. But another idea is Taleb’s “skin in the game”:  at some point, talk must lead to taking action, or else it suggests that the speaker doesn’t real “care” at a “human” level about real people.  This reminds me of the antagonism between balanced and unbalanced personalities in my days in New York exploring Rosenfels’s polarities. Politically, this idea points to the concern that individualized political or issue-driven speech weakens solidarity and makes it much harder for "groups" to get their concerns respected; but, moreover, it weakens overall citizen participation in ordinary politics (beyond just voting) like candidate fund raising, and leaves politics hollowed out and taken over by the extremes, which reinforces corruption. 

So could I face a day where I get questionnaires from providers on my funding, my monetization, participation with real commerce (legitimate advertising) or warnings about low volume, calls for community engagement (like Facebook’s “add button” for non-profit requests) or “gratuitous” political speech?  I think that in time this is becoming likely.  The world we got used to for the past twenty years isn’t completely sustainable in this world of tribal inequality.  We will be expected to take more responsibility for others as the entry criteria for a global speech brand.  There have been some discussions in the past, as far back as 2008 (before the financial crisis, which hid everything) about ideas like mandatory insurance for account holders and even mandatory provisions for digital executors.  They've never gone anywhere.  But this could change.
 There even remains a cultural disagreement of what it means to be a journalist, and to be a writer, as two separate things. Many people in the literary world (the "writing to sell" meme) think that writers should be forced to "pay their dues" by offering what other people want before expressing their own views.  I think I've embedded this before, but this is a good time to review my 4-minute video from April 2018, "A Dangerous Thought Experiment".
Personally, processing all this leads me into some serious personal contradictions, which I will cover with other posts (if I can keep dog-paddling).  Voluntarism is not as simple an answer for a non-tribal person like me as it may sound.
Let me close, however, by noting that I have started to “play ball” more by placing actual ads for my books on my Facebook page.  There is an important New York Times piece at least tangentially related to all this, Feb. 1, by Edmund Lee, "Digital Media: What Went Wrong?"   He says dependence on Facebook algorithms, but how do sites make money then? 

Monday, February 04, 2019

EU terrorist content regulation mechanically would resemble Article 13

Not only is the EU toying (we hope unsuccessfully) with its Copyright Directive, it contemplates a “terrorist content” regulation, intended to prevent border flareups involving unstable countries. Mike Masnick on Techdirt explains how it could require automated filters and takedowns of a scope similar to Article 13.  The link embeds a PDF of the proposal. 

Again, it could have a similar effect to Article 13 in the US or outside the EU.  Platforms will be very quick to yank content wrongfully flagged. 
I haven’t heard much about Article 13 itself in the last week.  Let us hope it flounders.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

An overheard conversation at a Starbucks about voluntarism -- and immigration and asylum seekers

Saturday afternoon, I sat an sipped coffee in an Arlington VA Starbucks and overheard a conversation between what sounded like two well assimilated and “moderate” Muslim businessmen.

One of them talked about enjoying volunteering.  It sounded like an odd comment to overhear in a Starbucks.

I got the impression that the community is well socialized to assist asylum seekers or refugees and that there are safehouses or homes set aside for them, not well publicized.
I had reason to recall the conversations about this in 2016 for LGBT asylum seekers.  But the definitive information on what I could really do never developed until I sold the house. I was left with the impression that you have to “belong” and interact with people in a community, and probably already have dependents, to be much good at this.