Monday, April 01, 2019

"Stochastic" content is dangerous; now more western countries talk like they want to shut down all user generated content for the crimes of the few



I had not heard the term “stochastic terrorism” before today, but the concept is quite disturbing, and it seems to explain the draconian actions, for example, of the New Zealand government in not allowing individuals to possess the “manifesto”, as if it were contagious and like a virus.

The term occurs in a long video by “NonCompete” that starts out with examining the speaker’s mention of PewDiePie early in the document.  I won’t link to it today (I have a different one below), since I haven’t had time to watch all of it, and might prefer to handle it on a more isolated blog. Admittedly, if you look at the entire channel, its own describes it as anarchist-leftist. But the concept itself is very disturbing, and would take a real commitment to free speech (even with risks) to defend against. 

The concept seems to have originated on Blogger, ironically, in 2011. Certain conservative pundits are named as instigating it.  But some of Donald Trump's behavior during the 2016 campaign would qualify for this definition. The whole concept reminds one of the idea of a "Manchurian candidate", although the person is unknown (unlike someone recruited as in the famous two films). Wikipedia has a sublink, which seems to point to left-wing sources in the footnotes for the origin of the term. The term can be applied to both radical Islam and white supremacy, but particularly left-wing sources  (like "NonCompete" and "ContraPoints") tend to fear the latter more now as particularly insidious. malignant, hard to isolate, and something that cannot engaged with normal free speech. 
   
At the time, Obama had been in office two years, and the political climate was generally more stable than it is now.  I had just commemorated the passing of my own mother and was starting the next phase of my life, and here we are, now.  The Arab Spring was yet to happen, and Osama bin Laden would soon be found.

ISIS would become publicly notorious around 2014, as an aftermath of US pullout from Iraq and the whole situation with Assad in Syria, leading to the migrant crisis in Europe. But later in 2014 (actually starting in 2013 with the Treyvon Marin case), racial tension (particularly over police profiling0 would erupt in Ferguson and other cities. Even with Obama president, tensions increased.  The, as we know retrospectively, foreign meddling in social media would add to polarization and a group reaction from what we call the “identarian right” or alt-right. Donald Trump would take advantage of working class people “left behind” the capitalist, “elitist” economy in a way that Hillary Clinton didn’t try for urban poor (Sanders would have taken care of this).

Gradually, the “alt-right” became the threat to use this technique, allegedly for white supremacy purposes, which seemed to become a much more dangerous threat than most of us had thought, when we had been justifiably focused on radical Islam (and Pulse had happened in June 2016).  In August 2017 Charlottesville would happen.

The essential technique is to build up a set up of code words of dog whistles inside otherwise normal looking writing, to attract a certain radical audience.  At some unpredictable time, some person may go off.  This process would be related to so-called “shitposting”. I see that on Nov. 24, 2018 I had covered a video by ContraPoints that describes this kind of process, recognizing developing fascism in disguise.

Once an incident occurs, the intervening speakers have “plausible deniability”.  The Norway (2011),  Comet Ping Pong, Pittsburgh, and now Christchurch events might be construed as stochastic, aligned with some aspects of the alt-right. Pulse, aligned with radical Islam, probably is not; but maybe Paris 2015 should be so regarded, as well as should the Cartoon Controversy.

One problem with articulating this theory is that it does envelop what used to be considered very mainstream ideas, such as opposition forced school bussing in the past, or to quotas or some forms of affirmative action, talk of reverse discrimination, maybe opposition to reparations.  Any criticism of the most radical Left agenda could be construed this way and then silenced.   The video mentioned earlier views the Covington kids as presenting this threat, even despite the revising of interpretation of what really happened (and the litigation now).

Rolling Stone referred to the practice in discussing Donald Trump’s rough language at the convention and in the 2016 campaign, in an article by David Cohen here.   Jonathan Keats, in a Wired article in January 2010 (paywall) indicates that the stochastic process lets “bullies operate in plain sight”.

I think there is another related concept, what I have called “implicit content”, in relation to COPA and also in connection with a bizarre incident that occurred in the fall of 2005 when I was working as a substitute teacher (see July 27, 2007 post).

There is still another potential disturbing glitch with citizen commentary and journalism.  Once someone (even I) have a reputation for covering all major issues under the “connect the dots” (or “keeping them honest”) theory, an actor could create an incident simply to force journalists to draw attention to his grievances, even if they don’t publish the actor’s name (who may die in the incident or spent life in prison anyway).

This is a disturbing theory, right from the blogosphere.

But that's not all for right now.  I glanced at Timcast, and I guess it's a good (or bad) thing that I just did. 


As if all this were not enough, Damien Cave wrote in the New York Times on March 31 that some countries, especially Australia, where apparently there are proposals to require tech executives to vet all user generated content? 

Mark Zuckerberg, in his op-ed Washington Post, recently, called for more regulation of the Internet in a few areas, including privacy and “harmful content”.  

 His ideas seem reasonable enough on the face.  But, when making his proposal, does Zuckerberg understand “stochastic” harm?  Not many people do. 

Timcast already weighs in on Cave's article the NY Times piece,  He has developed the content of “Publication by Omission” on connection with Section 230.
   
There is a related concept called "steganography" which was a concern after 9/11, where low-volume websites might be hacked to provide covert terror instructions.  I don't recall that this has actually happened. 

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