Monday, November 13, 2017

Recreational Racists

We live for clicks, likes, followers and the validation they bring. Even if they are a two dimensional, hollow click validation of strangers rather than the substantive approval of our family or community online or off.

Under pressure from social media companies and friends, people open accounts only to find their social circle and popularity does not necessarily soar as it has for others. Out of frustration, a user may something inappropriate, only to find it gets more attention than anything else they had posted before. Despite having done something bad, the attention feels good. The user may start looking for the best things to be horrible about in order to gain the most attention possible.

Even if they might not start out as inherently bad people, that is who soon becomes their community. Click me, you like me. People go where they are liked, even if that place is bad.

We, the internet community, don't help. We share the worst things we see and follow accounts and causes we despise (who does that?). Maybe  for the right reasons, but a share is a share and a follower is a follower. Some people would rather be hated and followed than not followed at all. We have seen numerous cases of haters, when unmasked, demand they have a right to say what they want and then beg not to be outed (look up examples @sweepyface and Violentacrez ) and promise never to do it again. They claim they didn't mean the horrible things they said. Andrew Anglin, who runs the Daily Stormer website and is now being sued for his online viciousness, recently claimed his website was an experiment and not the rampant anti-Semitism it appeared to be - a hobby Nazi. 

Of course there are genuine haters, racists and bigots who would love nothing more than to lead a lynch mob, beat immigrants with impunity or burn minority-owned businesses. We certainly have enough of those people. We don't need to foster weekend warriors for hate.

In a world measured in likes and views, people will resort to any online behavior, as long as it gets reposted, retweeted or shared. Sensationalism, distortion, artifice becomes king. Attention getting behavior is nothing new, just ask any third grade teacher. It's all about insecurity. 

We need to call out bad behavior and hate online from those we know. On some issues it is NOT OK to agree to disagree. We need to acknowledge and value of the people around us, so people feel real validation and are not forced into distructive behavior to find acceptance online. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Larry David's Preface to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

People fear what they don't know. Bias, racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism are most common in places where people don't meet anyone different from themselves. Yes, there is bias in diverse populations, and some haters will say their bias is due to their experiences with certain groups. Upon examination, their exposure to certain groups and their experiences with others,  have been of a very limited nature.

Stereotypes are more easily integrated into a belief system when there is nothing to challenge those stereotypes.

In the vast majority of cases the only exposure some people have to different religious, ethnic or social groups is from television, movies and, of course, the internet. Opinions are formed, solidified and fortified based on the thinnest of evidence; a script, an interview, a post on some website. Whether the information is true or false makes little difference. This is why monitoring, confronting and challenging hateful words and attitudes, regardless of how overt or tacit, matters.

I am a white male and would not presume to talk about racism or sexism, but I am Jewish. There are many people who have never known, met or had close contact with a Jew. Huge swaths of our population have never been to a city with a sizable Jewish population and seen it. I am not talking about the  ultra religious Lubavitcher sect who wear the back hats, not the Chabad missionaries, just the average Americans who are Jewish.

Many people spend the time to learn the reality, but for far too many, their ideas of me are shaped by what they are told. All too often the evidence of the distortions they are told are found in Henry Ford's International Jew, David Duke's Jewish Supremacy or The Elders of the Protocols of Zion. And that becomes all the evidence they need.

So, when Larry David makes a Holocaust joke, he has erroneously signaled, to far too many people,  that it is now OK to joke about the Holocaust. Unfortunately, it's not and may never be. We are talking about one of humanities darkest moments.

The best of people will understand where David is coming from, but the worst will use this as an opportunity to degrade something that must remain unassailable. The Holocaust is not just a Jewish thing, racism is not just a black thing and sexism is not just a female thing. Once we get that, maybe then.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Internet Fear Factory

FEAR is the sharp edge of cyberhate. Fear is what gives power to cyberbullying, doxxing, trolling, cyberstalking and online racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia.  Fear of the unknown antagonist, fear of harm, fear for our jobs, fear of persecuting evil doers, fear of school, fear of our inboxes, fear of our secrets and fear of being alone and isolated - just for openers.

ALL forms of online aggression are meant to do one thing above any other, instill fear.  Its goal is to  cower an opponent into submission in order to win an argument, dominate a platform or drive a social group or an individual from the internet completely. Cyberhate is bad, corrosive and unproductive, but without imparting fear the hater and hate becomes largely powerless.

OUR anti-cyberhate efforts focus mainly on the words, the speakers of hate and the places online they exploit. Removing the ability of  haters to spread the propaganda of hate, spread fear and victimize people is certainly one tactic. However, messages of hate and incitement may be impossible to stop. As long as the internet remains open (please, pray) there will always be some place willing to support hate under the mantle of alleged honesty, free speech or free commerce.

IF we can't stop hate-speech itself, we need to find a way to stop the fear it causes. We need to stop making the victims responsible for taking action and giving the fear-mongers a free pass.

BREAKING the barrier of  victim isolation is perhaps the most important step. When people realize they are not alone, isolated, being marginalized and have a shared experience;  fear is instantly reduced. Taking control, situation mitigation and strategic planning are ways to further the reduction of victim-hood and fear.     

THE internet is a powerful tool for amplifying speech. Just as it can be used for spreading fear, it can also be used for educating how to blunt the fear. If we can never truly be rid of cyberhate, perhaps we can pull some of its fearful fangs.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Multiverse of Cyberhate

My internet is not your internet. There was a time when all our internets were roughly the same.  Your experience and mine were similar.  We could talk about the internet like it was last night's tv news..."did you see that" just about anyone with a computer. Not anymore.

Growth of content and our striving for a personalized internet experience has led to unique and sometimes isolating habits. It is surely hampering our ability to find solutions to our cyberhate problems. Whether we are left-wing, anti-government decoupagers or right-wing, nationalist cat video lovers; with each friend, like, follow, we are creating a personal internet experience completely different from almost anyone else's. We have become used to sharing only in our own internet universe and do not often look beyond it willingly. And often when we do, it quickly gets ugly.

At some point users begin to define their own universes within the internet expanse. The divergent threads share origins, some key elements and may even look similar. They are actually alternative universes which often have their own logic, moral standards and processes. Reflecting their owners ideas, personality and, too-often, the desire not to have their ideas challenged or questioned.

I have reviewed tens of thousands of complaints about cyberhate in my career. I cannot recall one complaint about 4Chan or 8Chan. There is certainly racism, misogyny and hate on the Chans.  Why no complaints? Because cyberhate is endemic to the Chan universe. We expect no less. It is the atmosphere and gravity of that place. The content from 4Chan would cause (has caused) mayhem on Facebook or Twitter. They are different slices of the internet multiverse.

Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms are their own micro universes. In those universes live different behaviors that some would consider hate, and others do not. It is understandable that like minded people create their own groups. That's what the internet is for. It is not natural or healthy for those groups to wall themselves off.  Isolation breeds stagnation. Harmonies come from a range of voices.

Solving the problem of cyberhate is as close to universal desire as you can get these days. But, because of the internet multiverse, we cannot even communicate to each other what we perceive as hate. Much less develop an idea how to manage it.

An entirely different world of thought can seem like a daunting place to go. In scifi such trips require complicated equipment and planning, or it can be as simple as knocking on your neighbor's door and saying, "did you see that?"

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Internet Emission Controls

Who would have thought the internet industry and the automotive industry would have so much in common.

Businesses hate regulation. Always have. Product safety regulations have long been the most visible and contentious. The conflicts over regulation have spawned lawsuits, laws, threats, conspiracy theories and government agencies galore.

The automotive industry has been one of the most noticeable recipient of safety of regulation. The prevalence of cars, complexity of the product,  variety of its configurations, speed of operation and potential for deadly interactions with the public makes this understandable, in hindsight.

The automotive industry has resisted regulations for crash safety, fuel economy and emission controls. Often cited reasons for opposing these initiatives include the impact it will have on the cost of production, insufficient technology to implement the rule and lack of public support for the new regulations.

The funny part is, both sides were right. The need for emission controls and higher automotive efficiency were both critical and, as it turns out, not unrelated. However because of underdeveloped technology in both areas, the ideas were, from a practical standpoint,  in opposition. It took about 15 years to begin reconciling that conflict. Some would say they remain unresolved.

A remarkably similar scenario now faces the internet industry.  The internet is shepherded by large companies. It is complex, fast-moving, and has elements within its structure which can cause serious harm in the wrong circumstances.

Private citizens and community advocates have long been calling for more progress on making the internet safer.  Companies have been saying the level control desired will strangle the usefulness of their products, if it is possible at all. Out of frustration, Governments have decided to reach for preemptive and possibly unrealistic regulatory demands.

No one is considering that they all may be right. Government may well have justification in feeling it needs to compel change, and not be terribly reasonable about it. Companies know better than anyone what is and is not possible and the level of effort it will take to achieve what they are being mandated. The public remains confused, often victimized and feeling that they are being left out of the process except in the most extreme or high profile cases.

It is time for the internet and all its stakeholders to mature a bit. All industry regulations have had phase in cycles, scheduled compliance deadlines and often extensions. Why is the internet different? Most industries have established self regulatory bodies who file reports on objectives and efforts for meeting regulatory and safety benchmarks.  Why is the internet different? Almost all industries have consistent policies regarding  how they will respond to the public on consumer safety issues. Why is the internet different?

We live in a world where the idea of being safe from toxic contamination does not only apply to food, air, water or soil. We have a problem that requires our very best ideas, demands both short and long term goals and tied to coordinated action. Or we can continue to be evasive and obstinate, and suffer the consequences. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Alliance of Conflicting Interests

Constructive disagreement has proved to be the best tool for resolving our on going problems with internet culture; not laws, not righteous indignation, finger pointing, withering criticism and certainly not flogging in the town square. When interested, directly involved groups, companies and governments come together with honest intent, great changes are possible.

It is important to remember, acknowledge and even respect, that each company, group, community and government has different priorities. Elected officials want to get re-elected, companies want to stay in business and agencies advocate for their communities. These are often competing concepts or at least, they do lend themselves to exclusionary thinking.  That is our short coming and barrier of our own making. Pulling in the same imperfect direction is better than pulling against each other and getting nowhere.

Many people still labor under the misconception that the internet is inherently good and all the stakeholders are under some moral obligation to make it so. No true. Not even close. Never has been.

The internet will never be perfect. It is reflection of us and were are clearly not perfect,  but we are good. The internet can be good.

To achieve the next phase of the internet, it will take something difficult, doable and yet amazing.  We will need to come together, try to understand each other's priorities and compromise.

It could be good. No one will be completely happy.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Freeze-Dried Hate: Just Add Internet

Let's review; in the past few weeks we have learned that internet companies have a conscience,  have standards, have a backbone, and even the most reluctant can be motivated to act when confronted with horrific tragedy.  We have also been reminded that these companies have a scary amount of power. But lastly, and maybe most importantly, even all this cannot stop cyberhate completely.

For years providers have been periodically purging hate sites from their services. Many sites simply re-emerge on another service. Until now.

Stormfront, the longest extant hate website on the internet, was taken offline two weeks ago.  A casualty of the standards enforcement awakening. Last Friday, that website's owner announced to his faithful audience that although offline, the website could still be accessed and used by those technologically durable enough to work the coding magic necessary. In other words, although greatly diminished and almost dormant, Stormfront, like Voldemort, is still alive. In fact Stormfront, which started as a dial-up bulletin board in 1985, is now surviving as a 2017 version of dial-up network. Don Black, Stormfront's creator and operator, has always played the long game. He will strive to keep Stormfront alive until he can reconnect it to the internet and use that online energy to re-infuse the site with life.

Other websites are not operated as tactically.

Daily Stormer, the now exiled, archetypal pariah hate website, is run by Andrew Anglin and a small band of hangers-on. Anglin is obsessed with attention and will say anything to get it,  including calls for physical attacks and glorifying death. However, once dropped by U.S. providers, his shortsightedness has even left his site unpalatable to internet providers in Russia and Albania. In a pathetic display of neediness Anglin recently posted a 92 page PDF for his followers. Who is going to read a 92 page online doc?

First amendment fundamentalists need not be too alarmed.  Many of the refugee hate websites re-emerged one way or the other. Those who knew they wouldn't uploaded their content to an extremist created library of hate. Equally, retains huge volumes of hateful content, and although not archive.orgs objective, that content remains ready to reuse.

Our darkest places already exist and wait,  just hoping the internet will remain their path into the light.