Friday, December 4, 2015

The Bad Mirror - Social Media

Approximately 200 million people use social media of one sort or another. Why? Because we like it. We like it because it puts us in touch with friends and family. We like it because we get to choose what our individualized social media shows us.  It confirm our own beliefs, no matter how awful, twisted or incomplete they are. None of us is perfect and our personalized social media mirrors reflect back our own images as best it can, which isn't always very good. Even for the best people out there, social media is a bad mirror.

A carnival mirror is obvious in its flaws. Your car even warns you that its mirrors distort what you see in them. In both cases they are usually labeled accordingly. Not so social media.

Most platforms, and more so the worse they are, try to convince users they are seeing hidden truth, real truth, real reality or some equally meaningless description of the warped refection they show.

Some people don't want anything more. However, if you do the answer is painful,  difficult and simple.

 Look away from the bad mirror.

The internet is a business.  Websites of any size are businesses. They want to lure you in as best they can. They will tell you what they think you want to hear in order to get you to visit and stay a while. Maybe get you to register, follow, like and heart - even better.

Look away from the mirror sometime. When you hear, see or receive something that is completely out of left field or just sounds wrong, look around for yourself and ask questions. The Holocaust did happen and it was worse than  you can imagine. 9/11 was terrorists, not a conspiracy.Your skin, hair, eye color, height, weight, sexuality or where you were born has nothing to do with how innately intelligent or dangerous you are.

Take nothing at  face value. Face value is two dimensional - so is the reflection in the the bad mirror. The world isn't. But don't take my word for it, look for yourself. Always look as deep as you can.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Owning Hate - The New Way to Win

Impartiality in media, government and public opinion is now unquestionably a thing of the past.  The resulting rampant bias, closed mindedness or inflexibility manifests itself, inevitably, online. Sometimes it is malicious, sometimes through careless statements, sometimes habitual bias and other times outright calculated manipulation. The big issue is that the two, online hate and real world hate, feed on each other. Malicious and manipulative online content influences the real world audience. It is most commonly a result of content being shared without attribution. Disinformation, distortions, parafacts, lies and defamation shed the tainted patina of their truth of their source, gain credibility and resurface as bias, hate, intolerance and prejudice in worldwide media, the UN, public opinion and from the mouths of government officials. Bad information feeds back into the inter-world. It encourages and nourishes the ugly edges of our real-world.

Breaking this cycle of corrupted information exchange is the best tactic available for fighting hate. This is often called counterspeech. It is, at its heart, reminding people of the facts.  Marriage equality happened because the gay community steadfastly refuted the lies being told about same sex couples; they broke the bad-info cycle. Voting rights in the 1960’s happened, in part, because the Black community insisted on being Americans, just Americans. . Lizzie Velasquez rejected the title of the “world’s ugliest woman” and showed what beauty really is.  Clever Pie and Isabel Fay and many others have taken hateful comments and turned them in to songs, poems and comedy. All of them took ownership of the hate and in doing so, made a real change.

Influencing some changes are less realistic than others. You are not going to change the anti-Israel bias in the U.N., New York Times or BBC and neither are you going to undo the Russian, North Korean, Iranian anti-west tendencies or the religious fundamental objection to the LGBTQ life. You are not going to change the KKK, David Duke, Sheriff Joe Arpaio or any hardcore racist, misogynist, anti-Semite, ageist or troll. Change is up to the hater, not you. However, owning the hate gives the hated and their supporters a chance to show the world how absurd, disgusting, ignorant, pointless and ridiculous the bias voices actually are. 

Owning the hate is not for everyone, especially not the weak of heart. It takes confidence, creativity, a thick skin, intelligence and above all, a dogged commitment. Lies and disinformation must not be ignored and cannot be met with mere denial; they must be confronted with mountains of verifiable truth – repeatedly. Even then, the truth needs to be defended constantly. The agents of hate and their followers, both active and tacit, always look for opportunities corrode and corrupt truth and reason. Speaking out against hate is free speech too. #ownthehate               

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cyberhate crimes against Jewish institutions on the rise

Cyberhate crimes against Jewish institutions on the rise

Thu, Oct 08, 2015
On April 15, an individual or group calling itself “Gaza Hacker Team” hacked into and defaced the Jewish Press newspaper website. On March 24, hackers identifying themselves as “ISIS cyber army” claimed responsibility for breaking into 51 American websites.

While the No. 1 reason for computer hacking continues to be criminal financial gain, there’s been an increase in cyberhate hacking in the past year. Much of the cyberhate is aimed at the Jewish community.

According to an Anti-Defamation League report, recent anti-Semitic hacker targets included a Jewish high school, synagogues in five states and universities in five states. While previous hacking efforts against Jewish institutions traditionally have focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recent attacks have been carried out in the name of the Islamic State.

“Cyberhate focuses on the air of creating a threat,” explained Jonathan Vick. “It is an attempt to disenfranchise people. Hackers will deface a website or something connected to the Jewish community and put up anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish propaganda to create a type of digital terror.”

Vick is the assistant director for Cyberhate Response at the Cyber Safety Center in ADL’s Center on Extremism in New York. Vick was in Houston, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. He spoke to attendees at the ADL Cybersecurity seminar, which was attended by a number of local Jewish organizations and businesses. He also addressed members of the Glass Leadership Institute and Houston business leaders and lawyers.

Once upon a time, hacking largely was the domain of groups of youngish people who broke into computers as a hobby or to create credibility for themselves in the programming community. In the early 1990s, some hacker activists began breaking into computer networks to promote their own political agendas. In the last decade, hackers around the world increasingly have adopted the veneer of a political cause to justify acts of cyberterrorism.

“For example, this January, a group of anti-Israel hackers calling themselves ‘Terrorists Team for Electronic Jihad’ claimed responsibility for several attacks against Israeli websites on behalf of ISIS,” said Vick.

“So, it’s no longer about simple digital trespass. Cyberterrorism and cyberhate now become noble by taking on all these political themes that make crime sound better. But, the main purpose of cyberhate attacks is to create panic and terror in people’s minds.

“Cyberhate crimes are illegal. It’s not just invasion of privacy. It’s in the same category as breaking into a computer for fraud or embezzlement. You’re illegally accessing someone’s computer account.”

Vick argued that most Jewish organizations are not current in their level of protection against cyberhate attacks. “In terms of how Jewish organizations manage their computer operations, most institutions and professionals are not as careful about this as we should be,” said Vick.

“The level of protection, diligence, awareness, staying up to date with equipment and software is a job in itself. So, it is difficult for the average person to stay on top. Ironically, it seems easier for the hackers, who seem to have more time on their hands than the rest of us, to stay ahead of the curve.”

New cyberhate and cyberterrorist groups pop up regularly. For example, Vick currently is following a group called AnonGhost Team. This group posts copies of all the websites they hacked on a boast board (a website where hackers post their successes). The bragging is a propaganda tool, without a doubt, said Vick.

“Since January, AnonGhost claims to have defaced thousands of websites, from Syrian sites to Israeli ones, although they have a definite preference for Jewish-themed organizations. We’ve knocked down their Facebook page several times. We interrupt their ability to brag about what they want to do.”

Yet, this sort of cyberterrorism continues to expand. Vick urged Jewish organizations to take three basic steps to counter the threat of cyberhate attacks:

Make sure your website is hosted by a professional company. Confirm that the host company provides security and the 24-hour round-the-clock response you need in case of an attack on erev Shabbat or on a Jewish holiday.

Confirm the program used to create your website is up to date. (Older programs have vulnerabilities which open the door to cyberattacks.)

Have an action plan prepared and accessible. If someone phones to report a website breach and a secretary picks up the call, all the secretary needs to do is quickly access an emergency response guidebook with telephone numbers and emails and action plan included.

Vick’s bottom line: Cyberhate isn’t a matter of youthful mischief. It’s a type of intimidation.

“Sometimes, an institution has membership lists or other valuable information on their website. So, there can be a more insidious side to these attacks,” Vick said.

“Avoid becoming a target. Be aware of your email and screen names (overtly identifying yourself with political, ethnic or racial identification).

“Most important: Respond when things happen. If your email account gets hijacked, go to IC3 (the Internet Crime Complaint Center site). File a complaint. Call the police if you feel threatened by an email.

“Regardless of where you stand on your politics, when it comes to outside world and anti-Semitism, all Jews are in the same boat.”

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Victim Maze

The Internet remembers everything - birthdays, parties, graduations, grandparents, love and loss. It also remembers revenge porn, murderabilia, hate memes and impostor, hijacked or hacked accounts. If you are a victim of targeted abuse, your problems may already be stored in any number of places and now have a life of their own.

It’s not Google. Google, Yahoo, Bing and all the other search engines and browsers are not the source, they are the catalog.  It is not any one service, platform or website. It is all of them together - along with libraries, archives and data depositories.

Anything posted on the Internet can find its way into one of these corners and hide or emerge at any time. Like a digital rat of data in the walls of a rambling virtual metropolis - multiplying.

When some falsehood, lie, distortion or defamation happens, it can never be fully erased. Even if the perpetrator is taken to court, found guilty and order to take down the content, they can be powerless to eliminate everything they are ordered to remove. The nasty bit of evil at issue may have already found a  hiding place in some dark corner of the net.  

The victims are left with one alternative, run the maze, chase the data rats and kill them when possible.

But data resurfaces at unpredictable times. Victims of crime, abuse and malice can be re-victimized again and again. This memory quirk of technology that makes the Internet so important and horrifying simultaneously is now the core of our daily lives.

The possible answers are equally ugly. Preemptively control content? Make the perpetrators and not the victims responsible for the perpetual clean-up?

We need to agree on the questions before we can hope for answers. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Poison of Silence

In a 1969 speech, Richard Nixon used the existence of a “silent majority” as evidence of support for his Vietnam policies. The silent majority was supposedly a group who were not protesting against the war in Vietnam or openly supporting the counter-culture movement.

History has called Nixon’s contention about these people into question, but that brilliant little piece of marketing propaganda has not been forgotten and the myth of the Silent Majority is still used today as validation by proponents of objectionable, unpopular and dangerous views.

Anyone brave or unlucky enough to venture into the uglier corners of the Internet will easily find assertions from extremists of every stripe that the majority of people agree with them, but are afraid to come forward for fear of their lives and livelihoods.  They consider a lack of open opposition to their positions as tacit approval.  This is, absurd, but you will never dissuade such minds of their logic.

This creates two major problems; the lack of support for these people, to them, translates to a huge underground nascent movement. They also take any expression of like attitudes as validation for, what are in many cases, violent beliefs.

We created this situation and we can resolve it.

At some point in the recent past we forgot how to debate. Not shouting and name calling, but civil discourse, reasoned disagreement and considered oration – they seem a rare and endangered form of communication. Even in the places they do exist, attempts are made to disrupt and destabilize this type of exchange as if attempted rationality was a dangerous thing to be prevented at all costs.

In 1969 and other times, it was not a simple matter for the majority to make themselves heard coherently on difficult subjects. We have no such excuse today. So why when a TV  panel talk show’s hosts make shallow statements about nurses does the Internet flare-up righteously, yet when presidential candidates say obviously misleading and untrue things does the net merely smolder? Simple – the Nursing community used its voice loudly, clearly, relentlessly and unflinchingly. 

The unfortunate time has come when we can no longer just shake our heads and click-away to someplace else. Thumbs down, star ratings and dislike buttons produce numbers, not views, rebuttal or outrage.  Digitally turning our backs is perceived as validation by desperately unsocialized or manipulative people of our world. Silence is food for the worst voices of our world and it is potentially poisonous for the rest of us.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Healing the Internet - Part 1

When you decide that the time has come for you to do something about the unacceptable, unprovoked or uncalled-for content on the Internet, you need to understand where you fit in the scheme of things in order to make a difference.

All Internet companies, websites and platforms exist because of users. Not blogs, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages, but the platforms, registrars and hosting companies themselves. They know this. Enough users can insure success. The loss of users means no advertising, no investing, no IPO, no stock value and defeat. This is the real power behind the Internet, the users. 

Most Internet users feel they have no power to correct the problems they see. They feel the companies do as they please and the users just need to live with it. There is no magic wand, but users are not powerless.  

Cyberhate, trolling and bad online culture has evolved and compounded over the past 20 years. The cyber-sages and forefathers of our current technology envisioned a system that would, through actions and voices of the people, self –correct for the cyber-yuck. There are good voices. Most people are not haters, but the technology and hate moved faster than the good. The good never quite caught up.

The Internet itself is the tools for making it change. 

First – If you see something awful online you can build a community around fighting it.  There is no need for anyone to be one voice, one email or one complaint about hate or bias online. 

Second – Once you understand the tactics of hate, the tactics for opposing it and the way to talk to the online companies, the effectiveness of good voices increases exponentially. 

Every single online company has matured over time. Not always because of the goodness in their hearts, but because of the voices of the users. Complaints do not always generate the desired result for the complainer, but enough of them, on the same subject will make companies stop and reconsider their policies. 

To win against hate we need to play the long game. 

More to follow.  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Trolling is an Addiction

Hate on the internet has been dominated by hate websites from neo-Nazis, the  KKK, conspiracy crazies and other intolerant and racist groups.   Many of those groups and websites are still there, but there has been an increasing trend and problem with trolls, snipers and individual haters.  

People troll and post hate online for any number of reasons; revenge, frustration, anger, emotional problems or just experimentation.  But like drug abuse, there is a trap. There is a thrill, and for some people, satisfaction.  I am not a medical professional, but some quick research shows a number of well credited articles regarding correlation in brain and body chemistry to thrill seeking and drug use.  

The behavioral similarities to the cycle of addiction and dependency are hard to dismiss casually. .

Merriam-Webster (the dictionary) defines addiction as, “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly :  persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

There are numerous stories where unmasked trolls tell  how they couldn’t stop, knew they were doing something wrong and hurtful, and if caught, acknowledged it would be disastrous.  Some have even committed suicide after being discovered.

Not everyone who uses or abuses drugs becomes addicted.  However, why would someone risk everything to post nasty comments on the Internet that they know are not just hurtful to others but ultimately self-destructive? Addiction seems a reasonable candidate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Who Controls Your Search?

It all starts with The Right to be Forgotten (RTBF).  Do you know the RTBF?  You really should. It may soon change the Internet.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) upheld the complaint of a Spanish man who objected to the fact that Google searches on his name gave links to a 1998 newspaper article about the repossession of his home. As a result, Internet companies in Europe can be made to remove irrelevant or excessive personal information from search engine results regardless of what is true or actually appears on the Internet.

RTBF is one of those ideas that starts out sounding good in principle, but turns bad in practice.  
The content which search engines are forced to delist is still on the Internet. It is potentially listed in other search engines, just absent from Google. RTBF does not compel the website where the content actually resides to remove the source of the problem. The users whose information is posted are the ones who specify what is to come down. There is a review panel, but there are no published rules on what will and won’t be removed. RTBF only applies to individuals, not ethnic, religious or social groups. Lastly, RTBF is a regional law; it impacts search engine listings in countries where that law prevails. 

 In a borderless medium like the Internet, RTBF is unenforceable. It became law anyway. 

Internet Extraterritoriality

It didn't take long for people and governments to figure out that RTBF was easily circumvented.  If you live in a RTBF country, you can use a proxy to access a search engine from a non-RTBF country.  All the content delisted under RTFB is then visible. The ultimate weakness of such a law is revealed.  

France has now demanded that Google apply RTBF removal to a global level.  Follow that? France wants an EU law to determine what you can find on Google in the US. 

Google has declined to comply. 

A showdown is in the making.  France has threatened legal action and sanctions.  Remember that France and other countries have the ability to block Google, search engine and all.  A very potent weapon. 

If France wins, the Internet loses and so do we.  

If France loses – well,  let’s wait and see.