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.