Saturday, December 10, 2016

How to Fight Back When You Become an Out-Of-Control Meme


You've got the "Success Kid," Gavin, "First Day on the Internet Kid" and many more awkward teens rounding out the ever-growing collection of memes featuring kids. They go insanely viral due to funny faces, gestures and expressions that describe a universal sense of frustration, achievement or utter despair.
But sometimes, these viral photos are snatched from unknowing users' social media pages and used for nasty and offensive messages. When this happens, life can turn ugly real fast. 
A photo of Hillary Clinton with a 4-year-old lookalike at an October 2015 campaign event in South Carolina started circulating around the web after the photo made it onto the "Hillary for America" Flickr page. The image spread as a meme, but not as a funny or relatable one. Instead, it was twisted from a joyous moment meeting a political hero to a disturbingly dark and vicious sentiment.
Anti-Clinton groups took the photo and plastered a message in a "meme font" above the girl's smiling face and over her body, according to the Washington Post. The message read, "I am for women's rights!", before, in the same font, accusing Clinton of taking money from countries "that would mutilate this girl’s genitals, marry her to a Muslim pedophile, and stone her to death if she doesn’t wear a bedsheet."
Sullivan's mom, Jennifer Jones, told Mashable, she had tried in vain to remove the meme. Stressed and upset, she went directly to some of the social media pages spreading the image, on sites such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but struggled to get the meme taken down. "I’m just one little person," she said. "It's time consuming to go one by one."

After the election, Jones decided she couldn't do it alone and reached out to the secret Facebook group, Pantsuit Nation, to ask for help to remove it from sites. "I didn’t think I had a chance in hell in winning this," she said, but through group connections she got in touch with the Clinton campaign and the Anti-Defamation League.
She quickly found out that when scrubbing something from the internet, "successes are few and far between," but she persevered and the upsetting meme of her daughter is mostly gone. "It’s incredible," she said.
That photo is one of many memes featuring young people, usually taken from parents or kids themselves posting images on social media or photo sharing sites. In the latest #Pizzagate conspiracy theory fiasco, fake news stories about a completely fabricated child sex trafficking ring claiming to involve Hillary Clinton and campaign staff based out of a Washington, D.C., restaurant featured photos of real children in the made-up news. 
This practice of grabbing photos of kids and repurposing them is more common than you'd think, according to Jonathan Vick, the Anti-Defamation League's assistant director of the cyberhate response team. The group helped Jones take down the offending memes from as many corners of the internet as possible.
But fighting cyberhate involving children can feel like a Herculean task. "Nothing is ever completely scrubbed from the internet," Vick said in a call to Mashable, noting that petitioning a website to take something down is not always effective.
Jones' case with her young daughter is one of many the organization works to remove. "Parents are terrified when pictures start showing up in different places," Vick said.
Just this week a Rhode Island dad was horrified when his son's image was used as a joke meme on a Twitter account and other places. Although the photo of his son eating a donut did not include anything particularly offensive, he told his local paper that he didn't want his son's image circulating without his permission. He has posted removal requests on Facebook accounts and asked family friends to also petition sites to take down the image.
"Children are not fair game."
Vick is trying to spread a message that "children are not fair game" in the meme world, especially children with special needs. He said offensive use of these children's photos is prevalent and made to be funny because they look different. 
Jenny Smith from a small Alabama town knows too well how unforgiving a place the internet can be toward a child with special needs. 
After posting a photo of her son Grayson, now 3 and a half, on a Facebook page detailing his serious medical problems including occipital encephalocele, craniosynostosis, micrognathia, thumb hypoplasia, a cleft palate, hypospadias, congenital anomalies of the lower limbs, an atrial septal defect of the heart and other anomalies, his photo was used in a cruel meme mocking his looks. Smith discovered the meme in November, but it had already been online for months.
"I was just heartbroken," she told Mashable in a phone call. "Why in the world would somebody do that? I never really thought people would be so cruel."
Grayson has continued to defy his terminal diagnosis, so Smith is confident she can beat this. She has slowly been contacting sites to have the image removed, but she's faced a lot of resistance with claims of first amendment rights. Jones, the mom from the Clinton meme, has been in touch to connect Smith with more resources.
But Smith says since the photo is from her own social media post she knowingly took this risk. She is determined to keep Grayson's story up online  — that's how her family receives support. "I don't want to be self-consumed with this meme," she said, adding her family isn't going to back down and neither is her son, who is tech-savvy and knows how to navigate internet-enabled devices.
"I want him to know what people say can be cruel," she said. "I want him to have self-confidence. If I hide that from him, it’s not going to benefit him."
Vick said memes like Grayson's are the worst offenders, but harder to pull down. 

The "Success Kid" meme in various forms.
The ADL isn't after Gene Wilder-type memes or even messages made by parents and families themselves, which the group leaves alone. Take the "Success Kid," now 10-year-old Sam Griner. His mother said in a message to Mashable that over the years the image of Sam as a baby with a clenched fist is mostly used in fun, light-hearted ways, but her family has had to deal with their fair share of meaner comments and abuse.  
Gavin, an expressive 6-year-old from Minnesota, also has a huge online following thanks to photos and captions his uncle and other family members put on the internet.
In a phone call with Mashable, his uncle, who goes by his online name Nick Mastodon, said most of the memes are "in good nature," like the Time "Person of the Year" parody, which Mastodon said is "celebrating him." He added, "You put these things out in the world and you hope people use them for good."
"In the current climate, you’re seeing behavior on the internet less tolerant and more exclusionary."
But like anything, things can turn dark quickly. After the election, someone Photoshopped an image of Gavin drinking out of a cup to drinking out of a bottle of Clorox, alluding to him killing himself. "Depicting him in such a horrible way was pretty unsettling to me," Mastodon said.
He called out the person posting the photo and flagged the image as harmful on Twitter. These are usually the tactics he uses to attempt to control any abuse, and usually it works.
"In the current climate, you’re seeing behavior on the internet less tolerant and more exclusionary," Vick from the ADL said, such as more memes about politics and ethnicity. 
Getting the offending images off the internet entirely and keeping them off is not easy and usually involves bringing in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for using content without permission. 
"It's a lot easier to create these things than to get rid of them," Vick said.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thank You For Being Such A Jerk Mr. Trump

We  may actually owe Donald Trump a thank you for being a jerk.

Donald Trump's rhetoric during and since the campaign has certainly emboldened haters. There is no doubt about that. The hate incident statistics and clear increase in online incivility speaks for itself.

However, it is very unlikely that these are newly minted haters. Quite the opposite. Many of the so called "alt-right" leadership and core members are  white supremacists that have been known for years. Similarly, emergent vocal anti-gay, misogynist, anti-immigrant, fake news and anti-Semitic social media trolls are familiar names or closely connected to obvious networks of haters. For bringing them together and bringing many more to the surface, we owe Trump a thank you.

It seems that Trump's election has managed to prove the full extent of bias, hate and distrust in our country. Unfortunately, he harvested that cesspool for votes instead of using it as an example of what we need to overcome to be a better nation.

Don't look a gift Trump in the mouth. We now have a very clear picture of  the task ahead of us. We now know that we need to teach the children better about others. We need to work harder at listening to our neighbors and we have to learn to disagree without jumping straight to hate.

We all now have evidence of what many social minorities have long told us; the hate never went away, it has been below the surface the entire time. But it is not as simple as minorities being targeted, i goes both ways. It is sharp and smart. It is blunt and stupid. It takes no prisoners. It does not sleep and it is created much easier than it can be destroyed.

We see the hate and it scares us. It scares us that it is there and that it has been there all the time. But we see it, and acknowledging the problem is the first step in dealing with it. Deal with it we must. Although these are not newly minted haters, they will eventually inspire a new generation of haters. We also have the seriously bad habit of responding to hate with hate. The hate we experience can make us haters ourselves. An endless path we have possibly been following all along.

I suspect hate cannot be stopped. It is way too useful to the wrong people. It can be made weaker and smaller. Hate grows strong with fear. Fear grows in darkness and isolation.

There always victims, targets or agendas to hate because no sane person hates reflexively. Look to the victims, not at the hate. Reach through the hate. Treat hate like fog and it becomes insubstantial. Treat victims as friends and their fear and darkness is mitigated. Reach and hold on to the things that we share instead of fixating on the things between us. Hate is something small which looms large, we can make it smaller. If it wasn't for Donald Trump, would we be wiser today about such things?

It is critical to embrace our shared qualities and use what share as the to talking about our differences. Once we start thinking this way, we may find we like it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Today We Won a Battle Against Hate

DECEMBER 1, 2016

By Shaun Kozolchyk
Development Director, ADL San Francisco Regional Office
There are days when working for the ADL—coming face-to-face with so much hate and vitriolone wonders, how do I get through today?
Then there are other days when good things happen.
A few days ago. ADL was able to strike a blow against hate in a measurable, concrete permanent and HOPEFUL way.  We do that every day, behind the scenes, but on this day we did it in full view, and got amazing results.
But let me back up: A few weeks ago, I saw the most jarring Facebook post by a woman whose beautiful four-year-old daughter had been violated publically and horrifically.
You see: A lovely picture of her daughter with Hillary Clinton had been turned into a hateful meme spread by bigots.
I believed ADL could help.  And we did. Now it’s gone viral — and the focus of an inspiring news story in The Washington Post.
The following is Jennifer Jones’s story, in her own words:
I took my daughter to meet Hillary Clinton.  We were blessed to have an opportunity to get a photo of her with Hillary.  The adorable photo went viral and received a lot of positive attention from major media outlets. 

And then, what happened next was a shock: what became a new treasured family heirloom was turned in to a hateful image by the “Men for Trump” Facebook page.  I found out through a friend of a friend who’d actually posted the meme on her page.  My friend was outraged, asked her friend to remove it and notified me. 

I immediately wrote to the administrator of the page and told him I did not give permission for her image to be used—she’s 4 years old—and to take it down. He would not.  I then asked my friends and family to write to him and request the same. Eventually he agreed and took it down after the pressure of multiple emails.  I thought it was over. 

Then a woman I know Googled my daughter’s name and found that in fact, the meme/s had been shared on every major social media site tens of thousands of times.  When I learned that, I was devastated. I felt like I failed my child.  I sat in my car and sobbed.  I’m a mom. I fix things and I didn’t know how to fix this. I felt helpless. 

And then, my mama bear took over. This was a direct hit on my child and I knew what to do. I reached out to my Facebook community and asked for help.  I received messages from hundreds of strangers offering help and resources—many people suggested I get a lawyer, but I don’t have the financial resources to do that. 

One message among the hundreds stuck out: the one from Shaun at the Anti-Defamation League.  She told me she thought she could help and introduced me to her colleague, Jonathan Vick, ADL’s Assistant Director for Cyberhate Response.  After I spoke with Jonathan, I connected him with Hillary Clinton’s official photographer and the next thing I know, the meme is gone! 

When the ADL followed up to let me know, I felt total relief.  I feel ready to celebrate! I knew of the ADL before, but I didn’t know they do this! I’m in love with the ADL and am willing to do whatever they need to help others in my position!
I am grateful I work for an organization that stands up for all of us. Every day.  An organization that has experts working on so many fronts—in this case, copyright law, that we can be fast on our feet.
Jonathan knew that in the case of a copyrighted image, the copyright holder (Hillary Clinton’s campaign) can file a copyright takedown notice VIA counsel and have a hateful image removed.  We facilitated that process, and we won.

Thank you, Jennifer—for inspiring all of us to fight—and to the ADL for equipping us for the fight!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hey World - You Haven't Lost Us Yet, Love America

Yes, "we" elected Donald Trump as our next President. Now the good news,  half the voters 60,981,000 (roughly the population of England) supported someone else. 

Governments can do a lot of damage. They can compromise international relationships. They can impede economic growth and make unimaginable numbers of people feel threatened.

Most governments are temporary.  Trump will be temporary. Regardless what barriers or divisions may be fostered,  we don't need to worry, we can render them moot. 
We have the internet. 

No borders or walls or fences can truly stop us from connecting with people in any country. 

I will not abandon my friends and colleagues, no matter where they live, their color or religion.

If our international relations need to be extra-governmental, so be it. 

So says me and 60,981,000 or so friends.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cyber Savannah - South Africa's Great Opportunity

South Africa stands on the verge of something amazing, again. A mere 20 years after one of the great bloodless social revolutions in history, Africa's new economy and society are on the brink of a unique digital age.

Much of South Africa, and Africa in general, has no infrastructure for advance data access  for the public.  Broadband wireless is about to change that. In the very near future, the most remote or under served communities will have the same access to the internet and other digital vistas as anyone else.

Code knows no color, age or status. It speaks all languages and does not care where it is written or used - Soweto, Miami or Tokyo

Yes, there will be economic barriers, but they will be low compared to the burden of wiring and maintaining lines over endless miles of veldt. Mobile devices also have the advantage of offeting a much lower cost entry point .

But just as South Africa has a chance to launch a new chapter in its economy, it is also vulnerable to tech predators and social divisionists. Cyber safety is an area that requires special attention in Africa. Not only is there a vast spectrum groups and issues, but the threshold to violence runs shallow in many places,  making incitement an important issue.

Challenges have always accompanied opportunity. In developing markets and emerging societies the stakes are even higher.  It is incumbent on the internet industry, government stake holders and civil society to foster growth guard against abuse in this special place, at this interesting time.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fundamentalism, Absolutism and the First Amendment.

The First Amendment is not absolute, it has limits.  As important as those limits are, it is even more important that the First Amendment, and its limits, apply to everyone equally.

Whether based on the spirit, legal or societal commitment to the First Amendment, it is easy to start carving out exceptions to protect segments of society in unusual situations. Easy is rarely right or good. We choose easy because new definitions and demarcations can be very difficult. Even understanding that free speech is not absolute is hard. Even harder when we start talking about exactly where those limits are.

The fundamental absolute about the First Amendment is that it was intended to be as dynamic and changeable as the Constitution itself. That's why the founding fathers built-in a the capability to make amendments. The First Amendment and the Constitution were created by mortal men, but men smart enough to know that change is the only constant in the universe. Change is inevitable, necessary and rarely easy.  A static and rigid U.S. Constitution would be no better than the Russian Constitution.  When have you heard anyone discuss the Russian Constitution?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What if Heaven is Empty

Some aspire to go to heaven, others just wish to avoid hell, there are those who believe in neither and then there are those who don't care.

If heaven does exist, so does hell. There is always balance. Perhaps there are a spectrum of places between them. It seems unlikely that if you aren't an absolute paragon of virtue, and nobody is, you are doomed to the place reserved for the worst of humanity. I doubt that I will end up as Hitler's roommate for eternity because I lied to my mother about how her favorite vase got broken. However, possible sins, and the opportunities for exclusion from heaven are plentiful.

Even people who strive to live vitreous lives, with the expectation of going to heaven are committing a sin (hubis) and are therefore excluded. Being ignorant of heaven, religion or the striving for eternal reward seems the only relatively good path to the Kingdom of God. A catch-22, if there ever was one.

It seems unbalanced, getting into heaven so hard and getting into hell so easy. You can go to hell for doing nothing (sloth), but you can't get to heaven for trying. And, of courses,  one persons heaven is another's hell. So even striving for the ultimate goal may not be such a great deal.

There may be a number of heavens. Will my friends and family go to the same heaven I am? Is anyone in my heaven? If I get to heaven and it's empty,  it's going to really quiet. I could live with that.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Apologies to Pepe the Frog

There is something in the Pepe the Frog issue to piss-off just about everyone; a beloved meme hijacked to promote a hateful political agenda, media attention that now permanently casts a shadow on the beloved image and so much attention being paid to such a comparatively small thing at a time of rampant hate and discord.

Humans have a habit of co-opting items from popular culture for their own purposes. There is a long tradition of such things. Mostly, usually, it's benign and sometimes productive. The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the winter solstice goes back to the vikings. It is also no coincidence that every major religion  has festivals, holidays or rituals for  autumn, midwinter and spring. We use the familiar to make the new or different more acceptable. Sort of a social Trojan horse.

However, there is a darker side to this characteristic behavior. Famously, destructively and relevantly, there is Hitler's appropriation of the swastika. The same holds true for many revered symbols and images like the Celtic Cross, four leaf clover and the Gadsden Don't Tread On Me flag. The KKK even tried to corrupt Casper the Friendly Ghost until the ADL brought the Klan's efforts to King World Entertainment Corp's attention. Copyright is a powerful thing.

Unfortunately Pepe, you have no copyright protection, and you fell in with a bad crowd. The good news is,  you are not the first image to be abused in this way. You probably won't be the last. Perhaps if the morons of this world leave you alone, redemption will soon be yours.

Until then, sorry you're having a rough time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Tolerance Weapon

Don't we feel foolish.  Tolerance, the once promising key to a better tomorrow, has been turned to crap.

The haters,  in this case the self-anointed victims of the Civil Rights Movement, have finally figured out how to screw up our best intentions. They now claim that they too are entitled to be tolerated.

As truly social deviants, and unlikely to qualify to be tolerated, the haters have recast themselves in more socially neutral terms. They no longer call themselves right-wing, white rights or European traditionalists.

They are now Alt-Right. A term so ambiguous as to obscure their true principals and confuse the less informed. As a result, the fringes of the Alt Right contain some relatively normal people. The true right-wing core of the Alt Right movement uses the appearance of normality at its fringes to claims a right to be tolerated in the social and political arena.

Make no mistake, these are white supremacists and fascists trying to paint their picture with a brush broad enough to attract those people who are even slightly disgruntled.  And who of us isn't slightly disgruntled?

So, the sore losers of the Civil Rights Movement, the malcontents of the "Second Reconstruction" have decided that if they can't beat tolerance, they would cripple it, usurp it and undo it.

This all started with David Duke who encouraged the Klan to “get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms.” In essence, to seek the appearance of legitimacy and so be able to believably claim to be legitimate. Many other right-wing groups have followed his example. All clamoring for tolerance they neither believe in or deserve.

Hate deserves no respect, no tolerance. Not from anyone - regardless of race, religion, country, sex or political belief.

What now? Maybe it's time to abandon political correctness in favor of common sense. Not beliefs, just reality and truth.

We fought a war for this. Anyone remember? ,

Thursday, August 25, 2016




DEAR INTERNET, IT’S been a while, right? We here at WIRED talk about you a lot (mostly good things!), and we’ll admit it feels a little weird to address you directly. But we need to have a talk. And yeah, no, this is not going to be a fun one. Because things aren’t great, Internet. Actually, scratch that: they’re awful.

You were supposed to be the blossoming of a million voices. We were all going to democratize access to information together. But some of your users have taken that freedom as a license to victimize others. This is not fine.

Are we talking about Leslie Jones? Sure. Today. But we should’ve mentioned something to you Monday when some of you went after the woman running Ireland’s Twitter account. Or earlier this summer when anti-Semitic trolls started crowing about their nested-parentheses bat-signal. Last year, it was the assumption that of course we should have a pro-Gamergate panel at SXSW. Or two years ago, when some of you hacked Jennifer Lawrence and a slew of other folks in that ugly display known as—this is as gross to type as it is to read—the Fappening.

Did you know 40 percent of Internet-using adults have experienced online harassment? Do you know how many Internet-using people commit harassment? Us neither. It’s not many. But that minority is literally the worst. And they’re screwing it up for the rest of us.
When you were born 25 years ago, people were so overjoyed that they just wanted to talk with each other. Then they wanted to spend money. Great! Except the companies that rushed to fill that void figured something out: For anyone trying to spend money, odds are there’s someone else trying to take it. They added fraud protections to protect people and themselves.
But that didn’t protect anyone against what people said to each other. As you got bigger and stronger, more people wanted to talk—but some of them were jerks, or worse. Remember flame wars? You had no immune system, and you started to rot. Now that rot has turned to blight. And here we are.
The networks we use to talk to each other have managers, and they don’t seem to know what to do about it. We don’t either. We don’t know how to make you a place where information is still free but people are safe, too. We only know that silence is unacceptable.
You had no immune system, and you started to rot. Now that rot has turned to blight. And here we are.
Here’s what a Twitter spokesperson said when we asked about the problem of abuse on its platform: “We don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.” After a hate mob drove Leslie Jones off Twitter last month, Jack Dorsey appealed to bureaucracy: “Our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” There are rules? Well. As long as there are rules.

Except, you know what’s not making a difference, Internet? Rules. Do you know what happens when people talk to usabout how to stop harassment? They get harassed! Threatened. Other people email them their home addresses and name their family members!

And do you know what happens when we highlight how people respond to hate with love? Just read the replies.

Internet, it has to stop. And since you are this enormous, limitless beast with many heads and hearts and faces, the best way we know to get your attention is to talk to the companies and people who form your backbone and your bloodstream.

So. Companies that created the tools that let us communicate: no more passes. You have the ability to help people feel safe in their daily online lives. You havesophisticated tools to fight spam, and you take down content that infringes on copyright in the blink of an eye. This is a call to action. And a plea. You can’t say “we suck at dealing with abuse,” promise to do something, and then drag your feet. Because it’s starting to look like you care more about your next earnings call than the people who actually use your sites.

Maybe you’re not a company! Maybe you’re a hacker who can come up with some solutions to this problem. Go get ‘em, White Hats. And companies who pay hackers andresearchers to poke holes in the Internet, how about putting a bounty on fixing this enormous hole at the heart of the Internet? Help some people out.

If you’re someone who organizes, executes, or fuels abuse and hate crimes online, then let us be blunt: You are not our people. We trust you can find the door.

And if you’re someone who organizes, executes, or fuels abuse and hate crimes online, then let us be blunt: You are not our people. We see you dominating the comments on our Facebook posts. We see you shouting louder than anyone else in the comments of our stories, and in our Twitter timeline. Stop. Just don’t. You’re an embarrassment to the sites you frequent. We trust you can find the door.

Back to you, Internet. After all, we’re stuck with each other. You’re how we live our lives, and you’re how we’re going to continue to live them. We wouldn’t trade that for the world. We just want to make sure we work together—with you, and the people who built you and maintain you and depend on you—to become the place you were supposed to be, and be better than you are.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Fiction of Non-Fiction

Historically, libraries have divided books into two broad categories; fiction and non-fiction. Examples of fiction are stories, fables and fantasies. The rest is non-fiction, widely considered as fact.

Merriam-Webster defines it as:
"writing that is about facts or real events: all writing that is not fiction."

The digital world has inherited that default definition for non-fiction and is suffering for it. 

The first of many problems is that the fiction or non-fiction classification is bestowed by the author. A written piece about traveling to the moon in a basket carried by geese could be speculative non-fiction on alternative methods of spaceflight or a fictional fairy-tale. There is no objective measure which way it is classified. As a result, there are non-fiction writings about  how the Holocaust did not happen, genetic superiority or how the government is controlling people through microwave towers, among various other nonsense. 

If people just laughed, and some do, that would be fine. However, the ignorant and manipulative people point out that these writings are non-fiction, therefore true and irrefutable. By the assumption of truth and delegation to the category of non-fiction, these falsehoods become defictionalized. They are now free to permeate reality and distort politics, history, science and society.

We need to abandon the old classifications for written material. The writer's desire to portray their work as fiction or non-fiction is irrelevant. What is important is understanding what is true or speculation; what stands up to examination and what is intentional distortion. 

Literature and journalistic classification that categorizes writing, imply no degree of validity would be a start. A letter classification (1) Subject (2) Postulation (3) Position. Historic (H) Opinion (O) Critical (C) for example. It would then be up to the writer to support and defend what they espouse  rather than simply assigning an implication of truth.

Free speech is not about saying anything without being criticized or not having to defend a position.   Free speech is about debate, discourse; embracing good ideas and rejection of flawed, malicious or bad ideas.

David Duke, David Irving, Willis Carto, William Piece, Ben Klassen, Ernst Zundel and George Rockwell for example have all written works of malicious fiction which are classified and tragically accepted as non-fiction.

If we want to avoid drowning in the noise of presumed and unsupported alleged facts, then something must be done. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

We Are All Journalists

So many of us are journalists, storytellers, relaters of experience. Blogging, vlogging and micro-blogging. Some hoping to be the next Drudge or Huffington, others just needing to speak. Not since the Instamatic camera has our existence been chronicled so richly.

There are all kinds of journalists. Career journalists, science journalists, entertainment journalists and foremost, citizen  journalists. All are important and valuable, but a mixed bag. Some career journalists are amateurs and some citizen journalists are professionals. The difference between professionals and amateurs is not a matter of experience. It is a matter of dedication to journalistic standards, ethics and practices. Not everyone has that dedication.

The problem is dedication and commitment are great attributes, but not a great shield from abuse. More and more, as we citizen journalists, we need a shield or two.  In this election year we have seen just how badly  professional journalists can be abused for seemingly innocuous reasons. The reality is, citizen journalists have been subject to this level of abuse and worse for years.

Professional journalists have some level of support in place, from their colleagues to their publishers. Citizen journalists have no such support network. In many cases intelligent, well-meaning people have been harassed and driven off the internet because their opinions displease some people. We are not talking about radicals, racists or extremists. Can anyone honestly say that reasonable people, even if unpopular, should be abused into silence?

Blogging, vlogging, Tweeting and whatever comes next, should not put users at inordinate risk. It is counter to the concept of a free press. When writers meet basic journalistic standards they should be afforded the same respect and protection as any professional reporter.

As a species we are storytellers. If we don't protect the ways we have to tell our stories, we start becoming less.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Sightless Still See Hate

Many online service platforms have long advocated user initiated local blocking as a preferred method for fighting hateful content.  As much as I appreciate the problems faced by the companies, simply having users block hate from their feeds is a bit like stopping the bleeding,  but leaving in the bullet.  The problem is still there, and will fester.

Think of a hearing impaired person, walking down the street, followed by someone screaming obscenities, abuse and taunts at them. Just because the victim can't hear the abuse does not mean they are not being abused.

When hate is directed at a person,  or a group, or is posted in a place where the person or members of the group are likely to encounter it, that's wrong, inappropriate, uncivilized. Even if blocked from the victims view, it is seen and used by collaborative haters. It feeds the destructive environment.

User experience controls are a useful feature, but they do not combat cyberhate.

Let's be real. I can't recall ever seeing benevolent hate. Hate is meant to be harmful, offensive, marginalizing, degrading and malicious. The purveyors of hate have always worked very hard to get around filters, policies and blocks. They try to assure that their messages do the damage they intended.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Cyber Civil War

We often talk about the internet as being borderless, as if it were a country. Maybe it is.

Even countries predicated on the grand concept of the internet can have problems.

What happens if/when the EU enacts laws which allows victims of terrorism or racism to sue the platform, ISP or hosting company connected to the transmission of the hate or terrorism. Think of the Ford Motor Company being sued because their cars were used as  in a robbery or a bombing.  When faced with untold millions of dollars in lawsuits and court costs, what would a  company do? One answer is to leave Europe.

What would happen if Google, Facebook or Twitter suddenly closed all their offices in Europe and decided to take their chances as solely US entities, responsible solely to US law? Not happening? Already is. Wikipedia, has no offices outside the US..This is a conscience move to protect their content. For all their massive info source, on a world of topics, they are not beholding to any law other than the US. North Korean law does not apply,  EU law does not apply, only US domestic law.

This is only possible because Wikipedia is a foundation. They weren't created to make money, just luckily happens sometimes. But if the major online services were faced with a profit gutting threat, how hard would it be for them to rationalize retreating behind the first amendment?

What would happen? Would countries in Europe and Asia start blocking US IP addresses? Possibly. France threatened to block all of Yahoo and Amazon if the companies didn't better manage their content to reflect French law.  Would Twitter or Facebook refuse to accept traffic and users French IP addresses? Who knows.

It is all starting to sound like an all-out war with embargoes, espionage and attacks and counter attacks. Except that a war in our new internet based boarderless country is simply a civil war. Civil wars though, are always painful, wasteful and rarely end well.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Auschwitz Game Highlights Serious Holes in Google’s Review Process

June 23, 2016
Controversy raged this week over news that the Google Play store had allowed a free mobile game that promised players could “live like a real Jew” at Auschwitz.

For the second time in a month, Google’s review process was brought into serious question. But now, the game’s creators have come forward to say that was the point of the game.

TRINIT, a vocational school teaching video game design in Zaragoza, Spain, asked their students to design games that would test the strength of Google’s policy on hateful speech and inappropriate imagery during the review process, the institute told The Forward in an email.

“Surprisingly, Google denied almost all of the test apps, but [the Auschwitz game] was approved,” the institute said.

TRINIT said it pulled the game, which it said was nonfunctional and only included a start page, on Sunday night after realizing it had sparked media controversy. The institute said it received a notice from Google later that night notifying it that the app had been reported several times. Google confirmed to the Forward that the app was pulled from its store on Monday.

In addition to its Auschwitz game, TRINIT said it chose to pull other test apps from Google Play, including apps named “Gay Buttons” and “Kamasutra Dices.”

The school said it instructed students to test Google’s app policy by specifically testing themes corresponding to questions on a Google survey used in the app approval process. One question on the survey, shared with the Forward by TRINIT, asks whether the app under review contains symbols or references to Nazis.

Although the school said it replied yes to the survey question, Google still approved the submission.

A Google spokesperson said, “While we don’t comment on specific apps, we can confirm that our policies are designed to provide a great experience for users and developers.”

“This clearly indicates that Google needs to be more vigilant about its review process,” said Jonathan Vick, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League’s cyberhate response team.

However, Vick also finds blame with the way TRINIT conducted its experiment and remains skeptical of the app’s true purpose. Vick told the Forward it concerns him that the school felt it was sufficient to take down the offensive app without issuing a statement, and he called on the school to explain itself in public.

“Review is a human process and any time people are injected into the equation, the margin for error increases,” Vick said. “Since the Google review process isn’t transparent, we don’t know where in the review chain someone approved the app, but it means more training might be needed for Google employees,” he said.

“If real, the experiment speaks for itself,” Vick said.

Google launched a new app review process last year with the goal of catching apps that violate its policies on hateful speech before they reach the Google Play store, including both machine and human review elements. However, the company is still in the process of fine-tuning the process and relies heavily upon community reporting to review the millions of game submissions it receives.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cyberhate Arms Race - Making Better Haters

Cyberhate is only getting worse. More vicious, insidious, malicious and more technologically driven.

Online hate, either combating it or perpetuating it, requires the participants to continually escalate their position in an attempt to out-maneuver the opponent. An endless cycle of  anti-hate and more hate.

At the same time as we oppose haters online, we also make them better at hating. The numerous times David Duke's websites and YouTube channels have been taken down has served to teach him how better to evade the rules of the various platforms. The haters also make the anti-hate community larger, stronger and more innovative.

Cybrehate predates the internet. Active hate communities existed on pre-internet dial-up networks. Bigots, racists and misogynists have always invaded new digital technology as quickly as possible. Technology platforms have a checkered past when it comes to responding to hate, but the public and community organizations have been responding from the earliest days. ADL's first report on cyberhate was produced in 1985.

Unfortunately the cyberhate arms race often has the same  result as any arms race; someone loses control and shooting begins. James von Braun, Frazier Glenn Miller and many others who committed murder sprees were veteran protagonists in the cyberhate arms race.

When most of us lose a debate or an argument we do not pick-up guns. However, in a culture where people increasingly refuse to take responsibility for their own failures, winning the cyberhate arms race is important and not without responsibility.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Beyond ((( ))): Three More Ways to Troll the Internet’s Nazis

Here’s how you can show anti-Semites that they’re outside acceptable online discourse, show solidarity with the people they harass, and take back Taylor Swift

This month, thousands of users took to Twitter to mess with the Nazis . Following media reports detailing how Trump-supporting white supremacists were targeting Jews online by placing parentheses around their names to harass and intimidate them on social media, Twitter users appropriated the symbol. The trend soon spread to politicians, celebrities, journalists, and more. From Atlantic correspondent ((((((Jeffrey Goldberg)))))) to West Wing and Scandal actor (((Josh Malina))) to Colorado congressman ((((((Jared Polis)))))), Jews and non-Jews alike showed solidarity against the anti-Semites. The movement even made The New York Times .
Beyond raising awareness about anti-Semitism online, the pilfered punctuation really ticked off the internet Nazis. The alt-right, as they call themselves, take great pride in their shared secret symbolisms. I personally received hundreds of tweets and emails from anti-Semites expressing upset at the appropriation of their nomenclature. Which only made doing it more fun.
In fact, making a mockery of the language of these anti-Semites performs a valuable societal function: It shows the haters that they are outside the discourse. Most anti-Semitic American trolls use anonymous accounts precisely because they are afraid of the opprobrium in real life should they openly express their bigotry. Mass ridicule of these racists reminds them just how marginalized they are, and keeps them at the fringes of respectable discourse.
With that in mind, here are three more ways you can troll the internet Nazis, show solidarity with the Jews they harass, and have fun doing it:
Appropriate their favorite hashtag: #WhiteGenocide
If there’s one thing that animates the alt-right, it’s their fear of an allegedly ongoing “white genocide,” in which minorities—African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, immigrants of all stripes—overtake the country and erode its formerly pristine “white” culture. Infamously, Donald Trump has repeatedly retweeted supporters promulgating this claim with the #WhiteGenocide hashtag.
Given how popular the tag is among the Twitter Nazis, it is practically begging to be repurposed:

I think the next stage of trolling the Nazis is to appropriate. As in:
"Oh man, I so failed Calculus today! "

There’s an added upside to this particular practice: It turns one of the alt-right’s nastier attacks against it. On Twitter, whenever a Jew expresses concern about anti-Semitism or other bigotry, alt-right trolls invariably pop up to exclaim , “oy vey, it’s anudda shoah!” Thus, they trivialize both the contemporary concern and the Holocaust in one ugly utterance. The phrase is even starting to seep into real-world discourse. Conservative journalist and Trump critic (((Ben Shapiro))) reported being confronted with it by a young Trump supporter at a college campus event. “He grins at me like it’s fine to say this sort of thing,” (((Shapiro))) recalled.
If the anti-Semites are going to mock a real genocide, the least the rest of us can do is return the favor and mock their farcical one.
Take Back Taylor Swift
Take a cursory glance at the accounts of alt-right trolls and it’s hard to miss their obsession with music star Taylor Swift . Prized as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan idol, many of the bigots use her as their avatar, or reference her in their usernames. They have even created a catalog of Swift memes in which they attribute viciously anti-Semitic statements to her. Here, for example, is one that uses a quote from Nazi arch-propagandist Joseph Goebbels:

The appropriation of Swift by the neo-Nazis has become so pervasive that her lawyers have started trying to get the various anti-Semitic memes taken down.
We have a better idea: Take Taylor back for the Jews.

Use ours or make your own .
Remind them that “The Goyim Know!”
Another catchphrase of the internet inquisition is “the goyim know.” “Goy” is Hebrew and Yiddish for “gentile,” and the exclamation is typically used to suggest that the non-Jewish public is catching on to Jewish control of the media, economy, and government. An excellent example of this genre is the delightful anti-Semitic song “The Goyim Know ,” which imagines a conversation between two panicked Hasidim worried that their support for feminism, affirmative action, and immigration is being exposed.
Now, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from arguing with people who claim that Jews run the world. But it can be very entertaining to agree with them and take their paranoid delusions to hilarious new heights.
In this case, another Internet meme offers guidance. Nerd Twitter is fond of captioning photos of world leaders whispering in each other’s ears with “Hail Hydra,” a reference to the secret greeting used by a villainous undercover organization in the Marvel comic universe:

The Jewish analogue is obvious:

Now, go forth and troll some Nazis!
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