Sunday, April 23, 2017

No Excuse for Ignorance

Fake news shouldn't matter. Fictitious reports, intentionally unattributed articles and rhetoric based prose are all relatively easy to spot. The peddlers of fake news are equally easy to spot, if the reader takes a minute. Certainly the agendas are identifiable. A few clicks with Google can clear up most questions. So why is fake news a problem?

Fake news is a problem because it is crafted to deceive, and it isn't all fake. It takes a moments lapse in judgement to begin believing that the world is flat or hollow or all the world's leaders are lizard aliens. But there are believers.  When fictitious truths are presented and repeatedly enforced, with slight variations (as tends to happen with truth) the challenge grows.

There are very few of us who have not passed along or posted something which turned out to be false, despite assurances to the contrary from our friends, neighbors or brothers-in-law. We have all certainly received fake news from friends, relatives and strangers, both innocently and maliciously.

There is no excuse for ignorance. It may be unfortunate and inconvenient to view everything as possibly false, but it is outright dangerous to accept everything you are told as true.

But it all gets terribly tricky doesn't it. There is a major difference between a story or article having a grain of truth and being true.  A coincidence does not make a conspiracy. If it did conspiracies would be a daily event. I doubt that very much. Anyone who tells you what to believe is trying manipulate you. The same for anyone not willing to hear what you have to say about what you believe.

Taking a few minutes to do a little research on news stories and ideas can benefit everyone. Informed opinions and ideas have long been the foundation of a stable society.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Place for Hate

When the internet began, we went in with our eyes wide with amazement, and completely ignorant. We believed the internet would be glorious, inherently open to everyone and unerringly fair and democrat. We were wrong. Then we tried to believe that the good voices would drown out the bad. We were wrong again. Then we tried to convince ourselves that cyberhate was the price we paid for free speech. We sold ourselves short.

Now almost 25 years into the internet, we know that hate is not an equal partner in cyberspace. Hate does not share seats at the cyber-table with good causes, but takes seats without regard for other views.

Cyberhate flourished easily. It is cheap, requiring no thought, intellectual investment and spreads all by itself. It is weak,  needing no justification. It is cowardly, appearing anonymously or denied by the speaker. Its only purpose is to victimize. isolate, marginalize and dis-empower.

Dialogue, debate and disagreement seek exchange and middle ground. Cyberhate is not dialogue. Cyberhate is not disagreement. Disagreement is topic and fact based.  Fear mongering, name calling, defaming, slandering, misogyny or racism is cyberhate. Calling it anything else is just false and manipulative.

As we begin to realize the horrific foundation we have created for cyberspace, we have begun to push back against hate. As we try and make the e-world what we hoped it would be - a safe important place for all people, especially the young, the vulnerable and the different - haters are quick to claim this includes them too. I say, not so fast.

Haters have abused the latitude they have been granted on the internet. It is time for them to prove they deserve a place at the table of human discourse.  Haters must be willing to acknowledge inclusion, diversity, ethnicity, individual rights of others and contributing to the marketplace of ideas, instead of tearing it down, Time for hates to earn their seat at the table. Time for the internet industry to choose sides.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Cooking With Osama bin Laden

Imagine you are a YouTube moderator. Your job is to review flagged videos and remove, leave or escalate the videos based on Google's Terms of Service (ToS). The objective is to process as many complaints as possible (seconds on each) and escalate as few as possible. Not as simple as it sounds. Not for Google, not any busy platform.

What if you keep receiving complaints about cooking videos; regular, run of the mill, bread, sponge cake and roasted chicken videos? Strange, yes, but people flag all kinds of stuff. That would be a "does not violate," decision wouldn't it? But what if those videos were on Osama bin Laden's YouTube channel. What if Osama bin Laden's YouTube channel was nothing but cooking videos? Would that change things? Do those videos suddenly become something more - insidious cooking videos? Terrorist roast chicken. What if Bin Laden was simply reposting Julia Child videos? This is perhaps a relatively easy example.  Bin Laden was an internationally hunted criminal. He should not have the opportunity to soften his image with the sponge cake and roasted chicken loving people of the world.

Let's talk about David Duke. He is an entirely different problem. Yes, a former neo-Nazi and Grand Dragon of the KKK among other things, but also an elected official of the Louisiana State Legislature and a paid lecturer who has had a number of legitimate campaigns for public office. He is a racist, no question about it. He also has a constituency of sorts. Don't they deserve their political leader to have a voice? Over the years Duke has become a pioneer in the extremist movement with his exploration of new media manipulation, jargon development and Terms of Service evasion. Today his channels and videos are a tactical mix of political commentary, racial ideology and conspiracy theory.  All are conflated, positioned as opinion and otherwise made almost impossible for an average moderator to accurately peg as a violation. Indeed, removing such videos could easily be spun by Duke as political censorship - the ultimate internet sacrilege.

But Osma's roast chicken videos, David Duke's skilled ToS manipulations or cute kitten videos hypothetically posted by Hitler are not the issue themselves. All these people have a history of action and speech which clearly defines their agendas, statements and objectives. No claim by Duke of white rights, love of European identity or US government policies for Israeli agendas is anything other code speak for is older statements on Jewish conspiracy and racial inferiority of Africans and Latinos. Osama bin Laden should not have a cooking channel and I don't care how many cute kitten videos Hitler, or anyone claiming to be Hitler, have amassed: their objective is corrosive and destructive.

The vast majority of the  internet community has expressed a desire to be protected from those who create an online pattern of maliciously marginalizing, victimizing or  actively attempting to disenfranchise targeted groups.  We work hard to protect free speech online . We can work as hard to create mechanisms that protect people online too. When people believe the system makes speaking up dangerous, even in defense of their own dignity, they will not speak out.

Delete Cooking with Osama bin Laden. His Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook account too.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Internet Profiteering from Pain

Freedom of speech also means freedom to speak out against those who are responsible for aiding the spread of the pain created by hate speech. Immediately people will think I am talking about Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Wrong. Mostly.

Is there hateful material on Google, Facebook or Twitter? Yes, but it is proportionally insignificant compared to the massive quantity of good content on those services. Additionally these platforms do remove content, significant volumes of content, daily. Are they perfect? No. Neither are we.

There are other platforms and services which are responsible for enabling a significant segment of the Internet's hateful material. It would not be surprising to include Reddit and 4chan. But those are not mainstream or commercially viable entities. There are however major companies who allow or facilitate the presence of hate on the internet.

The most visible is WordPress. All content complaints are shepherded through rules controlled by WordPress' parent Automattic Corp. The platform and the company envision themselves champions of free speech. This includes providing a podium for haters who make overt threats and statements meant to incite violence. Then there are blogs by recognized terrorist organizations. To be fair, WordPress states upfront that they support any content that is not outright illegal. To be realistic, WordPress has grown into a large viable company on the profits garnered from the audiences attracted by the ability to broadcast hateful, racist and malicious material. As a major, successful platform, WordPress sets a questionable example eagerly followed by other companies.

GoDaddy, maker of SuperBowl renown commercials, is another offender. GoDaddy owns and operates Domains By Proxy (DBP).  DBP is in a class of companies who offer a service which allows website owners to obscure their ownership of a site. A reasonable service when used responsibly. However, DBP is one of the most widely used proxy services by hate sites. Worse yet, DBP and GoDaddy have Terms of Service that prohibit the use of their services to "Defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, or harass third parties;...Are tortious, vulgar, obscene, invasive of a third party's privacy, racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable." Despite these lofty ToS, DBP has no easy mechanism for reporting violations and, sadly, is often resistant to complaints.

Like so many other companies who claim to be socially consciousness,  GoDaddy has a golden opportunity to lead its segment of the industry in policy and practice, yet their actions speak to profit and maximizing users, not social obligation or good corporate voice.

We are in fraught times. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or selling something. The examples set by us in business, at home, in public and the behavior we accept from others will mold the behavior of our future generations. 

A just, moral internet is not about censorship, but about freedom from fear. Speaking out for the right things and speaking out against the wrong can be costly and difficult. That is why it has always been a quality honored above most others. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hate the Hate, Not the Hater. OK, Maybe the Hater.

There are always going to be a percentage of people who find a reason to hate. This has always been true. But why are we seeing an increase in hate?  Are there actually more haters? Not necessarily. It now appears the haters were always there, but we are certainly seeing more hate. Possibly because the internet enables haters to artificially amplify their voices beyond all reason and  reality. The more hate there is, the more the haters feel empowered to spew and victimize. They never seen to miss an opportunity.

No healthy person hates reflexively. We are naturally many things; suspicious, skeptical, curious and cautious. But hate, as an unprovoked default response, is unnatural. We should consider that the haters are damaged, small, scared people with serious problems. Of course there are those haters who are calculating and dangerous. It is not just the haters we need to worry about, but the hate itself we must challenge.

Haters come and go.  The hate itself is generally far worse than the haters themselves. The venomous posts, hateful comments and awful Tweets have a reach, longevity and impact way out of proportion to their significance.

A recent ADL study "Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists During the 2016Presidential Campaign" clearly demonstrates how a small group of cohorts can spread an inordinate amount of hateful rhetoric.

We rightly and appropriately sympathize with the victims of  cyberhate. We rarely feel compassion for the hater. Hate damages both the victim and culprit. The ultimate danger is making the victim a hater themselves. Responding with hate in return for receiving perpetuates the most damaging cultural phenomenon of our day.

Take the power away from cyberhate. 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 onto the things that we share instead of fixating on the things between us. Hate is not a little thing, but it is small, and we can make it smaller.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dumpster Diving Behind the Marketplace of Ideas

The Marketplace of Ideas can be a crowded, confusing and disturbing place to shop.  It is not always well organized and the people, who claim to know where everything is, invariably don’t show us everything we should see.

Shopping in the Marketplace for Ideas can be expensive. It requires users to pay attention, spend time and invest critical thinking. When that cost is too high, there are those who shop in the discount aisle or maybe pick at some things thrown in the trash.

The Marketplace of Ideas is one of our most apt and resonant metaphors. It is no wonder that a concept pioneered by John Milton, John Stuart Mill and Oliver Wendell Holmes is as relevant in the internet age as it was 400 years ago.

The Marketplace of Ideas is not about facts, it’s about opinions. There are bad opinions, ideas that are discredited, wrong or destructive. National socialism, racial supremacy, scapegoating and genocide are a few that come to mind.  Some ideas deserve to be on the trash heap. Pulling them from the dumpster does not mean their time has come again,  sometimes it means the idea is still garbage.  

I vote with Thomas Jefferson, “Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Best to be suspicious of the folks lurking out behind the Marketplace for Ideas. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Affraid to Give Up Hate

Hate has become our most prized social asset. It is, perhaps too often, our go-to response when we are offended, angry, challenged, threatened or rebuked. We use it as a weapon and as a defense. Conflict is resolved through dialogue, discourse and promotion of understanding. Unfortunately hate only generates fear, mistrust and misinformation.

We prize and protect our hate, even while we bemoan our inability to create civility.

We love to hate because we have lost the art of debate. Not arguing, simply debate. There was a time in the Western world when debate was a sport. It was taught in schools, there were competitions, it was entertainment that helped us exchange information. It was part of our oral tradition. We learned that disagreeing was not always a personal issue. But something happened. Groups with extreme social and religious views decided their beliefs alone were proof of their positions and  no debate, discussion or rational was needed, ever. Belief was truth and not subject to examination on any level. To question this position was a display of intolerance of their belief system.

So debate and discourse became a meddling in beliefs and, as such, intolerance.  Debate withered. Hate became our lingua franca.

Obviously, this can stop. It is simple, but far from easy. We have to stop using hate as a response to fear. Suppressing our hate reflex, especially in the age of the internet, is unnatural for most people.

The hate habit has been developing a long time. It has always been a response to extreme frustration. However there have always been members of society who have shown us that by giving up hate, they can change things. When we give up hate we start thinking, talking and learning. But history has taught us that when you give up hate, you change the rules and people don't like it when the rules change.   When you give up hate, it will be scary, you will be hated, but you have to start someplace.