Friday, December 15, 2017

Fighting online hate groups: How an organization is stopping propaganda from spreading

Steve Spriester sits down with Jonathan Vick from the Anti-Defamation League

By Steve Spriester - Anchor 

SAN ANTONIO - Jonathan Vick’s job at the Anti-Defamation League is to track and stop hate groups that spread their propaganda online, making it harder for those who peddle hate and easier for those who need help.
“In my mind, anyone who can justify victimizing or targeting any one group can turn that into an ability to target absolutely every group, and that's the kind of fight that we're fighting,” Vick said.

Vick and his team had been tracking online chatter and warned state officials of the violence to come before the torch march through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, which echoed anti-Jewish rallies in Nazi Germany.
“I wouldn't call it alarming. I'd call it incredibly disappointing and very sad,” Vick said. “What happened in Charlottesville pointed out that it could happen in relatively smaller communities, and that everybody at this point has experienced this sort of phenomenon in one way, shape or form.”
Founded in 1913 to stop discrimination against the Jewish people, the Anti-Defamation League’s stated goal is to secure justice and fair treatment for all people. The internet is its latest challenge, as it sometimes serves as a modern day megaphone for those spreading hate.
Vick and his team try to disrupt or even shut down hate groups, appealing to companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to take down hateful sites and posts.
“The reality is that most of them come to a real human civilized choice, and then that tends to be the issue that disrupts some of these groups rather significantly,” Vick said.
Vick said he has ways of dealing with hate on a daily basis.
“(I) spend time with family, engage in the community, talk to people, hear people, share my ideas and have a dialogue,” he said.
Vick jokes that fighting hate is kind of like a family business. His father-in-law was a Holocaust survivor and a Nazi hunter. He faced the world’s worst people toe to toe. However, Vick’s battles play out online, as the internet has become a place where many people spread hate.
“I feel we've made tremendous progress,” Vick said.
The Anti-Defamation League fights anti-Semitism groups, anti-Muslim groups, bigotry, racism, homophobia and other hate groups. It also helps people who are targets of hateful memes.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Recreational Racists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Internet Fear Factory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Multiverse of Cyberhate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Internet Emission Controls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Alliance of Conflicting Interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Freeze-Dried Hate: Just Add Internet

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

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

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

Other websites are not operated as tactically.

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

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

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Our Cyberhate Failure

There is no denying the cyberhate problem. There is no avoiding cyberhate. Hate online has contributed, in some way, to every major act of racial, religious or social violence in recent history. We have made progress, but we have largely failed to mitigate hate online it in any significant way. Anyone disagree?

Let's try this - Cyberhate: victimization, marginalization, bullying, disenfranchisement, malicious defamation, racism, bigotry and intentionally destructive hatefulness is wrong and unacceptable. It should be confronted at every opportunity, questioned and its proponents should be challenged to support their positions, rather than victims having to defend themselves.  Perhaps, in clear cases, it should not be on the internet.

This is the "what".  Although some might disagree with individual points, few would agree that unbridled hate and abuse online is acceptable.  The problem is and has been,  not "what" cyberhate is, but "who" should be in charge of fighting it.

For years there have been calls for the online industry to do more. Now, in the wake of Charlottesville, they have, and the response from many sectors is shock.

Cyber civil rights advocates are indignantly questioning what right the companies have to be the arbiters of what should be on the internet.  The irony is, many of the companies would be delighted not to be put in the position of deciding what is permissible content.  Many have avoided taking a position as long as they could. Unfortunately, no one else within reason wanted the job either. Some groups did try but failed to attract a broad enough range or the industry, reach a consensus on issues or achieve critical mass. Governments outside the US have tried to step into the role of  internet enforcer, only to discover that laws regulating a border-less medium are only good if the laws are border-less as well. In some cases they have made unenforceable or unrealistic laws which look worse than no law at all.

The internet will not self regulate. That is now sadly obvious. No one group, agency, government, company or country should regulate the internet. Individual users and companies, need to take responsibility for their own content, product, posts and positions. We may yet discover that we share many of the same basic standards instead of the current assumption that we do not. Until then, we will have live with the internet we have all created and encourage anyone willing to try and make it better to keep trying.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Glory of Delete

My delete key (Delete) has always been a friend; as a scalpel and as a club, as comfort and as vengeful therapy.  Delete went from friend to indispensable partner last fall. I run many Google Alerts and other search bots, and not only was more garbage showing up, but the rate at which it was repeated was mind numbing. Delete certainly saved my sanity.

Delete has also been a great help in improving my personal relationships. It wasn't bad enough my bot army was returning mountains of crud, but some of my conservative friends and colleagues felt it incumbent on them to overshare representations of their political ideology. Delete helped me sustain those relationships. Of course I am being hypocritical as I  am also likely guilty of the same thing in their eyes.

I hope everyone honors their Delete. Perhaps we need a day to show our appreciation of this unsung hero of free speech. National Delete Day, when we excise wonderful control over our own personal environments for just one day.

Most of all. I hope that all my friends, neighbors, colleagues,  readers, viewers, community and acquaintances use Delete on my emails, posts, videos and comments as I have used it on theirs. That is free speech too. I can respect that above all else.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Free Speech Differential

For years I have followed, watched, read, wrote about, spoke about and discussed cyberhate in all its  manifestations; stalking,  trolling, doxxing, racism, anti-Semitism, spoofing, forging, marginalization, disinformation and just good old outright viciousness.

For all those years,  I have worked with the ADL in reaching out to industry players. Our efforts have not been censorship or promotion of a particular agenda, our objective has been to illuminate the depth and nature of the hate online so that the companies can establish their own, meaingful, platform relevant policies.

We have long supported the ability of almost anyone to have an online presence. That's the principle of free speech. However, when individual items, pages or players go over the line into incitement, targeting, marginalization, scapegoating and vicious bigotry, I would suggest it is time platforms give that material especially close consideration. Hate needs to be challenged.

Words lead to actions. I have long maintained this and deeply regret to have been proved correct time and time again.

The internet industry has long considered the issue of cyberhate and grappled with its implications and the damage it can and has caused. In most cases, and especially with the major companies, they have expended considerable resources to develop intricate and well-considered mechanisms and terms of service.

The events of Charlottesville have brought this issue  home to the industry in a very real way. Now,  many of the companies are interpreting and applying their long considered terms of service and we are all faced with what it means to respond to cyberhate on a large scale.

The internet industry responding to cyberhate is nothing new. It has been going on for years. Every major platform has been suspending accounts, removing posts and issuing content warnings for a long time. Now, when these suspensions happen to high profile hate websites, the question of whether or not companies should be making these decisions has come to the forefront.

The question is not should the companies be the arbiters of content thresholds, but who should be? The government?  The internet mob? Should there be no limitations at all? The companies are more familiar with this problem and its impact than anyone. Regardless of the ultimate answer, the companies are an integeal part of the solution.

No one can tell you what bumper sticker to put on your car or who to vote for or the kind of store you must shop in. Not all the issues are equal. Not all hate is equal, but if our ability and obligation to speak out against it becomes limited, the experience of Charlottesville may soon be coming to a town near you.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Born into the Age of Awful

Welcome to the Age of Awful. A time when almost no one is happy and those that say they are happy are angry most of the time. Liberals are miserable, conservatives are grouchy, libertarians are morose and fascists who are always adverse. The people who don't have an unreachable itch are irritated by the squirming from the folks trying to scratch. Compassion is running 10 points lower than the worst politicians approval rating. We could rule the world if we could orchestrate a displeasure based economy.

How did we get here? Easy, we ignored ourselves. We ignored each other. We accepted platitudes; don't rock the boat, silence is golden, do as I say and not as I do. We have been overly forgiving when someones words and actions didn't match. We have held our tongues when we should speak and it has made us false and miserable. If we had become false and happy, that might be OK. Phoney and happy is at least happy.

We have also forgotten how to listen to each other. Look at our childcan en - they don't talk or listen, they exchange. It is very different. It is an easy way to lose compassion, or maybe lose more compassion. We are drifting away from the social cues which have evolved over millennia and that loss is making us emotionally ignorant, bitter and our differences mutually abhorrent.

The good news is, we are very adaptable, Evolution is not just physical. Mental evolution is what has kept us alive long enough for the physical evolution to catch up.  We can survive this age of awful, if we choose to. Our children will, as children have before, become something new and wonderful. Awful is like manure, a smelly byproduct that will have help grow great things which can make the age of awful just history.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Curing the Internet. Will the Patient Survive?

There is no denying it, the internet has a hate problem. Call it an infection, a virus, a cancer or whatever. Our first reaction is to demand its cure, its removal. As much and as fast as possible. Give no quarter. Does that actually accomplish what we need? No. It removes an influence, a contributor, yes. Unfortunately those posts are only outward indicators of a larger problem which never went away in the first place. Despite tolerance, affirmative action and positive speech, hates proponents have kept it alive just below the surface.

The survival of hate has been going on for decades. Frustration and anger by users, law enforcement and communities is understandable, maybe even mandatory.  Extreme concern is certainty justified.

European governments,  emboldened by earlier success legislating content off Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and others, have taken a similar shoot-the-messenger approach to creating new legislation. The problem is Facebook, Twitter and other socialized media is not the same as the other companies they have legislated previously,  and even the internet is not the same as when they had previously enacted laws.

Various governments have steadfastly refused to acknowledge that what they're doing may not be effective at best, and may actually damage the usefulness of the internet,  at worst.

The companies are not without fault or responsibility here. They are like teenagers who spent too much time in the sun without sunblock and have now developed a melanoma on their arm which they have ignored a little too long.  The EU, rather than accepting the consultation of knowledgeable doctors, have opted directly for punitive amputation and is now openly suspicious of anyone with arms.

Make no mistake, liberty and personal cultural sovereignty are on the line. Choking free expression "for the public good" by controlling the transmission medium has little to do with the public good and everything to do with avoiding the problem. Avoiding the reality of hate by silencing the symptom and manifestations.

We are faced with the internationalization of local European internet laws. As well meaning as it may be, it translates to  internet content everywhere reflecting the most restrictive laws and attitudes in the world. How boring would the internet get. How useless would it become when religions, politics or new ideas deemed offensive in one country had to be removed everywhere on the internet or the platform where they appeared would suffer being fined into submission.

Would we still get innovative, daring start-up companies. Would there be creativity? Would users still be drawn to it? Would the internet survive?  Maybe, but maybe history has some clues how much could be lost.

Google "Hays Commission," come back afterwards and we'll talk.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cyberwar Casualties

"The first casualty when war comes is truth.Does that mean we are already at war?

The Cyberwar seems to have officially started  with the death of  Ryan Halligan in 2003. Ryan was a suicide attributed to cyberbullying. Maybe not the first such event, but the first widely documented. Or maybe it was the 1970 Union Dime Bank embezzlement case. But from those modest beginnings the frequency, scope, depth and reach of the attacks has steadily accelerated. Cyber attacks, once only totally professional or grossly amateurish are now commonplace business practices. Cyberbullying  has matured into trolling, doxxing, flaming and spamming. An entire industry has emerged in ransomware, spamming, identity theft, personal image hijacking and their prevention. These are the small ongoing skirmishes.

The forms for the cyber war will take  have all been argued and hypothesized; Nation State espionage, industrial  sabotage, infrastructure destruction and malware galore.

I don't worry too much about the government and corporations. They have the resources to create the necessary defenses and contingency plans. I worry more about the real probable casualties, the average person.

What happens on the real zero day of the Cyber War. It is all too likely that the first attacks will be intended create panic, confusion and fear in the citizens of protagonist countries. This has the desired effect upturning the target country long before the attacks on infrastructure government or industry.

What would happen if tens of millions of Americans woke up to find their identities erased or their bank accounts empty.  What if the only money  they had available was what they had in their pockets the night before?  And what if there was no information anywhere to verify any of your paper ID or to prove what you owned, ever.

Yes, eventually contingency plans would be put in place, but how many people would starve,  turn to crime, be victims of crime or simply lose hope. Who would they blame? Who wiuld deserve the blame?

Any attack  in any war is to accomplish some or all of several objectives; cripple capabilities, undermine authority and demoralize victims. That is how terrorism works.

There are many countries where wiping out their electronic foundation would hardly make a difference, In the West, just the outrage from citizens would do untold damage without a shot being fired or a bomb going off.  This  is not lost on any government, malefacor or enemy. Except the governments will not be the first victims and they do not suffer or starve like flesh and blood citizens.

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.