Showing posts from 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 Posted: 9:43 PM, December 14, 2017Updated: 10:14 PM, December 14, 2017

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…

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 d…

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…

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 o…

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…

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…

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 …

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 a…

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…

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 da…

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…

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 ou…

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 th…

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 to…

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 stra…

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 …

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 internati…

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 Aut…

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…

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. Pullin…

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 sub…