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.