Filtering: Facebook Asserts Filtering Progress

November 29, 2017

i read “Hard Questions: Are We Winning the War on Terrorism Online?” The main point is that Facebook is filtering terrorism related content. Let’s assume that the assertion is correct. Furthermore, let’s assume that private group participants are reporting terror-related content so that information not available to the general Facebook community is devoid of terror related content.

This appears to be a step forward.

My thought is that eliminating the content may squeeze those with filtered messages to seek other avenues of information dissemination. For most people, the work arounds will be unfamiliar.

But options exist, and these options are becoming more widely used and robust. I remind myself that bad actors can be every bit as intelligent, resourceful, and persistent as the professionals working at companies like Facebook.

Within the last four months, the researchers assisting me on the second edition of the Dark Web Notebook have informed me:

  1. Interest in certain old-school methods of online communication has increased; for example, text communication
  2. Encrypted apps are gaining wider use
  3. Peer-to-peer mechanisms show strong uptake by certain groups
  4. Dark Web or i2p communication methods are not perfect but some work despite the technical hassles and latency
  5. Burner phones and sim cards bought with untraceable forms of payment are widely available from retail outlets like Kroger and Walgreens in the US.

Those interested in information which is filtered remind me of underground movements in the 1960s. At the university I attended, the surface looked calm. Then bang, an event would occur. Everyone was surprised and wondered where that “problem” came from. Hiding the problem does not resolve the problem I learned by observing the event.

The surface is one thing. What happens below the surface is another. Squeezing in one place on a balloon filled with water moves the water to another place. When the pressure is too great, the balloon bursts. Water goes in unexpected places.

My view is that less well known methods of communication will attract more attention. I am not sure if this is good news or bad news. I know that filtering alone does not scrub certain content from digital channels.

Net net: Challenges lie ahead. Net neutrality may provide an additional lever, but there will be those who seek to circumvent controls. Most will fail, but some will succeed. Those successes may be difficult to anticipate, monitor, and address.

Facebook filtering is comparatively easy. Reacting to consequences of filtering may be more difficult. It has taken many years to to achieve the modest victory Facebook has announced. That reaction time, in itself, is a reminder that there is something called a Pyrrhic victory.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2017

Stephen E Arnold, November

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