Content Filtering Seeps Into Mainstream

August 27, 2018

Content filtering is a new trend. For those fearing fake news, or simply tired of bad news, Google is trying to brighten their day. Their home assistant will deliver just good news if you ask it, but is there a dark underbelly to such actions? We started wrestling with this topic after a Digital Trends story, “By Request, Google Assistant Makes it Easy to Find Good News.”

According to the story:

“Google sources the positive difference stories from the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN). The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focuses on publishing stories about how people can make the world a better place — the practice is called “solutions journalism.” SJN gathers and summaries articles from a large and diverse range of media sources.”

While this seems like a cute news snippet, it is potentially dangerous. Take for example, the news of a EU official who penned an op-ed about the dangers of filtering copy written works. Of course, a bot simply filed a complaint of copyright infringement and got the story wiped from the internet. Google’s good news filter is far from this kind of deviousness, but it’s also not so far that one day we could all have important, yet unpleasant news stripped from our world.

Patrick Roland, August 27, 2018

Twitter Bans Accounts

August 22, 2018

i read “Facebook and Twitter Ban over 900 Accounts in Bid to Tackle Fake News.” Twitter was founded about 12 years ago. The company found itself in the midst of the 2016 election messaging flap. The article reports:

Facebook said it had identified and banned 652 accounts, groups and pages which were linked to Iran and to Russia for “co-ordinated inauthentic behavior”, including the sharing of political material.

One of the interesting items of information which surfaced when my team was doing the research for CyberOSINT and the Dark Web Notebook, both monographs designed for law enforcement and intelligence professionals, was the ease with which Twitter accounts can be obtained.

For a program we developed for a conference organizer in Washington, DC, in 2015, we illustrated Twitter messages with links to information designed to attract young men and women to movements which advocated some activities which broke US laws.

The challenge had in 2015 several dimensions. Let me run down the ones the other speakers and I mentioned; for example:

  • The ease with which an account could be created
  • The ease with which multiple accounts could be created
  • The ease with which messages could be generated with suitable index terms
  • The ease with which messages could be disseminated across multiple accounts via scripts
  • The lack of filtering to block weaponized content.

Back to the present.

Banning an account addresses one of these challenges.

The notion of low friction content dissemination, unrestricted indexing, and the ability to create accounts is one to ponder.

Killing an account or a group of accounts may not have the desired effect.

Compared to other social networks, Twitter has a strong following in certain socio economic sectors. That in itself adds a bit of spice to the sauce.

Stephen E Arnold, August 22, 2018

Internet Platforms Are Something New. But What Does “New” Mean?

August 12, 2018

“New” is an interesting concept. A new car suggests a vehicle that emits the mix of polyvinyls, warm electronics, and snake oil. “New” in a camp in Yemen means a T shirt abandoned by a person and claimed by another. “New” in a temple in Kyoto means repairs made a century ago.

But I learned in “Platforms Are Not Publishers”:

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the internet are not media. They are something new we do not yet fully understand.

Would it be helpful to have the context and intended connotation of “new” defined?

Nah, after the Internet revolution, everyone knows the meaning of the word.

The problems generated when flows of data rip across the digital landscape is that these bits and bytes erode. The impact is more rapid but less easy to detect than the impact of a flash flood gushing through the streets of a Rio hillside slum.

The notion that commercial enterprises are the context. The platforms emerged from the characteristics of digital technology; that is, concentration, velocity, disintermediation, etc.

The large platforms are like beavers. Put a beaver in the observation deck of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan and the beavers are going to do what beavers do. They may die, but their beaverness makes them behave in a way that to some degree is predictable.

I like the idea that individuals in the “media”—another term which warrants defining—have to shoulder some of the blame. Better hurry. I am no longer sure how long the real media and the real journalists will survive.

Their future will be finding a way to exploit the digital flows.

In short, Internet platforms today are not much different from the BRS, DataStar, Dialog, and Lexis type systems before the Internet.

What’s different is the scope, scale, and speed of today’s digital flows. In the context of the information environment (what I continue to call the datasphere) is unchanged.

The problem is that today’s digital experts have a limited perception of “new” and the context of online systems and services.

In short, too late folks. Russia, Turkey, Iran, and other countries have figured out that the shortest distance between A and B is censorship.

Censorship is now a content fashion trend. That’s “new” as in governments are punching the “off” button. The action may be futile, but it is a reminder that old school methods may deliver because responsible commercial organizations ignore what may be their “duty.” Publishing? What’s that?

Stephen E Arnold, August 12, 2018

Applique Logic: Alex Jones and Turbo Charging Magnetism

August 9, 2018

I am not sure I have read an Alex Jones’ essay or watched an Alex Jones’ video. In fact, he was one of the individuals of whom I was aware, but he was not on my knowledge radar. Now he is difficult to ignore.

Today’s New York Times corrected my knowledge gap. I noted in my dead tree edition today (August 9, 2018) these stories:

  • Facebook’s Worst Demons Have Come Home to Roost, page B1
  • Infowars App Is Trending As Platforms Ban Content, B6
  • The Internet Trolls Have Won. Get Used to It, B7

I want to mention “Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will” at this online location.

From my vantage point in rural Kentucky, each of the writes up contributes to the logic quilt for censoring the real Alex Jones.

Taken together, the information in the write ups provide a helpful example of what I call “appliqué logic.”

Applique means, according to Google which helpfully points to Wikipedia, another information source which may be questionable to some, is:

Appliqué is ornamental needlework in which pieces of fabric in different shapes and patterns are sewn or stuck onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern. It it commonly used as decoration, especially on garments. The technique is accomplished either by hand or machine. Appliqué is commonly practiced with textiles, but the term may be applied to similar techniques used on different materials.

Applique logic is reasoning stuck on to something else. In this case, the “something else” are the online monopolies which control access to certain types of information.

The logic is that the monopolies are technology, which is assumed to be neutral. I won’t drag you through my Eagleton Award lecture from a quarter century ago to remind you that the assumption may not be correct.

The way to fix challenges like “Alex Jones” is to stick a solution on the monopoly. This is similar to customizing a vehicle like this one:

Image result for outrageous automobiles

Notice how the school bus (a mundane vehicle) has been enhanced with what are appliqués. The result does not change the functioning of the school bus, but it now has some sizzle. I suppose the appliqué logician could write a paper and submit the essay to an open access publisher to explain the needed improvements the horns add.

With the oddly synchronized actions against the Alex Jones content, we have the equivalent of a group of automobile customizers finding ways to “enhance” their system.

The result is to convert what no one notices into something that would make a Silicon Valley PR person delighted to promote. I assume that a presentation at a zippy new conference would be easy for the appliqué team to book.

The apparent censorship of Alex Jones is now drawing a crowd. Here I am in Harrods Creek writing about a person to whom I previously directed zero attention. The New York Times coverage is doing a better job than I could with a single write up in a personal blog. In the land of “free speech” the Alex Jones affair may become an Amazon Prime or Netflix original program. Maybe a movie is in the works?

Back to appliqué logic. When it comes to digital content, sticking on a solution may not have the desired outcome. The sticker wants one thing. The stickee is motivated to solve the problem; for example, the earthquake watcher Dutch Sinse has jumped from YouTube to Twitch to avoid censorship. He offered an explanation about this action and referenced the Washington Post. I don’t follow Dutch Sinse so I don’t know what he is referencing, and I don’t care to be honest.

But the more interesting outcome of these Alex Jones related actions is that the appliqué logic has to embrace the “stickoids.” These are the people who now have a rallying point. My hunch is that whatever information Alex Jones provides, he is in a position to ride a pretty frisky pony at least for a a moment in Internet time.

Why won’t appliqué logic work when trying to address the challenges companies like Facebook, Google, et al face?

  1. Stick ons increase complexity. Complexity creates security issues which, until it is too late, remain unknown
  2. Alex Jones type actions rally the troops. I am not a troop, but here I am writing about this individual. Imagine the motivation for those who care about Mr. Jones’ messages
  3. Opportunities for misinformation, disinformation, and reformation multiply. In short, the filtering and other appliqué solutions will increase computational cost, legal costs, and administrative costs. Facebook and Google type companies are not keen on increased costs in my opinion.
  4. Alex Jones type actions attack legal eagles.

What’s the fix? There is a spectrum of options available. On one end, believe that the experts running the monopolies will do the right thing. Hope is useful, maybe even in this case. At the other end, the Putin approach may be needed. Censorship, fines, jail time, and more extreme measures if the online systems don’t snap a crisp salute.

Applique solutions are what’s available. I await the final creation. I assume there will be something more eye catching than green paint, white flame decoration, and (I don’t want to forget) the big green horns.

For Alex Jones, censorship may have turbocharged his messaging capability. What can one stick on him now? What will the stickoids do? Protest marches, Dark Web collections of his content, encrypted chat among fans?

I know one thing: Pundits and real journalists will come up with more appliqué fixes. Easy, fast, and cheap. Reasoning from the aisles of Hobby Lobby or Michael’s is better than other types of analytic thought.

Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2018

Google and China: A New Management Approach to Silicon Valley Pragmatism

August 3, 2018

I read “While Pragmatist Pichai Ploughs into China, Google Workers Fume over Concession to Censorship.” The main point of the write up for me is that Google has a management challenge on its hands. I learned:

Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin built Google to “organize the world’s information and make it universally available”. They viewed China as a threat to the company’s stance as a defender of the open web. Pichai, in contrast, sees China as a hotbed of engineering talent and an appealing market.

The only problem is that I think that the omission of money is a modest flaw in the logic of the quoted passage.

I noted this statement:

People trust Google to share true information and the Chinese search app is a betrayal of that, the employee said. The Google workers asked not to be identified because they are not permitted to discuss internal matters.

I assume the nifty buzzword “pragmatism” (possibly a metaphor for “governance”) embraces this disconnect between what one or more Googlers perceive, and what the GOOG actually does to deliver “relevant” results.

I highlighted:

Dragonfly [the code name for the new China specific search app] was a popular topic on Memegen, an internal online photo messaging board and cultural barometer at the company. One meme cited a popular Google slogan – “Put the user first” – with an asterisk attached: “Chinese users excluded, because we do not agree with your government.” A second post questioned the merits of American staff deciding global policies. Westerners debating Google entering China “feels somehow like men debating regulating women’s bodies,” it read.

Yep, relevant results. Pragmatic results too.

Stephen E Arnold, August 3, 2018

Fake News: Maybe Deadly

July 25, 2018

Politics aside for a moment, a disturbing new trend is becoming more obvious thanks to social media and fake news. Human lives are being lost thanks to false news stories being circulated and it might just be the one arena in which everyone can agree there is a problem. This first came to our attention via an NBC News story, “Social Media Rumors Trigger Violence in India; 3 Killed by Mobs.”

According to the story:

“Mobs of villagers killed at least three people and attacked several others after social media messages warned that gangs of kidnappers were roaming southern India in search of children, police said ….Authorities said there was no indication that such gangs actually existed.”

This scourge of fake news leading to real world consequences has led to the government stepping in and perhaps becoming an incubator for other nations going forward. The Indian Government has reached out to WhatsApp and demanded that they begin filtering out fake news stories. Google and Facebook have already begun attempting to police themselves. If the Indian government’s move to take control over fake news proves successful, censorship dominoes are falling in many different nation states. In the July 31, 2018, DarkCyber video we report about recent developments and Kazakhstan. The video will be available on the 31st at

Patrick Roland, July 25, 2018

Heigh Ho, Filter, Away: You Cannot Find Info If It Is Not in the Index

July 19, 2018

Google recently revealed some data about the effects of adjustments it made to its algorithm back in 2014 in an effort to minimize piracy. TorrentFreak shares these figures in, “Google Downranks 65,000 Pirate Sites in Search Results.” Writer Ernesto informs us:

“In a comment to Australian media, Google states that it has demoted 65,000 sites in search results, a list that’s still growing every week. In total, the company received DMCA takedown requests for over 1.8 million domain names, so a little under 4% of these are downranked. The result of the measures is that people are less likely to see a pirate site when they type ‘watch movie X’ or ‘download song Y.’ This means that these sites see a drop in visitors from Google and a quite significant one too. ‘Demotion results in sites losing around 90 percent of their visitors from Google Search,’ a Google spokesperson told The Age. Indeed, soon after the demotion signal was implemented, pirate sites were hit hard. However, pirates wouldn’t be pirates if they didn’t respond with their own countermeasures. In recent years, many infringing sites have hopped from domain to domain, in part to circumvent the downranking efforts. In addition, Google’s measures also created an opportunity for smaller, less reputable, sites to catch search traffic that would otherwise go to the main players.”

Still, it seems to be a net win against piracy, all told. Some still call for Google to completely remove sites guilty of piracy from their search results, a move Google has its reasons for refusing to make. We’re reminded the company has also described piracy as an “availability and pricing problem,” and says governments should be promoting new business models instead of laying blame at the search engine’s feet. That is an interesting argument.

Cynthia Murrell, July 19, 2018

Amazon Dumps Domain Fronting

May 2, 2018

Short honk: Beyond Search noted this article: “Amazon Closes Anti-Censorship Loophole on Its Servers.” The main idea is that urls can be obfuscated. The purpose of domain fronting ranges from simplifying traffic flow for users or systems or to permit a VPN type function without using a user installed VPN. The write up points out:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is cracking down on domain fronting, a practice that some folks use to get round state-level internet censorship of the likes seen in China and Russia (among other countries).

A couple of points:

  • Facebook has taken some steps to make secret communications less secret. The founder of WhatsApp (which Facebook acquired) has apparently quit over this privacy affecting change.
  • Google stopped supporting domain fronting
  • A number of countries have taken steps to crack down on messaging which cannot be decrypted.

But the Amazon change is more interesting for the Beyond Search team. Is it possible that Amazon is streamlining its systems in order to create a new service platform?

Our colleagues who work on the DarkCyber news program have raised this possibility.

Is Amazon ready to reveal its next big thing? The success of that next big thing may pivot on becoming more government centric. Could that be happening to everyone’s favorite digital Wal-Mart?

Worth monitoring or attending my lecture about the possible Amazon play at the Telestrategies ISS conference in Prague in about three weeks. I will be taking a look at what’s called cross correlation. More information about that is located at this Wolfram Mathworld link.

Stephen E Arnold, May 2, 2018

Google: Deprecation of Web Logs. Is It a Thing?

January 22, 2018

i don’t use Google’s publishing tools. Quite a few people do, but the company’s blogging platform has been lagging behind WordPress and some of the easy Web site builders like Squarespace, which makes blogging reasonably simple.

I noticed a deprecation of blog content when Google hid blog search on its Google News page. One has to run a query and then click to find the blog drop down. My hunch is that most people don’t bother. Some blogs are findable in the main Google Web search index if one uses desktop boat anchors to search Mobile doesn’t work that way. Mobile is for crunchy content. Quite a few bloggers pump out write ups that don’t fit the crunchy model.

T0day I read “Please Don’t Kill the Blogs.” The write up strikes me as a good rundown of the steps Google is trying to take on tippy toes.


Blog content is a legal swamp. Imagine you are a Googler talking with Chinese officials. The officials point out that Blogger has some “interesting” content. What does Google do? Tell the Chinese they have have to mend their ways? Nope. Google wants to make sure it is able to claw back into the Chinese market, hire engineers, do business without waiting for a government agency to flash a green light, and make money. Did I mention make money? Maybe China is not a factor. Plug in your favorite country which is taking steps to control content. Same issue. Same solution.

What’s the fix?

Kill the blogs. Who cares. The Huffington Post is killing their open content. That’s a precedent for the GOOG.

Google may find a way to make its blogs rise again. On the other hand, the liability on some of the “interesting” content may be too great for a fleet of Loon balloons to hoist the service to the heights.

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Google’s blogs may have outlived their usefulness. Hey, if you can’t find the search system for blog content, who really cares?

Do you miss Tecnorati blog search? Will you miss Google blogs?

Maybe the answer is the same for each question?

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2018

You Cannot Search for Info If the Info Is Not Indexed: The Middle Kingdom Approach

December 26, 2017

I noted two items this morning as I geared up to video the next Dark Cyber program. (Dark Cyber is a new series of HonkinNews programs from the creator of this blog, Beyond Search.)

Item one’s title is “China Shuts Down Thousands of Websites in Internet Network Crackdown.” As I understand the article, Chinese authorities remove information to reduce the likelihood that problems will arise from unfettered information access, exchange, and communication. The article quotes one source as saying, “These moves have a powerful deterrent effect.” That’s true to some degree; however, squeezing the toothpaste tube of online content may result is forcing that information into channels which may be more difficult to constrain. Nevertheless, I find the action suggestive that the Wild West days of the Internet are drawing to a close in the Middle Kingdom.

Item two’s title is “China Sentences Man to Five Years in Jail for Running VPN Service.” The main idea is that the virtual private network approach to obfuscating one’s online activities is under scrutiny in China. Apple, as you may recall, removed VPN apps to comply with Chinese guidelines. I noted this passage in the source document:

Wu’s [the fellow who gets to sojourn 60 months in a prison] VPN service reportedly had 8,000 foreign clients and 5,000 businesses. However, he had failed to apply for a state permit. While his isn’t the first sentence since another person was sent to jail for nine months on similar charges, this is the first time that such a dramatic sentence has been approved, raising concerns about the government’s growing interest in controlling information that comes into the country.

What happens if one adds one plus two? The answer is, “You can’t search for information if it is not indexed.” What information in the US accessible indexes is not online.

This weekend I was looking for a story about a Norwich, UK, man who was sentenced to prison and placed on the UK register of sex offenders. The story was not in Google News. I located the story in Bing’s news index. I found this interesting, and you can get the gist of the arrest in the January 2, 2017, HonkinNews “Dark Cyber” program.

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2017

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