Mastodon: An Elephant in the Room or a Dwarf Stegodon in the Permafrost?

September 22, 2022

Buzzkill and Crackpot have been pushing Mastodon for years. If you are familiar with the big elephant, you know that mastodons are extinct. If you are not familiar with distributed mastodon, that creature is alive and stomping around. (The dwarf stegodon Facebook may become today’s MySpace.

Chinese Social Media Users Are Flocking to the Decentralised Mastodon Platform to Find Community amid Crackdown at Home” explains once one pays up to access the write up:

Mastodon, an open-source microblogging software, was created by German developer Eugen Rochko in 2017 as a decentralised version of Twitter that is difficult to block or censor. It was partially a response to the control over user data exerted by Big Tech platforms, and the source code has since been used for many alternative platforms catering to those disaffected with mainstream options.

Features attractive to those eager to avoid big tech include, says the report:

Older posts are also difficult to resurface, as there is no free text search, only searching for hashtags. This is by design and encourages users to be more comfortable sharing their thoughts in the moment without worrying about how that information will be used in the future. Blocking content is also difficult for the Great Firewall because it is shared across instances. Alive.bar might be blocked, but people on another domain can follow users there.

Will Chinese uptake of Mastodon cause the beast to multiply and go forth? With censorship and online incivility apparently on the rise, yep.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

Who Needs Books? Plus They Burn As Well As the Scrolls in the Library at Alexandria

September 20, 2022

Book banning is not new. Ever since humans could think and publish controversial ideas, literature has been banned. In ancient times, Abrahamic religious documents were deemed taboo. The last hundred years showed book banning examples in Nazi Germany, the socialist Soviet Union, and communist China continues to ban many works. The United States should be free of this quandary given the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but “over-concerned” people are advocating for the removal of titles. The Grid runs down the current state of book bans in, “Book Banning In US Schools Has Reached An All-Time High: What This Means, And How We Got Here.”

In the past, most books that were banned dealt with magic and depictions of sex. Nowadays the books challenged the most are about gender and sexual orientation, ethnic diversity, and alternative takes on US history:

“Among the 10 most-challenged titles of 2021 were those from prominent Black writers Ibram X. Kendi, Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas, according to the ALA. And five of the top 10 were challenged specifically because of their LGBTQ content.

From a broader perspective, of the 1,000-plus books banned from July 2021 to March 2022, 41 percent had main characters of color, 22 percent directly addressed race and racism, and 33 percent directly included LGBTQ themes and characters.”

Many groups working to ban titles are trying to protect childhood innocence. Some are not against these titles being published, but believe they do not belong in schools. It is hard to apply First Amendment rights to school curricula, because schools are under the control of school administrations. These administrations institute curricula and can remove books deemed “offensive.” Groups that do sue to take books out of libraries and bookstores are facing a losing battle because they are protected by the First Amendment.

While the Internet allows kids to access books and other information, Internet access is not 100% universal for people in rural and low-income areas. When a book is banned from libraries or schools, kids will never have access to it.

Banning books makes them more popular. Sometimes the banning helps books perform better than if they had been left alone. Book banning does not serve any purpose other than perpetrating willful ignorance.

Whitney Grace, September 20, 2022

ISPs and Network Providers: The Big Warming

September 5, 2022

On September 14, 2022, I will be sharing some of my team’s research about ISPs and network providers. Coincidentally, the “open” information services are providing interesting — but as yet not yet rock solid information — about the ISP and network provider world. In a sense, figuring out what ISPs and network providers are doing is like looking at distant star data in the Webb space telescope data stream. There is information flowing, but making those data speak clearly is not an easy job.

I read “I Ran the Worlds Largest DDOS for Hire Empire and CloudFlare Helped.” The write up struck me as quite interesting. I circled this pass as interesting but not backed up with footnotes or cheerful hyperlinks:

As the infrastructure provider for over 20% of all www traffic traversing the internet today, CloudFlare is in a position to enforce it’s beliefs on a global scale. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, lots of nefarious websites try to take advantage of the services CloudFlare offers and are rightfully kicked off. The problems arise in a small category of websites that blur the line.

The “blur” seems to say to me: Hey, we are big and well known, and maybe some bad actors use our service.”

Here’s another sentence which may catch the attention of legal eagles:

As someone who has previously justified their actions by saying “I am not directly causing harm, the responsibility flows downstream to my end users” I can tell you it is a shaky defense at best. The situation would be different if CloudFlare was unaware of the booter websites they are offering protection to, but that is not the case. CloudFlare knows who they are protecting and chooses to continue doing so, being fully cognizant of the end result their actions will have. Let’s talk about that end result because the hypocrisy of it all stings like a slap in the face as I type this. CloudFlare is responsible for keeping booter websites online and operating, the very same websites who’s sole purpose is to fuel CloudFlare’s very own business model, selling DDoS protection.

I am no lawyer and I certainly don’t understand anything other than my dinobaby world. However, it seems as if a big company is allegedly in a position to do more to protect truth, justice, and the American way than it may be doing. Oh, the American way means operating without meaningful oversight, regulation, and the invisible ethical hand that makes stakeholders quiver with glee.

Worth watching what other ISP and network provider examples emerge as the real journalists reach their coffee shops and begin working this subject.

Stephen E Arnold, September 5, 2022

Bing: Censoring Because China Buys Lots of MSFT Products and Services

May 27, 2022

If you think restrictions in one country do not extend to those on the other side of the world, think again. Motherboard reports, “Microsoft’s Chinese Bing Censorship Impacts United States Too, Researchers Say.” We do not find this to be a surprise since big outfits do what’s necessary to sell in a nation state and reduce their costs of operation. Do the filtering once, then do it for everyone. Efficient. Writer Joseph Cox tells us:

“Microsoft-owned search engine Bing censors content that is politically sensitive to the Chinese government for users who are using the search engine from the United States, researchers claim in a new report. The research shows how censorship efforts in one country can bleed over and impact users in others. The findings come after Bing censored image searches for the infamous ‘tank man‘ even from the United States last June. At the time, Microsoft blamed that issue on an ‘accidental human error.’ The new research indicates more widespread censorship of politically sensitive searches, and especially names of certain people. ‘Using statistical techniques, we preclude politically sensitive Chinese names in the United States being censored purely through random chance. Rather, their censorship must be the result of a process disproportionately targeting names which are politically sensitive in China,’ the report, written by researchers from the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs Citizen Lab, reads. Microsoft operates Bing in China with limitations in place so it falls in line with Chinese law. Much of that involves heavy censorship around certain topics, events, and people, often resulting in those areas being undiscoverable via Bing searches conducted from within China.”

And from without, apparently. Specifically, the study looked at Bing’s auto-complete function. See the write-up for its methodology and findings. For its part Microsoft insists not seeing a relevant autosuggestion is “largely” based on each query and local user behavior and “does not mean it has been blocked.” We note that is not quite an outright denial. Globalization! How is that working out?

Cynthia Murrell, May 27, 2022

Librarians and Book Bans: Why Not Burn the Books?

May 24, 2022

Every couple of years the nation deals with an unprecedented surge in book banning. Once upon a time Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were the top banned contenders and they remain on the list. Other challenged titles include JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Bluest Eye. Banned books usually include content people deem blasphemous, lewd, racist, pornographic, and contrary to decent society.

Most books currently being banned discuss racism, trans people, homosexuality, sex, and alternative views of history. Educators are not the only professionals dealing with demands to ban books, school and public librarians are fighting the angry mobs too. Salon explores the current book banning storm that is sweeping the country in the article, “‘Hearbreaking’: Frightened Librarians Face ‘Hostile’ Harassment Trying To Navigate Book Bans.”

Texas is a conservative, Republican, Christian state and its librarians are facing a book banning crisis. Many librarians are quitting their jobs or are fired because they refuse to cave to the mobs. Librarians are not only facing hostility at work, but they are also dealing with it on social media:

“In Keller, local Facebook group pages and Twitter accounts have included pointed comments about librarians being “heretical” and portrayed them as pedophile “groomers” who order pornographic books. After a particular book challenge failed, one commenter included the phrase “pass the millstones,” a biblical reference to execution by drowning.”

Librarians who continue to work under the box banning blitz are hesitant to make any move that could be misinterpreted. They are afraid to order new books (and probably new copies of past banned books) because they do not want to deal with the backlash. They are playing it safe, but they wonder at what cost to themselves, students, and the future of education?

Most of the attacks are coming from parents who are unaware of what the questionable books contain. Many of the challengers do not read the books, stating that they do not need to read to recognize “smut” or “inappropriate” material. Book banning is an ignorant act and violates the First Amendment, the right to freedom of speech. Book banning is a propaganda tool for the Nazis, the Soviets, communist China, North Korea, various South American dictatorships, cults, and fundamentalist zealots use to control, indoctrinate, and brainwash people.

Book access should be managed for kids, but not everything deemed inappropriate fits the bill. The Bible contains references to genocide, sex, incest, rape, magic, cannibalism, evolution, war, and many more inappropriate subjects. Are librarians to be equipped with matches?

Whitney Grace, May 21, 2022

Automated Censorship: What Could Go CENSORED with the CENSORED System?

March 28, 2022

Automated censorship: Silent, 24×7, no personnel hassles, no vacations, no breakdowns, and no worries.

Okay, a few may have worries, but these are very small, almost microscopic, worries. The reason? If one can’t find the information, then whatever the information discusses does not exist for many people. That’s the elegance of censorship. A void. No pushback. One does not know.

How AI Is Creating a Safer Online World” does not worry about eliminating information. The argument is “more safety.” Who can disagree? Smart people understand that no information yields safety, right?

The write up states:

By using machine learning algorithms to identify and categorize content, companies can identify unsafe content as soon as it is created, instead of waiting hours or days for human review, thereby reducing the number of people exposed to unsafe content.

A net positive. The write up assumes that safe content is good. Smart software can recognize unsafe content. The AI can generate data voids which are safe.

The write up does acknowledge that there may be a tiny, probably almost insignificant issue. The article explains with brilliant prose:

Despite its promise, AI-based content moderation faces many challenges. One is that these systems often mistakenly flag safe content as unsafe, which can have serious consequences.

Do we need examples? Sure, let’s point out that the old chestnuts about Covid and politics are presented to close the issue. How are those examples playing out?

How does the write up? Logic that would knock Stephen Toulmin for a loop? A content marketing super play that will make the author and publisher drown in fame?

Nah, just jabber like this:

AI-assisted content moderation isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s a valuable tool that can help companies keep their platforms safe and free from harm. With the increasing use of AI, we can hope for a future where the online world is a safer place for all.

Does a “safer place” suggest I will be spared essays like this in the future? Oh, oh. Censorship practiced by a human: Ignoring content hoo hah. The original word I chose to characterize the analysis has been CENSORED.

Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2022

Twitch to Ban Agents of False Information

March 18, 2022

Amazon, proud owner of streaming platform Twitch, wades into a swamp in which there are snakes and other dangerous creatures. IGN reports, “Twitch Introducing New Rules to Stop Misinformation Spreaders.” The brief write-up describes the new policy:

“The policy update will target streamers who consistently make false claims, on or off Twitch, regarding protected groups, health issues including COVID-19, public emergencies, and misinformation that promotes violence or diminishes civic systems such as election results. Angela Hession, Twitch’s vice president of trust and safety, said the website is ‘taking this precautionary step and updating our policies to ensure that these misinformation superspreaders won’t find a home on our service,’ per the New York Times. … all misinformation spreaders will be targeted by the new policy even if they don’t make false claims while streaming. Sharing the misinformation on other platforms such as Twitter is enough to warrant action against their Twitch account.”

We are guessing many users will object to this cross-platform policing. Vigorously. The company, however, must believe the threat of misinformation warrants the crackdown. The audience for streaming gamers has grown rapidly over the last several years, and the invasion in Ukraine has magnified the problem. Video games can look so real that some in-game footage has been presented as actual footage of the conflict. One developer is pleading with people not to use their software in this way. We are glad to see Amazon taking a stand even as it faces other Twitch-related problems.

Cynthia Murrell, March 18, 2022

The BBC Enacts the Ministry of Truth Playbook

February 22, 2022

The National Review calls out the BBC, comparing the organization to the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984, in “The BBC Quietly Censors Its Own Archives.” Writer Charles C. W. Cooke informs us:

“The Daily Telegraph reported that ‘an anonymous Radio 4 Extra listener’ had ‘discovered the BBC had been quietly editing repeats of shows over the past few years to be more in keeping with social mores.’ To which the BBC said . . . well, yeah. In a statement addressing the charge, the institution confirmed that ‘on occasion we edit some episodes so they’re suitable for broadcast today, including removing racially offensive language and stereotypes from decades ago, as the vast majority of our audience would expect.’ Thus, in the absence of law or regulation, has the British establishment begun to excise material it finds inappropriate by today’s lights.”

See, the BBC was just trying to be helpful. There are just a few problems with that defense: Does the audience, which as British taxpayers effectively owns this content, really “expect” it to be unceremoniously altered? If so, why the secrecy? There is value in being able to see how vile prevailing attitudes used to be, after all. Then there is the fact that not all alterations simply removed racist, misogynistic, or other offensive tropes and language. We learn of a particularly self-serving set of alterations:

“Per the Telegraph, the BBC has ‘purged mentions of disgraced stars Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris’ from its collections. And down the memory hole goes that.”

The memory hole, of course, being a 1984 reference. See the write-up for more Orwellian correlations. The piece continues:

“One might reasonably wonder where such a project might end. Whether one likes it or not, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris existed. They were real people, who had a real effect on the culture, and who appeared on a vast number of real radio and television shows that were produced and disseminated by the BBC. That they turned out to be extremely bad people is regrettable, but it does not alter material reality.”

Indeed. Cooke points out the BBC, which has been operating since 1922, has generated and collected a wealth of valuable historical information. One hundred years later, the de facto government agency should not be allowed to alter that content as it sees fit. Whatever its motives.

Cynthia Murrell, February 22, 2022

Dumpster Fire Has Been Replaced

February 20, 2022

Hats off to jkhendrickson for creating a useful way to describe an intentionally flawed system. The phrase lurks within one of case examples of an interesting Google YouTube enforcement action.

Here’s the phrase:

the byzantine garbage fire

The phrase begs for an acronym, which are loved by millennials, GenXers, and the military; therefore, we have:

BGF

What caused the BGF. Nothing much. Google YouTube unilaterally decided to delete videos.

Hey, free means outfits can do what they want when they want.

Nevertheless:

BGF

The “b” means byzantine garbage fire.

Stephen E Arnold, February 20, 2022

Who Is the Bigger Disruptor: A Twitch Streamer or a Ring Announcer?

February 17, 2022

People can agree on is that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding COVID-19. What is considered “misinformation” depends on an individuals’ beliefs. The facts remains, however, that COVID-19 is real, vaccines do not contain GPS chips, and the pandemic has been one big pain. Whenever it is declared we are in a post-pandemic world, misinformation will be regarded as one of the biggest fallouts with an on-going ripple effect.

The Verge explores how one controversial misinformation spreader will be discussed about for years to come: “The Joe Rogan Controversy Is What Happens When You Put Podcasts Behind A Wall.” Misinformation supporters, among them conspiracy theorists, used to be self-contained in their own corner of the globe, but they erupted out of their crazy zone like Vesuvius engulfing Pompeii. Rogan’s faux pas caused Spotify podcast show to remove over seventy episodes of his show or deplatform him.

Other podcast platforms celebrated the demise of a popular Spotify show and attempted to sell more subscriptions for their own content. These platforms should not be celebrating, though. Spotify owned Rogan’s show and his controversy has effectively ruined the platform, but it could happen at any time to Spotify’s rivals. Rogan is not the only loose cannon with a podcast and it does not take much for anything to be considered offensive, then canceled. The rival platforms might be raking in more dollars right now, but:

“We’re moving away from a world in which a podcast player functions as a search engine and toward one in which they act as creators and publishers of that content. This means more backlash and room for questions like: why are you paying Rogan $100 million to distribute what many consider to be harmful information? Fair questions!

This is the cost of high-profile deals and attempts to expand podcasting’s revenue. Both creators and platforms are implicated in whatever content’s distributed, hosted, and sold, and both need to think clearly about how they’ll handle inevitable controversy.”

There is probably an argument about the right to Freedom of Speech throughout this controversy, but there is also the need to protect people from harm. It is one large, gray zone with only a tight rope to walk across it.

So Amouranth or Mr. Rogan? Jury’s out.

Whitney Grace, January 17, 2022

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