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Dear conservative American internet, this is why #IBOR failed, not because Twitter is throttling you

I’ve been following with interest the so-called #IBoR conversations on Twitter, aka the Internet Bill of Rights. As the White House website petition ends today, and it failed (as of this writing) to achieve a 1/3 of the required 100,000, I thought maybe people should start talking about why it failed. And maybe how we could make something better.

Or somebody. I’m not saying I’m volunteering. What the hell do I know anyway… I’m just an “internet researcher.”

For posterity, here is the failed draft, accredited to “A.M.” on the site:

Internet forums and social networks which provide free access to the public are a digital place of assembly, and individuals using such methods for public communication should not be subjected to censorship due to political beliefs or differing ideas. Conservative voices on many large public website platforms are being censored, based solely on a differing opinion. Some of these platforms further employ tracking mechanisms for monitoring an individual’s digital history, which can be used to censor the individual’s public communication through various censorship practices, sometimes without knowledge or awareness. These actions directly violate personal liberty and stand at contrast with the bill of rights.

We the people demand action to bring our digital future into the light.

Thought it might be useful for my own brain if no one else to break this down into claims and assumptions – pick it apart a little bit before putting it back together again. I’ll do it internet research-style…


Domain applicable: Internet forums and social networks.

Claim: “which provide free access to the public

Question: How accurate is that claim? “Free access” makes it sound like there is no cost to the user of the system. That is, it costs nothing to join. While that may be the case, the provider offers those services, assuming the cost of the infrastructure to build, maintain and continue to offer the service.

I would feel better with maybe phrasing such as “which offer open access” to the public. “Offer” also puts us in the mood of an economic exchange, or transaction. One party offers something, and the other accepts or denies the offer based on relative value perceived by each party.

“Open access” would then mean something like “anyone can join, because we don’t check you first.”

Not addressed:

  • Who owns platforms & services?
  • Are they privately owned? What rights does private ownership entail?
  • What are the costs associated with offering “open access” to a service at no cost to users at scale?
  • Do corporations, as a legal extension of the natural human persons of which their membership is composed, themselves have rights?
    • Such as the right to stipulate acceptable usage policies (“Terms of Service”) in exchange for providing open access?

I’m not saying I have all the answers there. But these questions of private property, and the rights of natural persons and corporate persons to exercise linked rights have not been addressed in this draft. And I think it’s one of the fundamental reasons it failed. A document like this, whose ultimate aim is to be an Expression of the Truth™, must be rooted in a clearer understanding of the problem and the facts.

Now, I’m not a factologist, but I know how to do Google Searches. I found this thing on Investopedia (whose credibility I have no idea) about something interesting in real estate called a “bundle of rights.”

“…a set of legal rights afforded to the real estate title holder. It can include the right of possession, the right of control, the right of exclusion, the right of enjoyment and the right of disposition. “

Hm, so that’s interesting. Right to control, right to exclusion.

I’m also not a lawyer, but control and exclusion, hmmm…. reminds me of something. Can’t think of what… (Sorry for being snarky)

It sounds like owners of property have the right to control usage and to exclude from use that property.

If we acknowledge that those probably fundamental rights of private property pretty much do apply to platforms (hint: they do), then we have to start re-configuring already the rest of the document.

It’s not that the fundamental idea is false, or bad, or wrong. I actually very much agree with the main thrust of it. If we want to proceed and succeed, though, we have to reconfigure the approach, better ascertain what the problem is, and define more clearly what we’re asking.

Claim: “are a digital place of assembly

Question: What related rights apply? Right to peaceful assembly. From the Library of Congress website:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the United States Congress from enacting legislation that would abridge the right of the people to assemble peaceably.[1]  The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes this prohibition applicable to state governments.[2]

So the domain of applicability is first of all U.S. Congress, and secondly to state governments. Both of those are public actors. Not private entities.

It’s an interesting argument, but again doesn’t altogether address the idea that owners of private property can control and exclude use. (Will also come back to this idea another time when I’m not so bleary eyed. There’s a recent tech law case that backs this up.)

For now, the claim about “digital places of assembly” is not completely verified. Though the impulse behind it is duly noted.

Statement: “individuals using such methods for public communication”

I don’t want to be (too) pedantic, but there’s a lot to unpack there.

What does “public communication” mean?

It could mean a lot of things.

  1. Communicating with the general public, or people in a general way. In other words, broadcasting or publishing. Both broadcasting and publishing are resource-intensive and infrastructure-dependent activities.
  2. Public communication could also conceivably mean talking with friends and family. (Though, is that really ‘the public?’) If two parties to a message or communication are in physical proximity, they could speak, or, at greater distances, shout. Beyond that, there is a cost associated with carrying a message from point or person A to point or person B. Again, it requires energy (as in radio waves), as well resources & infrastructure (a transceiver, wires, antenna, electrical energy source. None of those things are free of charge, nor are sending letters by post, using the phone system, etc.

So I guess my main point again is there is always a cost associated with communication. Even if it’s only trying to put it into the right words…

Ask: “should not be subjected to censorship”

So I’m labeling that as an ask and not a claim because there’s a “should.” It’s a thing that is not now true.

I’m still not clear on when/where/at what point we can definitively say that “censorship” is happening. If, like the rest of the First Amendment, it’s domain of applicability is Congress and state governments, I still think we’re barking up maybe the wrong tree to say that: private companies offering services with an attached acceptable use policy are doing something wrong or bad within the greater system of the law by exercising their rights as owners of private property  to control and exclude usage. It’s not a fundamentally strong argument in a system (society) more or less completely based on rules around how ownership of private property works. We might need to try to re-word this and cut down to a stronger root of the matter.

Claim: “Conservative voices on many large public website platforms are being censored, based solely on a differing opinion.

While I understand the feeling people have that informs this, I think there is some strong confirmation bias going on here. People feel like their point of view is being silenced, when in actuality in the vast majority of cases, it is their conduct, and not belief or opinion. Conduct relates again to the property owner’s right to control and exclude (nevermind the right to “enjoy”), which is set forth usually in the acceptable use policy/terms of service/rules/community guidelines, etc.

Problem: Different sites/services/platforms have different rules of conduct, different teams of moderators, and different tolerances of risk. This can be confusing for users. There are few standards which unify definitions or examples of acceptable and unacceptable types of behavior across the various platforms. In saying that, I think this is a real problem that industry can work on. Perhaps embedded in a larger contextual framework, this could become a useful component of a more fleshed out IBoR draft.

Claim: “Some of these platforms further employ tracking mechanisms for monitoring an individual’s digital history…

This much of that sentence, at least, is a true claim. Many, most, or perhaps even all(?) services monitor and track usage of their service. The primary use case of this, of course, is to be able to provide that service.

One thing I like about the upcoming EU GDPR rules for protection of personal information is that companies are required to have fair processing statements, which require them to more explicitly say what they collect, why, and what they do with it.

This is, in my opinion, a very healthy and interesting development in the tech industry that Europe is leading the way on. I know how much it hurts the American ego to believe that Europe is ahead on anything, but this regulation’s enforcement (goes into effect May 25, 2018) will be interesting to watch, as it even compels foreign companies (each operating under their own national laws) to abide also by its principle when offering services to EU or EEA (European Economic Area) residents. In effect, companies complying with this rule set may begin operating at and offering to (at least EU) users a higher default data protection standard than they would normally under American law. So that’s a good thing, and it ironically might come to Americans by way of foreign governmental bodies instead of a #wethepeople internet petition.

Claim: “can be used to censor the individual’s public communication through various censorship practices, sometimes without knowledge or awareness.”

This claim goes back to tracking and monitoring, which GDPR talks about fairly extensively, if doesn’t give perfectly clear answers on.

This claim also rests on a questionable assumption: that because a technology can be used to do something, that it is being used to do that.

More broadly, if a company sees you’re not respecting its usage agreement by engaging in prohibited conduct on the platform, it doesn’t need to consider and for the most part isn’t interested in whatever your beliefs might be. It’s not important.

A question I’ve always wanted to know the answer to: if it’s (today) overwhelmingly self-identified “conservatives” (and I understand less and less what that term even means anymore) who feel they are being silenced by platforms, would it be fair to wonder whether that group is also more frequently engaging in conduct prohibited by the usage agreements?

Now, it might be a valid argument to say that a given platform usage agreement might lean in a certain direction politically. But if it’s private property, and they have the right to control, exclude, and enjoy, on what realistic legal grounds would we, should we, or could we urge them to change? What about platforms whose political biases we agree with? Should we also therefore reciprocally give other oppressed groups likewise consideration? I know the answer isn’t clear (or maybe for you it is and this is all hogwash(, but I think the lack of offering a clear framing of the full question, the full need, and the desired solution is what has lead to the failure of #IBOR.

Claim: “These actions directly violate personal liberty and stand at contrast with the bill of rights.”

What does “violate personal liberty” mean, specifically?

We believe that personal liberties are somehow linked to the Bill of Rights, which, again, applies to congress, and to some extent state governments. So there is a “contrast,” to be sure, but it is not what is implied in the above claim. It’s a different domain of applicability. The Bill of Rights limits what government can do.

The Internet Bill of Rights, should such a document arise (hint: actual real drafts of such a document do exist – written by, gasp! the UN – I’ll find and post links another day), would instead be asking government to limit what business can do. In effect, asking government to take away the “personal liberties” of corporations (compromised of humans exercising their liberties) through legislation – which I grew up always understanding being something conservatives were supposed to hate. So that’s confusing too.

Ask: “We the people demand action to bring our digital future into the light.”

I’m a bit disappointed this was the closing ask of the document.

“Demand action” is not a strong phrase. It doesn’t put the needs and rights of the person, the internet user – I feel – enough in the driver seat. It’s asking someone else to take action. But it’s a really frustratingly vague action. “Bring our digital future into the light.” What is this, a Rainbow Gathering? Did you bring your crystals? How will we know whether or we’ve reach this magical place of love and light?

That’s not to bash on the author of this document (to whom I do apologize for this completely sincere but necessary line-by-line public take-down), so much as it is to hopefully 🔨 hammer home the necessity of polishing the underlying desire into a 💎 of greater ✨, which might have much greater significance and reach into all of our lives.

Thanks for reading. Remember to like me on Steemit. (jk)

Don’t stop #IBOR’ing.*

And while you’re doing that, go set up your own blog, on your own server. Learn the costs.

*Where and as I have time, I’ll try to do more to contribute to “the movement,” rather than sitting silently on the sidelines.

Russian bloggers with over 3,000 followers must register with the government

I’ve seen this stated as fact in numerous places, that bloggers in Russian with over 3,000 followers must register with the government. Is it true?

BBC, August 2014:

It means bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers must register with the mass media regulator, Roskomnadzor, and conform to the regulations that govern the country’s larger media outlets.

Internet companies will also be required to allow Russian authorities access to users’ information.

It includes measures to ensure that bloggers cannot remain anonymous, and states that social networks must maintain six months of data on its users.

The information must be stored on servers based in Russian territory, so that government authorities can gain access.

Related: Livejournal’s links to the Russian government.

Facebook’s famous missing 470 banned Russian accounts or pages

September 2017, Alex Stamos, official Facebook post:

“In reviewing the ads buys, we have found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies. Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.”

CNBC October 2017, tries to link 200 Twitter accounts to those 470 FB:

“Some of those same suspicious accounts on Facebook, however, also have ties to another 200 accounts on Twitter, a realization it shared with congressional investigators last week.”

Recode September 2017:

“Beyond publishing its findings, Facebook shared more granular details with its peers — standard practice for many tech giants, which generally band together to address online threats, such as hackers. With the aid of that information, Twitter discovered about 200 Kremlin-aligned accounts directly tied to some of the profiles Facebook previously identified. None of those suspicious Twitter accounts had purchased sponsored tweets, the company told lawmakers.”

So what are the full 470 items on FB’s suspended list? Twitter released their 2,700~ list already.

Many outlets are reporting today, including this Bloomberg November 2017 post, that Facebook will allow some users to see if they directly followed malicious accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency:

“The tool will appear by the end of the year in Facebook’s online support center, the company said in a blog post Wednesday. It will answer the user question, “How can I see if I’ve liked or followed a Facebook page or Instagram account created by the Internet Research Agency?” That’s the Russian firm that created thousands of incendiary posts from fake accounts posing as U.S. citizens. People will see a list of the accounts they followed, if any, from January 2015 through August 2017.”

Sounds like that list is maybe not yet available publicly at this time. I wrote to Library of Congress to see if it’s already been entered into the public record. Maybe they can help…

Conservative targeting, ad buys and fake news

From Hopenothate October 2017 article about death of fake news creator Paul Horner:

“Horner claimed he hated Trump but targeted conservatives with his stories because they were more profitable. He reached wide audiences, often on websites masquerading as more reputable news sources.”

I see this sentiment echoed in other places as well. NY Times, November 2016 article about fake news ‘sausage factories’:

“He set up a website, posted gushing stories about Hillary Clinton and waited for ad sales to soar.

“I don’t know why, but it did not work,” said the student, Beqa Latsabidze, 22, who was savvy enough to change course when he realized what did drive traffic: laudatory stories about Donald J. Trump that mixed real — and completely fake — news in a stew of anti-Clinton fervor.

More than 6,000 miles away in Vancouver, a Canadian who runs a satirical website, John Egan, had made a similar observation. Mr. Egan’s site, The Burrard Street Journal, offers sendups of the news, not fake news, and he is not trying to fool anyone. But he, too, discovered that writing about Mr. Trump was a “gold mine.””

Are there records of ad-buys to go with content and keywords which were pro-Trump and which would be basically agnostic as to the veracity of the actual information contained on the pages where the ads are located? AdSense records?

Question: profiteering from fake news

I don’t remember seeing it addressed in any committee hearings, but perhaps it was. Has anyone answered how much money Google has made as a result of AdSense ads placed on fake news sites? Would be really interesting to see an analysis on that…

Volodin’s Prism

Continuing a branch from Internet Research Agency source reference sheet.

Chen, 2015, NYT article:

“Volodin, a lawyer who studied engineering in college, approached the problem as if it were a design flaw in a heating system. Forbes Russia reported that Volodin installed in his office a custom-designed computer terminal loaded with a system called Prism, which monitored public sentiment online using 60 million sources. According to the website of its manufacturer, Prism “actively tracks the social media activities that result in increased social tension, disorderly conduct, protest sentiments and extremism.” Or, as Forbes put it, “Prism sees social media as a battlefield.””

Difficult to find other sources on the subject of Volodin’s Prism. NYT is plenty canonical for present purposes, but seems like Forbes source should be easier to trace.

I don’t trust 4chan as a source, but on /pol/ May 2014 there is what may be an auto-translated paragraph, which reads:

“At present, the Russian special services have no control over these sites , however, conduct external monitoring events, and look for the ” holes” in the protection of resources to deal with the political opposition , they can already .Note , some media reported earlier to establish a system to monitor social media developed by “Medialogia” . Program “Prism” supposedly allows you to track detached blog sites and social networks by scanning 60 million sources and tracking key statements users. Under the “eye” of the program were blogs users «LiveJournal», «Twitter», «YouTube», other portals . One of the alleged instances of the program installed in the office of the first deputy head of the department of internal policy of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin , RBC reports “

RBC has the recent famous IRA article, so perhaps I can find whatever the source might be here (if real).

Medialogia is a new entity here.

Searching more turns up this January 2014 piece from globalvoices.org (not sure who/what that is).

“The Russian Federal Protective Service (FSO) is asking software developers to design a system that automatically monitors the country’s news and social media, producing reports that study netizens’ political attitudes. The state is prepared to pay nearly one million dollars over two years to the company that wins the state tender, applications for which were due January 9, 2014.”

Link to the site where the tender is listed. Name, auto-translated from Russian:

“Providing services for providing the results of automatic selection of media information, studying the information field, monitoring blogs and social media”

Organization:
Special communication of the FSO of Russia

Mailing address
Russian Federation, 107031, Moscow, Bolshoy Kiselny lane, house 4,

[…]

The contact person
Karygin Mikhail Yakovlevich”

Globalvoices also links out to iz.ru January 2014 article (auto-translated).

“Professionals, using specialized systems, will have to provide FSO with a personal compilation of messages from bloggers, which will allow daily monitoring of significant events on specific topics and regions. In addition, monitor negative or positive color of events. Information materials will be preliminarily processed, they will be grouped on specific topics: the president, the administration of the president’s administration, the prime minister, opposition protests, governors, negative events in the country, incidents, criticism of the authorities.”

Advox / Globalvoices (supported by Ford Foundation), which I’m starting to agree with, also says, in regards to the above iz.ru article:

“Izvestia’s coverage of the story bears all the hallmarks of Kremlin-friendly reportage, sandwiching comments by one critic of the FSO between two supporters of monitoring the Internet.”

Globalvoices links to this as the Medialogia website.

This text from their corporate site seems to match pretty well the Prism NYT description at top:

Blog monitoring and analysis reports

Medialogia offers regular blogosphere monitoring and analysis for companies. Monitoring sources: more than 40,000 social media, including LiveJournal, Twitter, VKontakte, [email protected], Ya.ru, industry blogs and forums.”

Is this a real company and product? Hard to really tell.

Tacking this on here, though not strictly related – it came up in similar searches and seems worth saving: Russia Beyond, December 2016 on new Russian cyber-security doctrine.

In his words, Russia’s government has paid special attention to countering new “Twitter revolutions,” those similar to the ones that occurred in the Middle East in the beginning of the decade.

“The Arab Spring demonstrated that Facebook, Twitter and other instant messaging services allow a lot of content that threatens social and political stability. The main thing is that we don’t have an effective model for blocking such processes,” said Demidov.

 

 

Handkerchief & The Ghost of Marius the Giraffe

There’s a line in a 2014 Buzzfeed article about some supposedly leaked documents relating to the Internet Research Agency that I keep puzzling over. It reads:

“The archetypes for the accounts are called Handkerchief, Gay Turtle, The Ghost of Marius the Giraffe, Left Breast, Black Breast, and Ass, for reasons that are not immediately clear.”

I’m unable to find any additional clarifying statements about what this means from other sources. Many repetitions of the same phrasing as this Buzzfeed article are available, but none explaining this.

  • What is meant by ‘archetypes’ for accounts? Is it like a general model personality profile that operators use to create new false identities? (That’s what I’m assuming)
  • What do each of the names refer to specifically? What are the archetypes?
  • Where are the leaked emails (and English translations) of the specific documents which mention these ‘archetypes’?

Location: Other Offices

Entity: Other firms. Addresses. Co-located groups.

As in IRA/FAN/GLAV STPETBG.

Senate Intelligence Committee Panel on Disinformation and Social Media

I watched all three hours of this today, live:

…and have to admit I found it utterly fascinating.

The main theme I took away from it is that “Washington” seems to want to move towards legislative oversight of social media

Is the Akashic Record a massive violation of privacy?

According to the internet, the Akashic Records are a kind of magical record of everything that ever happened, is happening or will happen. Wikipedia quotes Alice Bailey in 1927:

The akashic record is like an immense photographic film, registering all the desires and earth experiences of our planet. Those who perceive it will see pictured thereon: The life experiences of every human being since time began, the reactions to experience of the entire animal kingdom, the aggregation of the thought-forms of a karmic nature (based on desire) of every human unit throughout time.

The inestimable “Crystal Links” references an associated myth:

“A Chinese man named Sujujin was reported to need only the first name of anyone to access the Akasha and describe their life history.”

From a privacy and data protection perspective, this sounds pretty alarming. Why aren’t adequate security measures in place? Why haven’t the known risks been mitigated? Who is responsible in the event of a data breach? What rights do I have as a data subject to not be included in this so-called “Book of Life”?

Countless pathways to infringement of PII (personally identifying information) have been laid out by careless Practioners in books such as Linda Howe’s How to Read the Akashic Record.

For thousands of years, mystics, masters, and sages from various world traditions have read the Akashic Records-a dynamic repository that holds information about every soul and its journey. Once reserved for a “spiritually gifted” few, this infinite source of wisdom and healing energy is now available for readers everywhere to answer questions big and small.

If you ask me, giving free and unrestricted access to just anyone to the universe’s vault of secrets about every person creates a major vector for harassment, hate postings and many other types of abuse.

I reached out to AKASHIC RECORDS LIMITED via their LinkedIn profile to find out what they were doing to bring their systems into compliance in advance of the GDPR coming into force on 25 May, 2018. I have yet to hear back from them. To be on the safe side, I also reached out to LIFES AKASHIC RECORDS LIMITED, also a UK company. I’m uncertain which of these organizations, if any, are responsible for this mess. For what is supposed to be the biggest database in the Universe, I couldn’t even find an official website.

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