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Must-See Video: John Oliver on the Plague of Online Harassment

Watch out for the rickrolls
Internet • Views: 43,775

YouTube

John Oliver demonstrates again why he’s one of the best commentators on our dysfunctional society, with a great segment on the major problem of online harassment.

Part of this video deals with journalist Amanda Hess’s awful tales of harassment on Twitter, and they really are awful. No one should be targeted like she was.

But I’m at a loss to explain how someone who was a target of this kind of threatening harassment could write an article like this one, defending one of the worst cyberstalkers ever to abuse Twitter, Chuck C. Johnson.

Some Ideas for Saving Twitter From Its Trolls

Trolls stink
Internet • Views: 26,556

Here’s a good article with a list of eight ideas to Save Twitter From Its Trolls.

Everyone knows that Twitter has a serious, unsolved problem with abuse and harassment on its platform. I know it. Twitter knows it. If you’re a frequent Twitter-user — particularly a female — you likely also know it, too, because according to the Pew Research Center, more than seven in 10 Internet users has witnessed online abuse.

Frustratingly, however, none of this mounting awareness seems to have resulted in substantive change. Yes, Twitter has recently streamlined its abuse reporting process and softened some of the language in its abuse policies. But after each and every reform rolls out, there’s usually a backlash from activists and victims’ advocacy groups, complaining that the new protections are too weak, or too cosmetic, or too easy to evade.

As if to further prove the point, a recent analysis of Twitter abuse by the group Women, Action and the Media! found that even when reports are vetted by a third-party group, Twitter takes action on only 55 percent of reported abuse.

Inspired by that unending cycle, we turned to a group of experts — victims, advocates and academics — to ask what concrete, anti-harassment tools they would introduce. The responses varied widely, from tweaks to Twitter’s fundamental user-interface to entire about-faces in policy. Put them together, however, and you have a pretty clear vision of what a troll-free Twitter could be.

Read the whole thing.

Two Young, Gun-Wielding Mothers Appear Side-by-Side on Twitter

Fanaticism, dressed in similar symbols, but in different contexts
Internet • Views: 31,250

Holly Fisher, aka “Holly Hobby Lobby,” thought she was being pretty clever tweeting her super-patriotic selfie this week.

There she is, standing in front of a huge American flag, with a huge Bible in her left arm, and a serious looking assault rifle in her right. Take that, librulz!

Holly Fisher aka Holly Hobby Lobby

But the law of unintended consequences caught up with her.

Holly Fisher, a conservative Christian, has been getting insane amounts of attention recently by trolling liberals on social media over the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Unfortunately, she tried to up the ante one too many times and now she has unintentionally become the living symbol of how fundamentalism, no matter in what religion, looks disturbingly similar.

More: - Woman’s Attempt to Troll Liberals Backfires When Someone Notices This Disturbing Similarity

Holly’s imagery and pose were very similar to a photo of another young woman, standing in front of an Islamic flag, holding the Quran in her left hand and an assault rifle in her right. Rather than looking merely sweet, this woman looks defiant.

Predictably. someone Photoshopped the two images side-by-side and tweeted the result. Take that, conservatives!

American patriot on the left, Palestinian suicide bomber on the right

So, who is the woman on the right? She’s not a liberal plant, and the photo was not staged to tweak Holly Fisher.

The woman on the right was Reem Riyashi. Like Holly Fisher, she has children. Unlike Holly Fisher, Riyashi was a suicide bomber. She killed herself and four Israelis on January 14, 2004, in Gaza City. She was 22. en.wikipedia.org

Her photographs are archived at Getty Images.

(Some sources have misidentified her as Samantha Lewthwaite, “the White Widow,” who’s been implicated in terror attacks in Kenya and elsewhere. Apparently, The Daily Mail mistakenly used Riyashi’s photo to illustrate an article about Lewthwaite. A sharp commenter at PZ Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, caught the error.)

Two young mothers in similar poses, with similar symbols, but in different contexts.

One is a patriot who probably attends church every week and likes to shoot guns as a hobby. The other was a patriot who probably worshiped at her mosque every week and shot guns as part of her combat training. One is alive, enjoying her freedom to tweak “librulz” with ineffective selfies. The other is dead and a murderer, because she believed her patriotism and her religion were more important than life itself.

Fanaticism is dangerous. It’s the cause for a lot of the grief in this world, and for the political stalemates in the USA. Instead of celebrating it, we ought to be backing away from it.

Holly Hobby Lobby ought to take time to reflect what message she really wants to send out into the Twitterverse.

Flaw Found in Key Method for Protecting Data on the Internet

This is a big deal
Internet • Views: 19,146

The tiny padlock icon that sits next to many web addresses, suggesting protection of users’ most sensitive information — like passwords, stored files, bank details, even Social Security numbers — is broken.

A flaw has been discovered in one of the Internet’s key encryption methods, potentially forcing a wide swath of websites to swap out the virtual keys that generate private connections between the sites and their customers.

On Tuesday afternoon, many organizations were heeding the warning. Companies like Lastpass, the password manager, and Tumblr, the social network owned by Yahoo, said they had issued fixes and warned users to immediately swap out their usernames and passwords.

More: Flaw Found in Key Method for Protecting Data on the Internet

Also see

Science Confirms: Trolls Really Are Horrible People!

I’m sure you never would have been able to guess that
Internet • Views: 20,407

Slate magazine reports on a new psychology paper from researchers at the University of Manitoba, which sought to investigate whether people who engage in trolling were characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad:

  • Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others),
  • narcissism (egotism and self-obsession),
  • psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and
  • sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

It is hard to underplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.

Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” they wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”

(So remember: When Charles breaks out the ban hammer, he’s not doing it to stifle discussion or debate — he’s merely showing the door to people who really have no interest in being part of the community.)

Slate Magazine

Facebook Is Keeping Track of the Things You DON’T Post

Your inner thoughts are Facebook’s marketing tools
Internet • Views: 26,763

The NSA is a topic of discussion on social media tonight because of 60 Minutes, but here’s something I bet you didn’t know about the incredibly intrusive techniques Facebook uses to monitor everything you do on their site (and beyond): Facebook Self-Censorship: What Happens to the Posts You Don’t Publish?

We spend a lot of time thinking about what to post on Facebook. Should you argue that political point your high school friend made? Do your friends really want to see yet another photo of your cat (or baby)? Most of us have, at one time or another, started writing something and then, probably wisely, changed our minds.

Unfortunately, the code that powers Facebook still knows what you typed—even if you decide not to publish it. It turns out that the things you explicitly choose not to share aren’t entirely private.

Facebook calls these unposted thoughts “self-censorship,” and insights into how it collects these nonposts can be found in a recent paper written by two Facebookers. Sauvik Das, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon and summer software engineer intern at Facebook, and Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist, have put online an article presenting their study of the self-censorship behavior collected from 5 million English-speaking Facebook users. It reveals a lot about how Facebook monitors our unshared thoughts and what it thinks about them.

The study examined aborted status updates, posts on other people’s timelines, and comments on others’ posts. To collect the text you type, Facebook sends code to your browser. That code automatically analyzes what you type into any text box and reports metadata back to Facebook.

Yes, Facebook is actually keeping track of the things you don’t post. The stuff you delete because you thought better of it. The stuff you thought was gone forever, bits lost in the ether. The stuff you didn’t want anyone to see.

Facebook sees it, and records it, and analyzes it.

Twitter’s Redesigned Block Feature Is a Stalker’s Delight - Update: Twitter Reinstates the Block Feature

A very bad idea
Internet • Views: 24,463

Twitter has made a disastrous decision about their user interface, and Leigh Honeywell has one of the best posts on what it means, and how to get around it: Changes to Twitter’s Block Behavior - and a Workaround.

Twitter posted an update today to their blocking functionality. In my opinion, it’s a real step backwards for the usability of Twitter for anyone with a large number of followers, or facing any kind of harassment.

It used to be that when you blocked someone, it would force them to “unfollow” you, in addition to hiding them from your mentions. This is no longer the case:

Note: If your account is public, blocking a user does not prevent that user from following you, interacting with your Tweets, or receiving your updates in their timeline. If your Tweets are protected, blocking the user will cause them to unfollow you.

The obvious objection to my objection is “well your stuff is public anyway, they could just make a new account” - the thing is, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of 1) how people use blocking and 2) how harassers operate.

I’m hoping Twitter will rethink this decision. There’s already an outcry (see #RestoreTheBlock), and it’s going to get worse as more people find out that the block feature basically doesn’t work any more.

The old way wasn’t perfect at all, and determined nutjobs could get around it, but this new way equates to just giving up and saying, “Oh well, we don’t want the stalkers mad at us, so you’ll just have to deal with it.”

Twitter spokesperson Jim Prosser says Twitter made the change because it thinks it will cut down on the vitriol, anger, and resentful Jezebel articles that result from knowing you’ve been blocked. “Now when you block a user, they cannot tell that you’ve blocked them,” tweeted Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. “It was a longstanding request from users of block.”

“We saw antagonistic behavior where people would see they were blocked and be mad,” says Prosser.

In my NSHO, this is one of the worst decisions by an Internet company in a while. Twitter has a big problem with targeted harassment, and they should be thinking about how to make it more difficult for abusers.

Instead they’ve made it easier for stalkers to do their dirty work, because they don’t want to lose them as customers.

UPDATE at 12/12/13 7:44:57 pm

Well, that didn’t take very long! Twitter has now reinstated the block feature.

UPDATE at 12/12/13 7:49:41 pm

Google Starts Caring About Child Porn

About time
Internet • Views: 22,111

I’ll forego the temptation to say “what took you so long:” Google’s Eric Schmidt Announces New Blocks on Child Porn.

Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt has outlined how his company is introducing new measures to block child pornography from appearing in its searches. Schmidt explained the changes to Google’s search function in an op-ed in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper following a campaign of pressure from British politicians.

Schmidt broke the new measures down into subcategories that included “cleaning up” more than 100,000 search results and introducing new warnings that appear above more than 13,000 results, warnings that reiterate that child porn and child sexual abuse is illegal and offer avenues for help. Despite these changes, Schmidt says in his op-ed that “there’s no quick technical fix when it comes to detecting child sexual abuse imagery.” Instead, Google will use humans to review the images to discern the difference between “genuine abuse” and “innocent pictures of kids at bathtime.” Schmidt also details plans to send engineers to the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation and the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in addition to funding internships at both organizations.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is in the midst of an attempted crackdown on pornography in general, with a particular focus on stopping search engines from showing child porn. Earlier this year, Cameron called for “Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the rest” to censor their search results, saying in July: “If there are technical obstacles to acting on [search engines], don’t just stand by and say nothing can be done; use your great brains to help overcome them.” Google has previously shied away from censoring its results directly, choosing instead to develop an open database to which law enforcement agencies, charities, and relevant organizations could add the details of abusive imagery that could then be hidden or removed.

TechCrunch: Google+ May Finally Matter Thanks to YouTube Comments

Internet • Views: 13,438

The whole YouTube (and Blogger) commenting system will shift to be powered exclusively by Google+. All comments must be tied to an account.

HELPING USERS…

For users, this change will likely be wonderful. First, it should banish some of the trolls spewing racism, sexism and homophobia. The anonymity of a one-off YouTube account created a safe haven for filth. People will still be able to create a pseudonymous G+ account and comment from that, but having to switch back and forth between that and their real accounts could be enough to silence some of the slurs. A more compassionate Internet, ahoy!

Relying on G+ will also give YouTube signals for ranking and sorting conversations in comments. Up top above random strangers, it can show comments from people you know, who are famous, that you’ve whitelisted, or who replied to one of your G+ posts. [Disclosure: Nundu Janakiram, a YouTube product manager on comments, is a friend and former roommate, but he’s had no influence or input on this article.]

…HELP GOOGLE

But for Google+ itself, becoming the backbone of YouTube comments makes it mandatory for a much wider audience, and could breathe life into what many consider a ghost town.

I’d point out, though, that the anonymity of the old YouTube commenting system wasn’t the only factor that created a “safe haven for filth.” YouTube’s comments are horrible because nobody in the organization is willing to assume the responsibility of overseeing them.

It’s the “broken window” metaphor applied to Internet comment sections. If nobody cares enough to fix the broken windows and prevent trolls and haters and assorted weirdos from taking over the neighborhood, more of them will show up until they do take over the neighborhood.

Comments on blogs and media sites don’t have to be awful. But almost inevitably, they will be awful unless someone steps in and stops trolls from dominating the discussion.

I’m not sure what Google is doing here is that altruistic, though. The possible troll-fighting effects are incidental; I think they’re much more interested in the greatly expanded access to users’ data this would give them.

But look, over there! It’s the NSA spying on your cell phone!

More: Google+ May Finally Matter Thanks to YouTube Comments

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 Frank says:

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