Subscribe: Reason Magazine - Topics > Internet
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
content  fosta  internet  media  new  news  people  porn  sex trafficking  sex  social media  social  trafficking  trump 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Reason Magazine - Topics > Internet


All articles with the "Internet" tag.

Published: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 10:44:24 -0400


Hours After FOSTA Passes, Reddit Bans 'Escorts' and 'SugarDaddy' Communities

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 10:35:00 -0400

Sometime around 2 a.m. last night, Reddit banned several long-running sex worker forums from the platform. The move comes just hours after the Senate passed a bill making digital facilitation of prostitution a federal crime. Under the new law, social media sites and other hubs of user-generated content can be held criminally liable. For months, sex workers have warned that the passage of "SESTA" or "FOSTA"—two similarly bad bills that were competing for dominance; FOSTA passed yesterday—would mark the end of all online forums for communication with clients, lawyers, or each other. To sex workers like Liara Roux, Louise Partridge, and Jiz Lee, Reddit's takedown of these subreddits confirmed their fears about the new legislation. Even if individuals aren't targeted by law enforcement for placing ads, and even if individual cases brought by state prosecutors are struck down as unconstitutional, a lot of platforms will preemptively ban anything remotely related to sex work rather than risk it. So far, four subreddits related to sex have banned: Escorts, Male Escorts, Hookers, and SugarDaddy. None were what could accurately be described as advertising forums, though (to varying degrees) they may have helped connect some people who wound up in "mutually beneficial relationships." The escort forums were largely used by sex workers to communicate with one another, according to Partridge. Meanwhile, the "hooker" subreddit "was mostly men being disgusting," according to Roux, "but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith." This sub had a slur in the name and was mostly men being disgusting but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith. Instead of increased moderation and a name change, it was removed entirely today. Dead canary. — Liara Roux (@LiaraRoux) March 22, 2018 If you visit the Reddit "Hooker" community now, you'll see a notice that "this subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy." The "Escorts" and "Male Escots" pages provides a little more detail: "This subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy, specifically, a violation of Reddit's policy against transactions involving prohibited goods or services." Reddit yesterday announced changes to its content policy, now forbidding "transactions for certain goods and services," including "firearms, ammunition, or explosives" and "paid services involving physical sexual contact." While some of the prohibited exchanges are illegal, many are not. Yet they run close enough up against exchanges that could be illegal that it's hard for a third-party like Reddit to differentiate. And the same goes for forums where sex workers post educational content, news, safety and legal advice. Without broad Section 230 protections, Reddit could be in serious financial and legal trouble if they make the wrong call. Some have suggested that the new content policy, not FOSTA, is to blame for the shutdown of the sex-related subreddits. But FOSTA may also help explain Reddit's new content policy overall. (Reddit did not respond to my request for comment Thursday morning.) FOSTA seriously chips away at Section 230, the federal provision that protects web publishers from being treated as the speaker of user-generated content. Proponents of FOSTA have insisted this is just a renovation of Section 230, not a demolition. But as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—who coauthored the Section 230 language in the '90s—noted yesterday, once you carve out a loophole for one bad thing (in this case, the change is allegedly meant to stop sex trafficking), it's easy for legislators and courts to carve out loopholes and justifications for everything. After all, murder is pretty bad. And everyone's pretty jazzed up about the "opioid epidemic" right now. Guns, too. Do you think Congress can resist asking if websites that facilitate these crimes shouldn't be just as liable as those that broker sex? In case it's not clear, Reddit's actions today in updating their [...]

FOSTA Passes Senate, Making Prostitution Ads a Federal Crime Against Objections from DOJ and Trafficking Victims

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 15:55:00 -0400

The U.S. Senate just passed one of the worst bills in recent memory, the so-called "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA) that cleared the House of Representatives in late February. This is the measure that would make online prostitution ads a federal crime and decimate Section 230, the federal provision shielding web publishers and platforms from certain legal liabilities for the things that users post. It's largely portrayed as a response to Backpage, but its reach goes far far beyond that. "In the absence of Section 230, the internet as we know it would shrivel," warned Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) from the Senate floor Wednesday. "Civic organizations protecting their right to free speech could be [ruined] by their more powerful political opponents" and "there would be an enormous chilling effect on speech in America." That's why big companies like Facebook like efforts like this to weaken it, Wyden added—"because it would pull up the ladder in the tech world" so new companies couldn't afford to get in. Wyden stressed that he's been highly proactive on measures that could actually helps victims of sexual exploitation. But FOSTA "is not going to prevent sex trafficking [and] it's not going to stop young people from becoming victims," he noted. In fact, "the legislation before the Senate is going to make it harder, not easier, to root out and prosecute sex traffickers." This isn't just Wyden's opinion. The Department of Justice has not only called FOSTA unconstitutional; it says the legislation will "create additional elements that prosecutors must prove at trial," thereby making it harder to get guilty parties convicted. "You're heading in the wrong direction if you [pass a bill] that would raise the burden of proof in cases against sex traffickers," Wyden chastised his colleagues. He was one of two senators today—along with Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)—to vote against the measure. Another downside: Under FOSTA, any attempts by a website or app to filter out bad content could lead to more legal liability. The only way for companies to stay safe will be to completely give up on content moderation and trying to stop illegal ads from getting through. An amendment to FOSTA, offered by Sen. Wyden, would have closed this loophole, but it was shot down by a large majority. And we haven't even touched on the damage FOSTA will do for sex workers, who could lose their ability to find and screen clients electronically, forcing them back onto the streets or into other situations where they'll be more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. They could also lose the ability to warn each other about dangerous customers on sex-work message boards. As Alana Massey noted recently at Allure, "these bills target websites that are widely and inaccurately believed to be hubs of trafficking activity when it is precisely those websites that enable people in the sex trades to do their work safely and independently, at the same time as they make it easier for authorities to find and investigate possible trafficking cases." In a lengthy Senate floor speech on Monday, bill sponsor Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told a series of whoppers about U.S. sex trafficking, starting with an assertion that "there is a federal law that now permits trafficking online." There isn't. And when it comes to federal law enforcement, Section 230 doesn't even apply. Without any changes to existing law, those who commit federal crimes such as sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking via force/fraud/coercion, knowingly advertising a victim of trafficking, paying for sex with someone under age 18, forced labor, debt bondage, and all sorts of related activities are fully prosecutable, and Section 230 has nothing to say about it. In defense of his bill, Portman also cited an increase in the number of "sex trafficking cases" reported to a national hotline run by Polaris Project—an entity that counts any call, text, or email as a "case" of sex trafficking (even though the vast majority are simply requests for inform[...]

Fear of a Free, Prosperous Internet

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0400

The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, by Noam Cohen, The New Press, 256 pages, $25.95 Say you've sprained your ankle. You consult Google, where you find copious information about using compression bandages to stabilize your sprain. But you'd like some back and forth with someone who has experience. You post about your injury on Facebook, triggering a real-time conversation with volunteer first responders offering pro tips. You then pop over to Amazon, because the nearest drug store is more than 16 miles away and you don't want to drive with a sprained right ankle. You've got too much debt riding on your credit card to add to it blithely, but no problem—you use PayPal to get a bandage delivered to you that same day. And if your sprain leads to hard-to-handle bills, you can put out a call for help using GoFundMe. A totally banal incident, and unimaginable at every step just two decades ago. Our abilities to learn, discuss, buy, receive, and give have changed magnificently for the better because of the behemoth internet companies on which every step of that dull anecdote hinges. Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, spent years covering the tech industry for The New York Times. His book is, in large part, a compact history of such companies, their founders, and the ideas that animated them. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Peter Thiel of PayPal all get their own chapters. The analogy Cohen thinks best explains those companies—the analogy that starts his book and shapes his perspective—is the hoary old Damon Knight short story "To Serve Man," as adapted on The Twilight Zone. You know, the one where technologically superior aliens fool us into thinking they're helping us when they actually intend to eat us. ("It's a cookbook!") Cohen is a deft storyteller, and The Know-It-Alls reveals a lot of fascinating information about the business and technological contingencies that led his characters to their prominence. But as the book's title implies, Cohen thinks Silicon Valley visionaries have a hubristic sense that they know what's good for everyone else and are out to impose that vision on us. Yet their successes, as Cohen's own narrative shows, came from offering services that were eagerly and freely embraced by millions and that have constantly adjusted to keep audiences satisfied. Although Cohen's policy prescriptions are thin and underargued—and fortunately don't often mar his storytelling—they show far more signs of the know-it-all. Cohen laments what has largely been a free cultural choice to embrace these online services, and he prefers an (ill-explained) European model that gives the government more control over how people are allowed to use the internet. And then there's his subtitle: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball. Where is the evidence for that power, that wreckage? Not in this book. Cohen claims his characters are pushing us toward "a society in which personal freedoms are near absolute and government regulations wither away." But while he finds some evidence of libertarian leanings among some of his subjects/villains, there is little evidence here that they have done anything in electoral politics to shift America in that direction. Indeed, with the exception of Peter Thiel's leap onto the Trump train, he shows none of them publicly working against even the Democratic Party's agenda. Silicon Valley may be in some respects a "political powerhouse," but it's not one dragging us toward "absolute freedom"—more's the pity. (He does call Amazon's Jeff Bezos to task for having donated to Reason Foundation, which publishes this magazine.) Cohen writes that in the internet world, "taxes are in effect replaced by monopoly profits—everyone pays their share to Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal." Yet for three of tho[...]

$20 Fee for Porn Access Proposed in Rhode Island

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 14:08:00 -0500

(image) Rhode Island has joined a host of other states in considering an irrational measure to regulate online porn by charging consumers a $20 access fee. But the Rhode Island bill actually beats others like it in terrible and unconstitutional requirements, such as requiring the blockage of not just nude imagery or porn sites but any content that "affront(s) current standards of decency"... whatever that means.

The bill, sponsored by state Sens. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) and Hannah Gallo (D-Cranston), is packed with ill-defined terms and extreme mandates.

To start, it would require all internet-enabled devices sold in the state to come with "a digital blocking capability that renders inaccessible sexual content and/or patently offensive material." But as many previous schemes to block sexual content have shown, it's nearly impossible for automated censors to distinguish pornographic sexual content from sexual wellness websites, reproductive health organizations, ancient art, educational information, and all sorts of other non-obscene or pornographic stuff.

And the Rhode Island bill wouldn't just block overtly sexual content but anything deemed "patently offensive," too–even though there's no clear definition of this term. The state currently defines "patently offensive" as material "so offensive on its face as to affront current standards of decency."

Makers of computers, smartphones, and other internet-enabled products would be left to determine for themselves what exactly "current standards of decency" means and how to put that in algorithmic terms.

The proposal doesn't stop there in terms of confusing and unconstitutional dictates, though. It would also require devices to automatically block "any hub that facilitates prostitution"—again, not a legal or well-defined category of content.

And device makers would also have to "ensure that all child pornography and revenge pornography is inaccessible" on their products—something that sounds great but is completely technically infeasible. If it were that easy to stop the spread of child porn, companies would be doing it already.

What makes all of this especially ridiculous is that under Ciccone and Gallo's proposal, anyone over 18-years-old could have the filter removed by making a request in writing and paying a $20 fee. The money would go to the state's general treasury "to help fund the operations of the council on human trafficking." (But... if people are paying the state $20 to access prostitution sites, doesn't that make the state a trafficker?)

The fact that lawmakers think blocked "patently offensive" material should be able to be accessed for a low price just shows how toothless their proclamations that the legislation is necessary to protect public health or morals. But what lawmakers would get out of the measure is a nice new source of steady income and a registry of people who want the filter removed.

Plus, the fees imposed on individual consumers would be pocket change compared to the money the state could make shaking down tech companies. Under Ciccone and Gallo's proposal, failure to implement the technically impossible filtering requirements could mean being sued by the state or any Rhode Island resident, being held liable for civil damages, and being charged up to $500 "for each piece of content that was reported but not subsequently blocked."

House Passes 'Anti Sex-Trafficking' Bill Opposed by Both DOJ and Trafficking Survivors

Wed, 28 Feb 2018 13:30:00 -0500

With bipartisan enthusiasm, the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a bill that would endanger sex workers, make life even worse for human trafficking survivors, put both free speech and social media in serious jeopardy, and drastically expand federal prosecutorial power. The bill, H.R. 1865, is euphemistically named the "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA), despite the fact that there's nothing stopping state authorities from punishing sex traffickers and their allies at present and despite the fact that trafficking victims can already sue abusers in civil court. FOSTA's actual targets are adults consensually engaging in prostitution as well as web platforms that allow user-generated content. One of many similarly misleading bills that have gained traction in recent years, FOSTA amends Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act to hold online publishers, apps, and services legally liable for the actions of people who post there or connect through them. What this means in practice is that social media sites such as Snapchat and Facebook, classified ad sites such as Craigslist and Backpage, chat apps, search engines, and many other communication tools could be both criminally charged and sued in civil court—by individuals or by states—anytime anyone uses them to meet someone with whom they would eventually engage in commercial sex. As Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) explained on the House floor yesterday, H.R. 1865 creates the new offense of intentional promotion or facilitation of prostitution while using or operating a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, such as the internet. A general violation of this offense will be punishable by a sentence of upwards of 10 years. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri), has had bipartisan support in the House from the get-go, despite objections from a wide range of stakeholders, from victims' advocacy organizations to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has already declared the bill "unconstitutional." On Tuesday, it passed the House with 388 votes in its favor. Ivanka Trump and a host of liberal Hollywood celebs, government-funded nonprofits, and former #Pizzagate conspiracy theorists cheered. Please call your congressperson today to vote YES on HR1865 #FOSTA #SESTA: #ListenToSurvivors #IamJaneDoe @RepJerryNadler @RepZoeLofgren @GOPLeader — Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) February 27, 2018 But the response from sex workers, sex-trafficking survivors, free speech advocates, human rights activists, tech companies, due process proponents, and many others was much less positive. The bill "marks an unprecedented push towards Internet censorship, and does nothing to fight sex traffickers," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) declared yesterday. "Facing huge new liabilities, the law will undoubtedly lead to platforms policing more user speech," going out of business, or failing to launch in the first place. "The tragedy is that FOSTA isn't needed to prosecute or sue sex traffickers," the EFF continued. "As we've said before, Section 230 simply isn't broken. Right now, there is nothing preventing federal prosecution of an Internet company that knowingly aids in sex trafficking. That includes anyone hosting advertisements for sex trafficking, which is explicitly a federal crime" already thanks to the 2015 "SAVE Act." Voting against FOSTA were just 14 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Among them were staunch criminal justice reform advocate Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), pro-Trump Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (Florida), longtime women's rights and anti-violence advocate Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), and most of the House Liberty Caucus, including Reps. Justin Amash (R-Michigan), Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), and Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina). In a statement, Rep. Scott explained that he voted against the bill because it "establishes an overly-broad federal crime that i[...]

Don’t Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:01:00 -0500

According to a federal indictment unveiled on Friday, Russians who pretended to be Americans while participating in online political discourse during the last few years committed a bunch of felonies. Whether they accomplished anything else of significance is by no means clear, notwithstanding all the scary talk about "information warfare" that supposedly undermined our democratic institutions and interfered with the electoral process. The crimes described in the indictment, which names 13 Russians associated with the so-called Internet Research Agency (IRA) in Saint Petersburg, include fraud and identity theft as well as violations of immigration law, campaign finance rules, and the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But everyone knows the real crime was, as Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch put it in Senate testimony last fall, conspiring to "sow division and discord" and "undermine our election process" by committing "an assault on democracy" that "violates all of our values." The New York Times, which last year breathlessly claimed that "Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics," reports that Donald Trump's "admirers and detractors" both agree with him that "the Russians intended to sow chaos" and "have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams." A Times editorial assures skeptics that "the Russian subversion effort" was "sophisticated" and "breathtaking" in scope. That analysis is at odds with the paper's own reporting, which describes Russian trolls as "sloppy" and "amateurish" bumblers who sounded suspiciously like foreigners while posing as Americans, left a trail that made it easy to catch them, and produced crude propaganda that amounted to a drop in the raging river of online political speech. The only thing breathtaking about this influence campaign is the hyperventilation of the alarmists who talk as if we are just a few angry tweets from the abyss. According to the indictment, the IRA 13 and their co-conspirators were so sophisticated that they had to learn the importance of targeting "purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida" in the context of the presidential election from an activist "affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization." They thought a $150 million donation to Hillary Clinton's campaign from the conservative Bradley Foundation would be a plausible hoax, and they created a Facebook ad showing Satan arm wrestling Jesus while proclaiming, "If I win, Clinton wins." It generated 71 impressions and 14 clicks. The indictment makes much of the rallies instigated by IRA operatives but never says how many people participated in them. In 2016, the Times reports, "a dozen people" attended an IRA-orchestrated "Stop the Islamization of Texas" rally in Houston, while a simultaneous counterprotest, also organized by the Russians, attracted "a far larger crowd." Two dozen? The indictment says the IRA spent "thousands of U.S. dollars every month" on social media ads. That's roughly one-millionth of the ad revenue that Facebook alone receives each month. According to Facebook, ads bought by the IRA, most of which weighed in on contentious social issues rather than endorsing or opposing candidates, represented "four-thousandths of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed." Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett testified in October that "the 1.4 million election-related Tweets that we identified through our retrospective review as generated by Russian-linked, automated accounts constituted less than three-quarters of a percent (0.74%) of the overall election-related Tweets on Twitter at the time." Richard Salgado, Google's senior counsel on law enforcement and information security, testified that the company found 18 YouTube channels offering about 1,100 videos with political content that were "uploaded by individuals who we suspect are associated with this [Russian] effort." The videos, which totaled 43 hours on a platform where 400 hours of [...]

When an Echo Chamber Gets Worked Up About Echo Chambers

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:40:00 -0500

The fear of filter bubbles has only grown stronger since Eli Pariser popularized the term at the beginning of the decade. Americans, he warned in his 2011 book The Filter Bubble, are "more and more enclosed in our own little bubbles. Democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead we're being offered parallel but separate universes." If you follow elite political discourse, you've probably heard several ever-more-worried versions of that idea. Or at least I keep hearing them. It's possible that they just seem ubiquitous in my own particular bubble. Pariser's portrait may be popular, but that doesn't mean it's well-grounded. Four academics—Andrew Guess, Benjamin Lyons, Brendan Nyhan, and Jason Reifler—have just published a skeptical take on the topic. Summarizing several studies, they argue that "the 'echo chambers' narrative captures, at most, the experience of a minority of the public." For example: In controlled experiments, people do prefer congenial information over uncongenial information—a tendency that is especially prevalent in the domain of politics. People also tend to self-report a filtered media diet. But studies that actually track people's behavior tell a different story. On television, media outlets with a significant partisan or ideological slant simply do not reach most of the U.S. population. The audience of Fox News and MSNBC peaks at 2 million to 3 million for well-known shows by hosts like Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow in prime time. By comparison, about 24 million Americans tune into nightly network news broadcasts on NBC, ABC, and CBS and over 10 million viewers watch these networks' Sunday morning political talk shows. These audiences are in turn dwarfed by those for entertainment, where programs like The Big Bang Theory and Sunday Night Football attract as many as 20 million viewers. The point here isn't that the network newscasts are themselves free of ideology (they aren't!) or that viewers are getting their news from The Big Bang Theory. It's that people aren't as politically self-segregated as the narrative has it, and that the most popular media-consumption tribes aren't organized around news or political commentary at all. Guess & co. suggest that one reason the filter-bubble narrative is so popular in the press is because it's much more likely to be true of political writers and the people they cover. In the authors' words, "polarized media consumption is much more common among an important segment of the public—the most politically active, knowledgeable, and engaged. This group is disproportionately visible online and in public life." As a result, the idea that echo chambers are growing more common "has ironically been amplified and distorted in a kind of echo chamber effect." (Morris Fiorina made a similar argument in a recent Reason interview.) Some of us have been beating this drum for a while. Back in 2011, for example, I panned Pariser's book for missing the ways the internet has reduced rather than intensified the filter-bubble effect. I'll wrap up with an excerpt from that: Yes, our media consumption is increasingly personalized. But personalized does not mean isolated. Pariser imagines the Internet becoming a stagnant "city of ghettoes" where "connections and overlap between communities" disappear. But how many people belong to just one online community? A personalized Internet is an Internet geared toward your particular combination of interests, and therefore to your particular combination of human networks. If you're a Methodist Democrat in South Baltimore who watches birds, follows basketball, and loves Elvis, you might be in touch online with people who share your faith but not your politics, and vice versa; your neighborhood but not your hobby, and vice versa; your taste in sports but not in music, and vice versa. That isn't a city of ghettoes. It's a city of crossroads. And while there may be ma[...]

John Perry Barlow, The Thomas Jefferson of Cyberspace, R.I.P.

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 19:15:00 -0500

John Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), has died. EFF compactly but effectively eulogized him here. His most prominent contribution to American political culture is his barnburning 1996 manifesto, "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," which was a central document helping establish a generic libertarian sensibility in the rising digital culture of the 1990s. (He was not alone in doing this, of course; Wired magazine, a cultural thought leader for that world, was co-founded by libertarian and friend of Reason Louis Rossetto.) Some of his ringing words from that manifesto that marked him as a Thomas Jefferson for this century: Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather. We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us..... Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions. You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions. You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. Barlow's overall politics shifted to a more standard Obama-supporting sense that big government was a necessary and important counterpoint to corporate power (and the kind of general attitude that, well, government is good when it does good things and bad when it does bad things), as he began discussing with me in his 2004 feature interview for Reason. Still, he remained on the side of the libertarian angels when it came to the debate over net neutrality, even as EFF was not. Barlow knew he was trying to create a cultural myth with his declaration of independence, later saying "I knew it's also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key totalitarianism.'" While the question of exactly how libertarian the industries and industrialists of modern computer tech are, and how on balance its liberatory powers will overcome the surveillance powers of "turn-key totalitarianism" is still up in the air, Barlow's work in staking out the reasons to see what we used to call "cyberspace" and is now just where we all live all the time as properly a realm of total human liberation was a vital building block of the world we live in. (That thought leaders in the "cyber" world are rapidly running away from the idea that, for example, free expression in the world of the internet is a primary good is unfortunate and shows that no ideological battles for freedom are ever fully won.) Personally, Barlow was a delightfully loving grouch and after we met for that Reason interview, it was always a joy running into him occasionally in the next decade holding court and[...]

"Change Is Good" and Other Lessons from the "Heroic Era of the Internet": Podcast

Sun, 04 Feb 2018 17:30:00 -0500

(image) "[Donald] Trump is a refreshing reminder that the guy that's in the White House is another human being," says Louis Rossetto, the co-founder of Wired and author of the new book Change Is Good: A Story of the Heroic Era of the Internet. "The power of the state is way too exalted [and] bringing that power back to human scale is an important part of what needs to be done to correct the insanity that's been going on in the post-war era."

In 2013, Rossetto was the co-recipient of Reason's very first Lanny Friedlander Prize, an award named after the magazine's founder that's handed out annually to an individual or group who has created a publication, medium, or distribution platform that vastly expands human freedom. Rossetto is also a longtime libertarian who knew Friedlander personally.

While still an undergraduate at Columbia University, Rossetto co-authored a 1971 cover story in the New York Times Magazine titled "The New Right Credo—Libertarianism," writing that "[l]iberalism, conservatism, and leftist radicalism are all bankrupt philosophies," and "refugees from the Old Right, the Old Left and the New Left, they are organizing independently under the New Right banner of libertarianism."

Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Rossetto to talk about his new book (the paper version was lavishly designed and crowdfunded on Kickstarter), the 1990s tech boom, and why Trump "diminishes the power of the state" in our heads.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Ian Keyser. Cameras by Paul Detrick, Justin Monticello, Zach Weissmueller.

Machinery by Kai Engel is used under a Creative Commons license.

To listen to this as an audio podcast, click below or go to iTunes.

Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes or at SoundCloud.

For a video version of this, go here.

src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

Click here for full text, a transcript, and downloadable versions.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

Trump Diminishes the Power of the State in Our Heads: Wired Co-Founder Louis Rossetto on Heroism, Politics, and the Dot-Com Bubble

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 14:30:00 -0500

"Trump is a refreshing reminder that the guy that's in the White House is another human being," says Louis Rossetto, the co-founder of Wired and author of the new book Change Is Good: A Story of the Heroic Era of the Internet. "The power of the state is way too exalted [and] bringing that power back to human scale is an important part of what needs to be done to correct the insanity that's been going on in the post-war era." In 2013, Rossetto was the co-recipient of Reason's very first Lanny Friedlander Prize, an award named after the magazine's founder that's handed out annually to an individual or group who has created a publication, medium, or distribution platform that vastly expands human freedom. Rossetto is also a longtime libertarian who knew Friedlander personally. While still an undergraduate at Columbia University, Rossetto co-authored a 1971 cover story in the New York Times Magazine titled "The New Right Credo—Libertarianism," writing that "[l]iberalism, conservatism, and leftist radicalism are all bankrupt philosophies," and "refugees from the Old Right, the Old Left and the New Left, they are organizing independently under the New Right banner of libertarianism." Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Rossetto to talk about his new book (the paper version was lavishly designed and crowdfunded on Kickstarter), the 1990s tech boom, and why Trump "diminishes the power of the state" in our heads. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Ian Keyser. Cameras by Paul Detrick, Justin Monticello, Zach Weissmueller. Machinery by Kai Engel is used under a Creative Commons license. Photo Credits: Chris Kleponis/ZUMA Press/Newscom - Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom - Abaca Press/Douliery Olivier/Abaca/Sipa USA/Newscom This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: What's the plot of, Change is Good? It's a novel right? Louis Rossetto: That's an easy question to start with. Gillespie: Yeah. Rossetto: There are six characters, each of them have their own stories. I suppose for you, at this moment, the most interesting thing about the book is the focus on that time. The book is set in the 1990's. The 1990's were this pivotal moment in world history, where ... Well, cast your mind back. It was a period of unbelievable optimism. Gillespie: The Cold War is over. The internet is taking off. It's becoming a mass medium. Rossetto: The Cold War end- Gillespie: The economy is doing great. Rossetto: The Cold War ends at the beginning of the 90's. The internet takes off with the arrival of the web. The period ... There's drugs: ecstasy. The rave culture. Multiple different levels there are massive changes going on that are affecting all aspects of our life. The 90's is this pivotal moment where there's this burst of optimism. Young people are arriving in this new space, the internet, the web, digital technologies in general. There's a sense that the future is utterly malleable. For the first time in a long time, after the Cold War, the fear and anxiety of the Cold War, now there's this open running room. It's the end of history, literally. Fukuyama says so. Now, anything's possible. Any weird, crazy idea that you have, is no longer bound by normal restrictions, like finance, or law, or even physical bounds. Gillespie: It is incredibly hard to go back to those early days of even pre-internet culture. Even AOL, American Online, had the walled-garden, where people were anonymous. You had fake names that you would use and talk about anything. Usenet groups. You could reproduce things cheaply. DVD players were 7$, or whatever. Rossetto: I mean, companies that had zero income had billion dollar valuations. Companies were more valuable than General Motors that were selling in the tens of millions of dollars. It had Bill Clinton saying the era of big gover[...]

What’s Hot in Porn Tech: Blockchain, Cam Girls, and Snapchat

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 10:45:00 -0500

Virtual reality is a dud so far, the Trump administration has been better than expected, and new technologies from the blockchain to Snapchat are helping the porn industry adjust to government regulations and give more power to adult performers. That's the gist of reports from a wide-ranging roster of industry professionals who spoke last week in Las Vegas at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo and the Internext conference for adult webmasters. I attended the annual AVN event in 2016. At the time, virtual-reality porn was all over the Expo floor and porn-industry veterans were scared about the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency and a California rule mandating condoms. This year, I wasn't able to get out to Vegas. But the plethora of detailed dispatches put out by AVN make sure that at least the business side of these events doesn't just stay at these events. At both the AVN Expo and Internext, cryptocurrency, webcamming, social media, and age-verification were big topics, as panelists discussed the political, technological, and social trends shaping adult entertainment in 2018. Here's a look at how these trends are changing the way people produce, consume, and make money from porn. Power to Performers Since streaming online video got so simple, "tube sites" offering thousands of free porn clips have been frustrating porn-industry professionals, who expect—not unreasonably—to get paid for people watching their work. Performers and producers regularly complain that these sites are depressing their earnings (by offering free pirated versions of their paywalled videos) and their market potential (by flooding the web with amateur porn). But recent years have seen rising ​interplay​ between porn professionals and the tube sites as they attempt to find business models that will benefit both. AVN CEO Tony Rios told the Las Vegas Sun that the past year saw "a lot of cooperation with performers and the tube sites." Pornhub, for instance, just announced that Asa Akira would be joining Aria—former host of The Sex Factor and AVN's 2013 Female Performer of the Year—an one of the site's ambassadors. Social media has also been a big boon for adult-video stars and for webcammers, by providing a means for self-promotion and fan outreach as well as ways to make money directly. "Snapchat has become massive and performers are using it like crazy," Rios told the Sun. "And they're even doing premium Snapchats now, and finding a way to charge for Snapchat." Rios also noted that performers were effectively mobilizing their social presence for advocacy purposes. "We saw that with Prop 60 [the failed California condoms-in-porn ballot proposal] in 2016," said Rios. "The performers went to social media and they were able to affect legislation." For webcammers—most of whom work through a webcam platform like or Chaturbate—social media has made it possible to be more proactive in finding viewers, rather than relying solely on the platforms to bring eyes in. "Before cam models used to sit in the room and wait for the cam site to send traffic, but it's completely turning around as they take control of their brands on social media and with clip stores," said Jim Austin, head of business development for cam-site Stripchat, during one Internext panel. "They're like mini entrepreneurs with multiple revenue streams." The whole thing has shifted "the power...toward the models now" and "away from cam sites," he said. Camming from the @MyFreeCams booth at @AEexpo with @MxPraxisPhanes and @MissAvaPark !! — Momoka-Hime (@Momoka_Koizumi) January 25, 2018 Overall, the proliferation of marketing venues and opportunities to reach fans directly has shifted more burden to performers than before but also given them more potential too. Sav[...]

FakeApp: Finally, a Program that Will Let You Seamlessly Put Donald Trump in Porn!

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 00:50:00 -0500

Over at Reddit, user deepfakes has released a program that allows users to create "deep fakes," or nearly seamless manufactured images. As with about 99 percent of all tech-related innovation, the first use and proof-of-concept has to do with porn. Specifically, the app allows you to face swap your favorite person's face onto a porn actor's: I've completed a desktop app /w GUI to create deepfakes. Here is a what it looks like. For anyone unfamiliar with this subreddit, deepfakes are neural network-generated faceswap videos created with a machine learning algorithm designed by /u/deepfakes. Check the sub wiki for more info. Here is an excellent example of a deepfake of Daisy Ridley produced with this app in less than a day by /u/nuttynutter6969. This app is intended to allow users to move through the full deepfake creation pipeline—creating training data, training a model, and creating fakes with that model—without the need to install Python and other dependencies or parse code. The download link is in the comments. Here's an example in which actress Jessica Alba's face was planted on a porn actress': src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> If the first use of new tech is related to porn, a close second is politics. And as Vice's Motherboard reports, one user of the app stitched Adolf Hitler's mug on top of Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Motherboard seems deeply troubled by all this. The site's headline reads "We Are Truly Fucked: Everyone Is Making AI-Generated Fake Porn Now" and Samantha Cole writes: An incredibly easy-to-use application for DIY fake videos—of sex and revenge porn, but also political speeches and whatever else you want—that moves and improves at this pace could have society-changing impacts in the ways we consume media. The combination of powerful, open-source neural network research, our rapidly eroding ability to discern truth from fake news, and the way we spread news through social media has set us up for serious consequences.... Deborah Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Applied Ethics at the University of Virginia's school of engineering, told me there's no doubt this technology would get so good that it'd be impossible to tell the difference between an AI-generated face swap and the real thing. "You could argue that what's new is the degree to which it can be done, or the believability, we're getting to the point where we can't distinguish what's real—but then, we didn't before," she said. "What is new is the fact that it's now available to everybody, or will be... It's destabilizing. The whole business of trust and reliability is undermined by this stuff." That's one way of looking at all this and it's not without merit. But a year ago, two-thirds of Americans already believed that the media was awash in fake news and fully "eighty-four percent of voters said it is hard to know what news to believe online." So assuming FakeApp really does go mainstream (and despite its relative ease-of-use, it's light years beyond the reach of all but a few web users), it will simply accelerate an ongoing trend toward near-absolute skepticism and cynicism toward the media. Especially from a libertarian angle, there are many reasons to be deeply concerned about the erosion of trust in society. But when it comes to media consumption, the only way forward is to cultivate a reflexively critical attitude toward all truth claims, including those involving images. Whether near-perfect Donald Trump face-swap porn ever becomes a thing or not (shudder), all of us must become first-rate media critics. Fo[...]

Dianne Feinstein Ignores GOP Lawmakers, Blames #ReleaseTheMemo on Russians and Social Media Instead

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 12:35:00 -0500

Trust Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to try to turn a political controversy into an excuse to censor social media. A bunch of Republican lawmakers have been rallying around a classified memo by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The memo purports to show FBI abuses connected to the secret surveillance of people involved with Donald Trump's presidential campaign. The push to declassify the document was national news last week, complete with a hashtag campaign, #ReleaseTheMemo. It was discussed by every major news outlet. Several GOP lawmakers tweeted the hashtag. Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) are upset because a bunch of Russian-operated Twitter accounts may have jumped on this and attempted the magnify the hashtag campaign's reach. The two of them have sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook pretty much demanding that they investigate the extent of the Russian involvement in the hashtag campaign. And they want a response in three days: If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process. This should be disconcerting to all Americans, but especially your companies as, once again, it appears the vast majority of their efforts are concentrated on your platforms. This latest example of Russian interference is in keeping with Moscow's concerted, covert, and continuing campaign to manipulate American public opinion and erode trust in our law enforcement and intelligence institutions. Feinstein is confusing a symptom for a problem, as politicians often do when they have agendas to pursue. It's absurd to hold Russia responsible for the hashtag in any meaningful sense, given that Republican lawmakers were openly, overtly screaming it from the rooftops, on Twitter, and in front of every news camera they could see. A source familiar with how Twitter works told The Hill that the growth of the hashtag appeared to have happened organically. If Russian trolls and bots were involved, they were at most magnifying a conflict that was already underway. They didn't set this fire, and they weren't the chief force spreading it. Feinstein's political machinations here are twofold. She's trying to make the case that the feds must regulate social media because of foreign involvement in American elections; and second, she's using the familiar guilt-by-association logical fallacy to discredit her political opponents. Feinstein's love of censorship is well known. She flat-out wants to suppress online content that she deems dangerous. This lack of respect for Americans' speech rights and privacy is one of the few things she has in common with Trump. As for the guilt-by-association issue, it's remarkable how little people on either side are interested in engaging the surveillance issues that undergird this fight and instead want to make it all about attacking or defending Trump. I've already mocked Republicans acting outraged about the Nunes memo because a bunch of them just voted to expand the feds' power to snoop on American citizens for purposes unrelated to terrorism and espionage. On the very same day this hashtag campaign was launching, Trump signed that bill into law. The discussion of actual surveillance policy got drowned by constant efforts to either discredit Trump (by any silly memes necessary) or to discredit the FBI investigation. What's most obnoxious about Feinstein and Schiff's response here is how it simply does not engage the complaint that the surveillance state might have abused its powers when it snooped on and possibly unmasked the identities of people in Trump's orbit. Personally, based on my experience covering the fede[...]

"Fake News" is Not an Excuse to Regulate the Internet: New at Reason

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 13:30:00 -0500

src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> President Trump promised that today he'll announce the recipients of his "Fake News Awards," an honor he's sure to bestow upon unflattering coverage that displeases him, a category that will almost certainly include the book Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's insider tell-all of life in the Trump White House. But with "fake news" back in the real news, it's worth reflecting upon how both Republicans and Democrats have utilized the amorphous term to lay the groundwork for the regulation of speech on the internet and why that's a very bad idea. Shortly after her defeat, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference decrying the prevalence of fake news on social media, calling it "a danger that must be addressed." In October of last year, Democrats in both chambers of Congress took up her call, grilling the attorneys for the tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the role of so-called "fake news" in sowing discord and confusion among the electorate. "You have been identified as major purveyors of fake news," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told lawyers at one hearing. Some Democrats were explicit in their threats to regulate the companies if they didn't do a better job weeding out trolls, bots, and fake news. "You have to be the ones to do something about it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), "Or we will." While Democrats seem concerned that tech companies don't do enough to police content on their platforms, Republicans and conservatives have expressed concern that they do too much to cultivate their users' newsfeeds. "Your power sometimes scares me," admitted Sen. John Kennedy (R-Okla.) at one point during a hearing. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) questioned the social media giants over whether or not they consider themselves "neutral public fora" and cited a study that claimed to have found political bias in Google search results. Former White House adviser Steve Bannon has called for Facebook and Google to be regulated like public utilities, and conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar case on his show after Google fired software engineer James Damore for writing an internal memo questioning some of the company's diversity policies. But both Democrats and Republicans are missing the mark when they call for the government to regulate the flow of information on the internet. Treating social media as some sort of public utility is quite simply a power grab that all but guarantees that politicians and unelected bureaucrats will decide what information should appear in Americans' newsfeeds and would likely grant the government even greater access to our private communications than it already has. This is not the first time governments have tried to control new tools of mass communication. Much like the internet, the advent of the printing press provoked panic and backlash among the elite institutions it disrupted. America's first multi-page newspaper was shut down after a single edition because it spread rumors about the sex lives of government officials and published what the colonial government described as "uncertain reports," or what we might today call "fake news." For the crime of publishing without a license, the government imprisoned and later ran out of town another early colonial newspaper's editor: James Franklin, older brother to Benjamin Franklin who went on to run that paper and do a few other notable things. A few decades earlier, John Milton criticized the British government's regulation of materials produced by the printing press, writing in 164[...]

Democrats' Latest Plan to Save Net Neutrality Is All Bark, No Bite

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 11:55:00 -0500

(image) Senate Democrats think they've found a way to preserve Barack Obama's net neutrality rules. Like their plans to reimpose the rules at the state level, the new gambit has a roughly zero percent chance of succeeding.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has introduced a resolution to stop the rollback of net neutrality regulations via the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a 1996 law that gave Congress a way to block rules crafted by executive agencies. Little-used for many years, the CRA has recently become a popular way for Republicans to undo regulations they dislike; Markey's bill suggests that the Democrats are watching and learning.

But that doesn't mean their effort will work.

Once a new regulation has been entered in the Federal Register, the CRA gives the Senate 60 days to submit a resolution stopping the rule under an expedited process. In order initiate this process, a CRA requires 30 co-sponsors. Democrats have indeed reached this 30 co-sponsor mark: A full 43 senators have signed on. But that is pretty much all they have.

For starters, the net neutrality rollback announced by the FCC last month has yet even to be entered into the Federal Register, so Democrats currently have no actual rule to review. Getting 30 co-sponsors is for the moment meaningless.

But that will soon change. The more important problem: To pass this resolution Democrats will have to get majority votes in both houses of Congress, each of which is currently Republican-controlled.

Passage in the Senate is conceivable, given that two Republican senators, Susan Collins and John Thune, have said they'd be open to a legislative restoration of net neutrality rules. Collins has even said she would support Markey's bill. But Republicans command a larger majority in the House—and the expedited process allowed in the Senate doesn't apply there. And even if by some miracle enough House Republicans cross party lines to pass the bill, it will still have to be signed by President Donald Trump. That isn't exactly likely.

Given those obstacles, this plan looks less like a serious policy proposal and more like a show for the voters. And that's for the best: The rollback of these rules returns us to the light-touch approach that allowed the internet to grow and thrive. That isn't something to block; it's something to celebrate.