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All Reason.com articles with the "Internet" tag.



Published: Sun, 20 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 20 Aug 2017 07:26:33 -0400

 



Protect Internet Companies' Freedom to Refuse to Host Racists, or Anyone Else They Don't Like

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 13:30:00 -0400

When I edited a small-town newspaper, I eventually ended up rejecting letters to the editor from an elderly gentleman who had many interesting things to say about the issues of the day. He was, in some ways, a boon to the op-ed page—online commenting has completely demolished the number letters sent to many news outlets. But he was also a bigot, and this became obvious and more overt once Barack Obama was elected president. The final straw was a letter explaining how he could tell walking into a house that black people lived there based on the way the house smelled. I would run no more letters from him. I informed my publisher and he agreed. We deprived him from a platform of communication and we didn't regret it one bit. The impact in this case was small—the growth of the Internet means that there are plenty of other ways to get your message out when the local media tell you no. But that didn't used to be the case. Go back 30 years, and the average American's ability to communicate ideas to the larger public was much more limited. Yet newspaper editors regularly censored or refused to run letters to the editor they felt were in bad taste. There was never any question that newspapers had the authority to make those calls. The First Amendment is very clear here. Now that mass communication has moved online, a whole new crop of companies have the power to decide whether to host controversial content. They don't see themselves as "media outlets." They're just hosts and service providers. Traditionally they have not cared what people are saying. But in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, some of these companies are making the same decisions that old-fashioned media outlets have made in the past. They have decided that they do not want to provide their services to neo-Nazi outlets like The Daily Stormer. Earlier in the week GoDaddy and Google booted the white supremacist site as customers. The CEO of CloudFlare, a service that helps protect sites from cyberattacks, subsequently decided abruptly to dump Daily Stormer as a customer. Now the CEO, Matthew Prince, has some regrets. He's concerned about betraying his neutrality as a service provider, about the potential consequences of taking sides in a highly charged political debate, and about his own power, saying at one point: "Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn't be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power." Fortunately, Prince doesn't actually have that power. CloudFlare is a major player, but it does have competition, and it's competition that should resolve this fear. Going back to the newspaper example: When enough people in a community felt like their local newspaper didn't serve them well enough, it created the environment for rival newspapers to pop up and thrive. The entire alternative newsweekly industry exists because traditional dailies were not meeting a younger, more liberal readership's needs. If Prince were to get so drunk on his power that he starts cutting ties with customers willy-nilly, that wouldn't just be bad for the customers. It would be bad for CloudFlare, because it would lose business to its competitors. There's a subtext to Prince's statements, one that suggests that what he really wants is not to be seen as responsible for controversial corporate decisions. The idea that a handful of companies have complete control over whether or not you can communicate your beliefs online creates a significant tension around the issue of censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is worried that careless censorship by companies will bolster the efforts by governments to turn these decisions into demands. It is true that we should be very, very concerned about government censorship. Germany, for example, would be happy to force every online service to reject Daily Stormer as a customer. And if these neo-Nazis had been writing in Germany, cops would have been busting down their doors and arresting them. But a lengthy blog post expressing EFF's concerns hits an odd spot very early on: Prote[...]



Activist Sentenced to Two and a Half Years in Prison for Sharing BBC Article

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 13:30:00 -0400

(image) Thailand government critic Jatupat Bonnpattaraksa, a.k.a. Pai, has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for lese-majeste, or insulting the king.

Pai, a former law student who has been outspoken about the military junta running the country, was arrested just two days after Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne as the new king last December. Pai's crime: sharing a BBC Thai profile of Vajiralongkorn. The article was fairly objective—you can read the English-language version of it here—and thousands of people shared it on social media. Pai was the only one targeted by authorities.

Pai pled guilty and had a five-year sentence reduced to two and a half. "Pai confessed," his attorney told Reuters. "He knew that if he tried to fight the charges it would not be of any use."

As Reuters notes, the number of arrests for the crime of lese-majeste has increased sharply since the military overthrew the democratically elected government back in 2014. The arrests have often targeted government critics.

"Jatupat's case is only the latest in the Thai government's increasingly repressive and arbitrary attempts to chill expression online and censor content critical of the state, including banning interaction with certain exiled dissidents and making it a crime to simply view lese majeste content," the Electronic Freedom Foundation's Gennie Gebhart writes. "These extremes are not just about stopping the flow of information; they are also about spreading fear among users that the authorities may be watching what they read, share, and say online."

Human Rights Watch condemned the verdict, and in a statement its Asia director, Brad Adam, suggested Pai was "prosecuted for his strong opposition to military rule more than for any harm incurred by the monarchy."

Amnesty International also condemned the verdict. "This verdict shows the extremes to which the authorities are prepared to go in using repressive laws to silence peaceful debate, including on Facebook," Amnesty International's Josef Benedict said in a statement.

This sort of repression should be a reminder of the importance of the First Amendment. As hate-crime laws are coopted to cover classes of people like police officers, it's easy to imagine how hate-speech rules could be similarly deployed. Pai's persecution also highlights the importance of protecting anonymity online. The rise of trolling has led to calls to eliminate anonymity on the internet; Facebook has made it difficult to use the site without revealing your identity, even as it also becomes a tool and traffic hub for activism. Facebook is free to run its own network the way it wants, but opponents of anonymity need to understand that anonymity doesn't just protect trolls; it protects people from troll governments.

Please share your totally appropriate and not-at-all insulting comments about the Thai king in the comment thread below.




The Federal Government Has Been Subsidizing Phone and Internet Access for Dead People

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 15:25:00 -0400

Lifeline—a federal program that is supposed to subsidize telephone and broadband internet service for low-income Americans—has been handing out subsidies to millions of ineligible recipients, including thousands of dead people. Now a bipartisan group of senators wants answers. On Monday, the leadership of the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to hand over any specific findings of fraud they've found in the Lifeline program for "further investigation and possible enforcement action." This request was prompted by a June GAO investigation of Lifeline, which is funded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The report found that 1.2 million participants' eligibility could not be verified, that 5,510 were receiving multiple subsidies, and that another 6,378 were dead. In all, taxpayers could be paying $138 million annually in potentially fraudulent payments. Even by the feds' standards, the lack of accountability here is shocking. It highlights the inherent dangers that accompanies any government foray into the internet business. Under Lifeline, individuals earning below 135 percent of the federal poverty line, or who are receiving benefits from Medicaid, SNAP, or a similar program, are eligible for a $9.25 monthly subsidy on their internet or phone bill. That subsidy comes in the form of lower bills from participating phone and/or internet providers, who the government reimburses based on the number of Lifeline participants they have signed up. The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC)—a private nonprofit—administers the program, handing out $1.5 billion in subsidies to 12.3 million people in 2016. In its 2017 report, the GAO found several "weaknesses" in the program design. Notably, the government relies on service providers to conduct eligibility checks for Lifeline, and "companies may have financial incentives to enroll as many customers as possible." Indeed, providers have absolutely no incentive to check eligibility adequately. Enrolling more Lifeline participants means a provider receives more subsidies. Servicing more Lifeline participants also allows a provider to raise prices, as the federal government, not their customers, will eat the increased costs. Sure enough: When GAO staff submitted fraudulent Lifeline applications to 19 Lifeline service providers, 12 accepted them into the program. On a macro level, GAO examined the eligibility of some 3.5 million Lifeline beneficiaries in six states. The eligibility of over a third could not be verified. And as mentioned above, more than 11,000 were ineligible either because they were receiving multiple subsidies or because they were dead. GAO notes that "these numbers likely understate the number of people reported dead who were reenrolled in Lifeline," due to inadequate record keeping. The FCC has failed time and again to implement procedural safeguards or even evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The commission promised to review USAC's performance a year after contracting with them to administer the program; then it didn't. In 2005 the FCC awarded a contract to the National Academy of Public Administration to study the administration of the program, then inexplicably cancelled that contract. Not only is Lifeline poorly administered, the GAO concluded, but it is probably unnecessary, since it "may be an inefficient and costly mechanism to increase telephone subscribership." Most low-income households receive phone service without any need of a Lifeline subsidy, and many current participants would likely maintain phone service in the absence of the assistance. The same can be said of Lifeline's relatively new mission of increasing broadband access. Pew Research Center found that internet usage went from 52 percent to 84 percent from 2000 to 2015. The gains for low-income Americans was even more pronounced, with those earning less than $30,000 a year increasing from 34 percent in 2000 to 74 percent[...]



How Backpage and Similar Sites Are Crucial in Fight Against Sex Trafficking

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 11:20:00 -0400

As the Senate considers amending long-established internet law in order to punish Backpage.com for running sex ads, many folks have pointed out that this change could be ruinous for social media and online publishing as a whole. But fewer seem willing to defend Backpage per se, which has been lied about by politicians for so long that many smart and otherwise savvy people seem to think the site is run by sexual-slavery-loving sociopaths. Anyone under that misguided impression—and anyone seeking to push back against it—should check out some new research published in the Wake Forest Law Review. In the paper, "The Virtue of Unvirtuous Spaces," Notre Dame Law School lecturer Alex F. Levy explores similarities between the Progressive Era's pageantry around "white slavery" and the modern-day activists against the alleged "epidemic" of U.S. sex trafficking. In both cases, people have conflated consensual prostitution among adults with forced prostitution—or "modern slavery," as current reformers call it, and "white slavery," as yesteryear Progressives called it— and the sexual exploitation of minors. Activists in both eras have also mistaken prostitution's increasing visibility to middle-class audiences for an increase in prostitution itself. Conversely, they take the eradication of prostitution from certain highly visible spaces as an absolute victory against exploitation, despite all evidence suggesting the activity will simply migrate elsewhere. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the focal point of this symbolic fighting was the dance hall. Now it's online venues such as the classified ad sites Craigslist and Backpage. Levy finds that both campaigns are "pageantry: a kind of theater designed to satisfy people's need to identify and fight bad guys without regard to nuance or long-term outcome." And while "removing exploitation from view" may settle some middle-class queasiness, it is "at odds with recovering victims." If we really want to make long-term headway against sexual exploitation, we must embrace platforms like Backpage, argues Levy: A closer and more rigorous inspection reveals that the war on Internet platforms like Craigslist and, more recently, Backpage.com ("Backpage") is (at best) based on a misunderstanding of their relationship to human trafficking. Even though some traffickers make use of these platforms, there is neither an empirical foundation for the assumption that the platforms cause trafficking, nor any evidence that shuttering them would reduce trafficking. To the contrary, allowing Internet platforms on which sexual services are brokered to thrive may be key to apprehending traffickers and recovering victims. Both law enforcement and nonprofits such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) routinely use sites like Backpage to search for teenagers reported missing. The cross-country nature of the site allows authorities to track potential victims who may move around a lot, and provides tangible evidence for prosecutors to use against their exploiters. Police also use Backpage extensively when conducting sting operations ostensibly targeting the recovery of minors. Backpage itself has, at least historically, reported suspicious ads (such as those featuring pictures of people who look underage) to NCMEC or local law enforcement. All of this is used by politicians and professional activists as evidence that Backpage causes sex trafficking, or is especially complicit in it. But that only holds water if, in the absence of the site, there would be no alternative options for exploitation. This simply isn't true. There are plenty of other websites, apps, and physical spaces that traffickers can access just as easily in order to incite exploitation—spaces that are frequently far less accessible or useful to law enforcement than open online ad platforms are. Tellingly, these same folks never admit to Backpage's utility in locating and recovering victims, an asymmetry Levy attributes to "[...]



GoDaddy Dumps Neo-Nazi Website. Hooray for Freedom of Association! (UPDATE: Google Also Declines to Host)

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 13:15:00 -0400

In the wake of the violent confrontations in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in the slaying of Heather Heyer, the massive web host company GoDaddy is telling neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer to go pound sand. In a tweet over the weekend, subsequently confirmed as accurate, GoDaddy told the site to go find a new host for their white nationalist content. A Daily Stormer post about Heyer's death insulted her and said people are "glad she is dead"; the host company ruled that this violated its terms. A spokesman told The Washington Post that the article, coming right on the heels of the protests, could "incite additional violence." GoDaddy has been under pressure to stop hosting sites that spout "hate speech," but it had resisted the idea, citing the First Amendment as a reason to keep hosting racist content. But since GoDaddy is a private company, it doesn't have to use the First Amendment as a guidepost. The First Amendment restricts government censorship, not media or Internet hosting site censorship. Invoking the First Amendment here is a way for the company to establish that it's going to attempt to take all comers and to serve as many people as it can, as long as they're willing to pay. But if GoDaddy does not want to play host to these hateful messages, it's absolutely the company's right to say no. That's what freedom of association is all about. GoDaddy should not have to play host to content it finds offensive or abhorrent. That's one good reason to keep web hosting in the hands of private companies and not turn the internet into a government-managed utility. If, for example, GoDaddy had to operate as though it were a government agency, it might be required to prove that Daily Stormer's piece insulting Heyer meets a legal threshold for incitement. As a private company, GoDaddy can decide for itself what counts as instigation. And if freedom of association is a right for GoDaddy, then it's a right for everybody. GoDaddy shouldn't have to host Nazis. T-shirt companies shouldn't be required by the government to print gay pride messages if they don't approve. Office Depot shouldn't be required to make photocopies of anti-abortion fliers. It's not a perfect solution. In fact, it's a very messy solution, one where people often use social pressure and public outrage as a way to try to influence company behavior. GoDaddy's decision came after people tweeted at them to ask whether they would do anything about the Daily Stormer's postings. At other times people have tried to get other people fired for expressing opinions they don't like, as we saw with Google. It's nevertheless preferable to solutions that involve the government, because once the government is involved, resolving the conflict becomes a matter of using force, not influence and social pressure. Police in the United Kingdom and Germany have responded to hate speech by raiding people's homes and arresting them. That's not a better solution. Not only does this create the extremely obvious problem that a person's speech limits will be determined by whoever is in control of the government (spoiler: It's not you), but it also increases the likelihood that somebody will be injured or killed by police during these interactions. So regardless of whether any particular person agrees that GoDaddy made the right choice to dump these guys, we should support their right to do so. And we should perhaps keep that in mind when other businesses don't want to play a role in producing or carrying messages with which they do not agree. UPDATE: Daily Stormer attempted to move its hosting to Google, but now Google is also rejecting them on the grounds of the site violating their terms of service.[...]



Missouri Attorney General Hawley Files Desperate and Deceptive Motion to Dismiss Backpage Lawsuit

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 14:40:00 -0400

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley claimed he has "new evidence" showing that the classifieds site "Backpage has directly and actively promoted illegal sex trafficking." But the only thing new is Hawley's level of desperation and deceit. Hawley, who was elected attorney general last November and has U.S. Senate ambitions, is the latest in a long line of state law-enforcement authorities to seek attention by scapegoating an online ad platform and subjecting it to unconstitutional demands. Craigslist was the test case, but Backpage has become the enduring target of state prosecutors because it hasn't been hesitant to fight back—and in almost all cases, win. Despite the hysterical antics from elected officials, there has never been any evidence that Backpage leaders knowingly promoted forced or underage prostitution, nor that they've behaved in ways that would exclude them from the immunity provided to open publishing platforms under federal law. Among the "new" evidence that Hawley submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri is a January report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Despite the senators having access to all of the internal Backpage data and hosting a theatrical in-person inquiry, they found nothing sufficient to spur a criminal investigation or any charges. Hawley also submitted the transcript of an audio recording seized from Philippines company Avion, in which an Avion employee contacts a London sex worker. Hawley also played the call reporters at a press conference. What does not get so much as a mention in Hawley's motion is that this call and all of the adult-ad generation done for Backpage involved only non-U.S. employees of Avion advertising on non-U.S. platforms. None of it has any bearing on his current case. A state attorney general cannot attempt to prosecute foreign contractors for ads created and posted in foreign countries. And it is legal for Backpage contractors to generate adult ads abroad, where the rules governing web-publishing platforms and legal liability for content vary (and prostitution in certain forms may be legal). Hawley's actions here should be seen for what they are: a sneaky attempt to build credibility in his illegal crusade. Not long after he took office in January 2017, Hawley attempted to compel Backpage to surrender a trove of internal files and information. His order was not part of any criminal investigation but rather a civil investigative demand—a kind of subpoena attorneys general use to investigate potential consumer fraud. In a letter to Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Hawley wrote "the Attorney General of the State of Missouri believes it to be in the public interest that an investigation be made to ascertain whether [agents of Backpage.com] have engaged in or are engaging in any merchandising practices declared to be unlawful" under the state's merchandising practices law. Backpage lawyers responded with a motion to block Hawley from enforcing the order and "from further pursuing or threatening other action against Backpage. It was "based on Backpage's statutory immunity from state law claims based on its activities as an online publisher and distributor of third-party content, and on Backpage's constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments." Hawley fired back this week with a motion to dismiss Backpage's suit and a public relations offensive. "I have filed a motion against Backpage.com containing explosive new revelations," the attorney general tweeted from his official account on Tuesday. "My message to Backpage is this: The truth is coming for you," stated Hawley in a press release. "We have evidence including audio recordings, photos and various documents. You cannot hide from the truth. And I will not stop until the full truth about Backpage's involvement in trafficking is exposed and those responsible are held to account." The St. Louis Post-Dispat[...]



Want to Look at Online Porn? The U.K. Gov't Wants to Strip You of Your Privacy

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 16:45:00 -0400

(image) Prime Minister Theresa May's administration wants to demolish British citizens' privacy if they look at pornography online.

That's not what the government saying, but that's exactly what's going to happen. The United Kingdom is tightening its controls on internet porn in an efforit to keep children away. They're doing this by mandating that porn companies collect proof that anybody attempting to visit a site is a legal adult before letting him see so much as a nipple. This could potentially force people to surrender private information—a credit card number, for example—just to get access, let alone download anything.

The authorities plan to get this system in place by next spring. The enforcement looks pretty severe, according to Ars Technica:

Sites that refuse to cooperate face the wrath of earmarked regulator the British Board of Film Classifications (BBFC). It will have the power to dish out fines of up to £250,000 [about $325,000] for non-compliance, cut loose misbehaving porn operators from their payment providers, advertisers, and other ancillary services that they use in the UK, or they could be blocked by ISPs—a method that the government's DCMS parliamentary under-secretary Lord Ashton previously insisted" would be used sparingly."

Ars Technica notes that many of these porn sites are not based in the United Kingdom, and that it's going to be hard to implement a policy that people can't work around. But more importantly: For the sites that are forced into compliance, what could potentially happen to that data if it's breached? This isn't just porn purchases being tracked now. It's porn site visits attached to an identifiable person's name:

"Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK's porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style hacks," argued Open Rights Group director Jim Killock.

"The government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age verification providers to protect the privacy of Web users," he said, adding: "There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification."

Let us not forget that May's government has implemented the Investigatory Powers Act, which requires internet providers store users' online histories for access by various government agencies in crime-fighting efforts.

Let us also not forget that even when granting that adults have the right to look at pornography, the U.K. government demands the authority to decide what sort of sexual practices you are allowed to enjoy. The government nanny is not fond of kinksters who get their jollies off naughty fetishes where people do mean things to each other.

Last year Ars Technica documented just how difficult it will actually be for the U.K. to keep people—even those under the age of 18—from accessing internet porn. Read more about it here.




Net Neutrality Supporters Should Actually Hate the Regulations They're Endorsing

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:00:00 -0400

If you went on the internet at all last week, you could not help but miss some of the web's most popular websites publicizing their campaigns that defend the Obama-era telecommunications regulation known as the Open Internet Order (OIO). Last Wednesday, tech heavyweights like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and even Pornhub held a "Day of Action" to support the controversial FCC rules. The websites bombarded users with blog posts encouraging folks to contact their representatives and popup messages bemoaning the future of a slow and tiered internet. But ironically, these websites' stated goals are in direct contradiction of the regulations that they ostensibly support. Simply stated, the OIO does not in fact secure the principles of "net neutrality" like so many of these websites implied to their users. In fact, the OIO may have the adverse effect of actively discouraging the principles of net neutrality through a loophole that would exempt motivated Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from OIO regulations. This cannot be emphasized enough: The OIO allows and encourages ISP filtering, a huge no-no in the world of net neutrality. This is a point that my Mercatus Center colleague Brent Skorup has made since shortly after the OIO rules were first introduced in February of 2015. It's a bit of a nuanced argument, and one that would not be immediately obvious to anyone who does not closely read all FCC reports and related court cases as a profession. But as the general public is whipped into a veritable frenzy to defend the OIO rules or risk Internet catastrophe, it's a critical fact to hammer home in the debate. To understand just how muddled the discussion surrounding "net neutrality" and the OIO has become, we need to know a bit about: 1) how the concept of net neutrality developed and what it means; and 2) the political pressures and compromises that were made in the run-up to the introduction of the OIO. First, the definition of "net neutrality" is incredibly hazy. You could almost say that more people agree that net neutrality is a good thing than can agree on any particular definition. The concept was first laid out by law professor Tim Wu in his seminal 2002 article, "A Proposal for Network Neutrality." Wu lays out hypothetical scenarios where ISPs block or throttle access to content for reasons ranging from cost to anti-competitive activities. His article attempts to distinguish content differentiation that he finds reasonable and should be allowed from those that he finds unjustifiable and should be prohibited. The article generated a fair bit of controversy even under this more limited framework—critics responded by pointing out some benefits of non-neutral Internet arrangements—but it was at least a relatively narrow and understood topic. From there, the concept of "net neutrality" morphed into something that was both utopian and unworkable. If you type the phrase into Google, the top definition provided is the "principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites." Yet this definition stands in sharp contradiction to the vision outlined by Wu, who noted that "a total ban on network discrimination, of course, would be counterproductive." This kind of extreme understanding of net neutrality has been dismissed by early Internet pioneer and MIT computer scientist David Clark as a "happy little bunny rabbit dream" that would be both impossible and undesirable to implement. Unfortunately, the unhinged understanding of "net neutrality" has since won the day. And it has fueled average people's nightmares about what the future of the Internet holds—even though it looks a lot like what we've always enjoyed. (After all, the OIO regulations were only proposed in 2015.) The core of these fears is a fu[...]



Men as Likely To Be Harassed Online as Women

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 05:00:00 -0400

A new study released by the Pew Research Center supports what some of us have argued all along about online harassment: that it affects men as much as women and that the problem should not be framed as a gender issue—or defined so broadly as to chill legitimate criticism. If anything, the study says, men tend to get more online abuse than women, including serious abuse such as physical threats (though women are, predictably, more likely to be sexually harassed). However, when people are asked about free speech vs. safety on the internet, women are more likely to come down on the side of the latter. Thus, it is very likely future efforts at speech regulation will continue to be cast as "feminist" initiatives. Online harassment has become something of a cause célèbre in the last three years. It has been explored (and deplored) in numerous media reports; it has attracted the attention of politicians and even of the United Nations. A basic premise of these discussions has been that women, especially outspoken women, are specifically and maliciously targeted for hate, abuse, and threats; many feminists have claimed internet misogyny is the civil rights issue of our time. The Pew survey of over 4,000 American internet users over 18 conducted in January challenges those contentions. Forty four percent of the men and 37 percent of the women said that at some point, they had experienced at least one of the behaviors the study classified as harassment. Most of this abuse involved offensive name-calling and being embarrassed on purpose. However, 12 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they'd been the target of a physical threat; 6 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been stalked; 8 percent of men and 7 percent of women they had experienced "sustained harassment"; and 4 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been sexually harassed. Men and women under 30, who are the most likely to spend a lot of time online, are, unsurprisingly, the most likely to experience all kinds of online abuse, including its more severe forms. It's true that women who been targets of online abuse were more than twice as likely as men to describe their last such experience as extremely or very upsetting (35 percent vs. 16 percent). But, interestingly, there was no gender gap in actual negative effects of online harassment, be it mental stress, problems with friends and family, romantic problems, reputational damage, or trouble at work. Twelve percent of both male and female victims—or about 5 percent of all respondents—said that online harassment had made them fear for their or their loved ones' safety. One percent, with no gender difference, had been victims of doxing—the unwanted disclosure of their personal data online, ranging from real names for those who post under pseudonyms to place of work or home address. Few will be surprised to learn that women under 30 were substantially more likely than their male peers—53 percent vs. 37 percent—to report receiving unsolicited sexually explicit images. But in a more counterintuitive finding, men in that age group were more likely than women—14 percent vs. 10 percent—to say that explicit images of them had been shared online without their consent. (For those 30 and older, the figure was 5 percent for both sexes.) This differs sharply from feminist scholars' claims that 90 percent of so-called "revenge porn" targets women, a figure based on a self-selected and mostly female sample. But it supports a 2013 study by McAfee Security in which men were more likely to report both being threatened with having intimate photos of them posted online and actually having such photos posted. More women than men in the Pew Study, 11 percent vs. 5 percent, said they had experienced gender-based abuse online. But this gap may be partly due to differences in what m[...]



Social Media Users Encounter More, Not Less, Political Diversity

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 16:15:00 -0400

If you use social media, you're more likely to get your news from more than one political perspective, according to a study by the Oxford-based researchers Richard Fletcher and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. This flies in the face of the accepted wisdom that says the internet segregates society into ever more cloistered communities of like-minded people. Ideological bubbles are real, but ideological bubbles have always been real; they may well be more permeable now than in the past. If you regularly read this website, you're probably a "news user"—one of the three groups Fletcher and Nielsen identify in a YouGov survey of internet users around the globe. News users go online for the express purpose of reading about current events. The second group is the "non-users." These are the people who avoid social media altogether. And somewhere in the middle there are the "incidentally exposed": people who use social media for nonpolitical purposes, but could conceivably come across a news story anyway. Think of someone who visits Facebook to stay in touch with friends but might click on a news story that comes up in the feed. Fletcher and Nielsen zero in on data from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany in a write-up of their findings at the Nieman Journalism Lab. As you might expect, news users drew on more media sources than anyone else. In America, for example, they reported reading or viewing stories from an average of 5.16 different sources in the previous week. The incidentally exposed group, in turn, drew on more sources (an average of 3.29) than the people who didn't use social media at all (an average of just 1.8). "These differences remain statistically significant after controlling for a range of demographic and news attitude variables," the authors note. Needless to say, not everyone who looks at more than one news site is looking at sites from more than one point of view. But if you use social media, you're much more likely to take in sources from multiple perspectives. This chart shows the percentage of each group that used both at least one source from the left and at least one source from the right: As you can see, most Americans don't look at stories from more than one political perspective. But people who are on social media clearly tend to have a more diverse news diet than people who aren't. Bonus link: For more on this theme, check out my review of Eli Pariser's book The Filter Bubble. Here's an excerpt: 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 many good reasons to hate Facebook, an insufficient diversity of views isn't one of them. One of the chief effects of using the site, after all, is to discover your friends' horrifying opinions.[...]



What CNN's Threat to Dox a Redditor Tells Us About the State of Journalism

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 00:15:00 -0400

If you're going to create nasty memes to get attention, demand people give you credit for those memes and celebrate when the president of the United States shares one with his roughly 33 million followers, I have no sympathy for you. You're not a martyr for the cause of free expression. There was a time when anonymity allowed Americans with unpopular or unconventional beliefs to make their arguments without fear of retribution. Today, the internet has created an environment that incentivizes people to create detestable messages meant to troll and harass. Then again, this story isn't really about online harassment or the Reddit user "HanA**holeSolo," who has taken credit for the creation a GIF of President Trump body-slamming a wrestler—which I feel the need to reiterate is fake violence—with a CNN logo imposed on his face. The story itself means little. This is about how places like CNN function these days: how it overreacts to everything the president does, how many of today's newsrooms give some people a pass and destroy others. The search for HanA**holeSolo began before anyone knew he was responsible for anti-Semitic or bigoted posts. CNN tracked down his identity because he had committed thought crimes, the worst of which was mocking CNN. The story was meant to tie a Trump tweet mocking CNN to a hateful meme maker and blow up. That's because news organizations have become obsessed with fighting Trump rather than covering him. For all the sanctimonious self-championing of the importance of journalism in the Trump era, stories like these have no real purpose. This piece didn't educate viewers on the underbelly of social media, or the habits of the president, or anything else. It wasn't an argument over ideas or policy. It wasn't entertainment. It was a story birthed from the hysterics that erupted over a silly meme Trump retweeted. What CNN has done is induce some random troll to grovel and apologize for his wrongthink. Even if we concede that there's a good reason to track down a meme maker on Reddit, why doesn't the network run the name? Without the name, in fact, there is no real story. CNN claims it kept the poster's anonymity to protect his safety. Is it saying that anti-Trump activists will hurt the man? Is it saying that there should be no repercussion for things we say? Is this protection afforded all Americans? Moreover, the piece itself (and the on-air personalities at CNN) disputes the idea that his name was withheld to protect safety. It is clear that if HanA**holeSolo had responded to CNN by saying, "No, I'm not sorry, losers," he would have been outed. "CNN is not publishing 'HanA**holeSolo's' name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again," said a CNN piece. Should HanA**holeSolo ever revert to his nefarious meme-making ways, "CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change." This is a threat. There is simply no other way for an open-minded person to comprehend the meaning of the line. I've read thousands of news stories and written a bunch of them, and I can't think of a single instance of a similar disclaimer. CNN has absolved the man of his sins—for now. I guess if HanA**holeSolo does anything it deems ugly, the network reserves the right to put him in "danger"? In a now-deleted tweet, CNN's oft-confused Chris Cuomo asked: "Should CNN reveal name of Reddit user who made trump wrestling video? Had a lot of bigoted and hateful material on page and website." Let's chew on this question and assertion for a moment. For one thing, although Cuomo happens to be correct in this case, I don't trust his definition of [...]



Canada Claims Authority to Censor Your Internet Searches

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 16:15:00 -0400

The Canadian Supreme Court today ruled the country has the authority to demand Google censor and remove links to certain web pages or online content. The idea that governments can force Google to deindex links to pages is unfortunately not new (see the European Union's "right to be forgotten"). What matters internationally in this case is the government is forcing Google to remove links from searches regardless of where the Internet user is. That is to say: Canada is demanding the authority to censor the internet outside of its physical borders and control what people who are not Canadian citizens can find online. Today's court ruling declares that because the Internet doesn't have any borders, when Canada decides Google has to censor content it should be a global order: "The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally." The case involves copyright and intellectual property claims. A tech firm was accusing another firm of stealing and duplicating one of its products and selling it online. Google was asked to deindex the links to the firm accused of stealing so that it wouldn't show up in search results. Google complied with court orders, but only for searches from within Canada. Canada's Supreme Court sees geographical limits (even virtual ones) on its ability to censor speech as "facilitating" illegal commerce rather than a speech issue. Here's a paragraph from the ruling that should give folks pause: This is not an order to remove speech that, on its face, engages freedom of expression values, it is an order to de-index websites that are in violation of several court orders. We have not, to date, accepted that freedom of expression requires the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods. Canada has hate speech laws. Does it follow that Canada should require Google to deindex pages containing what it deems "hate speech" in the United States? If Canada does not because it acknowledges limits to its reach as a nation is it "facilitating" something unlawful? The court notes Google removes links due to court orders based on content and still doesn't seem to see an issue in a country's boundary of authority: [Google] acknowledges, fairly, that it can, and often does, exactly what is being asked of it in this case, that is, alter search results. It does so to avoid generating links to child pornography and websites containing "hate speech". It also complies with notices it receives under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Pub. L. No. 105-304, 112 Stat. 2680 (1998) to de-index content from its search results that allegedly infringes copyright, and removes websites that are subject to court orders. The court, in justifying its ruling, is unwittingly bringing up problems with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA is intended as a tool for fight online piracy and intellectual property theft by making it easier to remove copyrighted material through an ownership claim process. It is also prone to abuse. People abuse the DMCA's "take down" process in order to try to censor speech, critiques or commentary, they find objectionable. It can be as minor as trying to censor critical video game reviews, or extend as far as criticizing another country's leaders. Ecuadorian officials once attempted to use the DMCA to censor criticism of government actions. Google itself has stepped in to try to help users fend off abusive DMCA take-down requests. Invoking other forms of legally recognized internet censorship is not, perhaps, the defense Canada's Supreme Court is looking for. A closer examination highlights the potential for abuses. And claiming the authority to censor Goo[...]



Princeton-Trained Computer Scientists Are Building a New Internet That Brings Privacy and Property Rights to Cyberspace

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 13:13:00 -0400

Muneeb Ali and Ryan Shea are the co-founders of Blockstack, a project to rebuild the internet using blockchain technology so that individuals can reclaim direct control over their own identities, contacts, and data. The goal is to bring the property rights we enjoy in the physical world to cyberspace. These two Princeton-trained computer scientists—Ali completed his Ph.D. last month with a speciality in distributed systems—believe that today's internet is fundamentally broken. Users are forced to trust companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook to maintain our online identities and personal information. They store our files in giant data centers that are increasingly vulnerable to hackers. And the Snowden leaks revealed that the National Security Agency has strong armed these tech giants into handing over users' personal data without bothering to obtain court-issued warrants. "Google has this saying, 'don't be evil,'" says Ali. "Maybe a company shouldn't be powerful enough that they're sitting there thinking, 'should I be evil or not?'" So how does Blockstack propose to alter cloud computing, which has bought enormous efficiencies to the tech sector? Ali and Shea say they've worked out a way to break up internet data centers into virtual storage lockers that are fully encrypted, so individual users are the only ones who hold the keys to their own data. "If you're a Dropbox engineer, you can go through my files today," says Ali. "But if I use Dropbox through Blockstack, they have no visibility into the data at all." This new decentralized architecture is possible thanks to the invention of a new type of distributed database called a "blockchain," which was introduced to the world in 2008 as a component of the peer-to-peer digital currency bitcoin. The blockchain was designed as a decentralized system for keeping track of who owns what bitcoin, but in the last nine years an entire industry has emerged that all about integrating the blockchain into everything from real estate markets to driverless car technology. Shea describes the blockchain as a virtual "whitepages the community maintains together," which "anyone can add to" but "nobody controls"—a record that doesn't require a central entity to guarantee its veracity. This shared white pages lists the location of each users' encrypted data lockers. Essential online functions that can be moved to the blockchain include registering unique identities and keeping track of each users' personal contacts. On this new internet, applications like Facebook and Twitter will still exist, but they'll have far less power and responsibility. "At Blockstack, we're enabling small, open-source groups to grow and compete with the large players," says Shea. What will the Blockstack internet mean for Silicon Valley? Shea predicts a new wave of tech firms will emerge. "I believe this will create a much larger economy and a lot more prosperity for everyone." --- Written, shot, produced, and edited by Jim Epstein. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Additional camera by Kevin Alexander. Common Consensus by The Franks, Creative Commons Attribution license. Mario Bava Sleeps In a Little Later Than He Expected To by Chris Zabriskie, Creative Commons Attribution license. Talvihorros by the Blue Cathedral, Creative Commons Attribution license. What True Self, Feels Bogus, Let's Watch Jason X by Chris Zabriskie, Creative Commons Attribution license. Canon in D Major by Kevin MacLeod, Creative Commons Attribution license. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



SCOTUS Unanimously Rejects Law Banning Sex Offenders From Social Media

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:00:00 -0400

Today the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a North Carolina law that bans registered sex offenders from any "commercial social networking Web site" that is open to minors. With the exception of Neil Gorsuch, who did not participate in the case because he was not on the Court when it was argued, every justice agreed that the law's broad scope cannot be reconciled with the First Amendment. The case was brought by Lester Packingham, who at the age of 21 had sex with a 13-year-old girl and was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor. Eight years later, Packingham beat a traffic ticket and expressed his pleasure on Facebook: "Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismiss the ticket before court even started. No fine, No court costs, no nothing spent….Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS!" That burst of online exultation violated North Carolina's ban on social media use, which covers all registered sex offenders, regardless of whether their crimes involved minors or the internet. Packingham argued that his conviction violated the First Amendment, and a state appeals court agreed. The North Carolina Supreme Court did not. Siding with Packingham today, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes that the law "burden[s] substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government's legitimate interests." Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasizes the internet's vital importance to freedom of speech. "This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet," he says. "As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium." Kennedy says North Carolina's law "enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens," applying indiscriminately to many kinds of online activity, even when it has nothing to do with contacting minors. "By prohibiting sex offenders from using those websites, North Carolina with one broad stroke bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge," he writes. "These websites can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard....To foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights." In a concurring opinion joined by John Roberts and Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito notes that the law's broad definition of "commercial social networking Web site" covers not only widely used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter but also shopping sites such as Amazon and news sites such as The Washington Post. Alito says the law's "staggering reach...makes it a felony for a registered sex offender simply to visit a vast array of websites, including many that appear to provide no realistic opportunity for communications that could facilitate the abuse of children." The Court's decision in Packingham v. North Carolina not only vindicates the First Amendment but provides a welcome dose of skepticism about sweeping, indiscriminate laws that are supposedly justified by the need to protect children from sexual predators. In this case, as in many others, the law went far beyond that goal, criminalizing a wide range of innocent actions by people classified as sex offenders, most of whom pose no real threat to children.[...]



Theresa May’s Call for Internet Censorship Isn't Limited to Fighting Terrorism

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 15:25:00 -0400

You'd think Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg himself was the driver of the van that plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge Saturday, the way U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is talking about the attack. He isn't, but everybody across the world, not just in the United Kingdom, needs to pay close attention to how May wants to respond to the assault. May believes the problem is you and your silly insistence that you be permitted to speak your mind and to look at whatever you want on the internet. And she means to stop you. And her attitude toward government control of internet speech is shared by President Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton), so what she's trying to sell isn't isolated to her own citizenry. In a speech in the wake of this weekend's attack, May called flat-out for government authority to censor and control what people can see and access on the internet: We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed—yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning. Note that May appears to be trying to narrowly pitch a regulatory regime that focuses entirely on censoring speech by terrorists. One might argue that even America's First Amendment would not protect such speech, since such communications involve planning violence against others. But May and the Tories really want to propose much broader censorship of the internet, and they know it. May is using fear of terrorism to sell government control over private online speech. The Tories' manifesto for the upcoming election makes it pretty clear they're looking to control communication on the internet in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism. BuzzFeed took note: The proposals—dotted around the manifesto document—are varied. There are many measures designed to make it easier to do business online but it's a different, more social conservative approach when it comes to social networks. Legislation would be introduced to protect the public from abuse and offensive material online, while everyone would have the right to wipe material that was posted when they were under 18. Internet companies would also be asked to help promote counter-extremism narratives—potentially echoing the government's Prevent programme. There would be new rules requiring companies to make it ever harder for people to access pornography and violent images, with all content creators forced to justify their policies to the government. The manifesto doesn't seem to acknowledge a difference between speech and activity, Buzzfeed adds: "It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically." New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: "We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law." The United Kingdom already has some very heavy content-based censorship of pornography that presumes to police what sorts of sexual fantasies are acceptable among its populace. Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has written repeatedly abo[...]