Saturday, December 15, 2018

"Content or Context Moderation?" Booklet by Data and Society looks at challenges for platforms with user-generated content, but seems to miss some big developments

Data and Society published, in mid November 2018, a 50 page paper “Content or Context Moderation? Antisanal, Community-Reliant, and Industrial Approaches”, by Robyn Caplan, at this link (downloadble PDF)

The three basic strategies parse according to the kind of service.  Patreon, Medium, and Vimeo are said to you antisanal (context-based) approaches;  Reddit and Wikipedia use community volunteers; Facebook and Google (especially YouTube) use industrial approaches with considerable automation (such as Google’s ContentId).
There are many areas the report doesn’t mention. For one thing, the upcoming implementation of the European Union’s Copyright Directive (especially Articles 11 and 13) could increase moderation problems for platforms even for users in the rest of the western world.
The article discusses Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act in the US, with a “good Samaritan” policy to allow platforms to set their own moderation standards. Recently CDA230 has been weakened by FOSTA, the new ant-trafficking law.  Violet Blue’s Engadget article (“Congress JustLegalized Sex Censorship: What to Know”, March 2018) gives a detailed rundown on the self-protective behavior of many platforms.  

Caplan doesn’t mention the parallel DMCA Safe Harbor for copyright. It does compare how downstream liability works in Germany, where there is a visitor size threshold and where hate speech is illegal, to the US.
The recent bannings by Patreon (crowdfunding) on a rule based on “manifest observable behavior” as defined in 2017 by CEO Jack Conte, seem to be based on an inflexible (rather than context-antisanal) approach to the use of bad words or slurs. Increasingly platforms are willing to ban for off-platform behavior (beyond the obvious cases of criminal convictions) and associations, partly out of fear of the alt-right and of covert and hostile foreign (especially Russian) influence.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Two big reports show how many people self-radicalize on social media, esp. toward the alt-right by reinforcing algorithms

VOX-Pol (no connection to Vox in the US), in Europe, recently published a large booklet report as a PDF, by J. M. Berger, “The Alt-Right Twitter Consensus: Defining and Describing the Audience for Alt-Right Content on Twitter”, link here.

A shorter but more explosive report comes from Bellingcat and Robert Evans. It is titled “From Memes to Infowars: How 75 Fascist Activists Were ‘Red-Pilled.”.

The term “red-pilling”, from the Matrix movies, means converting someone from a moderate ideology to a much more extreme and combative one, usually emphasizing loyalty to the group or tribe.
Vox (in the US) analyzes these reports in a piece by Zach Beauchamp, suggesting that YouTube has become “infested” as a honeypot for the alt-right.  It's interesting, though, that the Bellingcat report read literally doesn't point to YouTube (75 cases) but the Vox piece does, perhaps jumping to conclusions. 
Before going to far, it’s good to give the Wikipedia reference for “alt-right”, which shows the wide variations in the meaning of the term. But generally many of these forms are quite extreme and emphasize extreme tribalism, such as “national anarchists”. They are generally anti-intellectual and anti-individualistic, and want “socialism” within a patriarchal tribal structure.  They see this as a way to rectify individual inequality of ability

The Vox article shows how the algorithms, in a manner similar to Facebook, drive repeated users into echo chambers.  More moderate users will never be aware of the problem, as they will generally not even see the content.

However, the article shows that populations are susceptible to propaganda, and that less cognitively intact people can be driven into radical areas and convinced to join radical movements.  Intellectually sound people will not even notice this is going on.
Practically all the speech involved is protected under the First Amendment and downstream liability largely protected by Section 230.  This is quickly shaping up as an enormous public policy problem.
Oddly, the danger of promoting radicalization may be greater from users who don’t sell anything or raise money for causes in a conventional way.  Independent journalist Tim Pool has been especially skeptical of reports like this from larger media, who are challenged by low-cost competition from independent media. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"The Tablet" looks at hidden "intersectional" bigotry within the Women's March

Leah McSweeny and Jacob Siegel have a booklet-length analysis on “The Tablet” about the Women’s march movement, “Is the Women’s March Melting Down?   There is a correction on Twitter by Yair Rosenberg.

The Washington Times, a conservative paper, has boiled down the problem in a short summary by Valerie Richardson, “Women’s March leaders blame bigotry for issues; didn’t address report on anti-Semitism” (p. A8, Thursday, December 13, 2018).

But the Tablet article, in various places, gets into intersectionality and the idea that groups are systematically oppressed by those in privilege, as such, and need to be dealt with that way.

My own take is that we are finding out that individual rights work well locally, but when they are deployed publicly and internationally in a world with such gross inequality, it is inevitable that runaway abuses with what seem like legitimate self-expression, will occur.  There is a problem that many less educated users don’t grasp meta-speech or the use of abstract conjectural thought.  Frankly, there is also a body of thought emerging saying nothing gets done until everyone is organized (which is how it is in socialist countries, though).
Kevin Roose had continued this idea with a piece about “frictionless” apps, especially on Facebook, “Is Tech too easy to use?”, which makes it too easy for extremist groups (or undemocratic governments) to use social media against people in more vulnerable groups.  This comes back to other recent suggestions to “slow the Internet down”.
See my International Issues blog post today for a preview of Van Jackson's "On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War". 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Scammell writes that Solzshenitsyn, as a writer who emigrated to the US, may have brought down the Soviet Union himself

Michael Scammell is author of “Solzhenitsyn: A Biography” (W.W. Norton, 1984).
Today, Wednesday, December 12, 2018 he has an op-ed in the New York Times, p. A27, “The writer who beat an empire.”   Solzhenitsyn started out with a novella “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” about a Stalinist labor camp, where he (the person) was sent to a labor camp for writing to a friend criticizing the soviet system.  As in early colonial America, letters were read by authorities.
The little book was published in the west in 1962 by a small literary magazine Novy Mir.  Further autobiographical novels would include “The First Circle” and “Cancer Ward”, and then “The Gulag Archipelago” in 1973.  The Soviets expelled him, and his arrival in the US out to prove to conservatives and especially Trumpians the desirability of some immigration.  His writings helped bring down the Soviet Union in 1991. But Solzhenitsyn did want a nationalist country with religious and conservative family values, rather than Boris Yeltsin’s freewheeling republic, but he got what he wanted with Putin in 2000.

The op-ed also discusses the clandestine publication of Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” which had become a massive motion picture by 1966.
When I became a patient at NIH for the second half of 1962, my roommate had a copy of “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoyevsky. We would scape past the Cuban Missile Crisis will I was still a patient.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Sandy Hook papers on and by Adam Lanza released and published by Hartford Newspaper

The Hartford Courant is making available all the court papers in state police custody concerning Adam Lanza, perpetrator of the Sandy Hook killings on Dec. 14. 2012.

The main link for the publication is here, as a Courant Exclusive. The reporters are Josh Kovner and Dave Altimari. 
The article provides a link to an editorial explaining why the newspaper decided to release the papers.

There is no “manifesto” as such, but many scrapbooks and loose writings, like “Big Book of Granny”.
Lanza’s mental state seems to be extremely disturbed, starting with autism, which usually does not take this kind of path.  He hated any kind of personal contact with anyone. There are references to what he perceived as sexual abuse from physicians, doing normal examinations. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The "Homebrewed Christianity" series:Bill Leonard's "Flaming Heretics"

Author: Bill Leonard

Title: “Homebrewed Christianity: Church History: Flaming Heretics and Heavy Drinkers

Publication: Nashville: Fortress Press, 2017, 238 pages, paper, 8 chapters, endnotes.

This orange book is one of a series called “Homebrewed Christianity”, edited by Tripp Fuller.

The basic premise is that Christianity is practice has been a bottom-up religion, defined by how it is practiced by real people, who are compared to chess pieces (Bishop, Elder, Deacon, Acolyte). Yet the tone of the book presumes people want to act together and belong, not be so much on their own. 

Indeed, the first chapter is called “herding ecclesiastical cats.  As the reality of actually witnessing a resurrection and ascension, which would have seemed like ultimate truth to those who happened to live at a time and place where they could see it, receded, and became a matter for “men of faith”, it became a member of socialization and organization to figure out who really should be in charge and who should deliver the messages and how people would follow.

Perhaps that has meaning today as individual speech itself becomes questionable and we wonder who has the “privilege of being listened to” in a secular sense.

The church has always had to deal with the paradoxes of hypocrisy.  It doesn’t know who walks with the Lord. Only people do. The latter part of the book gets into specific episodes, like the Jim Crow laws and Scopes Trial (movie “Inherit the Wind” and the “old time religion” scene). 
Copies of this book were sold at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC last spring.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Independent bookstores can now do print-on-demand on the premises (some of them)

CBS News reports that independent bookstores are making strong returns after being almost wiped out in the middle 2000s. 

The resurgence of independent bookstores is related to “localism”, and some bookstores can now to print-on-demand on the premises, which could be an interesting development for me.

One of the largest indie bookstores in the DC area is Kammerbooks at Dupont Circle.  Recently I went to a reading at One More Page Books in Falls Church VA. 

CBS has a story in 2003 concerning some bookstores' purging customer records when Congress passed the Patriot Act! 

Heavy rain hampered “shop small” Saturday in the DC Area, although I had a chance in Ellicott City MD Sunday.