Category: Information & Communication

Technology, the Internet, and Race: Tool for Liberation or Oppression?

Enhanced transcript of panel introductions at the “Technology, the Internet, and Race: Tool for Liberation or Oppression?” session at the recent at 25th annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in Washington, DC held on October 14th, 2015. The transcript is “enhanced” because its links were added by me, the transcriber, and do not mean to imply an acknowledgement or endorsement by the speaker whose words were hyperlinked.

[music]

Singer: iMix! What I like! What I like! What I like! What I like!

Jared Ball (producer @iMiXWHATiLiKE): Good afternoon, everybody.

Audience: Good afternoon!

Jared Ball: A’ight, we wanna keep things moving here. My name’s Jared Ball. It’s an honor and a privilege to moderate the next panel. And I just wanted to say, just very quickly, I appreciate Joe Torres and the work he does with Free Press, and that organization in general. And the efforts around these particular kinds of conversations. Because I think one important value of centering the experience of so called people of color in any question is issues of privacy and surveillance supreme among them, is that doing so immediately forces an immediate focus on the imperial and colonizing of the nature of the State itself. Such an approach lends itself to gaining a view from below, from the among the so called wretched, the subjects of colony of empire. And with that said, I want to welcome our panel.

Alvaro Bedoya: Great intro for that, thank you, Jared. Everyone, I’m Alvaro. I want to talk about two substantive points to answer this question and one strategy point which we can expand on later if it comes to point, is that surveillance technology doesn’t target everyone equally. It disproportionately targets the weak, it disproportionately targets the unpopular, and so we need to look at privacy as a shield for the weak and as a shield for the unpopular. The second point is that surveillance is often beta tested on vulnerable communities, and we need to start explaining how that happens because I think we’ll create broader coalitions. And that’s the third point: how do we act on this to counter surveillance and to stop it?

And so, on the first point, I think, and I’m aware that I’m preaching to the choir in large part here, but I think a lot of Americans, when they think of surveillance of vulnerable people, they might know Martin Luther King and the vicious surveillance of Martin Luther King by J. Edgar Hoover. What they might not know is that J. Edgar Hoover also surveilled Cesar Chavez, and also surveilled the Black Panthers. It was critical in the dismantling of that organization. But before [that], it was Japanese-Americans who were surveilled. Before that, it was a W.E.B. Du Bois who was surveilled for trying to go to Europe while Woodrow Wilson was trying to negotiate some pretty lofty principles, and point out that a major population in Woodrow Wilson’s hometown in the United States was not exactly getting that same fair deal. Y’know, after all this it was LGBT service members, and I guess what I’m trying to say is that when unpopular, powerless people meet the gears of government, they tend to lose. And so what privacy is, it’s a space that allows them to do that work without powerful forces stopping them. And I think this is a framing useful for us.

The second item: surveillance being beta-tested on vulnerable communities. So, quick story. So, I was born in Peru, I came here when I was five. My grandmother is straight out of a Gabriel García Márquez novel, lives in this old, old house—it’s been crumbling—in a little mountain town in Northern Peru called [TK-NAME OF TOWN HERE]. And, um, for years, I think all of us remember when a long distance call was, like, a really big deal. And for years we would call my grandmother, and it would be a really bad connection, it was a really big deal for us. And uh, the fact of the matter is, probably from about 1993 on, every single time my brother and I called our almost centenarian grandmother in a little mountain town in Northern Peru, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was making a record of it. And this is kind of the secret history of the “215 program” that folks in this room probably know about, but I don’t think the point has been sharpened in this respect. Before 215, the program that allowed the collection of all of our call records all the time, was a Drug Enforcement Administration program that logged international calls. They were not international calls to just anywhere, they were international calls to mostly all Latin-American areas and certain areas elsewhere. And, um, I remember this story coming out, and no one making the second leap in that sentence. The first leap being all international calls were logged, the second leap being that probably means that if you’re a Latino living in the United States, every time you called your mom, or your grandmother, your grandfather, anyone back home, the Drug Enforcement Administration was keeping track of that.

And so, another instance I think you’re going to see this is with facial recognition. The FBI has a fifty-million strong database of faces that State and local law enforcement can use to identify suspects in photos. Before I left Capitol Hill, my boss, Senator Franken, inserted a request, made a request that would include in an audit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s facial recognition systems statistics on demographics and on who is in this database. And I suspect what’ll happen if GAO [Government Accountability Office] is able to produce this information is that it won’t be an equal representation of all of our communities in that database. That database is gonna be disproportionately poor, disproportionately Black, and disproportionately Latino. And so I think we need to reckon this fact.

Final point, and then I’ll close because I know we just wanted to do brief statements here. When I was a Senate staffer working on NSA reform legislation, and I know some of you have heard it before because I’ve said it to you, I noticed something very troubling. And it was this: we had so many hearings about NSA. We had so many hearings. We had hearing after hearing after hearing and that’s wonderful and each time the administration had sent people and they get yelled at and they would yell back and it was true sort of exchange of ideas, as much as you can have in an unclassified setting. Um, one thing that I never heard in any of those hearings—and I could’ve missed it, but I’m pretty sure I never heard it—was the name Martin Luther King. Or was the name Cesar Chavez. Or was any bit of this history of disproportionate surveillance of vulnerable communities. And, um, I think that’s everyone’s loss. I think that’s our loss because—I think that’s everyone’s loss because they don’t know, but I think it’s our loss because our coalition could be all the more stronger the more we have the civil rights community activated and moving alongside with us. I’ve said this before to someone and they’ve said, “Well, Alvaro, y’know, we don’t really need the Left. We need the Right. We need the Right to get to 60 [votes].” And this person was exactly right. You need the Right, you need Republicans, and God bless them, God bless folks that are in the Republican party that are with us on this surveillance issue, we need those folks to get to 60. But we need the Left to make sure that what we get out of that 60 is actually worth something. Because there are amendment notes after amendment notes and if your coalition is not strong you will lose those votes and you will get a far worse product because of it.

So, looking forward, we have a debate about Section 702, which allows for the surveillance of communications collected in the United States with one international—I’m sure I’m getting some tiny piece of that wrong—but, um, in those communications collected are some entirely domestic communications, we now know that. But in those communications are going to be awful lot of communications by immigrants. And this program does not affect everyone equally. It disproportionately impacts immigrants, it probably disproportionately impacts Latinos, and I think we need to put that forward and talk about that.

And I think I will close there.

Anika Collier Navaroli: Thank you. Thanks everyone, thanks again for coming. So before I talk a little bit about the surveillance and technology piece, I want to talk a step backwards and I want to talk about the notion of privacy as we currently know it. So the way that we typically think about it in these circles is the philosophical or the legal definition. And in doing that I think that we make certain assumptions. And I want to talk a little bit about those assumptions.

So, first, I think the assumption that we make is that there is agency over one’s own body or one’s own personhood. And I think the second assumption that we make is that privacy is this thing that exists. And in order to do so I think that we create a certain privilege. And to say that, I want to say essentially that there are certain communities within the United States who have never had the privilege of what I’m going to define as privacy.

So, privacy, by “privacy” what I’m talking about is non-surveillance, or a non-monitoring. And so basically what I’m going to talk about a little bit here is the Black community, just because that’s the community that I’m a member of, that’s the one I know the best, and it’s the one that I’ve studied the most.

So, I attended a conference very similar to this a couple of months back hosted by a lot of the same folks and I went to a panel that was about cybersecurity. So it started with the NSA programs Alvaro was just talking about and I think this is one that definitely did it right in discussing the historical impact and the disparities. And what I was shown at the very beginning of this panel was a document that was put up on the screen. And it was a very simple document. This document was stated to be the very first piece of surveillance within the United States. And what that was, was a “slave pass.”

An official "Negro Passport" issued by the Confederate States of America's official War Department in 1865.

And this was, for those of you who don’t know what a slave pass is, it was a piece of paper that was given to Black Americans back in the day. And this allowed them to physically move from one confined plantation to another. And without this pass, there was a serious risk of bodily harm and/or death. So from the very beginning of Black folks being in America, their physical presence has been monitored and surveilled. And this includes folks that were privileged enough to be free. They had Freed Men Passes, and without these, they were not able to move about freely. And as some folks have seen from “12 Years a Slave,” but those didn’t also always work all the time. So just moving back through history we see from the very, very beginning the notion of privacy as we know it never existed for Black folks in America.

And as we move through history, we end slavery, and then we have physical signs that told folks where they could walk, where they could sit, where they could eat, where they could drink, where they could do the very simple things of life. And again, very physical movements of people being monitored, being surveilled, and not following these signs again created a risk of serious bodily harm and/or death. This continued. So we go through what Alvaro was talking about, we know about the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. We know about Assata Shakur, in her book she talks a lot about when she became really big—her autobiography, excuse me—when she became pretty big in the Black liberation struggle, there was a certain point at which she stopped receiving phone bills, but yet her phone was never disconnected.

Audience: [laughter]

Assata Shakur, a Black woman.

Anika Collier Navaroli: And that was the moment that she realized that her phone was in fact wiretapped. And again, now we know what happened. Everything has been declassified, we know about COINTELPRO, we know about J. Edgar Hoover, we know all these things now. But in those movements, not just the physical movements but also the social movements of Black people were being monitored. So, to me, it’s not extraordinary when we think about today’s society. And we think about the fact that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring Black Lives Matter movement activists at things as simple as concerts. It’s not extraordinary to me that there are allegations in Chicago of Stingray devices being used to monitor the movements of protesters as they move about the streets. These things are not extraordinary in that the existence the privilege of privacy never existed for Black folks in America and to this day is not a notion that is really known.

And so I kinda want to start my thought process there and just realize and ground this conversation in the knowledge that when we talk about surveillance, when we talk about technology, we are talking about brand new tools for a thing that has always been going on.

Hamid Khan: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Hamid. I am from Los Angeles with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. I want to start off by just picking up where Anika stopped where, what I gathered was, for many communities historically speaking and even currently as well, privacy is a luxury, it’s not really a right. So I think that’s something that we need to really just at least acknowledge and put it out there. Secondly, since yesterday, if I was not working on the ground on the streets, just organizing out in Los Angeles, one would assume that surveillance is purely a Federal issue whereas the local police is kept completely out of the equation most of the time. And when you look at history, before the FBI came into existence, the police Red Squads were very much in operation. And the police Red Squads didn’t start because the Russians were coming. The police Red Squads started in the 1880s because of the Haymarket strike in Chicago. That was the formation. In 1886 Haymarket happens. In 1888, Chicago police department is the first department to formally incorporate a section which was going to engage in covert intelligence gathering and surveillance of communities. And from there on, we see this rapid escalation of the Red Squads.

So local police is and has always been on the forefront of surveillance, spying, and infiltration. There was a conversation about Stingrays, there was a conversation around automatic license plate readers, the Los Angeles Police Department has all these tools. We talked about Fusion Centers, the Los Angeles Police Department has its own internal Fusion Center as well. New York Police Department works closely with the CIA. So the point I’m trying to raise is that locally law enforcement have been on the front lines of surveillance, spying, and infiltration.

Which brings me to the point then, of how does it impact communities, and particularly communities of color. And most of the time the conversation starts from impact, rather than core concepts. Like, y’know, okay, well, this is what has happened, without us backtracking and seeing what has been the history behind this thing. Another thing that Anika raised was that this is not a moment in time, this is a continuation of history.

So Bill Bratton is known all around the world, not just in the United States, as one of the “top cops.” I mean, as much bogus propaganda as there is. And Bill Bratton is really the one who pushed the “Broken Windows” theory. So I just want to ask Paul, if you could open that Word document from Edward Banfield. So—if you can—Edward Banfield was the intellectual guru of James Q. Wilson who was one of the coauthors of the infamous Broken Windows article in The Atlantic in 1982, which was coauthored by George Kelling, and this is what set the tone for how Broken Windows was informed:

Edward C. Banfield, a white man wearing a suit and tie.

The implication that lower-class culture is pathological seems fully warranted. Rather than waste time and public money implementing policies based on the false notion that all men were created equal, better to just face facts and acknowledge the natural divisions that exist. Members of the lower classes should leave school in ninth grade, to get a jump on a lifetime of manual labor. The minimum wage should be replaced to encourage employers to create more jobs for “low-value labor.” The state should give “intensive birth-control guidance to the incompetent poor.” And the police should feel free to crack down on young lower-class men.

Edward Banfield, mid-century political scientist, University of Chicago

So that “the police should feel free to crack down on young lower-class men.” This is the origin of “Broken Windows” policing.

So this is the tally as of yesterday how many people have been murdered by law enforcement in the United States as of 2015.

The Guardian's "The Counted" data visualization project keeps demographic records of reported police murders.

Nine-hundred and two already. This is a tally that was started by The Guardian. It’s called “The Counted.” And when you do the math, every seven hours and thirty-six minutes, someone is being murdered by law enforcement. I mean, just posit this for a second. Every seven hours and thirty-six minutes. Today, as we sit here, more than three people on average will be killed by law enforcement. And look at the numbers. Los Angeles leads that. Eighteen already in 2015. When you look at per-million, 5.24 Blacks per million. 2.42 Hispanic/Latino per million. 2.1 white. So 250% is the disparate impact on the Black community on how law enforcement is murdering them.

How is the law enforcement responding when we go and protest this? Can you go to the next slide, please?

LAPD Sheriff's Department officers wearing full body armor, face plates, and other extreme military combat outfitting.

This is what we look at. This is what we are facing. This is the intense militarization of the police. This is when we go out onto the street. This is how we are met. This is how we are brutalized. So when somebody talks about privacy and then people talk about “hacking,” the previous slide shows how families are being hacked. How their spirits are being hacked. How trauma is being created. And this is what is going on the streets of Los Angeles.

And the last couple of slides I just want to show, if you wanna go to the third one. This is now happening.

The Daily Beast reports on the first legal "Taser Drones" in the United States.

North Dakota is the first State in the country that is now authorized law enforcement use of drones armed with “non-lethal weapons,” as if tasers and rubber bullets have never killed people. And lastly I just want to show you a slide. This is what we are facing. This is the LAPD’s architecture of surveillance, something that we know now.

Circular diagram depicts how the various component of the United State's domestic surveillance, spying, and infiltration architecture fit together.

From Fusion Centers to Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) program, to “See Something, Say Something,” to the Intelligence Gathering Guidelines where they can legitimately now place informers in political groups where they can also, the cops can take fictitious personas and fake identities to Facebook or social media. Then you look at Predictive Policing, then you look at TrapWire technology, which is a street-level camera that picks up your body image and immediately transfers it to the Fusion Centers, to Stingray, and then somebody was saying that Stingray is not going to be used because now they’re using “dirt-boxes,” the Digital Receiver Technology, which is Stingray on steroids. And then we move into the Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs), Drones with high-definition cameras. The DHS memo basically, and this is what leads to the how police begin surveillance of poor people, because my work is based out of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, where gentrification is running rampant, and one of the things this memo said was it took three small cases of low-level arson and they put a memo out that said if there is any housing rights activists, that if there is any rally or if there is anything going on, that should be considered a suspicious activity, and a Suspicious Activity Report should be filed on housing rights activists. And then we see the militarization, Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the Fusion Centers.

And I want to end by saying that as we are looking at this, who ultimately is going to pay the price? I mean, when we look at the murders on the street, the most recent audit of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Suspicious Activity Reporting, two years ago, came out that—now these are counter-terrorism programs, most of the police now is heading towards counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency—that all the SARs that were sent to Fusion Centers, over thirty-one percent of them were filed on Los Angeles’s Black community, the community that is less than ten percent of the population. A three-to-one disparate impact. In the gender count, fifty percent of these SARs were opened on Black women. These are counter-terrorism programs.

Lastly, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has now become the largest repository of biometrics, they have now a database where they can gather biometrics on fifteen million subjects, and that is an extension of the US military (Navy and Marine) program called the Identity Dominance System, which started in Afghanistan where they had basically taken everything off of the whole population of Afghanistan and now as of this month are launching into the second phase, which is called the IDS-2, Identity Dominance System 2.0, where they are going to start looking at a person’s gait, how you walk, how you move your hands and your arms.

So in essence, what we are seeing is now that speculative policing is going to the next level. Because what this all is, it is speculative policing, and I’ve reached my time, so I’ll stop right there.

Singer: iMiX! What I like! What I like! What I like!

[music]

Pair with David Whitehouse on the disturbingly intimate relationship of policing and schooling.

In Memoriam

Today is the fourth anniversary of Len Sassaman‘s passing. Len was a gifted programmer, he was a passionate privacy advocate—Len pioneered and maintained the Mixmaster anonymous remailer software for many years—and he was a very, very kind person. He was also a friend.

Len was the first person to walk me through setting up OTR (encrypted chat), and one of the only people I have ever known of his awesome caliber who was nevertheless able to make you feel comfortable asking what were obviously “newbie” questions.

A lot has happened in the last four years. Len’s passing lit a fire under me, personally. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today, both in terms of practical skills and in terms of philosophical approach, without the brief but powerful influence Len had on me. I’m not the person who knew him best, but I miss him all the same.

I’ve got nowhere near the expertise he had, and if it weren’t for him, I might have let that stop me. Thanks to him, I’m not. It’s slow going, but I’m still moving forward.

Tonight, I’m publishing a small, simple utility script called remail.sh that makes it just a little bit easier to use an anonymous remailer system such as the kind he maintained. It’s not much, but hopefully it can serve as a reminder that privacy is a timeless human need, and that it needs people like Len to support it as much as people like Len need supporters like us.

Len Sassaman (b. 1980 d. July 3, 2011). I miss you.

No one understands what censorship even means, because they are being censored

I’ve been enjoying my brief but focused time in The Federation and away from corporate social media so far. (“The Federation” is what we nerds who love freedom and, by extension, free software, call the distributed social network outside corporate-controlled filter bubble prisons like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.) Oh sure, there’s the usual Internet asshole with a dick pic, and I expect there will be more of them as the Federation grows in number. But for now it feels like a much earlier Internet where people generally do not speak without thinking first, are reading what others write with the intention to understand instead of the intention to respond, and best of all, are posting links to tons of stuff I have never even seen before.

Partly, this is because of the inherently international flavor of the Federation. English speakers have not yet reached such numbers that English is assumed to be the default language. Half of my “timeline” is in Spanish, German, French, or some other language. And it’s an absolute joy merely to be exposed to these other languages instead of the monotonous drawl of only one of anything, be it one and only one language, one and only one news source, and so on. Plus, my Spanish and German have been getting better, so while I still need the help of a translator to engage in any sustained way, I feel myself needing it less and less to read other’s comments. Which is awesome! :D

But what’s really noteworthy about this experience is simply the vast chasm between exposure and censorship. I don’t mean censorship in the harsh sense of an iron fist where a block screen comes up as you try to access a blog post, warning you that this content is restricted by order of the government. I mean censorship in the social sense where unquestioned assumptions and complacency are left to fester like boils in our collective minds, or where outright bullying creates fascistic ideological borders that leave emotional wounds whose scars build up like walls against other people and ideas. That kind of sustained psychosomatic injury is also censorship.

But no one recognizes it as such because no one understands what censorship even means anymore, because they are being censored. After all, as the saying goes, the worst thing about censorship is [CENSORED].

This came to the fore on my stream the other day—a stream is kind of like a “Twitter timeline” or a Tumblr “dashboard” or a Facebook “newsfeed,” but without the ads or the prompted posts or the social media gerrymandering that you don’t even know is happening, but it is, and it’s affecting what you can see without your consent—when a new friend posted about her own attempts to articulate the nuances between things like “an echo chamber,” versus “silencing people” and healthy dialogue. Having just made a significant switch in where I placed my social media energies, this was very relevant to my thoughts of the day, so I ended up writing a bit of an essay in response without really meaning to.

I wanted to share that response here. So, here goes:

I have written about this topic a lot so I don’t actually want to repeat myself again from scratch here. However, I will summarize some of my previous thoughts and then share links to my writings elsewhere so you can evaluate them at your leisure. The main points that I feel are most important to bring up in any conversation like this one are as follows:

1. Tactics versus principles

There is a difference between a tactic and a principle. A tactic is a certain action taken for a certain purpose in a certain context. This is different from a principle, which is a general guiding philosophy used to inform a given person’s choice of what action (tactic) to take, when, and why.

Things can get confusing when the same word is used to refer to a tactic and a principle. One very common example of this is the word “violence.” There are strong and compelling arguments to be made that “violent” actions are often necessary to effect the kind of political and social changes that are desirable for all humanity, and it is in fact a form of oppression on the part of people who hold the guns to insist that all actions on the part of the people who the guns are pointed at remain non-violent. Therefore, “violence” is both a tactic (the act of militant resistance against violent killers) and also a principle (the act of forbidding a group to use violence to resist violence).

The opposite is true, too: non-violence can be used as an effective tactic (see, for instance, the Civil Rights marches, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and so on in the US 1960’s for a few famous example), but it can also be a principle, in the form of political ideologies such as pacifism. These distinction is very important because there are situations in which a violent tactic is used as part of a non-violent principle. See, for instance, Nelson Mandela’s famously advocating the use of guns in the fight against South African Apartheid.

In your case, the question is “censorship,” but I think you are having trouble articulating your thoughts in part because you are not yet clear about the difference between censorship as a tactic versus censorship as a principle.

Second: Power always has a context

Another key point to always be aware of is the idea that “oppression” is not the same as “expression” because the former (“oppression”) always carries with it a contextual power, whereas expression does not. This makes oppression a type of expression, but it does not mean that all expressions are also forms of oppression. (This is analogous to “a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square.”)

As a contrived example, imagine for a moment a child alone in their room, shouting, “I hate grown ups!” This is certainly an expression of something, but is it oppression? No, because a child alone in their room has no meaningful coercive power over adults. (That is, no significant ability to force adults to do what they demand.) The inverse, however, is not true: adults do have demonstrably strong coercive power over the child. (That is, the adult can force a child to do almost anything the adult demands.) Therefore, we say that when the child expresses hatred for adults, this is not oppression, but when we say that adults force children to do things they do not consent to doing, it is oppression, even if the adult’s actions are also well-meaning. For example, it is oppressive to force children to go to school, even though the adult who forces their child to go to school believes such force is in the best interest of the child. Another, less controversial example: it is oppressive to hit children in order to make them behave as instructed, even if the adult believes such force to be in the best interests of the child. Both forceful acts are expressions of oppression, by definition.

The reason this contextualization matters so much is because it explains why “freedom of oppression” is not a meaningful statement (it is an oxymoron) but “freedom of expression” is meaningful, and important. This also explains why there are so many disagreements about what the difference between “oppression” and “expression” actually is in a given context, and I argue that this confusion is largely an intentional effort on the part of oppressors (i.e., on the part of people in power) to muddy the waters by ignoring or discarding important historical, individual, and other contexts. In fact, if you look at history, you will often see groups who take power violently also simultaneously try to destroy historical artifacts, records, and other evidence of a given context. This is not an accident, they know exactly what they are doing: they are creating an environment in which they can control and define what the context is. If they succeed, they can argue that something which was empirically not true is true, such as parents who argue that “my child can force me to do all sorts of stuff!” This is just nonsense, but if people believe it, it does not matter that it is not true, because they collectively act as if it is true. That collective delusion is therefore also an oppressive expression.

This action of rewriting history is called “erasure,” and if you look carefully for it, you will find it all over the Internet, especially (because digital conversations are so easy to erase, and censor). Erasure is a classic pattern of bullying. What you should watch out for is when Person A says something that causes hurt to Person B, and then Person B says something that hurts person A. Person A then typically responds as if the start of the conversation was when Person B said the thing that insulted them, and disregards the fact that Person B was responding to something that they, themselves, said or did that was hurtful.

So, actually, it really matters “who started it,” because that history is part of the context that informs the judgement about whether an act was oppressive or merely expressive.

Third: Words are defined by people’s reaction to them, not by the dictionary

Finally, it’s also important to realize that the single most powerful weapon that oppression has at its disposal, the tool every oppressive act must use in order to sustain itself, is the re-definition of a word or idea to mean something that it originally did not. This is technically called “appropriation” or, sometimes, “assimilation,” and it is a very nasty thing because it is so hard to untangle after it has happened. This can also be understood as a form of erasure (see above), because the point is to re-write the history of how the word or idea came to be in such a way as to make the original meaning or context hard to know.

One very common example of this is the word “censorship” itself. You are using “censorship” to mean a specific thing: the silencing of some voices and opinions in a given space. But that is not the original meaning of censorship at all. Your first clue that this was not the original meaning of censorship is that it is a different word than silencing. ;) Why have two words that mean the exact same thing, if there is not some important distinction or motivation to create the second word?

Censorship actually means “the active suppression of points of view to such a degree that those points of view do not have the ability to influence anyone who might, nevertheless, encounter them.” This is very different from silencing. It is very different from moderating comments on forums. It is a definition that acknowledges the ways in which censorship can be more than just pressing the “delete” button on a comment. For example, by this definition, censorship can also include purposefully slowing down Internet connections (“bandwidth throttling” is a form of censorship).

What’s important to realize here is that people who want to retain power they already have almost always use that power to redefine and narrow the definitions of words that were originally used to resist that power. Another good example of this is “consent,” which many people now treat as “the same thing as” the word “permission.” But these two words are not the same and, again, your first clue that they are not the same should be that they are two different words. Consent is not permission, and permission is not consent, but you can rest assured that most people (especially men) will tell you that they are, in fact, the same.

Okay, that was actually a lot longer than I had intended to write, but it was still just a summary of my many other writings on the topic. You can find a lot of my further writings about this topic by accessing the following websites, and then following links to even more of my writings if they are of interest to you. Some good places to start are:

There are actually a lot more posts than just these. For instance, you already read my “Complicity with Abuse: 101-level information social justice hobbyists are dangerously ignorant of” essay, which has a similar theme to this post. My point is simply that most of the people who are talking about these issues do not do so with much education about the topic, nor with any genuine interest to actually acquire any deep knowledge of it. The ones that do desire this are often frustrated by attempts to prevent them from gaining that knowledge (they are censored), but because these self-motivated learners are starting from a disadvantage, they inevitably believe some of the propaganda and lies that the censors supply. The most dangerous and insidious of these beliefs is that censorship (or oppression) itself is limited only to what the censors or oppressors themselves define as censorship or oppression.

I’m sure you can understand why that is a very clever way to enact censorship. ;)

HowTo: Make an archival copy of every page, image, video, and audio file on an entire website using wget

I recently announced that my blog archives will no longer be publicly available for long:

Let me repeat that: while I am still “on Tumblr” and so on for now, my archives will not remain available for very long. If you find something of mine useful, you will need to make a copy of it and host it yourself.

[…]

The errors you see when you just punch in my web address in your browser or follow a link from Google are not happening because my blogs “broke.” The errors are intentional; my blogs have simply become invisible to some while still being easily accessible to others. […] Think of my web presence like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley; so hidden from Muggles that they don’t even know what they’re missing, but if you know which brick to tap, a whole world of exciting new things awaits you….

As a result, a number of you have already asked the logical question: “Is there some easy way to automatically download your archives, instead of manually copy-and-pasting almost a decade of your posts? That would take forever!”

The answer, of course, is yes. This post is a short tutorial that I hope gives you the knowledge you need to download an entire website for offline viewing. This will work for any simple website like most blogs and personal sites, including mine. Archival geeks, this one’s for you. ;)

Preparation

A sculptor must understand stone: Know thy materials

A website is just a bunch of files. On a server, it usually looks exactly like your own computer’s desktop. A page is a file. A slash (/) indicates a folder.

Let’s say you have a website called “my-blog.com.” When you go to this website in a Web browser, the address bar says: http://my-blog.com/ What that address bar is saying, in oversimplified English, is something like, “Hey, Web browser, connect to the computer at my-blog.com and open the first file in the first folder you find for me.” That file is usually the home page. On a blog, this is usually the list of recent posts.

Then, to continue the example, let’s say you click on a blog post’s title, which is a link to a page that only contains that one blog post. This is often called a “permalink.” When the page loads, the address bar changes to something like http://my-blog.com/posts/123456. Again, in oversimplified English, what the address bar is saying is something like, “Hey, Web browser, make another connection to the computer at my-blog.com and open up the file called 123456 inside that computer’s posts folder.”

And that’s how Web browsing works, in a nutshell. Since websites are just files inside folders, the same basic rules apply to webpages as the ones that apply to files and folders on your own laptop. To save a file, you give it a name, and put it a folder. When you move a file from one folder to another, it stops being available at the old location and becomes available at the new location. You can copy a file from one folder as a new file in another folder, and now you have two copies of that file.

In the case of the web, a “file” is just a “page,” so “copying webpages” is the exact same thing as “copying files.”

Now, as many of you already surmised, you could manually go to a website, open the File menu in your Web browser, choose the Save option, give the file a name, put it in a folder, then click the link to the first entry on the web page to load that post, open the File menu in your Web browser, choose the Save option, give the file another name, put it in a folder, and so on and so on until your eyes bled and you went insane from treating yourself in the same dehumanizing way your bosses already treat you at work. Or you could realize that doing the same basic operation many times in quick succession is what computers were invented to do, and you could automate the process of downloading websites like this by using a software program (a tool) designed to do exactly that.

It just so happens that this kind of task is so common that there are dozens of software programs that do exactly this thing.

A sculptor must understand a chisel: Know thy toolbox

I’m not going to go through the many dozens if not hundreds of tools available to automatically download things from the Web. There is almost certainly an “auto-downloader” plugin available for your favorite Web browser. Feel free to find one and give it a try. Instead, I’m going to walk you through how to use simply the best, most efficient, and most powerful of these tools. It’s called wget. It stands for “Web get” and, as the name implies, it “gets stuff from the Web.”

If you’re on Windows, the easiest way to use wget is by using a program called WinWGet, which is actually two programs: it’s the wget program itself, and a point-and-click graphical user interface that gives you a way to use it with your mouse instead of only your keyboard. There’s a good article on Lifehacker about how to use WinWGet to copy an entire website (an act commonly called “mirroring”). If you’re intimidated by a command line, go get WinWGet, because the wget program itself doesn’t have a point-and-click user interface so you’ll want the extra window dressing WinWGet provides.

If you’re not on Windows, or if you just want to learn how to use wget to copy a website directly, then read on. You may also want to read on to learn more about the relevant options you can enable in wget so it works even under the most hostile conditions (like a flaky Wi-Fi connection).

Relevant wget options

While there are dozens upon dozens of wget options to the point that I know of no one who has read the entire wget manual from front to back, there are only three options that really matter for our purposes. These are:

-m or --mirror
This options turns on options suitable for mirroring. In other words, with this option enabled, wget will look at the URL you gave it, and then copy the page at that URL and all pages that first page links to which also start with the same URL as the URL of the first page until there are no more links to follow. How handy! ;)
-k or --convert-links
The manual describes this option better than I could. It reads:

After the download is complete, convert the links in the document to make them suitable for local viewing. This affects not only the visible hyperlinks, but any part of the document that links to external content, such as embedded images, links to style sheets, hyperlinks to non-HTML content, etc.

So in other words, after the download finishes, all links that originally pointed to “the computer at my-blog.com” will now point to the archived copy of the file wget downloaded for you, so you can click links in your archived copy and they will work just as they did on the original site. Woot!

--retry-connrefused
This option isn’t strictly necessary, but if you’re on a flaky Wi-Fi network or the server hosting the website you’re trying to download is itself kind of flaky (that is, maybe it goes down every once in a while and you don’t always know when that will be), then adding this option makes wget keep trying to download the pages you’ve told it are there even if it’s not able to make a connection to the website. Basically, this option makes wget totally trust you when you tell it to go download some stuff, even if it tries to do that and isn’t able to get it when it tries to. I strongly suggest using this option to get archives of my sites.

Okay, with that necessary background explained, let’s move on to actually using wget to copy whole websites.

Preparation: Get wget if you don’t already have it

If you don’t already have wget, download and install it. For Mac OS X users, the simplest wget installation option are the installer packages made available by the folks at Rudix. For Windows users, again, you probably want WinWGet. Linux users probably already have wget installed. ;)

Step 1: Make a new folder to keep all the stuff you’re about to download

This is easy. Just make a new folder to keep all the pages you’re going to copy. Yup, that’s it. :)

Step 2: Run wget with its mirroring options enabled

Now that we have a place to keep all the stuff we’re about to download, we need to let wget do its work for us. So, first, go to the folder you made. If you’ve made a folder called “Mirror of my-blog.com” on your Desktop, then you can go into that folder by typing cd "~/Desktop/Mirror of my-blog.com" at a command prompt.

Next, run wget:

wget --mirror --convert-links --retry-connrefused http://my-blog.com/

Windows users will have to dig around the WinWGet options panes and make sure the “mirror” and “convert-links” checkboxes are enabled, rather than just typing those options out on the command line. Obviously, replace http://my-blog.com/ with whatever website you want to copy. For instance, replace it with http://days.maybemaimed.com/ to download everything I’ve ever posted to my Tumblr blog. You’ll immediately see a lot of output from your terminal that looks like this:

wget --mirror --convert-links --retry-connrefused http://days.maybemaimed.com/

--2015-02-27 15:08:06--  http://days.maybemaimed.com/
Resolving days.maybemaimed.com (days.maybemaimed.com)... 66.6.42.22, 66.6.43.22
Connecting to days.maybemaimed.com (days.maybemaimed.com)|66.6.42.22|:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: unspecified [text/html]
Saving to: ‘days.maybemaimed.com/index.html’

    [ <=>                                                       ] 188,514     --.-K/s   in 0.1s    

Last-modified header missing -- time-stamps turned off.
2015-02-27 15:08:08 (1.47 MB/s) - ‘days.maybemaimed.com/index.html’ saved [188514]

Now just sit back, relax, let wget work for as long as it needs to (which could take hours, depending on the quality of your Internet connection). Meanwhile, rejoice in the knowledge that you never need to treat yourself like a piece of dehumanized machinery ever again because, y’know, we actually have machines for that.

Even before wget finishes its work, though, you’ll see files start appearing inside the folder you made. You can now drag-and-drop one of those files into your Web browser window to open that file. It will look exactly like the blog web page from which it was downloaded. Voila! Archive successfully made!

Special secret bonuses

The above easily works on any publicly accessible website. These are websites that you don’t need to log into to see. But you can also do the same thing on websites that do require you to log into them, though I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. All you have to do is learn a few different wget options, which are all explained in the wget manual. (Hint: The option you want to read up on is the --load-cookies option.)

What I do want to explain, however, is that the above procedure won’t currently work on some of my other blogs because of additional techno-trickery I’m doing to keep the Muggles out, as I mentioned at the start of this post. However, I’ve already created an archive copy of my other (non-Tumblr) sites, so you don’t have to.1 Still, though, if you can figure out which bricks to tap, you can still create your own archive of my proverbial Diagon Alley.

Anyway, I’m making that other archive available on BitTorrent. Here’s the torrent metafile for an archive of maybemaimed.com. If you don’t already know how to use BitTorrent, this might be a good time to read through my BitTorrent howto guide.

Finally, if data archival and preservation is something that really spins your propeller and you don’t already know about it, consider browsing on over to The Internet Archive at Archive.org. If you live in San Francisco, they offer free lunches to the public every Friday (which are FUCKING CATERED AND DELICIOUS, I’VE BEEN), and they always have need of volunteers.

  1. If you’re just curious, the archive contains every conference presentation I’ve ever given, including video recordings, presentation slides, and so on, as well as audio files of some podcasts and interviews I’ve given, transcripts of every one of these, all pictures uploaded to my site, etc., and weighs in at approximately 1 gigabyte, uncompressed. []

The mystery of the disappearing horizontal scrollbar

A classic exchange from the WordPress Support Forum for one of my plugins:

Them:

Hi,

When I first installed this plugin, there was an automatic horizontal scrollbar so that users could move to see all of the columns. However, it has now disappeared which means one of the columns is not fully readable.

Can you help?

Thanks.

Me:

Right above the button you clicked to post this question there is a line of text that reads:

Did you include a link to your site, so that others can see the problem?

Given that you didn’t notice this, I am going to suggest that you slow down and think about what was different on your site from when you installed the plugin (and experienced it working as expected) and now (when it’s not). If you still need help after that, I suggest you first think more about the answer to the question quoted above before you post again.

Them:

I apologise, it was an oversight on my behalf, as you have pointed out. Put it down to Friday ‘end of the week’ fuzzy head, if you like.

The pages where we are currently using the plugin are [here and here].

To clarify, if you hover around the rows and columns, it appears you can swipe and move it around, but the visible arrows and scrollbar is not visible. We have a lot of not very IT-literate people who use our website for support so it would be handy to make it like a visible scrollbar to click on again, if possible.

Thanks for your patience.

Me:

A clarifying question: you want a scrollbar to appear but one does not exist even when the browser window is too narrow to fit the whole table?

That is to say, I am confused by the statement “the visible arrows and scrollbar is not visible.” :/

Them:

Yes, we want a scrollbar and the arrows that go either end of said scrollbar to display because the browser window is too narrow to fit the whole table.

We feel that people would prefer to have the arrows on the scrollbar visible to encourage them to click them so that they can see the columns that go off of the screen.

Me:

So, when I go to your pages they both show scroll bars just as you say you want them. :\ I’m afraid whatever you’re seeing is specific to your combination of computer and browser.

It’s very likely that users who browse to your site are seeing the scroll bars show automatically. At least, that’s what happens when I load the site.

The beauty of the Web is that users are able to define their experience so it suits them best. Users whose browsers and operating systems are set to show scroll bars are showing scroll bars. This is good news, because it means you do not need to worry about your site malfunctioning: it is not malfunctioning and, as you say, nothing about it has changed.

How would you design an online social network that was hostile to abusers?

Everyone realizes that the Internet’s public squares have a harassment problem. No one seems to know what to do about it. I argue that’s because they don’t know how to think about online harassment and abuse—or even power, more generally. I argue that I do. But don’t take my word for it. Take my ideas, and implement them yourselves. Then let’s let the results speak for themselves.

“So, maymay,” I can already hear you asking, “how would you design an online social network that was hostile to abusers?” You’re probably asking this because you either don’t know that I’ve written about it before, or you haven’t been able to understand from what I’ve written how to take the lessons from code I’ve deployed in the Predator Alert Tool project and apply it to your own projects. That’s okay. You’re not alone.

Recently, I received an email from a developer asking for advice about this exact issue. They’ve told me they’d be fine with my sharing our conversation here, in the hopes that it gets other developers thinking about what they can do to proactively “protect people from abusers online,” as they put it. Here is our exchange (slightly edited for anonymity and clarity) so far. The email I received went something like this:

Hello! I’m building a new social network and want to be pro-active about protecting people. I wanted to reach out as I have little experience with protecting people from shitty people and abusers online, and the Predator Alert Tools is great. Is there any way I can help contribute to those projects, and/or utilise them somehow with [my project] to help protect people?

Any help you can give would be appreciated.

Thanks,

[Anon Developer]

I wrote back a few days later:

Thanks [for reaching out, Anon Developer].

Yes.

You can contribute to any of the PATs in any way you like. Here’s a short “how to help” page for the project. It talks mostly about Predator Alert Tool for Facebook but it’s relevant to all the tools.

Well, there are a number of themes that run through the entire suite of tools, and those are the only things I can talk about without knowing more about [your specific project]. So for now, let me just point your attention to these two blog posts about the tools.

First, “More on ‘The Match Percentage Fallacy’, or The Influence of Rolequeerness on the Predator Alert Tool project.” This post explicitly uses the language of game theory to talk about protecting people from online predation. An excerpt:

Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid highlights the signals players send when they answer OkCupid’s Match Questions to other players in order to de-silo as much information as possible, thereby hoping to expand the set of possible moves a given player (user of PAT-OKC) is aware of and enabling them to analyze the given situation (the decision tree of their “turn”) with the information they received through the tool. This is a fundamentally different approach than the one OkCupid’s “Match Percentage” interface provides, and this is no coincidence.

The “Match Percentage” interface is designed to account for “the best possible outcome” for OkCupid itself, not the best outcome for the OkCupid user. This makes sense when you realize that OkCupid is a company, and they have their own incentives and have defined the win conditions of this complex game very differently than their users (we) have.

In other words, the single most obvious problem with online “dating” sites (a category which include “social networking sites,” obviously) is that they are designed from the ground-up to focus on filtering data out as opposed to considering related data important. This is precisely the environment in which serial rapists are most protected. If you are serious about building a social networking site that is proactive about maintaining an environment hostile to these kinds of abuses, you need to focus on identifying and surfacing information about signals between users that are negative as well as positive. Again: rather than burying those signals, you need to surface them. Use OkCupid’s “Match Percentage” interface as a perfect example of what not to do.

If that’s curious to you and, again, if you’re interested in pursuing this line of questioning further, write back and tell me more about [your project], and yourself, and so on. Let’s have a conversation. Predator Alert Tool’s implementations are different depending on the site for which the specific tool was intended not only because the technology of different sites is different, as you know, but also because the culture of each website is different; users interact with the sites differently based on the messaging, context, and approaches different sites take. So Predator Alert Tool also needs to integrate with a culture, not just a programming language.

For more on that, see this early post by one of my collaborators, “Rape Culture, meet Internet Culture.” An excerpt:

Probably the most well-known recent pushback against rape culture is the Predditors story, in which some Reddit users discovered and published the identities of others who had been posting sexualized pictures of young women. The Predditors tumblr has since been shut down, but its contents are still available in a GoogleDoc here. Sexual abusers have also been outed via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Blogs provide a public square for arguments about rape culture to rage. Twitter users directly critique the media. I’ve heard rumors of a Tumblr hashtag used by survivors to post the names and addresses of their rapists. The FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine (recently rolled into the Predator Alert Tools suite as the “Predator Alert Tool for FetLife”) collects anonymous reports of consent violations in the BDSM community and then flags the FetLife profiles of alleged abusers. And I recently helped beta-test a new tool, The Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid, which highlights self-reported sexually violent opinions and behaviors by OkCupid users.

I don’t think any of these tools, or even all of them together, will put the nail in the coffin of rape culture. Like other kinds of abuse, rape culture adapts to new environments quickly. Activists need to stay on our games in order to keep exposing new forms of it as they appear. We need to keep experimenting, trying new things, and being creative with whatever resources we have available. What I find most powerful about these tools is the ways each seems tailored to the specific culture from which it emerged. Predditors addresses rape culture on Reddit by retaliating against its perpetrators using technological savvy, counter-rhetoric about free speech and privacy, and a “troll the trolls” sort of strategy all suited to Reddit’s particular cultural sensibility. FAADE, on the other hand, capitalizes on a mentality strongly espoused by FetLife users that the BDSM community is like a “small town” in which everyone is connected to everyone else by kinship ties. BDSMers often rely on personal references and a player’s public reputation to assess their safety, thus a database allowing FetLife profiles (the site of a player’s public reputation online) to be tagged with negative references from community members has a powerful impact on the sub-cultural consciousness. What would a similar tool look like for Twitter or Facebook?

So again, the question you’re asking is bigger than an email. I’d be interested in having that bigger conversation with you, if you are serious about having it, too.

Thanks again for reaching out.

Cheers,
-maymay
Maymay.net
Cyberbusking.org

I was pleased by the developer’s response:

Thank you so much for all this information.

I often struggle to digest information like this; I’ll be re-reading these articles a few times to try to understand them more fully.

I would like to have the bigger conversation, but […] I need to watch out I don’t bite off more than I can chew. I regard this topic as highly important and a responsibility I now have.

The use of game theory resonates with me, as I’ve used ideas from my basic understanding of game theory as influence in the structure of [my project] (only very crudely). So if I can expand those ideas in a way which protects people, all the better.

Am I right in my understanding that one core idea is that negative information is intentionally hidden in most places, in order to benefit the company? So (and this is a contrived example) where [my project] might track how many messages a person receives as a positive, it should also track, process, and weight the negative events associated; messages which go unrelieved to, messages reported as abusive etc?

Thanks again,

[Anon Developer]

My response tried to elaborate on “negative” signaling:

Of course. That’s fine. Take your time.

It’s good that you consider this a responsibility you have, because you already had this responsibility, even before you were developing [your project]. ;)

You’re almost right about your understanding.

The bigger point being made here is that, from the perspective of users, [your project] is a hostile, not a friendly. You, as the company, are not a passive facilitator of information. You are in a decidedly dominant position over your users, and this means that you have the capacity to be predatory in relation to them, because when it comes to their interactions with or through [your project], you are obscenely more powerful than they are.

So, yes, you should also track, process, and weight negative events. But you should also not presume to necessarily know what events are negative and what events are positive. The minute you think you can determine what negative signaling is for someone else, you become much more likely to fail to empower that other person. It’s not up to you to determine what’s negative or what’s not. You can, of course, do some things to make this more obvious, and the “report abuse” feature is a start. But the problem with “abuse reports” is that those reports are sent to the entity in the [project] ecosystem that already has the most power: [the project/website/company itself]. That’s a recipe for disaster.

One simple way to tweak this system would be to simply display a tally of all the abuse reports a given profile has received next to their profile. Allow people to click-through on that icon to a list of all abuse reports filed against that profile. Don’t hide it. Don’t make excuses for it. Don’t arbitrate it. Don’t moderate it. In a centralized system such as I understand [your project] to be (I signed up for an account today and had a look around), a moderation system is far more likely to end up as a “benevolent” dictatorship rather than an effective means of anti-abuse behavior. You should not appoint yourself as the police.

For more on this point, see my blog post, “Revisiting why ‘no moderation’ is a feature, not a bug, in Predator Alert Tool for Facebook.” An excerpt:

“Moderation” is a governance tool that may make sense in the context of online communities with a relatively homogenous populace, such as multiplayer video games or topically-oriented forums. But moderation is inherently in conflict with the goal of dissolving authority and dispersing power amongst a heterogenous populace already prone to conflict. There is no system of moderation that is not also a system of social control. And in the context of a project explicitly designed to overcome the iniquities introduced to human experience by traditional mechanisms of social control, adding a traditional mechanism of social control is shortsighted at best and active sabotage at worst.

We realize this is difficult to understand at first. After all, there is currently no physical-world social context wherein we are free from the power of authorities we did not choose and also do not agree with. Everyone has a parent, a teacher, or a boss—even the fucking police. As one PAT collaborator wrote:

We’re all so accustomed to having our spaces monitored and moderated and overseen “for our own safety” that sometimes, when we take the well-being of our communities into our own hands, we appear to be doing more harm than good. That’s only because we’re comparing our efforts to the imaginary “safe” world we’ve been told that we live in, not to the dangerous realities that survivors actually face online and off.

Put another way, from the perspective of a vulnerable populace, namely people who are the targets of rape and physical abuse, a system that erodes the power of central authorities (such as website admins, or the cops) is a move towards safety, not away from it.

In other words, the premise of [your project] is to connect people with different characteristics who want to engage positively. This means you have to provide them with the information both to find people they like and to avoid people they don’t like. You can’t do this effectively if you only surface positive signals while hiding negative ones. And to effectively surface negative signals, you have to re-examine your assumptions about what “negative” means because, if you don’t, especially in the context of a diverse user base, you’re going to get it wrong for at least some users. When you get it wrong for them, you create an environment in which it is particularly easy to predate on that specific subsection of your user base.

That’s why most dating sites are a breeding ground for predatory users. Most dating sites are, after all, programmed by men.

Again, feel free to email me whenever you’re ready for another round. This is basically what I do for “a living.” :P I would strongly encourage you to read the posts tagged with “Predator Alert Tool” on the archives of my various blogs, of course.

My hope in sharing this is to encourage other people to think more critically and creatively about what structural changes are necessary to facilitate anti-abuse action. Recent attempts by Twitter and WAM have been decidedly stupid. And I don’t say that lightly. These are some exceptionally talented people in a number of fields ranging from gender advocacy to technology. And yet most acts I see being taken—”moderation superpowers” to use the most recent buzzword—is downright counterproductive. Obviously.

It’s time we stopped believing that authority or authorities in public spheres are a solution. The longer we wait to face the fact that power corrupts, the more abuse we’ll bring down on ourselves, our communities, and our peers. Heed this warning: do not police.

The Internet as an Identity-Multiplying Technology

When I saw that a friend had shared this years-old post about Facecebook founder Mark Zuckerberg‘s infamous remark that “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” I thought I’d chime in:

Actually, Zuckerberg’s is a common misunderstanding of telecommunications.

If you’ve done even a tiny bit of academic study on media you will have encountered McLuhan’s “The Medium Is the Massage,” which talks about the ways that many people “approach the new with the psychological conditioning and sensory responses of the old.” In other words, people treat the Internet like TV we can click on, just as they treated TV like radio we can see. This is obviously wrong, but it takes a lot of time for people as a demographic whole to approach new technological abilities in what we might call a “native” way. See, for instance, the entire discussion around “Digital natives,” of which I will note Zuckerberg is not.

What’s at issue in the “nymwars” (or “Real Names Policies”) is not integrity at all, but rather power and control. Namely, that of an authoritarian entity such as a government to have the power to legitimize what your identity is (your “real name”), and to control what you can do with that identity. Facebook has a cozy relationship with governments because the interests of both governments and Facebook are well-aligned with respect to how they would like people to use identities. This is why Facebook appeals to the legal system to enforce its “Real Names” policy, see specifically the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act clauses about “misrepresenting identity” for “authorized” versus “unauthorized access.”

In point of fact, however, identities are not inherently static things—there is no “real” you distinct from any other you, at least not any more or less “real” than any other (“part of”) you. They can and do change with time, space, and other factors. The physical capability of communicating to people far away from us therefore has a direct impact on the identities we hold, and subsequently, choose to claim, because that is a fundamentally different thing than speaking to someone who is next to you. This began with the invention of writing, not the telegraph. The telegraph simply sped up the process.

What Zuckerberg and many other people don’t understand is that the impact telecommunication actually has on identities is a fracturing and multiplying of identities. They are still stuck cognitively processing the Internet as a “window” through which you can “look at things” like “pages.” (Why do you think they called it a “Browser window”?) But what the Internet actually is, with respect to who we are (as opposed to we do) is very different. The Internet is much more like a ham radio than a telephone. Just as ham radio operators took callsigns when transmitting, so do we take “screen names” when writing online forum posts.

What this means in the Internet, a world with unlimited space distinctly unlike ham radio, is that an individual body can be influential in an unlimited number of arenas that may never intersect. And, given that, it means an individual body can have an unlimited number of distinct identities, each one time-and-space-sliced. There is a real, whole “identity” in each of these time-and-space slices of influence.

The Internet is therefore unique in that exactly contrary to Zuckerberg’s self-serving assertions, the Internet is an identity multiplexing technology. It is not, never has been, and I strongly argue must never be allowed to be an identity trunking technology.

End rant.

The interaction between telecommunication and identity, as well as this interaction’s effect on societal notions of safety and privacy, has been one of my primary philosophical inquiries. For more, see also:

Artist devises face mask of his own face, makes many copies, sells them at cost, all to protect the residents of his home city of Chicago from surveillance

When you wear these [“URME Surveillance”] devices the cameras will track me instead of you and your actions in public space will be attributed as mine because it will be me the cameras see. All URME devices have been tested for facial recognition and each properly identifies the wearer of me on facebook, which has some of the most sophisticated facial recognition software around.

Artist Leo Selvaggio of Chicago, IL lives in one of the most surveilled cities in America. I spent only several weeks in the city, but I was utterly spooked. My hometown of New York City is quickly becoming a similar dystopian future.

Rather than sabotage surveillance cameras, which I fully support, by the way, and have wanted to start a campaign around for a while, Selvaggio invites “the viewer to consider the malleability of their own identities by misrepresenting and corrupting” his own:

I have been interested in thinking about identity as data in the face of social media and how this “data” is tied to the larger context of surveillance and its effects on how we perform those identities in public space.

This feels a bit like a remix of that famous penny arcade aphorism:

Normal person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad

Of course, Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (more academically known as the online disinhibition effect) has been thoroughly disproven, yet it’s still used as an excuse by companies like Google and Facebook (and, not incidentally, your local police department) to pin your legal identity to every action you take. Danah Boyd rightfully calls the insistence on this identity pinning “an abuse of power” on the part of these companies, but she stops short of accusing the police and the government of doing the same thing, even though they obviously are (which betrays her own bias, but that’s neither here nor there).

Put bluntly, anonymity is not the magical X factor that turns ordinary gold-hearted citizens into Total Fuckwads. Those commenters were already Total Fuckwads.

Given that, I think Selvaggio’s greatest threat comes not from someone “corrupting” his identity, but from The Powers That Be who will make him into a criminal for helping others temporarily abandon their own. The writing is on the wall: helping other people use your own identity online (such as by sharing your HBO password) is in fact already a felony.

How to use Tumblr as a web host for a blog you FULLY control, without paying anything

If you're not a computer nerd, buying web hosting can feel like buying a house. Or, worse, like buying a car. Or, even worse than that, a new computer.

It doesn't have to be painful. In fact, most people who want a simple blog or website don't even need to buy web hosting in the first place. And, this is the kicker, if you do end up buying web hosting, sooner or later you'll realize that you've invested your whole identity, or your business, or whatever's important to you, in a place that you don't actually have any control over, and can't easily leave. Backups will become important, but they're gonna be a massive headache. You may find yourself hitting resource quotas, or your credit card will be charged for hidden and contract "renewal" fees or some such bullshit like that, none of which you were told about when you signed up. And, worst of all, you could find yourself digitally gagged, censored, or even outright banned just because someone else on the same "shared server" you were assigned was behaving badly.

Fuck. That. Shit. And, more to the point, why on God's green Earth would you pay to be subjected to such bullshit?

With just a little bit of patience, enough computer know-how to understand how to click a few download links and move files from one folder to another, and a willingness to read this post, you can avoid every single one of those frustrating web host experiences, all while ending up with seamless, automatic backups of your entire blog, the ability to legally dodge shitty censorship and corporate contracts alike, and the ability to easily participate in the ever-expanding social media frenzy without spending hours managing all your different accounts manually. And did I mention it's free?

Read the full post, it's worth it.

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Why are you so angry on the Internet?

This post was originally published on July 28, 2012, on my other blog.

Transcript:

Why are you so angry on the Internet?

A lot of what I think confuses people about me is the fact that I interact with them in a way that’s unfamiliar to them. And that can be scary ‘cause it’s inherently scary to be interacted with in ways that you’re not familiar with. And that’s totally fair and valid.

The other night I was talking to somebody who was like, “It’s like you have split personality. You’re so different in person.” And the thing is, they were like, “Well, I hope the significant part of you that’s real is the part that’s in person because that person online is really mean, and really angry all the time, and I don’t like that person. But I really like to spend time with this person—you—IN PERSON.”

And the thing is, is like, yeah! I am really angry a lot. Heh. I mean, fuck! There’s a lot to be angry about, and anger’s a pretty valid emotion that I feel pretty often, and I feel like it’s a perfectly valid thing to express—often, when I feel angry.

The question is, do I express that in person or online? Where do I put this anger? How do I express this anger? How do I express this anger in a way that’s actually safer for everyone involved?

How do YOU express your anger?

I could express this anger in person, but if I did that in person the people around me would have much less control over whether or not they want to engage with that anger. Now, if I express that anger online, any one of you can literally press a button and get me out of your space. It’s called blocking—it’s why I use it so often. The Internet’s wonderful that way.

I use the Internet partially as a shield, and partially as a way to create a communications mechanism that gives the people who choose to interact with that communication control over their engagement of it. And that’s super important for being able to create safer spaces to express emotions that are uncomfortable. And expressing emotions that are uncomfortable is something that our society very rarely gives us a chance to do in person.

You’re supposed to be conciliatory, especially if you were socialized as someone who was always perceived to be female. It’s really…just a violent place to be.

Now, verbal violence is violence and can be awful. Physical violence is also awful. And verbal violence in physical spaces is way, way, WAY more threatening than verbal violence on the Internet.

I think it’s important to give people opportunities to express themselves in ways that are comfortable for them, and I also think it’s important to give those people that you’re expressing uncomfortable feelings towards—such as anger—an opportunity to say, “I’m done now. I check out. No more. I’m finished.”

And what easier way to give them that opportunity than to allow them to press a button and have your image and your words deleted off their screen, never to be seen again, if they don’t want to.

‘Cause y’see, most people use the Internet like a yes-machine, like a filter bubble, like a way to find agreement, like a way to create only the thing that they’re already familiar with. And I don’t think that’s a very interesting use of the Internet. (It’s called a filter bubble by Eli Pariser, who has a very good TEDTalk about that.) And it’s boring. It’s just a boring interaction.

I wanna use the Internet to find things that I disagree with, to find things that make me uncomfortable, to engage and actually interact with things that are really frustrating. Because if I can engage with things are really frustrating, when I get too frustrated or too angry then I can just…stop. I can just press a button and it all goes away. And that’s beautiful.

It’s something I can’t do in person. I can’t turn off the channel. I can’t change the web page, if I’m in person. But I can if I’m online.

And so can you.

So where are you putting your anger, and why? Who is at the brunt of that anger, and why? If you haven’t thought about that, and you’re upset or confused when I block you, or when I’m angry on the Internet, or when I engage with people in confrontational ways that force them to respond or act or think about something even if that response is just to block me, I don’t think that you really understand how I use the Internet. And I question whether or not the way that you express the feelings that are most uncomfortable for others for you to express is being expressed in a consensual way.

Give people the opportunity to back off, to say no, to check out and what better [easier] way to do that than by pressing a button?

Split personality? Maybe. I’m sure it can come off that way. But, it’s all real. I’m really angry. I have real reasons to be angry. I’m also really careful about where I put that anger. And I’d rather do that in a place where people can press a button and say “no” to the engagement of that feeling, than be forced to interact with me in person and not know how to press a button to tell me to stop.

Block people. It’s not a personal slight. Unless you want it to be. In which case, fuck you.