How to Catch an Extremist?

Facebook used to be a fun place.  As we all well know, that is not necessarily the case today.  Unfortunately it has also provided a means for terrorist networking.  I know this is not the happy “talk” that I like to post on this site, but we can not afford to be naive in how social networking is being used.  But do you really think artificial intelligence will save us from this blight of hatred and terrorism in which Facebook seems to play a large part?  I am not very reassured from what I read on both sides of the equation.

Facebook representatives have said they were hopeful that the new artificial intelligence technology could be used to counter any form of extremism that violated the company’s terms of use, although for the time being it will be “narrowly focused.”  Representatives from the international freedom of expression group at the Electronic Frontier Foundation wonder if Facebook’s action will be effective or will it be overreach.  “Are they trying to discourage people from joining terrorist groups to begin with, or to discourage them from from posting about terrorism on Facebook.”  I guess the answer could be “both,” but I think that Facebook is still trying to minimize the use of its platform as a terrorist “social network.”

Let’s start somewhere.  This is a needed form of network censorship.

Ray Myers

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Messages of Love and Hate – Can Twitter Save Us?

Just two days ago, I wrote about how Twitter was being used as a online messenger of love, particularly when you can Direct Message your beloved.  Unfortunately, it seems that it also can be used as a messenger of hate, as recently witnessed in Europe. Twitter has been cited as failing to meet European standards for removing hate speech online.  The battle betweeen European policy makers and tech companies over what should be permitted online has pitted freedom of speech campaigners against those who say hate speech – in whatever form – has no place on the Internet.

Twitter has said that it had invested in new reporting procedures to allow individuals to flag problems with hate speech, and it was striving to balance people’s right to freedom of expression with the need to police material on its network.  The European Union members are particularly concerned over the increases in terrorist attacks on their soil.  After the recent attacks in Manchester, England, Theresa May, the country’s Prime Minister, called on tech companies to strengthen their monitoring of extremist speech online.  And in Germany, lawmakers are planning new legislation that could lead to fines of up to $50 million of companies do not act quickly in policing harmful material on their digital services.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about Europe anymore.  So-called President Donald Trump certainly doesn’t seem to care, particularly when they talk about climate change and NATO defenses.  We have friends in Russia.

Ray Myers

Dazed and Confused in Silicon Valley

It’s all about stopping terrorism.  Who’s not for that?  And I certainly believe that the individual rights we have as Americans are the envy of most citizens inhabiting this earth, but I think we are now entering an age of increased cyber security demands that may signal the end of the open Internet.  At least the free open access that we have enjoyed over the last four decades.  Ironically it appears to be our attempts at being more “social” on the Intenet that have become the most popular tools for terrorists to co-opt in pursuit of their sinister ends.

 But I may be overreacting.  I should be encouraged that this past week senior executives from our leading tech companies and high-ranking federal officials met in San Jose to try and figure this all out.  The expected participanting companies included YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Apple.  Maybe the federal government  will appoint a “Social Media Czar” who will keep an eye on all this.  I really don’t think that is going to happen, but I am not really that sure how we will be able to protect freedom of speech while establishing new rules to determine when that freedom has been abused in social media?  

We may soon learn what some of those changes may be, but we may find that we can not be as socialable on social media as we once were.  Perhaps there will be some ingenious, creative solution upon which all can agree.  Let’s hope that this “Gordian knot” of government policy and individual freedoms can  be untied.

Ray Myers


Mass surveillance of Web Data – U.K. and U.S. Differ

I know we are not talking about a war of independence here, but there are interesting parallels in terms of how these two governments on either side of the Atlantice view access to data on the Internet.   The U.K. is proposing in recently introduced legislation, the  Investigatory Powers Bill, that they would have access to citizens’ “Internet connection records,” for up to a year.  This would not include the actual content of the Internet activity, but if deemed necessary, they could obtain a court warrant in order to collect this additional information.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is perhaps the strongest advocate for the Bill.  “Do we need that data when people are using social media to commit . . . crimes rather than just a fixed or mobile phone?  My answer is yes.”  For many Americans this more expansive type of government oversight may be seen as a threat to our engrained sense of individual liberty and independence.  We may even feel compelled to declare our own “inalienable right” to freedom from such government surveillance.

Who ever thought that social media would become a tool for terrorism?  But this may have only been inevitable.  These powerful new communication tools are in all of our hands to be used for either good or evil.

Ray Myers