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      Water. As I’ve said for many years. The world is facing an imminent water crisis, with demand expected to outstrip the supply of fresh water by 40 percent by the end of this decade, experts have said on the eve of a crucial UN water summit. I’ll use the US as an example, though this going to effect almost all countries, some much worse than others, and it wi […]
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OccupyWallStreet: To the naysayers

"Find a space and occupy it, even if it's only your own mind"

You know who you are.  You’re the ones who are trying to convince us that there’s something fishy about OWS.  That it sounds too much like OFA.  And as I have said already, if it turns out that OWS is a sneaky move by Obama to create the pressure he needs to do what he was supposed to be doing for the last three years, I will be the first one to denounce OWS, and the country in general will look very disfavorably on his political campaign. Any candidate that uses this kind of deception to win some campaign battle while allowing such misery to happen on so grand a scale does not deserve my vote or your vote.  People do not like to be pushed out of the middle class through unemployment and crushing debt just so the political class can out psych each other in some high stakes game.  As Naomi Klein said, “You are not the cannon fodder for Washington policy wonks”.

I happen to think the movement is genuine.  It’s getting people from all over the country involved and it’s giving them a sense of control, which has been lacking since the Democrats f%^&*ed us over and installed a cypher presidential candidate instead of a Democrat.  It’s also very interesting to watch it grow and develop.  Fascinating, which is why I like to cover it.  It’s unpredictable.  And if it takes them some time to figure out what they want, it still will be a blip on the historical timescale.  This movement has spread like wildfire, it appeals to many diverse demographic groups and the internet will help facilitate the way it gets things done.  I also don’t see a lot of tedious wordsmithing which tends to kill a movement quicker than spit.

But OK, some of you will still be nagging doubters.  If I didn’t know better, I would almost say you were trolls trying to disuade liberals and progressives from actually getting the band back together and doing a gig. And that would seem to suit the parties very well, wouldn’t you think?  Neither one of them has any interest in making working people look good and united and determined to get respect and their money back.   It suits both very well that OWS is made to look as bad as possible.  Scare away more conservative types by making them look like degenerates; scare the liberals away by telling them it’s just a smokescreen covering for another nasty Obama fanbase operation.

I don’t have to give you reasons why you should or shouldn’t support OccupyWallStreet.  I don’t speak for the movement but it’s not particularly difficult to figure out what it is they stand for and what they hope to accomplish.  When they figure out the best way of getting that something, then you’ll get your answer.  Until then, take and old cold tater and wait.  If you want to stand up with OWS, OK then; if you don’t, well, that just means that there will be one less person representing your point of view.  And if you’re determined to believe that it’s an offshoot of OFA, then you owe it to yourself, and to the rest of us who are sick of your persistent, belligerent grumpiness, to go to an occupation site and check it out for yourself.  There’s even an occupation in the tundra so don’t complain that there aren’t any around you.

Then you’ll know for sure what’s real and what’s not real because you will have been able to collect and analyze your own data.  Until then, go complain and distract on someone else’s blog.  I’m not interested in arguing with people who aren’t willing to do the work.  It makes me suspicious that they are up to no good.

A Warning to Facebook Users

Yesterday, Julie Zhou, a product design manager at Facebook, wrote a proposal in the NYTimes titled, Online, Anonymity Breeds Contempt.  This is the latest salvo in the Civility Wars meme that has been floating around the internet but this one has more severe consequences for free speech than any proposition passed by the righteous Christian voters of Oklahoma.

Zhou’s premise is that the online world is populated by trolls, which almost seems like an idea for a fantasy series world.  We all know what trolling is, although Zhou’s definition, “defined as the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums”, is rather broad.  Trolls come in many flavors.  Some of them definitely have an agenda and use carefully crafted tools of the marketing trade to manipulate readers, all of this without raising the voice.  Yes, trolls are nasty and unpleasant and sometimes downright creepy.  That’s what spam filters and septic tanks are for.

They are also anonymous.  Zhou has a problem with anonymity.  In Zhou’s world, anonymity is the scourge that must be eliminated so that we can all speak openly and harmoniously, where users can get a friction free experience and share their Farmville produce with each other.  All very *nice* and completely soporific.  But Zhou’s explanation of the perils of anonymity had my tinfoil antenna twitching:

Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.

Many forums and online communities are looking for ways to strike back. Back in February, Engadget, a popular technology review blog, shut down its commenting systemfor a few days after it received a barrage of trollish comments on its iPad coverage.

Many victims are turning to legislation. All 50 states now have stalking, bullying or harassment laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication. Last year, Liskula Cohen, a former model, persuaded a New York judge to require Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who she felt had defamed her, and she has now filed a suit against the blogger. Last month, another former model, Carla Franklin, persuaded a judge to force YouTube to reveal the identity of a troll who made a disparaging comment about her on the video-sharing site.

But the law by itself cannot do enough to disarm the Internet’s trolls. Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity. Reuters, for example, announced that it would start to block anonymous comments and require users to register with their names and e-mail addresses in an effort to curb “uncivil behavior.”

Some may argue that denying Internet users the ability to post anonymously is a breach of their privacy and freedom of expression. But until the age of the Internet, anonymity was a rare thing. When someone spoke in public, his audience would naturally be able to see who was talking.

Others point out that there’s no way to truly rid the Internet of anonymity. After all, names and e-mail addresses can be faked. And in any case many commenters write things that are rude or inflammatory under their real names.

I have a problem with the idea that anonymity on the internet should be denied to the casual user in a thread or that anonymity is a scourge on the internet, a necessary EEEEVVVVIL.  I suspect that few commenters who post to blogs or pages on sensitive subjects such as politics, religion, homosexuality or just sex in general, would feel that anonymity is a problem that needs a solution.  Without anonymity, many online personalities would stay trapped in their heads, unable to find an outlet to express their opinions, dissent or eccentricities.

And then there is the issue of what constitutes trolling.  One person’s harrassment may be another person’s vigorous attempts at debate.  Long time readers of The Confluence will recall that this blog was created as a result of being kicked off of DailyKos in the early stages of the primary wars of 2008.  The peaceful and genteel, law abiding citizens of DailyKos ran me out of town on a rail because I had the temerity to question their consensus reality about Barack Obama and challenged them to look at their behavior as moblike, forcing Kossacks to convert to Obama or die.  (See Obamaphiles carry out Jihad on DailyKos)

Zhou’s recommendations for *fixing* the troll problem are remarkably (uncannily?) similar to the DailyKos model.  She would have ‘trusted users’ among other tools:

The technology blog Gizmodo is trying an audition system for new commenters, under which their first few comments would be approved by a moderator or a trusted commenter to ensure quality before anybody else could see them. After a successful audition, commenters can freely post. If over time they impress other trusted commenters with their contributions, they’d be promoted to trusted commenters, too, and their comments would henceforth be featured.

Disqus, a comments platform for bloggers, has experimented with allowing users to rate one another’s comments and feed those ratings into a global reputation system called Clout. Moderators can use a commenter’s Clout score to “help separate top commenters from trolls.”

At Facebook, where I’ve worked on the design of the public commenting widget, the approach is to try to replicate real-world social norms by emphasizing the human qualities of conversation. People’s faces, real names and brief biographies (“John Doe from Lexington”) are placed next to their public comments, to establish a baseline of responsibility.

Facebook also encourages you to share your comments with your friends. Though you’re free to opt out, the knowledge that what you say may be seen by the people you know is a big deterrent to trollish behavior.

This kind of social pressure works because, at the end of the day, most trolls wouldn’t have the gall to say to another person’s face half the things they anonymously post on the Internet.

I have to give her credit for admitting that social pressure is the goal because that is exactly what happened at DailyKos.  But in this case, the trolls gained “clout” through recommendations from other users, some of whom may have been brother trolls-in-arms.  After a certain amount of clout, those trolls became trusted users with the minor but utlimately significant power to upgrade or degrade another user’s clout.  This became a very effective method of social control, one that David Axelrod was going to use for all it was worth.  And he undoubtably did.

The result was a takeover of DailyKos through a very effective troll campaign.  Here’s how it worked and how it will work on Facebook:

1.) A user writes a conversion diary or page.  It has quasi religious overtones.

2.) The conversion diary is hit with massive mojo or “clout”.  The diary moves up the recommended or “like” list.  Those of us who were frequent DailyKos users couldn’t help but notice that the same people immediately recommended these diaries.

3.) Social pressure is used to reinforce consensus reality by rewarding the desired expression and by punishing undesirable expressions. The term used for this when referring to cultlike behavior is “love bombing“.  The good user is praised, told how smart and attractive he/she is and how different they are from the rest of the world. The undesired users become targets for a campaign of decremation of their trusted user status.  Yes, friends, I was a trusted user on DailyKos up until the day I wrote my last post.

4.) Bait Ball frenzies result where gangs of now motivated users decry the dissenters lack of civility, driving the user and entire modes of thought out of the public domain.

If this is the way Facebook is trending, and I see it in their ubiquitous “like” buttons, I don’t want any part of it.  Zhou’s piece reads like an attempt to exert social control.  But I don’t know whether Facebook will cooperate with the people who want to shape consensus reality.  To the Facebook user, these entities may remain ‘anonymous’.  But their force may be deployed throughout Facebook’s domain and that is where there is real danger.  Because for many people, especially older or less technologically savvy users, Facebook is the entry point and the internet space where they spend most of their time.  If they are exposed to the sophisticated marketing techniques that we saw in the 2008 election season, they may be unaware of how their views and opinions are being shaped and reinforced, all in the name of civility.

I don’t need Zhou to tell me how utterly obnoxious trolls are.  They can be particularly hard on women who are conditioned to take insults personally.  To female bloggers I have always emphasized that trolls are nothing more than black pixels on your monitor- they can not hurt you.  As a blogger, you have time to formulate a snappy response to bring them to their trollish knees.  But we have other tools to be used judiciously.  We can filter comments automatically using trigger words, throw people into moderation or the spam filter and moderate threads to keep people from harrassing other users.  But harrassment is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder.  The concept of bullying can itself be used to bully people into silence.  I don’t want any part of that.

I want the internet to be free to users whether they choose to remain anonymous.  I have found that anonymous users are no more trollish than the identifiable user.  It is through anonymity that unconventional but good ideas enter the public debate.  Anonymity gives users the freedom to express themselves without exposure to real world friends and families and without social pressure to keep their fcuking mouths shut.

(Hey! Leo Laporte!  this would be a great topic for This Week In Tech.)

Trolls and other internet vermin


Here’s a handy field guide to spotting and dealing with trolls.  I’m not talking about the kind that live under bridges or appear in Tolkien novels, I’m talking about the sub-human vermin that infest blogs and corrupt discussion threads.  Scientists have not yet determined when they mutated into their present form or how they were first introduced into cyberspace, but these parasites are now as ubiquitous as cockroaches.

Trolls feed on two things:  attention and disruption.  When you hear the expression “Do not feed the trolls” it means do not engage the trolls in discussion or argument and do not allow the troll to hijack threads.  If you feed a troll it will never leave and may bring friends.  Site monitors can delete the troll’s comments and block its IP address, but if it knows there is food to be had it will find a new IP address and return.

Several sub-species of troll have been identified but they mutate quickly so there are always new types appearing.  Here are some of the more common types:

Continue reading

Full Scale Shmoozy Trolling Already In Progress

Look at what I fished out of the spam filter:

Madrugada Jones | xxxxxxx@yyyy.com | spinachflame.wordpress.com | IP: foo.bar.foo

I respect Hillary a great deal and think she’d make a terrific president. But I’m for Obama and I think you have to ask yourself, if the roles were reversed and Hillary was out ahead in the delegate count (not to mention the superdelegate count) and Barack was trying to get the delegates from MI and FL seated, do you honestly think she’d let them be seated?? You’ve got to be kidding me. She’d do the same exact thing he’s doing, which is well within the rules the DNC established. To me, this proves Obama’s political savvy.

New cartoons here: http://spinachflame.wordpress.com/

Not Spam — May 16, 2:36 PM — [ View Post ]

spinachflame | llllllllll@zzzzz.com | IP: Bar.foo.bar

I respect Hillary a great deal and think she’d make a terrific president. But I’m for Obama and I think you have to ask yourself, if the roles were reversed and Hillary was out ahead in the delegate count (not to mention the superdelegate count) and Barack was trying to get the delegates from MI and FL seated, do you honestly think she’d let them be seated?? You’ve got to be kidding me. She’d do the same exact thing he’s doing, which is well within the rules the DNC established. To me, this proves Obama’s political savvy.

Look, I don’t mind if you troll the site but could you at least be original and funny?
Now, I have to go wash the gunk off of my hands.