Tag Archives: legal

When It’s Radicalization By Any Other Name …

Con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist Alex Jones has been the sub­ject of con­tent dele­tions and plat­form bans by a num­ber of com­pa­nies over the past two weeks, includ­ing Apple, Face­book, Spo­ti­fy, YouTube, YouPorn, and Pin­ter­est, with com­pa­ny spokes­peo­ple cit­ing Jones’ repeat vio­la­tions of net-abuse poli­cies and fail­ure to abide by plat­form pub­lish­ing require­ments as the com­mon themes and caus­es of ter­mi­na­tion.

Before mov­ing on to my own com­ments on the sit­u­a­tion, I’d like to share two respons­es which I felt were par­tic­u­lar­ly mea­sured and insight­ful:

On to the big­ger pic­ture, then.

First, can we agree it’s time we backed off and left Alex Jones to his well deserved fate? The man made his bed, now he’s wel­come to lie in it and go back to being the pari­ah he was before Don­ald Trump put him in the spot­light.

Sec­ond, can we please stop call­ing it cen­sor­ship? Jones doesn’t lack a plat­form of his own. He’s been self-pub­lish­ing through his per­son­al InfoWars web­site and sell­ing prod­ucts through his online store for many years. Fram­ing this as de-plat­form­ing is miss­ing the point. Not only does Jones have a media com­pa­ny he can use any time he wish­es with­out lim­its, but it was his own deci­sion to ignore the rules of third-par­ty plat­forms on which he’d gross­ly over­stayed his wel­come.

While some aspects of the sit­u­a­tion could have been han­dled dif­fer­ent­ly (I’ll get to that lat­er), over­all there is no sym­pa­thy due. Jones has been pok­ing and throw­ing rocks at this par­tic­u­lar bear for years, know­ing in the back of his mind that one day it was going to wake up and slap the ever-lov­ing shit out of him. The only unex­pect­ed part was how long it took.

To those who cry ‘free speech,’ I note that free­dom of speech has nev­er been about free­dom from log­i­cal con­se­quences or free­dom from crit­i­cism. Both hap­pen in the real world, and in this case sev­er­al key busi­ness­es have come to the con­clu­sion that they’d rather not let Alex Jones use their net­works as a vehi­cle for dis­in­for­ma­tion, defama­tion, and alleged defama­tion.

While Amer­i­can defama­tion laws and safe har­bour pro­tec­tions insu­late from law­suits caused by user-sub­mit­ted con­tent, they don’t do any­thing to stave off the bad PR and bruis­ing to cor­po­rate image that come from asso­ci­at­ing with a per­son who’s made liv­ing off of trolling the pub­lic in some of the most base and ugly ways imag­in­able.

As wis­er jour­nal­ists have point­ed out, Jones’ flout­ing of Accept­able Use Poli­cies, harass­ment of inno­cents, oth­er­ing of minori­ties, and seem­ing inabil­i­ty to sus­tain polite rela­tion­ships with oth­er human beings online rise to the lev­el of cor­po­rate gov­er­nance, but not the First Amend­ment.

Sim­i­lar argu­ments could be made against numer­ous impres­sion­able Jones fans who’ve tak­en him too lit­er­al­ly over the years and engaged in harass­ment, vio­lence, and defama­tion, some of which ris­es to the lev­el of crim­i­nal behav­iour.

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Quoth the Raven: “It’s a Match!”

Years ago, when I first heard about online DNA match ser­vices, my reac­tion was some­thing to the effect of, “Stuff you put online lives for­ev­er, you no longer have con­trol of it, so what hap­pens when pri­va­cy breach­es hap­pen?”

 The recent high-pro­file US case of the alleged Gold­en State Killer was one exam­ple of the off-label use of DNA match­ing ser­vices that’s cap­tured the nation’s imag­i­na­tion.

While many peo­ple have a pre­con­ceived notion of DNA being unique, deci­sive, and absolute­ly air­tight, the real­i­ty is a touch more hum­bling, as mul­ti­ple news out­lets and law enforce­ment offi­cials have warned of the per­ils, error rates, and num­bers of false pos­i­tives involved in fam­i­ly match­ing. If any­thing, it rein­forces a need to fol­low the usu­al rules of inves­ti­ga­tion: strive to be more thor­ough, and always tread care­ful­ly.

While this par­tic­u­lar legal case has raised a lot of eye­brows, to me it seems to be more about the unmask­ing of a killer than the means by which the lat­est set of leads was gen­er­at­ed. This isn’t a new tech­nol­o­gy, it’s been around for quite some time. Police have used these ser­vices before, but those instances haven’t grabbed head­lines in the same way as the case of the Gold­en State Killer.

To the offi­cers involved, I salute your cre­ativ­i­ty and per­se­ver­ance. Hope­ful­ly, once jus­tice has tak­en its course and the case has been tried, you’ll have been able to give some much-need­ed clo­sure to the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims.

But that’s not why I’m writ­ing.

What’s prob­lem­at­ic about the main­stream­ing of genet­ic sequenc­ing and the sub­se­quent break­down of taboos sur­round­ing our most sen­si­tive per­son­al pos­ses­sion — the DNA code — is not the risk of false pos­i­tives or acci­den­tal misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion in a police inves­ti­ga­tion. It’s the line of oppor­tunists who are eager to acquire that data and bend it to their will for all man­ner of com­mer­cial, insur­ance, med­ical, and oth­er mis­us­es as peo­ple relax their guard and invite more and more strangers to the par­ty to play gate­keep­er to this extreme­ly sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion.

If you’ve ever been a vic­tim of iden­ti­ty theft, or if you’ve ever had some­one run up a bunch of unau­tho­rized charges on your cred­it card, you already have a glimpse of how it feels.

Your bank can issue a new cred­it card num­ber, but you don’t get a mul­li­gan once your DNA code makes it into the wild.

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Video Platform Go Boom: Perspectives on the Adpocalypse

As it becomes increas­ing­ly obvi­ous a sea change is occur­ring at YouTube with respect to how the com­pa­ny con­ducts busi­ness and gov­erns its user base, it’s time we had a mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion about the use of third-par­ty con­tent aggre­ga­tion plat­forms and the long-term effects of putting too many eggs into the same bas­ket.

Only a few gen­er­a­tions have been lucky enough to wit­ness the birth of the World Wide Web (and mass com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the Inter­net prop­er) and still have the priv­i­lege of liv­ing a rea­son­able num­ber of years on both sides of that flash­bulb moment in his­to­ry. Mine is one of them: togeth­er, we’ve grown with it, nur­tured it, aug­ment­ed our lives with it, watched it evolve — and we’ve drawn incred­i­ble ben­e­fit from the tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion that fol­lowed. Today all man­ner of com­put­er sys­tems cross paths with our lives hun­dreds of times on a dai­ly basis, and most times, it rarely elic­its a thought.

We’ve become so inti­mate­ly tied to our tech­nol­o­gy that invis­i­ble design has become an exquis­ite­ly refined, and gen­er­al­ly expect­ed, norm. Where once the shar­ing of con­tent on the Web was an intel­lec­tu­al­ly expen­sive and fair­ly time-con­sum­ing under­tak­ing — often requir­ing an indi­vid­ual to learn var­i­ous back-end tech­nolo­gies and pro­gram­ming lan­guages as well as visu­al design and its atten­dant soft­ware — nowa­days, most peo­ple rely on a mul­ti­tude of turn-key solu­tions that do much of the think­ing and heavy lift­ing for us, offer­ing decent inte­gra­tion with very lit­tle down­time.

Well, at least until that ser­vice changes the rules, lim­its its fea­tures, crash­es, or liq­ui­dates its assets.

Then we have a prob­lem.

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Legal Self-Exemption Deconstructed

This evening, I was doing some research about a group call­ing itself “Freemen on the Land.” For those who haven’t heard of them, it’s a fringe move­ment that oper­ates on the erro­neous belief one can remove him­self from the rule, reach, and juris­dic­tion of his nation’s law.

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