Bluffing Big Tech

Please understand that the endgame of internet regulation threats are very different

Bluffing Big Tech

Welcome to another newsletter. Thank you for reading these scribbles and listening to the show. It’s a joy putting it together every week for you all, and I never imagined we’d get to this point when I started doing this last year. If you’re feeling generous and like you might want to help us level-up here, you can do so with the button below.

On Episode 65 of sh!tpost, we had an interview with HuffPost reporter Luke O’Brien about the state of neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin and his website The Daily Stormer in the wake of court rulings that Anglin should pay $18,000,000 in damages to two plaintiffs. He certainly does not have that kind of money, but remains undeterred. O’Brien will walk us through the lawsuits, what’s happened since, and where the world’s most-read neo-Nazi blog goes from here. (LISTEN HERE)

O’Brien wrote an in-depth profile of Anglin for The Atlantic in 2017; read it here.

Striking Fear into the Hearts of Billion Dollar Corporations

If there’s one thing that conservatives and liberals can do that epic handshake meme over, it’s the notion that tech companies exist in a suspension void of accountability. It is generally understood that cherished free market principles have failed in discouraging massive tech giants to act callously; where sides differ is how they seek to use that understanding to advance their ideals.

Something we’ve talked a lot about on the show before is whether current tech industry regulations and laws are up to par for the challenges that our modern monopolistic cyber empire places on our daily lives. We often have these conversations with the unspoken consensus that people have a reasonable expectation to be able access the truth about what is happening in their world and their politics. But what if we don’t assume that premise?

Conservatives on Fox News, Capitol Hill, and the White House grounds—you know, powerful places—can often be heard arguing that tech companies are unaccountable and that there is not better proof of that fact than prominent conservative voices being penalized, de-ranked, and suspended on social media for posting content reflective of right-wing viewpoints. For the American Right, the challenge to social media companies comes not after massive privacy breaches, foreign election influence efforts, live-streamed terror attacks, or deceptive data gathering practices. Instead, it comes after Donald Trump Jr. cries because his Instagram post receives fewer “likes” than he thought it should have, or when grandpa has issues when using the search bar.

Take the instance of pro-Trump celebrity James Woods, for example. He tweeted a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote with the hashtag “#HangThemAll,” which many interpreted as him as calling for a public hanging. Twitter locked him out of his account until he deletes the tweet, and is on the record numerous places saying that. He has refused to delete the tweet, and here we are: he’s lifted up as an example of anti-conservative bias at big tech companies.

Or perhaps look to Diamond & Silk (real names Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, respectively) and what they claim is anti-GOP ire aimed in their direction. Their major complaint came after a brief snafu with Facebook, during which they claimed their Facebook page was given unfair treatment because of their support for Trump. It turns out they were lying, and although their story has been debunked, they are sticking to it.

Simply put: There is no solid indication that tech companies are systematically disadvantaging conservative voices on their platforms, and an awful lot to suggest that the opposite may in fact be true. In the same ways cable news shriveled against bad-faith accusations of left-leaning bias on their networks, major tech companies have gone out of their ways to assure the Right that they would never hurt their abilities to post.

In Washington, some conservatives are threatening to re-examine Section 230, a cornerstone of internet regulation that absolves platforms for responsibility over what is posted on their websites. BuzzFeed News published a good piece about the efforts conservative Googlers have taken to pressure their company into tolerating more right-wing politics in their workplace, and it was hard for me to read this part as not giving the entire game away (emphasis added):

Feeling unwelcome to air their thoughts inside the company, and recognizing the power of doing so outside, Google’s conservatives have leaked to generate “external accountability.” Most aggressively, they’ve targeted Section 230. The mere threat of the act being amended, or killed, could scare Google into giving conservative content more leeway.

I read this as the conservative fight being largely a rhetorical one to threaten tech companies into “protecting” dregs of inflammatory content they need to help ignite the conservative voter base. Some of this content overlaps with what the left hopes to force the companies to moderate against: fake news, hateful content, and harassment campaigns.

The sheer amount of power these companies hold is large enough to change the course of world history on a whim, and the companies have clearly failed to match the responsibility that wielding a tool like that demands. I’m not sure how long we have to watch these companies fall on their faces before we put some regulation training wheels on, but whatever that solution looks like: be wary of the nefarious actors in our midst.

While it may seem that regulating big tech is a bipartisan cause, the endgame ambitions wildly differ.

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What is Doxing? (Or is it ‘Doxxing?’)

The year is 2019, and the internet still can’t agree what it means to “dox” someone.

Is doxxing publishing someone’s name? Is it sharing information not readily available, such as an address or phone number? Does it require malicious intent? These are all questions we don’t have universal answers to, and the fight is on to define the term.

I’d argue that a true dox is revealing personal information about a person that is not readily accessible with the intention of inflicting harassment upon them, or worse. I’ve been the subject of numerous doxxing attempts in my time on the beat, and it’s a harrowing experience.

“Carpe Donktum” is the figure at the center of a moronic outrage cycle ginned up by pro-Trump propagandists online. If you don’t know who that guy is, his name is Logan Cook and he’s a self-described “memesmith” who made some posts the president liked enough to invite him into the Oval Office to talk with him about. He’s not a particularly notable figure on his own, but it’s always in the public interest to know who the grandpa controlling the nuclear arsenal is running his ideas by.

Despite stating on Reddit that he had no real concerns over his name being publicly known, and admitting there that it would be easy to find out his real identity, and operating as a low-level public figure, and appearing on camera for multiple news broadcasts, and posting photos with his family on his social media, and using his real name online on the same Twitter account he wields now, Mr. Memedude took recently to demanding that publications omit his real name from any articles about him. For whatever reason, these publications all agreed.

Anything for that sweet, sweet, access, right?

He claims that making his first and last name known to the public would endanger him and his family. I certainly wish absolutely no harm or trouble for this guy making Trump memes on the internet, but I find this argument absolutely absurd. If you accept an Oval Office meeting and go on TV multiple times, you can’t expect that your name is going to stay secret or that a first and last name attributed to you places you in immediate danger. A first and last name is not enough to incite a malicious troll mob against someone on its own published in a news context, and quite frankly, people can cause a lot of trouble without even needing your name (and besides, someone will always be able to find it).

The latest chapter in the saga comes after Memeguy caught wind that HuffPost reporter Luke O’Brien (who was a guest this week on the show for an unrelated topic) was working on a story that would contain his real name. He was not. But facing a harassment storm regardless, O’Brien went ahead and boosted a post from another internet user alleging to contain the meme maker’s real name: Logan Cook. Cook confirmed that was his name in a post of his own.

In the end, it was a rather anticlimactic ending to this puzzling saga. A brief glimpse of O’Brien’s timeline reveals that he wound up being the target of a nasty troll storm that is far more pronounced than Cook appears to have been subjected to. Perhaps this is what the publications in question feared, and if that’s the case, shame on them. Public interest reporting should be fearless.

The point of this, I suspect, was not to protect information that was, at most, three Google searches away from anyone interested. Instead, it was part of an ongoing effort to stigmatize and smear journalism at-large. This is a battle we’ve seen play out for years.

If journalists are afraid to do their jobs, what will they do instead?

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