Yesterday, I spoke on a panel aptly titled “Outrage Activism.” For my talk I wanted to dive into something I’ve been thinking through for awhile but have never written down: the difference between activism and weaponization online. I’m often asked about this with the assumption that there’s a fine line between the two which is why it’s so difficult for tech companies and society generally to know what is and isn’t acceptable.
For me the line is pretty clear. Here are the four key signs of weaponization:
- False amplification. Attempting to make your view or movement seem larger than it is with bots or algorithmic manipulation.
- Spreading Disinformation. Knowingly spreading and amplifying false information online.
- Online Harassment. This includes bullying, doxxing, or similar methods with the shared goal of intimidating others into silence.
- Fanning the Flames Because You Can. Specifically trolling for the purpose of inciting outrage rather than pushing a particular political viewpoint.
Not everything that the Frog Squad does falls into these categories, but that’s OK. I’m fairly confident in our ability to win against them on a level playing field. Fighting the weaponization of social media isn’t fighting against free speech. What I want is a course correction. The Internet was supposed to be free and open. I believe we can get back to that but it requires systemic changes from the tech platforms. Societal agreement that these forms of weaponization aren’t acceptable online would get us much of the way there.
Digital activism doesn’t have the best reputation at the moment, largely because of how many bad actors gamed and continue to game the system. I’m still a believer. #TheResistance in America is organized digitally. Teachers in West Virginia used Facebook to organize their wildcat strike. Online video of 66 local Sinclair-owned news stations reading the same anti-media promo sparked national outrage and conversation around media monopolies. #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo continue to drive online conversation to offline actions, and the Parkland student survivors have taken digital campaigning to a level I couldn’t have comprehended before they began #MarchForOurLives.
Part of my goal in defining weaponization is to also defend the good. Even in the Internet’s darkest hour (and wow can things feel bleak sometimes!) I still believe it can be a tool for making life on this planet better. We’re just going to have to get rid of a lot of shit first.
by Melissa Ryan
Facebook made multiple significant announcements this week:
- They’ve identified and removed “70 Facebook and 65 Instagram accounts — as well as 138 Facebook Pages — that were controlled by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA)” as well as ads that ran on those pages.
- They’ve changed how third parties can and can’t interact with user data. (In a post where they also acknowledged that 87 million people, not the 50 million reported, had their data exploited by Cambridge Analytica.)
- They’re changing their data policy and terms of service to make them more clear to users.
If you want a deeper dive, I wrote a longer explanation of the changes for Media Matters. As a reminder Facebook is only going to change as much as they feel pressured to and this week’s announcements indicate they’re finally feeling it from their users and other stakeholders.
Our next chance to keep the pressure on comes next week when Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before both House and Senate Committees. Per our recent Factual Democracy Project/PPP poll 71% of Americans (both Democrats and Republicans) wanted to see Zuckerberg testify before Congress. Next week they’ll get their wish. The same poll shows that 70% of Americans no longer trust Facebook to keep their personal information safe, and that Facebook’s favorability has dropped 19 points since we first polled it last year. Read more highlights and see the full polling memo here.
Gay Men and the Alternative Right: An Overview
by Clay Bodner
The broad Alternative Right, a loose and often unstable collection of far-right doctrines, possesses a range of conflicting attitudes regarding homosexuality and gay rights. Far-right movements have never been renowned for their tolerance towards LGBT+ individuals, and lesbians and trans people are near-universally shunned by the Alternative Right. Unsurprisingly, some in the extreme alt-right call for the repression and the potential expulsion/extermination of LGBT+ individuals.
While there is near universal agreement on the opposition to conceptions of gender as non-binary and socially constructed. Largely a feature of the strong sexism, glorification of masculinity and belief in biological determinism. The acceptance for a specific subsection of the LGBT people, namely gay men, is however more complicated. Elements within the more moderate alt-light – which is more concerned with culture than race – have tolerated openly gay figures amongst its figureheads. However, even those willing to have discourse with the LGBT+ community often do so in an attempt to mobilise LGBT+ rights as a wedge between liberals and Islamic cultures.
Community Interaction and Conflict on the Web (Stanford University)
#TrollTracker: How To Spot Russian Trolls (Digital Forensics Research Lab)
The bots beat: How not to get punked by automation (Tow Center/Columbia Journalism Review)
- Trolls and conspiracy theorists are making the YouTube shooter a free speech martyr (The Verge)
- Robert Mercer backed a secretive group that worked with Facebook, Google to target anti-Muslim ads at swing voters (Open Secrets)
- Twitter cracks down on accounts accused of spreading false information(ABC News)
- Nasim Aghdam’s Massacre Is Part of the Crisis of Big Tech (Talking Points Memo)
- Here are the hoaxes and misinformation spreading about the shooter at YouTube headquarters (Media Matters)
- Snapchat Zings Facebook With April Fools’ Russian Bot Filter (Deadline)
- The “Infocalypse,” Conspiracies, and the Future of the Internet With BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel (The Ringer)
- Inside the Alt-Right’s Violent Obsession with ‘White Sharia War Brides’(Vice)