Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Web Secret 536: Trolls

Internet trolls are the hotile and sometimes dangerous people who post nasty comments and disinformation on the Internet - usually to create trouble of one kind or another.

Last month, The New York Times published an article "The Internet Trolls Have Won. Sorry, There’s Not Much You Can Do." by Brian X. Chen.

Unfortunately, understanding trolls and trolling is essential in the 21st century, so here is my summary of the most important information culled from this important article:

Most experts agree agree that trolling has no easy fix.

Chen notes: "Over the last decade, commenting has expanded beyond a box under web articles and videos and into social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. That has opened the door to more aggressive bullying, harassment and the ability to spread misinformation...

Case in point: the right-wing conspiracy site Infowars. For years, the site distributed false information that inspired internet trolls to harass people who were close to victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting. This week, after much hemming and hawing about whether to get involved, some giant tech firms banned content from Infowars.

What does that show us? That you as an internet user have little power over content you find offensive or harmful online. It’s the tech companies that hold the cards.

There are many theories about why the internet seems to bring out the worst in people... people use the internet to get more of what they do not get enough of in everyday life. So while people have been socialized to resist being impulsive in the real world, on the internet they cave to their temptations to lash out.

...the quality of comments vary widely depending on the pieces of content being discussed and the audiences they attract. For example, there are videos about niche topics, like home improvement, that invite constructive commentary from enthusiasts. But there are others, such as a music video from a popular artist or a general news article, which ask people from all around the world to comment. That’s when things can get especially unruly.

It’s up to the content providers and tech platforms to vet their communities and set rules and standards for civilized discussion.

Many resource-strained news publications fall short: They often leave their comments sections unmoderated, so they become cesspools of toxic behavior. It is also an area where tech companies like Facebook and Twitter struggle, because they have long portrayed themselves as neutral platforms that do not that do not wish to take on the editorial roles of traditional publishers.

What about fake comments?

Tech companies have long employed various methods to detect fake comments from bots and spammers.

Unfortunately, security researchers have shown there are workarounds to all these methods.

When the Federal Communications Commission was preparing to repeal net neutrality last year, there were 22 million comments posted on its site, many of which expressed support for the move.

One expert used a machine-learning algorithm to discover that 1.3 million comments were likely fakes posted by bots.

What can you do?

For the issue of spoofed comments, there is a fairly simple solution: You can report them to the site’s owner, which will likely analyze and remove the fakes.

But for truly offensive comments, the reality is that consumers have very little power to fight them. Tech companies like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have published guidelines for what types of comments and material are allowed on their sites, and they provide tools for people to flag and report inappropriate content.

Yet once you report an offensive comment, it is typically up to tech companies to decide whether it threatens your safety or violates a law — and often harassers know exactly how offensive they can be without clearly breaking rules.

Beyond reporting comments individually, you could also use an online petition tool like to demand that tech companies remove offensive content.

The article closes with this advice:

Think before you read... Think before you speak. And you don’t always have to respond. A lot of things do not deserve a response. Sometimes not responding is more effective than lashing out.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Web Secret 535: What's My Line

When I was a child, one of my greatest pleasures was watching TV game shows with my grand-mother.

Grani - as we called her - was a regal, worldly woman who had emigrated to the USA from Russia via Berlin and Paris. She spoke 4 languages and was always immaculately dressed with a strand of pearls around her neck.

Retrospectively, I find it hilarious that this regal person enjoyed some of the most proletarian aspects of 1960s America. She would take me on frequent expeditions to Lamston, a now defunct Five and Dime store, and Chock Full O Nuts, a coffee shop featuring a lunch counter where we ate cream-cheese on date nut bread sandwiches.

One of her favorite shows was What's My Line?, a panel game show that originally ran from 1950 to 1967. The game required celebrity panelists to question a contestant in order to determine his or her occupation, i.e., "line [of work]." Each show culminated in the panelists putting on masks and trying to identify a "mystery guest" with their questions.

Most of the major figures connected to the show were remarkable in their own rights. The show was moderated by John Daly, a World War II correspondent who witnessed Gen. George S. Patton's infamous "slapping incident". As a reporter for the CBS radio network, Daly was the first national correspondent to deliver the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the first to report the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Panelist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote a newspaper column "The Voice of Broadway", which was syndicated to more than 140 papers. In 1936, she competed with other New York newspaper reporters in a race around the world using only means of transportation available to the general public. She was the only woman to compete in the contest and came in second. She was invited to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, defended comedian Lenny Bruce from obscenity charges, and reported on the trial of accused murderer Dr. Sam Shepard.
Arlene Francis was the highest-earning game show panelist in the 1950s, making $1,000 (equal to $10,172 today) per show.

Panelist Kitty Carlisle was a film actress who had acted in "A Night at the Opera" (1935) with the Marx Brothers, two films with Bing Crosby, Woody Allen's "Radio Days" (1987), "Six Degrees of Separation" (1993), and "Catch Me If You Can" (2002) in which she played herself in a dramatization of a 1970s To Tell the Truth episode.

Panelist Bennett Cerf was the erudite founder of the Random House publishing firm.

Host and panelists were dressed in evening wear, the men in tuxedos and the women in beautiful cocktail dresses.

All of the What's My Line shows can be viewed on YouTube.

One day on a whim, I showed one of the episodes to my Millenial twins. They became instantly addicted and started streaming the 100+ shows.

They are fascinated by the A list celebrities, from Sean Connery to a very young Elizabeth Taylor, from Bette Davis to Jackie Gleason.

They are fascinated by the elegance and formality with which host, panelists and guests behave.

They are fascinated by the guests and substitute panelists who later became famous. Watch pre Star Trek William Shatner, outrageously flirting with an attractive guest, or Tony Randall, ten years before "The Odd Couple" TV series.

But they are most fascinated by the every day guests whose occupations no longer exist due to modernization and techhnology. Jobs like Hat Check Girl and Diaper Service Man.

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