The Antisocial Network

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Thad
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The Antisocial Network

Postby Thad » Sun Aug 05, 2018 5:29 pm

I said this in the TV thread a few weeks ago:

Thad wrote:I feel like it'd be worth starting a new thread to discuss why online discourse sucks so badly now.

I think, as much as anything, it's that the need for skilled, active moderation increases dramatically as the size of the community does, but large platforms (think popular news sites) are unwilling or unable to spare the expense that such moderation requires, while the biggest platforms (Facebook, Twitter) are so big that good moderation is impossible. (Better moderation is possible, but I don't think good moderation is.) And, possibly worst of all, the largest platforms tend to have a financial incentive not to alienate assholes (I think we were talking about that WRT Reddit over on the politics board).

It's a tremendously difficult problem. I think sites like Ars could foster truly fantastic communities if only they had more active, hands-on moderation. And as far as I'm concerned, sites like Twitter and Facebook shouldn't exist. I think the design of Mastodon is a much preferable alternative: an interoperable set of smaller communities, each with its own independent management. But getting people to switch off of Facebook and Twitter is a nigh-intractable problem. I was around to see people switch from the closed networks of Prodigy, AOL, and CompuServe to the superior open Internet -- and I was around to see them all go back to proprietary monoliths, by choice.

The reason online discourse is fucked is not that people don't know how to fix it. It's that they don't want to.


Picking up from there:

Between the GDPR, congressional hearings, the Cambridge Analytica and Russian fake news scandals, and the simple market reality that the subscriber base can't continue to grow forever, Facebook is in trouble (as you may have heard, it lost 20% of its value following its second-quarter earnings report). And management is desperate to prove that it's doing something to deal with this stuff.

Ars: Facebook takes on “inauthentic” meddlers ahead of major DC protest next week

Facebook took the unusual step of announcing an ongoing, incomplete investigation into "inauthentic" behavior on Tuesday, complete with implications that Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) may have been involved. This week's disclosure comes in part due to Facebook having to reveal its hand a bit prematurely: "32 Pages and accounts" were affiliated with a protest event scheduled for next week in Washington, DC, and Facebook has begun informing its potential attendees.

The 3,000+ users who expressed interest in the "No Unite The Right 2" event between August 10-12 in Washington, DC, will receive the following Facebook message today: "A Page created by fake accounts started the event 'No Unite The Right 2 - DC.' The other event hosts have been notified."

Facebook says the pages in question were opened between March 2017 and May of this year, and they racked up a combined 290,000 followers before being shut down this week. Those accounts had names such as reSisters, Black Elevation, Aztlan Warriors, and Mindful Being; some of those accounts posted inherently violent imagery, including a black man holding a gun in one image and a man in American Indian attire holding a gun in another. (Sample images from these pages are included in the above gallery.)


Except, not so fast.

dcist: D.C. Organizers Are Pissed That Facebook Deleted 'Unite The Right' Counterprotest Page

Among the pages deleted was a popular event page called "No Unite The Right 2 - D.C.," a counterprotest to the looming white supremacist rally taking place in D.C. on August 12.

The only problem? D.C. organizers say the page was legit, and they're angry at Facebook for taking it down.

"This was a legitimate Facebook event that was being organized by Washington, D.C. locals," says Dylan Petrohilos, a former Inauguration rioting case defendant that was involved in organizing the counterprotest.


Motherboard: How Real Activists Learned Facebook Was Deleting Their Protest Page for ‘Inauthentic Behavior’

In a statement, Shut It Down DC said the Facebook event was created by Resisters, a page that ostensibly existed to share feminist memes, and garnered roughly 21,000 followers. (Facebook has since removed it for “inauthentic behavior.”) Facebook caught wind of Resisters because it was managed by a known-IRA account for seven minutes, and it’s unclear but possible that account also created the page.

But [co-organizer Brendan] Orsinger says it’s not so simple—that Resisters seemed real because it parasitized the work of legitimate activist groups. This is a known device of disinformation campaigns, say experts like the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, which Facebook consults on matters of platform abuse.


This is not a new tactic; it was standard operating procedure for the KGB. Organize both pro- and anti-government demonstrations, then reveal that the anti-government demonstrations were organized by the government all along, sowing chaos and mistrust. (Hell, "anti-government activists join a resistance cell, only to discover that it was a trap set by the government" is the plot of 1984.)

Untangling "legitimate" from "illegitimate" political groups is a difficult problem, and Facebook -- surprise! -- isn't up to it.

Techdirt: Facebook's Censorship Of Legit Activists Shows The Policing Of Propaganda Is Going To Be A Fucking Mess

Over at Facebook, one of the justifications for the removal of the page was that an account linked to the Russian IRA disinformation effort had been an administrator for the page for all of seven minutes:

"The IRA engaged with many legitimate Pages, so these leads sometimes turn up nothing. However, one of these leads did turn up something. One of the IRA accounts we disabled in 2017 shared a Facebook Event hosted by the “Resisters” Page. This Page also previously had an IRA account as one of its admins for only seven minutes. These discoveries helped us uncover the other inauthentic accounts we disabled today."


Taking down a whole, legitimate website because one IRA-linked account had admin rights for all of seven minutes seems shaky at best, and Facebook isn't clear on what additional evidence they relied on. The other problem is that Facebook notified all of the group's legitimate members about its move, undermining the effort as a whole. Facebook's blog post is also misleading, in that it suggests that these legitimate activists were somehow conned into participating in a counter-protest they would have been engaged with anyway:

"The Event – “No Unite the Right 2 – DC” – was scheduled to protest an August “Unite the Right” event in Washington. Inauthentic admins of the “Resisters” Page connected with admins from five legitimate Pages to co-host the event. These legitimate Pages unwittingly helped build interest in “No Unite Right 2 – DC” and posted information about transportation, materials, and locations so people could get to the protests."


The event is still scheduled, but the new Facebook group created in the wake of Facebook's actions has far fewer members, and it's unclear how many people who would have otherwise attended were scared off by what feels like over-reach.


So that's where we are now.


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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Thad » Mon Aug 06, 2018 10:53 am


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Joxam
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Joxam » Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:46 pm

Twitter, of course, says he's not in violation of any of their policy.
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Grath » Mon Aug 06, 2018 6:54 pm

Joxam wrote:Twitter, of course, says he's not in violation of any of their policy.

I mean, he hasn't changed his name to "Elon Musk", there's nothing they can do.

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Mongrel » Mon Aug 06, 2018 10:29 pm

It'll never happen, but man would I ever pay good money to see the absolute shitstorm that would follow if Twitter banned Trump.
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby mharr » Tue Aug 07, 2018 7:47 am

You know, they could have done that back before his political campaign got started and maybe saved the world, but someone would have been fired for costing the company money.

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Thad » Tue Aug 07, 2018 10:23 am

Yeah, and that's another reason that this whole system is fucked: there is a profit incentive to keeping it fucked. Outrage generates engagement.

I'm hoping that the backlash we're seeing -- Facebook's massive loss, the push toward data protection laws -- is the beginning of a recalibration. But even in the best case, it's going to take years.

There's a good article at Computing about the recent Decentralized Web Summit. The move toward decentralization is exciting, but it's not going to happen quickly (how's that IPv6 rollout going, guys?). And it's not enough to change technology; we need to change people's attitudes toward it.

I can see the possibility of people shifting toward smaller platforms running open protocols, in much the same way that "buy local" movements have gained ground. Budweiser hasn't gone anywhere, but there's a significant and increasing portion of the population that prefers microbreweries. (And Facebook and Twitter are a lot more vulnerable than Budweiser.)

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Grath » Wed Aug 08, 2018 12:42 am

Thad wrote:On the plus side, platforms are finally banning Alex Jones.

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Thad » Fri Aug 10, 2018 10:41 am

Pretty good article from Techdirt on this subject: Platforms, Speech And Truth: Policy, Policing And Impossible Choices

The conversation in the comments is good too; the troll who always whines about how moderation is censorship must have taken the day off.

(We also talked about the subject a bit in the internet voting comments before that, because somebody brought up the Alex Jones story there and there wasn't a better thread to talk about it yet.)

There is a dilemma here: yes, Facebook and Twitter have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason (barring protected classes); no, I'm not sorry to see Alex Jones lose a bunch of platforms; but the market dominance of a handful of players is concerning and the amount of control they have over what people see and hear is a real problem.

I continue to think the best solution is to make them smaller; quit Facebook and Twitter and go back to smaller platforms. But I also understand that that's easier said than done, especially if you're running a business and depend on Facebook and Twitter to advertise.

Masnick's proposal is for the platforms to expose APIs and encourage users to develop tools that allow them more control of what they see -- effectively allowing frontends that make Facebook and Twitter behave more like smaller communities. I think that's a good proposal, as far as it goes; if we accept that most people aren't just going to quit Facebook and Twitter, then creating tools that make them better (and that they don't control) is probably the best option. For now.

(Of course, Masnick's solution would be "Eh, let the users figure moderation out for themselves.")

(I kid. Sort of. He's been pretty helpful in getting the site's spam filters to block the posts where the one troll pretends he's me. But he still doesn't moderate nearly as much as I believe he should, and Techdirt comments are often dominated by a couple of loud assholes and the people who keep responding to them.)

In the long term? Like I've said, I think we need to change people's opinions, change how they look at the Internet. We've gotten as far as dissatisfaction with Facebook and Twitter, and that's a positive development, but it's unclear what happens next. It doesn't do anybody any good if people quit Facebook and just go to Instagram instead.

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Mongrel » Fri Aug 10, 2018 11:50 am

Thad wrote:dominated by a couple of loud assholes and the people who keep responding to them.


This could describe AT LEAST two thirds of all the internet communities I've ever visited.
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby beatbandito » Fri Aug 10, 2018 12:03 pm

Mongrel wrote:
Thad wrote:dominated by a couple of loud assholes and the people who keep responding to them.


This could describe AT LEAST two thirds of all the internet communities I've ever visited.

Is it too Mongrel to put the obvious joke here, or is just me responding to it enough?
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Brentai » Fri Aug 10, 2018 12:05 pm

In this case I think you just became the joke.
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Mongrel » Fri Aug 10, 2018 12:25 pm

I was TRYING to remind you guys how nice we have it here, but if ya wanna be poopheads, well

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Lottel » Fri Aug 10, 2018 5:40 pm

Hahaha

Poop
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Thad
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Thad » Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:36 pm

Thad wrote:The conversation in the comments is good too; the troll who always whines about how moderation is censorship must have taken the day off.

Turns out he was actually just working the night shift. The thread descends into its usual fuckery 75% of the way down or so. But it's still a mostly-good thread.

Mongrel wrote:I was TRYING to remind you guys how nice we have it here


And we really do, though I think a big part of that is our dwindling size. You and I between us account for 30% of all the posts on the entire forum.

Moderation is always necessary for any community, but the smaller the community, the less it needs. The smallest community still needs someone to sweep out the spambots.

A month ago I would have assumed that was the category we were in at this point: the only moderation we need anymore is maintenance and sweeping up the bots.

Following Sora's banning, I'll revise that. We're one level up from "just maintenance and sweeping up the bots"; we're at "very rarely, someone needs to ban an abusive poster." Where "very rarely" at this point is on the order of years apart.

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Mongrel » Sat Aug 11, 2018 2:05 pm

Thad wrote:You and I between us account for 30% of all the posts


Well obviously I'm continually reminded of that, lol

But anyway, something like half to two-thirds of my posts are just linking funny stuff or news items to provide (potential) content for us all to chinwag over. I mean, in my head it's just "share interesting stuff", but that's basically the functionality.
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Thad » Sat Aug 11, 2018 2:23 pm

My point isn't that you and I are extremely prolific posters (though we are). My point is that the community has gotten small enough that ~17000 posts by two guys make up nearly a third of its content.

By contrast, Fossilized has a total of 260973 posts (of which you and I combined accounted for about 10%; the top 5 posters -- us, Brent, Buge, and Elfin -- made up about 25% of all posts). This incarnation's only been running about 75% as long as that one did, but that means that if people were posting at the same rate here as they did there, we'd have ~196K posts. We're just shy of 56K.

I'm not going to try and tease Pyoko's stat pages out of archive.org, but we certainly had a hell of a lot more active posters back then.

EDIT: Okay, I lied.

The last cached copy of the Pyoko stats page shows a total of 201574 posts (an average of ~60 a day).

That appears to cover a period from 2002 to 2009, though of course it was pretty much a ghost town for most of that last year, which is going to foul up some averages. (I swear there was a destructive upgrade at some point during Pyoko's history where we threw out all our posts and started over, but I can't find any evidence of it on archive.org, so my best guess is it must have been during the first few months in 2002, before Wayback started caching it.) But at any rate, the top 10 posters accounted for a total of 51,980 posts, or about 26% of the total.

The earliest version of the stats page I can find is from 2005. There were 109062 posts back then, and the top 10 posters accounted for about 28%.

So over the first three years or so, 10 people accounted for 28% of the posts; if you extend that from the first 3 years to the first 5, then 10 people accounted for about a quarter of the total posts. Over the course of the next six years, 5 people accounted for about a quarter, and over the past four years we've got 2 people accounting for 30%.

(There are other numbers that may throw that off too. Like I remember there used to be some boards that didn't count toward a user's postcount. I'm not sure if they counted toward the overall board postcount or not.)

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Mongrel » Sat Aug 11, 2018 3:09 pm

Oh absolutely, proportion is a big part of things.

By the standards of most other boards I go to, I'd only be a middling poster by volume (and also there would be more people playing newsbot, so that would mean I'd be posting less too), but here that volume stands out.

I get that the criticism is not to overwhelm things, so I deliberately try not to dominate actual discussions when they come up. To tell the truth, this is the single biggest reason I never hang out in #FF. It's almost always on my mind trying to balance giving us interesting stuff to talk about versus not becoming omnipresent.

But I think a lot of us are more comfortable with saying less as we get older. We're also mostly better at getting our point across with fewer posts (part of this is our personalities being more of a known quantity as well). So I don't think it's any sort of terminal decline, but it would be nice to see a few more familiar faces check in once in a while, if only so we know what they're doing.
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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Smiler » Sat Aug 11, 2018 4:22 pm

I dunno the reason I don't post that often is because all I really have to say anymore is about games most people here don't really play.

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Re: The Antisocial Network

Postby Thad » Sat Aug 11, 2018 4:59 pm

I just wrote a post about Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill.

"Does anybody else have any idea what I'm talking about?" has seldom been a barrier to my talking about a thing.

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