Abuse of Abuse

The metaphorical manure hit the air-movement device this week, and now we have the self-appointed Twitter police oiling up the censorship stick.

Unsurprisingly, as this is the Internet, and some people are nasty, bigoted, small-minded little pricks, Caroline Criado-Perez, who’d led a campaign to put Jane Austen on the £10 note, got some very unwelcome (and completely unacceptable, lets not forget that) attention.

She got rape threats. Just think about that for a moment, and think about the sort of dreadful person that does that. It’s the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory in full effect, or, if you prefer Online disinhibition effect. Some are under the impression the Internet means you can say what you like, free from reprisals: it does not.

This is not a new thing: Usenet, which to this day remains fairly anonymous (with posts only being traceable by IP address, and therefore only with the cooperation of an ISP or NNTP server admin) has been “enriched” by this for many, many years now. It remains a throwback to the old days, with all that entails. Anyway, back to the point.

Something Must Be Done, the world cried.

Then, magically, it was.

was detained in the Manchester area on suspicion of harassment offences.

Sounds like a great idea. Someone makes threats, they get a visit from the Old Bill. Seems like a good way to deal with a criminal act, huh?

Not good enough. We must #takebacktwitter.

The calls are in for a Report Abuse button. These are pretty common on web forums, and newspaper sites, like, say, The Guardian’s Comment is Free.

Ok. Let’s look at problem 1, handily suggested by @Greg_Callus:

Screenshot from 2013-07-31 20:47:25

Greg’s on the money with that: the moderation load of even a smallish, well-behaved web forum can represent a lot of work.

Just think about that for a moment. Twitter is a free service, so I doubt it can afford hordes of moderation staff. So perhaps we could automate it?

Then think that you might post something someone disagrees with. Lets say that you express a political view: nothing illegal, but something that sparks controversy:

Someone Is Wrong

and a few people who hold an opposing view get all the people they follow to hit the abuse button. Suddenly, you’ve been silenced. This is why user-trained spam filters fail too: users categorise mail they don’t like as spam, when it isn’t.

One final thought: just like the porn debate, we’re blaming a transport medium:

Screenshot from 2013-07-31 20:46:14

Screenshot from 2013-07-31 21:21:10

When the problem lies with people. Bitter, small-minded people. These people need challenging, but the challenge needs to be intelligent and reasoned, not a knee-jerk reaction that would cripple the social media network. Hey, if only we had laws against threatening behaviour, then we could do something.

Found this rather fine post
by Lilian Edwards, Professor of E-Governance at Strathclyde University.

9 Responses to “Abuse of Abuse”

  1. kate Goodall Says:

    Nicely said.

  2. species5618 Says:

    The ABUSE debate and The porn on the internet debate only serves to make me chuckle at the moment

    Unfortunately the ANTI anything brigade seems to be able to shout louder

  3. stymaster Says:

    Well indeed. I’m also concerned about the use of the word “troll”. Trolling was a game, a bit of banter. The current twitter shitshorm isn’t about trolling: it’s abuse and threatening behavior. That’s illegal, and morally wrong to boot. The thing I don’t get is that it’s the same as sending a threatening letter (excepting the fact that a letter could have greater anonymity!) or making a phone call, so why is it being treated differently?

  4. species5618 Says:

    Interesting comparison between twitter, FB or post / phone to launch abuse

    Anyone with a few brain cells can easily send an anonymous threat via any of the above media

    Anyone with more than a few brain cells can send an anonymous letter, but knowing where to send it is difficult, and then may not make the headlines

    An anonymous phonecall is only a little more difficult, phone box, in village without CCTV would do in most cases, but knowing what number to call is difficult, and then may not make the headlines

    Even sending anonymous twitter / FB posts is easy with some simple guidelines.
    Avoid free “public” wifi (many require registration and track MAC addresses) , find a pub, camp site or random, open / free wifi, new account, and fire.

    What many of these people (and that includes the gov ministers) need to be charged with is stupidity!
    NOTE TO SELF: stupidity will be punishable by death if I ever get to run a country

  5. stymaster Says:

    Here’s another one for the phone or Twiitter/FB:

    Phone: buy PAYG phone, with cash. Make phone call, bin it.

    Internet: buy PAYG dongle. Use Linux bootable CD, make posts, bin it.

    If you were going your open wi-fi route, it’s trivial to spoof a MAC address. Hell, hang around a public hotspot, sniffing the data. Wait for someone else to pack up and leave, clone their MAC, and use that… Well within the reach of a half-competent techie.

    This is all being quite paranoid too. The average hotspot probably won’t record MAC addresses for very long, and can you imagine trying to trace a MAC address to a person? OK, it could be used as evidence if you’ve already caught them, but it’s a big ask.

    As to postal address: 192.com would probably help there…..

  6. Species5618 Says:

    O2 in costa, McDonald’s and sizzling pubs use mac for authentication
    Sign up in one place. Device works everywhere else. Even after factory reset

  7. stymaster Says:

    That’s clever. Mind you, I’ve been playing with pfsense, think that has the capability to do that kind of thing.

  8. Species5618 Says:

    then of course you could get a raspberry pi and do it all remotely


    there is no less than 20 adsl pipes in my office building, 4 of which are easily accessible to ANYONE which basic buliding access,

    Vending machine filler, Cleaners, LLU contractors etc
    With the right case you could stick a Pi to the back of a fridge in Costa and it would go unnoticed for weeks

    may be time to stop the evil genius planning

  9. stymaster Says:

    You could do the same with an access point too 🙂