Patrice Riemens on Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:58:18 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part One, section #9,

In the Facebook Aquarium Part One, section #9, 2 (end)


Paradoxically, the webization of the social by way of mass profiling
results in anti-social outcomes, since we all can become guilty by
association - and innocent by dissociation. And as human decision makers
are increasingly delegating their power to algorithms, one can only expect
an increasing number of evaluation errors, and also ever larger ones, of a
kind that would be  easily avoidable in real life, or within decentralised
systems. To bear the same name as someone with a less than clean criminal
record, or as a terrorist on the books with the Feds becomes a crime by
association: machines turn us into defendants because they are unable to
distinguish us from someone who bears the same name. And if we have been
victim of identity theft, and someone uses our credit card for an illegal
activity, we are not only being swindled, but become culprits also,
insofar as our digital alter ego makes this manifest beyond any doubt. We
are then no longer in a regime of 'innocent till proven guilty', but of
'guilty till proven innocent'. The generalised criminalisation of society
is the logical outcome of profiling procedures - which themselves are
anyway derived from criminal profiling. In the end, their only
beneficiaries are the ill-intended, who are always conscious of the need
to always have an alibi at hand.

Newbie internauts therefore lay themselves open to all kinds of abuse
because of profiling which turn them into potential culprits. A Facebook
account, or for that matter, on Google+ or Twitter, is not owned by the
account holder. It is a space that has been provided to the user for free,
in exchange letting her/himself be cut up in commercially interesting bits
and pieces. Strangely enough, the user her/himself carries as such zero
value, since sHe must, not only prove sHe actually is who sHe pretends to
be, but also that sHe is innocent. In Facebook's case, there are a number
of reasons for which one can get kicked out. The most common one is use of
a fake name. Some fakes are easy to notice, but not all are. 'Superman' is
most likely an alias, but which algorithm is smart enough to make out
whether 'Ondatje Malimbi' is truly a Kenyan user with a Swedish mother? To
do so it would require access to civil registries, tax-office files and
social security data bases. A scenario actually not that far of (##*). And
by the way, we may notice that authoritarian governments appear to have
far less reservations about implementing 'radical transparency'.

Maintainers of social networks play a decisive role when it comes to what
is, or is not, legit. Hence they do help shape the rules of the society in
which we live. They do not have the power to send somebody to prison - yet
- but they actively cooperate with governments to enforce the laws of the
land, written and unwritten. Google has specifically, since the beginning,
partnered with the American intelligence community. What we know to-day as
'Google Earth' started as military cartography software developed by
In-Q-Tel, and sold to Google in 2004. In-Q-Tel is a venture capital firm
with CIA connections [42]. Ever since the USA Patriot Act was voted, with
its harsh penalties for any actor found out to help 'the enemy', on-line
services providers have become extremely cautious. They'll rather go for
pro-active censorship than to run the risk to host potential terrorists on
their servers, or even people not looked upon kindly by the US government.
Paradoxically, in countries under US embargo, dissidents' profiles are
(also ? - transl.) often closed while the regime's supporters are able to
propagate their views without hindrance on the government's controlled
servers. While eulogizing Iran's 'Twitter Revolution', nobody, not even
the people in the Administration - who waxed eloquent about its democratic
properties - seems to have noticed that Twitter was in effect infringing
the US embargo by offering its services to iranian citizens ...

Censorship is at the order of the day on Facebook, which often projects
itself as guarantor of the net's neutrality - a concept we have already
criticised. Facebook's very peculiar idea of democracy is based on its
moralism, as we have seen it at work before. Any user raising the
suspicion of engaging into hate speech may be expelled at once. Here's a
characteristic example:

"My Facebook account has been cancelled, and also ****'s because we were
the administrators of the 'Against Daniela Santanchè' group (A.S. is a
extreme right wing Italian politician), or rather, I was administrator and
**** the developer. I tried to log in, but I only got a message that my
account had been de-activated. I then send a message to the address I had
found in the FAQ. I got no answer. I got the following response two weeks
later, after I had send yet another message:

Here is Facebook's automated response message:

[NB This is a translation from the text of the book, itself a translation
of the original English - which I couldn't access -transl.]

Your account has been suspended as you are the administrator of a group
that has been cancelled since it violated Facebook's rules on rights and
obligations. Groups whose content or pictures promote the use of drugs, or
show nudity, or allude to sexual acts, or attack an individual or a group
of persons are not allowed. Unfortunately, due to technical and security
reasons we cannot go into details about the group that has been cancelled.
However, after having examined your situation, we have reactivated your
account, which you now can access again. In order to avoid such situation
to arise again in the future, we advise you to check from time to time the
content of the groups you are administering. If you do not want to carry
out this responsibility, you can cancel your administrator status by
clicking on 'Modify Member' on the group's main page, and then on 'Cancel
Administrator' next to your name. For more information on unauthorised
behaviour on Facebook, please refer to the users' rules and obligations
notce, which you can access by clicking on 'Conditions' at the bottom of
every Facebook page. We thank you for your understanding.

Users Organisation
Facebook Inc.

And so, this user's account has been reactivated, but not that of the
group's developer, probably because sHe had started other 'hate speech'
groups: a recidivist, thus. Sure, one has to behave in company according
to the others' wishes: this is the House of Facebook! Strange, though, to
ban pornography so explicitely. Tends to prove that we have to do with a
system of difuse, emotional porn. The emotional blackmail becomes explicit
when one tries to walk away from Facebook oneself. The procedure is
lengthy, one need to (re) confirm one's intent to leave several times
(it's easy to join, leaving is not!). Pictures tagging the user next to
people sHe knows pass by, and the caption under each picture is: "you'll
be dearly missed by so-and-so'!

The managers of an on-line service are not the only ones who decide what
is hate speech. Your account could also be closed because you made
utterances considered to be blasphemy, for instance. Facebook is namely
fluent in your language and hence able to distinguish insulting
pronouncements. Or some informer has taken the trouble to report you to
the guardian of public morality. And yet, you'll easily find racist,
sexist, nationalistic and fundamentalist groups on Facebook, in which case
it's up to you to help censorship and to turn them in. Free choice and
freedom of expression become tricky to defend when confronted with
algorithmic logic, the same logic that makes Google, by default, withhold
results it considers dangerous for you, meaning, mostly, sites with
obscene contents. These results hidden to you almost always consist in
display of explicit sex, which nowadays make up almost half of the world
wide web. Yet at the same time, explicit violence gets a far softer
treatment. So if you wish to visualize all results you must de-activate
'Safe Search', the standard functionality has installed in default mode so
as to protect you from yourself.

Racism, sexism, violence, nationalism, fanaticism, kidporn, all existed
before on-line social networks. Yet the ease with which these tools can be
infiltrated by all the above is staggering, just as is the carelessness of
people who trust machines to pass judgement on what is right and what not.
The deluge of informations which engulfs us, the majority of which is
poorly or not at all contextualised, is very conductive to the propagation
of extremist, factious, or dishonest content, usually masquerading as
appeals for a humanitarian cause or the defense of a common identity.
Whether in our mailbox or through social networks, we are all familiar
with the '419' type of on-line rip-offs. Like chain letters about a poor
little girl in need of a few pennies, or a petition supporting this or
that movement, or a solicitation to share our bank account with some rich
Nigerian now in exile. The fact that such a message originates from our
'friends', real ones or merely presumed, lowers our defenses, and makes us
accept them, or even to distribute them further without checking.

The case with malevolent, or ideological messages is more complicated. If
a group called 'United Against Poverty' shows up on Facebook, and asks us
to chip in for a solidarity meal, chance is that we'll 'Like' it, that we
will highlight this commendable initiative to our Twitter followers, we
might even insert a link on our blog, and post it on the mailing lists we
subscribe to. As we are accustomed to fragmented time and that our moments
of full concentration are rather rare, we might not have noticed at first
glance - unless we are very focused - that the afore-mentioned solidarity
meal was organised by an Italian neo-fascist group in support of Serbian
enclaves in Kosovo. Hence we have become solidary with nationalist Bosnian
Serbs, the same people who provoked genocide in Kosov@ amidst the wave of
identitary extreme-right wing extremism at the time of the dissolution of
Yugoslavia in the middle of the nineties. Facebook's, Twitter's and
Google's  algorithms were all created by ueber-geeks who, however, are
rather less competent in the handling social issues. Therefore, they
should not be allowed to be the ones who decide on what is good and what
is not.

(to be continued)
Next time: presence substitutes and emotional solace (section #10)


(##*) Proposals to outsource the whole official 'ID business' from
government administration to Facebook have indeed been mooted by
right-wing politicians in the Netherlands, with the usual cost &
efficiency arguments, but also because 'everybody is on Facebook' (and/or
should be? ...)
[42] In-Q-Tel's core business is in cryptography and surveillance in
/cloud computing/. It would seem that the Pentagon has decided to make
/the cloud/ more 'secure', maybe as to avoid the embarrassment of a next
'Wikileaks' affair. See Wired, June 2011: 'SpyCloud: Intel Agencies Look
to Keep Secrets in the Ether'

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
( - Dutch site)
( - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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