Archive for the ‘Internet Culture and Technology’ Category

Islamic State doxes US soldiers, airmen, calls on supporters to kill them

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Ars Technical has a series of interesting articles about doxing including an article about how the Islamic State doxes US soldiers, airmen, calls on supporters to kill them . How long before IS starts identifying the Canadian special forces sent to advise in the war in Iraq and Syria. Or … imagine the doxing of drone operators as a form of retaliation.

Doxing and other troll tactics seem to be entering the mainstream. Gabriella Coleman in Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy writes about Anonymous and their use of various tactics for often admirable causes. She goes further and suggests that trolling may be form of resistance suited to the emerging surveillance state,

Anonymous is emblematic of a particular geography of resistance. Composed of multiple competing groups, short-term power is achievable for brief durations, while long-term dominance by any single group or person is virtually impossible. In such a dynamic landscape, it may be “easy to co-opt, but impossible to be co-opted,” (location 5691 of 8131)

She also sees in Anonymous and trolling the tradition of the trickster. “Trickster tales are not didactic and moralizing but reveal their lessons playfully.” (Location 511 of 8131) It wasn’t long before the tricksters got attacked as the tactics spread. See Dox everywhere: LulzSec under attack from hackers, law enforcement.
The GamerGate controversy showed a much darker side to trolling and how these tactics could be used to bully as much as to resist. The people doxed were mostly women and so-called “social justice warriors” who annoyed certain gamers. Those doxed were hardly the powerful or Big Brother watching us. Now (women) academics who study gaming are being identified. How long before we have to train our graduate students in Anti-doxing strategy as part of preparation for research into games?

Why Watching the Watchers Isn’t Enough: Michael Geist

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Michael Geist gives a good talk on Why Watching the Watchers Isn’t Enough. This talk was part of a symposium on Pathways To Privacy.

Geist’s point is that oversight is not enough. Those who now provide oversight have come out to say that they are on the job and that the CSE’s activities are legal. That means that oversight isn’t really working. The surveillance organizations and those tasked with oversight seem to be willfully ignoring the interpretation of experts that the gathering and sharing of metadata is the gathering and sharing of information about Canadians.

He talked about how C-51 affects privacy allowing information sharing way beyond what is needed for counter-terrorism. C-51 puts in place a legal framework for which no amount of oversight will make a difference. C-51 allows information to be shared between agencies about “activities that undermine the security of Canada.” An opinion piece in the Toronto Star by Craig Forcese and Kent Roach of suggests that this could be interpreted as license to spy on students protesting tuition fees without municipal permission, eco-activists protesting illegally and so on.

Cybergeddon: Why the Internet could be the next “failed state”

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Ars Technica has a good article on Cybergeddon: Why the Internet could be the next “failed state”. The article all the ways the internet is being abused (from porn to the theft of information.) The article starts by reminding us of all the abuse on the internet from revenge porn to the theft of personal information. It then summarizes a paper by Jason Healey, The Five Futures of Cyber Conflict and Cooperation that outlines five possible cyber futures from the unlikely Paradise to Status Quo, Domain (where cyberspace is a domain like any other for conflict), Balkanization, and Cybergeddon.

One wonders what the futures for cyberspace for the academy are. Here are my speculative futures:

  • Balkanization: universities create their own internets (intranets?) to keep out the great unwashed. Alumnae get to keep their university email addresses if they behave. The elite universities (like the University of Alberta) then create a ivory tower subnet where only the important hang.
  • Cybergeddon: trolls drive academics off the internet as we are all Social Justice Warriors who should be doxxed, swatted, and watched. Risk management takes over and academics are not allowed on the internet without grant-funded insurance.
  • Paradise: universities finally succeed is teaching ethics reliably and the world is made a better place. Philosopher rulers are put in charge. The internet becomes the nice safe place it was originally. Microsoft goes out of business, but wills Bob to the internet to be its AI policeperson.

Canadian Spies Collect Domestic Emails in Secret Security Sweep

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

The Intercept and CBC have been collaborating on stories based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden. One recent story is about how Canadian Spies Collect Domestic Emails in Secret Security Sweep. CSE is collecting email going to the government and flagging suspect emails for analysts.

An earlier story titled CSE’s Levitation project: Expert says spy agencies ‘drowning in data’ and unable to follow leads, tells about the LEVITATION project that monitors file uploads to free file hosting sites. The idea is to identify questionable uploads and then to figure out who is uploading the materials.

Glenn Greenwald (see the embedded video) questions the value of this sort of mass surveillance. He suggests that mass surveillance impedes the ability to find terrorists attacks. The problem is not getting more information, but connecting the dots of what one has. In fact the slides that you can get to from these stories both show that CSE is struggling with too much information and analytical challenges.

Building Research Capacity Across the Humanities

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

On Monday I gave a talk at the German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF) on:

Building Research Capacity Across the Humanities and Social Sciences: Social Innovation, Community Engagement and Citizen Science

The talk began with the sorry state of public support for the humanities. We frequently read how students shouldn’t major in the humanities because there are no jobs and we worry about dropping enrolments. The social contract between our publics (whose taxes pay for public universities) and the humanities seems broken or forgotten. We need to imagine how to re-engage the local and international communities interested in what we do. To that end I proposed that we:

  • We need to know ourselves better so we can better present our work to the community. It is difficult in a university like the University of Alberta to know what research and teaching is happening in the social sciences and humanities. We are spread out over 10 different faculties and don’t maintain any sort of shared research presence.
  • We need to learn to listen to the research needs of the local community and to collaborate with the community researchers who are working on these problems. How many people in the university know what the mayor’s priorities are? Who bothers to connect the research needs of the local community to the incredible capacity of our university? How do we collaborate and support the applied researchers who typically do the work identified by major stakeholders like the city. Institutes like the Kule Institute can help document the research agenda of major community stakeholders and then connect university and community researchers to solve them.
  • We need to learn to connect through the internet to communities of interest. Everything we study is of interest to amateurs if we bother to involve them. Crowdsourcing or “citizen science” techniques can bring amateurs into research in a way that engages them and enriches our projects.

In all three of these areas I described projects that are trying to better connect humanities research with our publics. In particular I showed various crowdsourcing projects in the humanities ending with the work we are now doing through the Text Mining the Novel project to imagine ways to crowdsource the tagging of social networks in literature.

One point that resonated with the audience at DIPF was around the types of relationships we need to develop with our publics. I argued that we have to learn to co-create research projects rather than “trickle down” results. We need to develop questions, methods and answers together with community researchers rather think that do the “real” research and then trickle results down to the community. This means learning new and humble ways of doing research.

O’Hagan: The Lives of Ronald Pinn

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Thanks to a note from Willard on Humanist I came across this essay in the London Review of Books, Andrew O’Hagan · The Lives of Ronald Pinn (LRB 8 January 2015). The author decided to develop a false identity and “legend” by using the name of a dead person (Ronald Pinn) who was born around the time he was. This was in response to stories about how UK police had been going undercover since 1968 to infiltrate political groups. The police had been bringing identities back to life so O’Hagan decided to try it. In the process he explored a lot of the dark web including ordering drugs from the Silk Road, ordering guns, getting false IDs and so on.

The essay or biography is well written and poignant. Just before ends the legendary Pinn he meets the original’s mother.

‘Oh, Ronnie,’ she said. ‘There was nobody like him.’

Trolling and Anonymous

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Useful research is finally emerging about trolling in its different forms. The Guardian had a nice overview article by a professor of business psychologies titled Behind the online comments: the psychology of internet trolls. Researchers at the University of Manitoba and UBC have published an article with the title Trolls just want to have fun (PDF preprint) that found evidence that sadists like to troll. They conclude,

The Internet is an anonymous environment where it is easy to seek out and explore one’s niche, however idiosyncratic. Consequently, antisocial individuals have greater opportunities to connect with similar others, and to pursue their personal brand of ‘‘self expression’’ than they did before the advent of the Internet. Online identity construction may be important to examine in research on trolling, especially in terms of antisocial identity and its role in trolling behavior. The troll persona appears to be a malicious case of a virtual avatar, reflecting both actual personality and one’s ideal self . Our research suggests that, for those with sadistic personalities, that ideal self may be a villain of chaos and mayhem – the online Trickster we fear, envy, and love to hate: the cybertroll. (Buckels, E. E., et al. Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences (2014),

By contrast, McGill professor Gabriella Coleman recently published a book about Anonymous, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Coleman also compares the trolling of Anonymous to traditions of the trickster, but is far more sympathetic as she tracks the politicization of Anonymous. About trolling she writes,

Trolls enjoy desecrating anything remotely sacred, as cultural theorist Whitney Phillips conveys in her astute characterization of trolls as “agents of cultural digestion [who] scavenge the landscape, re-purpose the most offensive material, then shove the resulting monstrosities into the faces of an unsuspecting populace.” In short: any information thought to be personal, secure, or sacred is a prime target for sharing or defilement in a multitude of ways. Lulz-oriented actions puncture the consensus around our politics and ethics, our social lives, and our aesthetic sensibilities. Any presumption of our world’s inviolability becomes a weapon; trolls invalidate that world by gesturing toward the possibility for Internet geeks to destroy it—to pull the carpet from under us whenever they feel the urge. (Location 491)

She sees anonymous hacking as one of the ways we can resist the blanket surveillance that Snowden revealed. Anonymous may be the future of resistance even as it emerges from the nasty side of trolling. I can’t say that I’m convinced the ends justify the means, at least when you aren’t willing to take responsibility for the means you employ, but, she is right that it has become a form of resistance for the surveillance age.

Anonymous is emblematic of a particular geography of resistance. Composed of multiple competing groups, short-term power is achievable for brief durations, while long-term dominance by any single group or person is virtually impossible. In such a dynamic landscape, it may be “easy to co-opt, but impossible to keep co-opted,” … (Location 5691)

#GamerGate on

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014
hashtags data by is a neat site that tracks hashtags in Twitter. For example, here is what they have on #GameGate. They show the other hashtags that your hashtag connects to (like #NotYourShield) and you can get a trend line.

hashtags data by

The trend makes it look like #GamerGate is going down, but I don’t trust their projection.

All of this is free. They also have a Pro account, but I haven’t tried that.

Thanks to Brett for this.

The Cult of Sharing

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Mike Bulajewski has written an excellent critique of the The Cult of Sharing. He describes the way ideas of community and sharing are being exploited by a new type of cult-like company like Airbnb and Uber. Under the guise of sharing and building community these companies are bypassing employment and labor legislation. What’s worse is that they are painting basic labor rights as the outdated way of doing things.

That’s because they’ve adopted a kind of cultural critique of capitalism. For them, the problem with capitalism is not the system itself, but rather depraved contemporary Western culture, which is greedy, individualistic, selfish and acquisitive, and rewards greedy, corrupt, ill-intentioned individuals. The opponents of the so-called culture of greed see the behavior of Black Friday shoppers and Wall Street bankers as equal manifestations of the same general phenomenon, and perhaps believing that we get the leaders we deserve, conclude that the public’s moral flaws makes them in some way responsible for the greed of Wall Street.

The sharing economy is clearly not the kind of economy where wealth and prosperity is shared between rich and poor. On the contrary, it worsens income inequality and concentrates wealth in the hands of those who need it the least. Progressive advocates are well aware of this, but they also see an upside: these startups teach their workers moral lessons about sharing, community, giving and service with a smile.

I’m not sure this is going to be the problem Bulajewski thinks it will be, but he has me worried. I hope that that shine of sharing will wear off and consumers/sharers will begin to treat this as any other industry. I also think the media will soon start reporting the downside of staying on someone’s couch or getting a ride with someone who isn’t licensed. It’s like the internet, which we all thought was a nice sharing community, until it wasn’t.

Kim Kardashian Hollywood App

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Someone mentioned the Kim Kardashian Hollywood app and how successful it was so I thought I should try it. The app is free and as addictive as this article documents, Oh God, I Spent $494.04 Playing the Kim Kardashian Hollywood App. You probably think you are above all the Kardashian stuff, but you aren’t!

Neither talent nor intelligence are needed to succeed in Kim’s app universe. There are no puzzles or hidden object searches or anything like that. There isn’t even any strategizing. You mindlessly tap on the screen to earn and spend money.

Anyway, the philosophy of the app can be found in the hints given while loading:

Dating famous people will get you more fans too.

Dating costs money, but it’s a quick way to level up!

Changing your look and buying nice clothes can get you noticed by the media.

You can get friends or game contacts to help you with projects by hiring them as co-stars.