[News] The Internet Was a Mistake

A thread for updates on the various ways the internet is destroying everything and the undying hellsites of social media. Let's all laugh at the abyss.

Jonman wrote:

What we still haven’t learned from Gamergate

We, as a community, are a lot closer to this, and it doesn't necessarily apply to quite such an extent, but that's a fascinating article.

Yeah the James Gunn thing was clearly the same weaponization of twitter.

Clearview AI Says Its Facial Recognition Software Identified A Terrorism Suspect. The Cops Say That's Not True.

Originally known as Smartcheckr, Clearview was the result of an unlikely partnership between Ton-That, a small-time hacker turned serial app developer, and Richard Schwartz, a former adviser to then–New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Ton-That told the Times that they met at a 2016 event at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, after which they decided to build a facial recognition company.

While Ton-That has erased much of his online persona from that time period, old web accounts and posts uncovered by BuzzFeed News show that the 31-year-old developer was interested in far-right politics. In a partial archive of his Twitter account from early 2017, Ton-That wondered why all big US cities were liberal, while retweeting a mix of Breitbart writers, venture capitalists, and right-wing personalities.

“In today's world, the ability to handle a public shaming / witch hunt is going to be a very important skill,” he tweeted in January 2017.

Those interactions didn’t just happen online. In June 2016, Mike Cernovich, a pro-Trump personality on Twitter who propagated the Pizzagate conspiracy, posted a photo of Ton-That at a meal with far-right provocateur Chuck Johnson with both of them making the OK sign with their hands, a gesture that has since become favored by right-wing trolls.

“I was only making the Okay sign in the photo as in 'all okay,'” Ton-That said in an email. "It was completely innocuous and should not be construed as anything more than that.

"I am of Asian decent [sic] and do not hold any discriminatory views towards any group or individual," he added. "I am devoting my professional life to creating a tool to help law enforcement solve heinous crimes and protect victims. It would be absurd and unfair for anyone to distort my views and values based on old photos of any sort.”

By the election, Ton-That was on the Trump train, attending an election night event where he was photographed with Johnson and his former business partner Pax Dickinson.

The following February, Smartcheckr LLC was registered in New York, with Ton-That telling the Times that he developed the image-scraping tools while Schwartz covered the operating costs. By August that year, they registered Clearview AI in Delaware, according to incorporation documents.

While there’s little left online about Smartcheckr, BuzzFeed News obtained and confirmed a document, first reported by the Times, in which the company claimed it could provide voter ad microtargeting and “extreme opposition research” to Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist who was running on an extremist platform to fill the Wisconsin congressional seat of the departing speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

A Smartcheckr contractor, Douglass Mackey, pitched the services to Nehlen. Mackey later became known for running the racist and highly influential Trump-boosting Twitter account Ricky Vaughn. Described by HuffPost as “Trump’s most influential white nationalist troll,” Mackey built a following of tens of thousands of users with a mix of far-right propaganda, racist tropes, and anti-Semitic cartoons. MIT’s Media Lab ranked Vaughn, who used multiple accounts to dodge several bans, as one of the top 150 influencers of the 2016 presidential election — ahead of NBC News and the Drudge Report.

“An unauthorized proposal was sent to Mr. Nehlen,” Ton-That said. “We did not seek this work. Moreover, the technology described in the proposal did not even exist.”

A disagreement between Mackey and other far-right figures led to his outing as the owner of the Vaughn persona, sweeping Smartcheckr up in the fallout. In April 2018, a white nationalist blogger named Christopher Cantwell posted Smartcheckr’s pitch documents to Nehlen as well as information about Schwartz, inviting a torrent of abuse.

"[Mackey] worked for 3 weeks as a consultant to Smartcheckr, which was the initial name of Clearview in its nascent days years ago," Ton-That said. "He was referred to me by a friend who is a liberal Democrat."

Mackey did not respond to multiple requests for comment. When asked if the company knew about Mackey's Twitter persona, Ton-That responded, "Absolutely not."

Whelp. One of my boomer aunts is posting an alternate Pledge of Allegiance in which we are to grovel and prostrate ourselves before the Almighty Flag and our brave soldiers.

It is some straight up insane fascistic rhetoric.

This same aunt was your stereotypical flower child that, for some unknowable reason, took a hard right turn in about... oh... 2008 or so.

Curious if anything significant happened that year...

QAnon Supporters And Anti-Vaxxers Are Spreading A Hoax That Bill Gates Created The Coronavirus

[Insert Windows joke here.]

A false rumor that the coronavirus outbreak is a plot by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is being spread by supporters of the pro-Trump QAnon movement and the anti-vax community.

A QAnon YouTuber named Jordan Sather warned his followers on Tuesday that the coronavirus was a “new fad disease” and claimed the release of the virus that causes it was “planned.” Following Sather’s heavily retweeted thread, the conspiracy theory traveled across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

The newly discovered virus — a member of the coronavirus family that includes past outbreaks SARS and MERS — has infected more than 644 people and killed 18 since Dec. 31, 2019, according to Chinese news reports. Infected travelers have been detected in Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and Singapore. The first US case was announced on Tuesday, and five US airports have begun screening for the virus after a man in his thirties from Snohomish County, Washington, had his infection confirmed by a recently developed genetic test. (A potential second US case was announced today.) And on Thursday, Chinese officials quarantined a number of cities in close proximity to the center of the outbreak, Wuhan. Public transportation was shut down, roads were blocked, and outbound flights were suspended, leaving 20 million people effectively unable to leave on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

While the World Health Organization has so far stressed that this isn't a global emergency, online rumors and lies have run fast.

The crux of Sather’s conspiracy hinges on a 2015 patent filed by the Pirbright Institute in Surrey, England, which covers the development of a weakened form of a coronavirus that could potentially be used as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds and other animals. This is a standard way that vaccines are made, for everything from the flu vaccine to the polio vaccine.

“The assignee of this patent was the government-funded Pirbright Institute out of the UK,” Sather tweeted. “Was the release of this disease planned? Is the media being used to incite fear around it? Is the Cabal desperate for money, so they're tapping their Big Pharma reserves?”

One of the many, many issues with Sather’s theory is that the Pirbright does not currently work with any strains of the coronavirus that affect humans — its patent covers the avian coronavirus, which only affects birds. (Scientists have suggested that snakes or mammals could be the source of the outbreak — not birds.)

Dr. Erica Bickerton, who studies avian pathology for Pirbright, told BuzzFeed News that the institute patented the avian coronavirus to study how it replicated in chickens and chicken cells.

“The name coronavirus is a whole family of viruses,” she said. “Each of these viruses has their own characteristics.”

Bickerton said she was aware of the misinformation spreading online, but stressed that none of Pirbright’s work with the coronavirus involved humans: “The work we do focuses on an avian coronavirus that affects chickens.”

But the facts haven’t slowed down the hoax.

“Big money in vaccines,” one QAnon supporter tweeted. “Who is pushing for people to be vaccinated? Hillary and Chelsea?”

YouTube Moderators Forced to Sign Statement Acknowledging the Job Can Give Them PTSD

Content moderators for YouTube are being ordered to sign a document acknowledging that performing the job can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to interviews with employees and documents obtained by The Verge. Accenture, which operates a moderation site for YouTube in Austin, Texas, distributed the document to workers on December 20th — four days after The Verge published an investigation into PTSD among workers at the facility.

“I understand the content I will be reviewing may be disturbing,” reads the document, which is titled “Acknowledgement” and was distributed to employees using DocuSign. “It is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I will take full advantage of the weCare program and seek additional mental health services if needed. I will tell my supervisor/or my HR People Adviser if I believe that the work is negatively affecting my mental health.”

The PTSD statement comes at the end of the two-page acknowledgment form, and it is surrounded by a thick black border to signify its importance. It may be the most explicit acknowledgment yet from a content moderation company that the job now being done by tens of thousands of people around the world can come with severe mental health consequences.

“The wellbeing of our people is a top priority,” an Accenture spokeswoman said in an email. “We regularly update the information we give our people to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the work they do — and of the industry-leading wellness program and comprehensive support services we provide.”

Accenture said it shares information about potentially disturbing content with all of the content moderators it employs, including those who work on its contracts with Facebook and Twitter. But it would not answer questions about whether it specifically informs Facebook and Twitter moderators that they are at risk for PTSD. The Verge has previously interviewed Facebook moderators working for Accenture competitor Cognizant in Phoenix, Arizona, and Tampa, Florida, who have been diagnosed with PTSD after viewing violent and disturbing content.

In a statement, Facebook said it did not review or approve forms like the one Accenture sent. A Twitter spokeswoman said that both full-time and contract Twitter employees receive information when they join the company that acknowledges they might have to view sensitive material as part of their jobs. It is not clear whether contract workers for Facebook or Twitter have been asked to sign the PTSD acknowledgment form. (If you’re a contract worker for either company and have been asked to sign one, please email [email protected].)

The PTSD form describes various support services available to moderators who are suffering, including a “wellness coach,” a hotline, and the human resources department. (“The wellness coach is not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose or treat mental health disorders,” the document adds.)

It also seeks to make employees responsible for monitoring changes in their mental health and orders them to disclose negative changes to their supervisor or HR representative. It instructs employees to seek outside help if necessary as well. “I understand how important it is to monitor my own mental health, particularly since my psychological symptoms are primarily only apparent to me,” the document reads. “If I believe I may need any type of healthcare services beyond those provided by [Accenture], or if I am advised by a counselor to do so, I will seek them.”

The document adds that “no job is worth sacrificing my mental or emotional health” and that “this job is not for everyone” — language that suggests employees who experience mental health struggles as a result of their work do not belong at Accenture. It does not state that Accenture will make reasonable accommodations to employees who become disabled on the job, as required by federal law. Labor attorneys told The Verge that this language could be construed to suggest that employees may be terminated for becoming disabled, which would be illegal.

“I’m acknowledging that if I disclose my mental health to you, you may be able to fire me. That isn’t allowed,” said Alreen Haeggquist, an employee rights attorney based in California.

Accenture says signing the document is voluntary. But two current employees told The Verge that they were threatened with being fired if they refused to sign. The document itself also says that following its instructions is required: “Strict adherence to all the requirements in this document is mandatory,” it reads. “Failure to meet the requirements would amount to serious misconduct and for Accenture employees may warrant disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

"do no evil"

Disinformation For Hire: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Is Selling Lies Online

Peng Kuan Chin pulled out his phone, eager to show the future of online manipulation.

Unseen servers began crawling the web for Chinese articles and posts. The system quickly reorganized the words and sentences into new text. His screen displayed a rapidly increasing tally of the articles generated by his product, which he dubs the “Content Farm Automatic Collection System."

With the articles in hand, a set of websites that Peng controlled published them, and his thousands of fake social media accounts spread them across the internet, instantly sending manipulated content into news feeds, messaging app inboxes, and search results.

"I developed this for manipulating public opinion,” Peng told the Reporter, an investigative news site in Taipei, which partnered with BuzzFeed News for this article. He added that automation and artificial intelligence “can quickly generate traffic and publicity much faster than people.”

The 32-year-old wore Adidas Yeezy sneakers and a gold Rolex as he sat in a two-story office in the industrial part of Taichung that was filled with feng shui items such as a money frog and lucky bamboo. A riot gun, which uses compressed air to fire nonlethal projectiles, rested on his desk. Peng said he bought it for “recreational purposes.”

In the interview, he detailed his path from sending spam emails as a 14-year-old to, being recruited to help with the 2018 reelection campaign of Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia.

A Pro-Trump Blog Doxed A Chinese Scientist It Falsely Accused Of Creating The Coronavirus As A Bioweapon

A popular pro-Trump website has released the personal information of a scientist from Wuhan, China, falsely accusing them of creating the coronavirus as a bioweapon, in a plot it said is the real-life version of the video game Resident Evil.

On Wednesday, far-right news site Zero Hedge claimed without evidence that a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology created the strain of the virus that has led the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency. The outbreak has grown to more than 9,776 cases, with 118 outside of China. The coronavirus has killed 213 people, all in China.

It concludes, “if anyone wants to find out what really caused the coronavirus pandemic that has infected thousands of people in China and around the globe, they should probably pay [the Chinese scientist] a visit.” It also lists their email address and a phone number.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to the scientist, whom it is declining to name.

Zero Hedge's Twitter account was suspended Friday, following the publication of the scientist's name.

"The account was permanently suspended for violating our platform manipulation policy," a spokesperson for Twitter told BuzzFeed News.

The rumors and lies about the Wuhan Institute of Virology dovetail with a popular meme about how the institute’s logo is similar to that of the Umbrella Corporation, the shady agency responsible for making the virus that starts the zombie apocalypse in the Resident Evil video game franchise. The logo that inspired the meme isn’t actually from Wuhan Institute of Virology, but actually belongs to Shanghai Ruilan Bao Hu San Biotech Limited, located in Shanghai, 500 miles away.

Zero Hedge, which describes itself as a financial blog, has more than 50,000 followers on Facebook and more than 670,000 followers on Twitter and is run by Daniel Ivandjiiski, a Bulgarian-born, US-based, former investment banker, who writes the majority of the posts published by the pseudonym Tyler Durden. The site regularly amplifies conspiracy theories from anonymous message board 4chan and writes frequently about the deep state, doomsday prep, bitcoin speculation, and New Age pseudoscience.

Zero Hedge’s Wednesday coronavirus story — “Is This the Man Behind the Global Coronavirus Pandemic?” — focused on the Chinese scientist who researches the coronavirus.

Zero Hedge linked to a Wuhan Institute of Virology press release from January 2019 that says the scientist was studying why bats who carry the coronavirus don’t get sick from it. What the Zero Hedge article does not state is that studying a form of a virus strain found in animals is a standard way to make vaccines, whether for the flu or polio.

Conservatives push false claims of voter fraud on Twitter as Iowans prepare to caucus

WaPo wrote:

The claims of voter fraud were false, proved untrue by public data and the state’s top election official.

That didn’t stop them from going viral, as right-wing activists took to Twitter over the weekend to spread specious allegations of trickery in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The episode showcased the perils of conducting elections in the age of social media, where volume is more important than veracity.

The Iowa Democratic Party, in partnership with national Democratic officials, has labored to make the caucuses more transparent and to fend off the sort of confusion and conspiracy theories that marred the process in 2016. The Democratic National Committee has its own unit tracking viral disinformation and flagging falsehoods to campaigns, as well as to technology companies that have pledged to clean up their platforms after they were enlisted by Russian actors to boost Donald Trump in his campaign against Hillary Clinton.

But their efforts falter in the face of falsehoods pushed by users with massive online audiences, which social media platforms often refuse to remove, arguing they should not serve as the Web’s arbiters of truth. On Monday, Twitter affirmed its mostly hands-off approach, maintaining the false claims about Iowa’s voter rolls did not qualify as a form of voter suppression.

“The tweet you referenced is not in violation of our election integrity policy as it does not suppress voter turnout or mislead people about when, where, or how to vote," said spokeswoman Katie Rosborough.

The claims on the eve of the caucuses came from a pair conservative activists.

Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch, wrote Sunday morning that “eight Iowa counties have more voter registrations than citizens old enough to register.”

That notion, based on a Judicial Watch report purporting to find similar irregularities in hundreds of counties across the country, is false, according to state officials and a Washington Post review of the most up-to-date data.

Of the eight Iowa counties listed by Judicial Watch, a single one — Lyon County — has more registered voters than adult residents, based on five-year estimates released by the Census Bureau in 2018. The estimates, however, do not account for population growth over the past two years. And the total number registered comprises active and inactive voters.

“Their data is flawed, and it’s unfortunate that they’ve chosen caucus day to put out this deeply flawed data,” said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Iowa secretary of state.

Flaws in the data did not stop other conservative activists from pushing the misleading conclusion. Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a group mobilizing young conservatives, followed up Sunday afternoon to proclaim that, “One day before the Iowa Caucus, it’s been revealed that EIGHT Iowa counties have more adults registered to vote than voting-aged adults living there.” He asked users to retweet to show their support for a national voter-identification law.

And retweet they did. By Monday, the two tweets together had more than 100,000 interactions, meaning retweets, likes and replies. Among the users amplifying the falsehood were Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, and Mimi Walters, a Republican former congresswoman from California. Analysis by VineSight, a group tracking online falsehoods, said that some of the amplification came from accounts exhibiting signs of automation and that few of the users appeared to be from Iowa.

Early Monday, Iowa’s secretary of state, Republican Paul Pate, weighed in to debunk the allegation.

“False claim,” he wrote. “Here is a link to the actual county-by-county voter registration totals. They are updated monthly and available online for everyone to see.”

He included a link to his office’s website, as well as the hashtag #FakeNews.

Pate’s post gained virtually no amplification.

Paul Pate's tweet had no comments, 16 retweets, and 18 likes.

I'm frankly shocked no one has sued them over unlicensed use of photos. They are using photos that they probably don't have the rights for to make money. I'm guessing there are literally billions of cases there.

Nevin73 wrote:

I'm frankly shocked no one has sued them over unlicensed use of photos. They are using photos that they probably don't have the rights for to make money. I'm guessing there are literally billions of cases there.

I suspect their defense would rest on some form of "public domain" argument, in that if you post your picture in the town square, don't be surprised when people look at it.

That's the biggest problem with fighting fake news. We actually want it.

On Facebook, anti-vaxxers urged a mom not to give her son Tamiflu. He later died

Facebook groups that routinely traffic in anti-vaccination propaganda have become a resource for people seeking out a wide variety of medical information — including about the ongoing flu season.

Facebook hosts a vast network of groups that trade in false health information. On “Stop Mandatory Vaccination,” one of the largest known health misinformation groups with more than 139,000 members, people have solicited advice for how to deal with the flu. Members of the group have previously spread conspiracies that outbreaks of preventable diseases are “hoaxes” perpetrated by the government, and use the groups to mass-contact parents whose children have died and suggest without evidence that vaccines may be to blame.

One recent post came from the mother of a 4-year-old Colorado boy who died from the flu this week. In it, she consulted group members while noting that she had declined to fill a prescription written by a doctor.

The child had not been diagnosed yet, but he was running a fever and had a seizure, the mother wrote. She added that two of her four children had been diagnosed with the flu and that the doctor had prescribed the antiviral Tamiflu for everyone in the household.

“The doc prescribed tamiflu I did not pick it up,” she wrote.

Tamiflu is the most common antiviral medication prescribed to treat the flu. The drug can ease symptoms and shorten the length of illness, but concerns about side effects are common even outside anti-vaccination echo chambers. The flu has hit children particularly hard this season. Pediatric hospitalization rates are higher than normal, and 68 children have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I mean I can't stand anti-vaxxers but I don't see any problem with not giving your kid Tamiflu. It was doctor prescribed and when the alternative is death, you ought to do it. But being dumb is not a crime and the loss of the kid is punishment enough.

Lemme guess, the anti-vaxxers think it gives you autism... f*ckwads!

fangblackbone wrote:

I mean I can't stand anti-vaxxers but I don't see any problem with not giving your kid Tamiflu. It was doctor prescribed and when the alternative is death, you ought to do it. But being dumb is not a crime and the loss of the kid is punishment enough.

Lemme guess, the anti-vaxxers think it gives you autism... f*ckwads!

Except the one who received the most severe punishment is the kid who died. And they had no input into whether they got to take a medicine that could have saved their life. I have a feeling also that these types of parents will still blame the doctor and/or Western medicine for their kids death.

fangblackbone wrote:

I mean I can't stand anti-vaxxers but I don't see any problem with not giving your kid Tamiflu. It was doctor prescribed and when the alternative is death, you ought to do it. But being dumb is not a crime and the loss of the kid is punishment enough.

Lemme guess, the anti-vaxxers think it gives you autism... f*ckwads!

You just inadvertently made a strong argument for universal healthcare where the parent has no say in the care.

A Conversation with Anita Sarkeesian

The thing about YouTube is that they have algorithms that keep you on the site, because that is a part of the business model. To keep you on the site, they feed you more and more extreme material. You watch one of my videos and it says “You like feminism? Here’s a whole bunch of anti-feminist videos. You’re going to love this.” You can very easily go down a rabbit hole. But a more subtle example is that you might see let’s say a video of Joe Rogan and you’re like, “Oh cool, this guy is interesting. He interviews interesting people.” And then you start to watch all of his programming and you start to see who he brings on. And while you think what he’s saying is totally reasonable, but his guests might say some things that are a little extreme, a little wacky, or a little conspiracy theorist and might begin to think, “But if this guy who I’ve been watching for a while thinks he’s cool, then maybe he is.” And then you go down that rabbit hole. You start listening to other folks who are more and more and more extreme in their beliefs when it comes to accusing people of color and women and trans folks for all that is wrong in the world, who really believe in maintaining the power of white men above all else. These are wild conspiracy theories and the more you engage with this material, the more it becomes normal.


This part of our online discourse is a huge problem and it is right-wing radicalizing for especially young men. Or men who just feel a little disaffected, because they’re getting the answers to the problems that are legitimate in their life, but they’re getting these really harmful, wrong answers to their questions. They don’t have a job? Well these people are going to say it’s because Mexicans are coming over and taking them. They don’t have a girlfriend? It’s because women are bitches. And your boss is a woman? She must’ve slept with someone to get that position. Like it’s all of these really old, oppressive narratives that are being used to explain what I think are probably really valid concerns for a lot of people living in this country today or globally in various ways. In terms of employment, in terms of wellness and satisfaction and all of these other political issues – it’s taking people down this really terrifying path that leads to electing Trump. That leads to massive online harassment campaigns. That leads to the adoption of really dangerous ideologies.