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June 16, 2019
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online communities

Instagram and Facebook will start censoring ‘graphic images’ of self-harm

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In light of a recent tragedy, Instagram is updating the way it handles pictures depicting self-harm. Instagram and Facebook announced changes to their policies around content depicting cutting and other forms of self harm in dual blog posts Thursday.

The changes comes about in light of the 2017 suicide of a 14 year old girl named Molly Russell, a UK resident who took her own life in 2017. Following her death, her family discovered that Russell was engaged with accounts that depicted and promoted self harm on the platform.

As the controversy unfolded, Instagram Head of Product Adam Mosseri penned an op-ed in the Telegraph to atone for the platform’s at times high consequence shortcomings. Mosseri previously announced that Instagram would implement “sensitivity screens” to obscure self harm content, but the new changes go a step further.

Starting soon, both platforms will no longer allow any “graphic images of self-harm” most notably those that depict cutting. This content was previously allowed because the platforms worked under the assumption that allowing people to connect and confide around these issues was better than the alternative. After a “comprehensive review with global experts and academics on youth, mental health and suicide prevention” those policies are shifting.

“… It was advised that graphic images of self-harm – even when it is someone admitting their struggles – has the potential to unintentionally promote self-harm,” Mosseri said.

Instagram will also begin burying non-graphic images about self harm (pictures of healed scars, for example) so they don’t show up in search, relevant hashtags or on the explore tab. “We are not removing this type of content from Instagram entirely, as we don’t want want to stigmatize or isolate people who may be in distress and posting self-harm related content as a cry for help,” Mosseri said.

According to the blog post, after consulting with groups like the Centre for Mental Health and Save.org, Instagram tried to strike a balance that would still allow users to express their personal struggles without encouraging others to hurt themselves. For self harm, like disordered eating, that’s a particularly difficult line to walk. It’s further complicated by the fact that not all people who self harm have suicidal intentions and the behavior has its own nuances apart from suicidality.

“Up until now, we’ve focused most of our approach on trying to help the individual who is sharing their experiences around self-harm. We have allowed content that shows contemplation or admission of self-harm because experts have told us it can help people get the support they need. But we need to do more to consider the effect of these images on other people who might see them. This is a difficult but important balance to get right.”

Mental health research and treatment teams have long been aware of “peer influence processes” that can make self destructive behaviors take on a kind of social contagiousness. While online communities can also serve as a vital support system for anyone engaged in self destructive behaviors, the wrong kind of peer support can backfire, reinforcing the behaviors or even popularizing them. Instagram’s failure to sufficiently safeguard for the potential impact this kind of content can have on a hashtag-powered social network is fairly remarkable considering that the both Instagram and Facebook claim to have worked with mental health groups to get it right.

These changes are expected in the “coming weeks.” For now, a simple search of Instagram’s #selfharm hashtag still reveals a huge ecosystem of self-harmers on Instagram, including self-harm related memes (some hopeful, some not) and many very graphic photos of cutting.

“It will take time and we have a responsibility to get this right,” Mosseri said. “Our aim is to have no graphic self-harm or graphic suicide related content on Instagram… while still ensuring we support those using Instagram to connect with communities of support.”

Tall Poppy aims to make online harassment protection an employee benefit

in Abuse/American Civil Liberties Union/behavior/bill de blasio/bullying/Canada/cyberbullying/cybercrime/Delhi/Department of Education/Donald Trump/eventbrite/Facebook/harassment/Honeywell/India/law enforcement/linux/Mayor/Microsoft/New York/online abuse/online communities/online harassment/Politics/Ron Wyden/Salesforce/Security/Sexual harassment/slack/social network/Startups/TC/teacher/ticketfly/United States/Y Combinator by

For the nearly 20 percent of Americans who experience severe online harassment, there’s a new company launching in the latest batch of Y Combinator called Tall Poppy that’s giving them the tools to fight back.

Co-founded by Leigh Honeywell and Logan Dean, Tall Poppy grew out of the work that Honeywell, a security specialist, had been doing to hunt down trolls in online communities since at least 2008.

That was the year that Honeywell first went after a particularly noxious specimen who spent his time sending death threats to women in various Linux communities. Honeywell cooperated with law enforcement to try and track down the troll and eventually pushed the commenter into hiding after he was visited by investigators.

That early success led Honeywell to assume a not-so-secret identity as a security expert by day for companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Slack, and a defender against online harassment when she wasn’t at work.

“It was an accidental thing that I got into this work,” says Honeywell. “It’s sort of an occupational hazard of being an internet feminist.”

Honeywell started working one-on-one with victims of online harassment that would be referred to her directly.

“As people were coming forward with #metoo… I was working with a number of high profile folks to essentially batten down the hatches,” says Honeywell. “It’s been satisfying work helping people get back a sense of safety when they feel like they have lost it.”

As those referrals began to climb (eventually numbering in the low hundreds of cases), Honeywell began to think about ways to systematize her approach so it could reach the widest number of people possible.

“The reason we’re doing it that way is to help scale up,” says Honeywell. “As with everything in computer security it’s an arms race… As you learn to combat abuse the abusive people adopt technologies and learn new tactics and ways to get around it.”

Primarily, Tall Poppy will provide an educational toolkit to help people lock down their own presence and do incident response properly, says Honeywell. The company will work with customers to gain an understanding of how to protect themselves, but also to be aware of the laws in each state that they can use to protect themselves and punish their attackers.

The scope of the problem

Based on research conducted by the Pew Foundation, there are millions of people in the U.S. alone, who could benefit from the type of service that Tall Poppy aims to provide.

According to a 2017 study, “nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.”

The women and minorities that bear the brunt of these assaults (and, let’s be clear, it is primarily women and minorities who bear the brunt of these assaults), face very real consequences from these virtual assaults.

Take the case of the New York principal who lost her job when an ex-boyfriend sent stolen photographs of her to the New York Post and her boss. In a powerful piece for Jezebel she wrote about the consequences of her harassment.

As a result, city investigators escorted me out of my school pending an investigation. The subsequent investigation quickly showed that I was set up by my abuser. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration demoted me from principal to teacher, slashed my pay in half, and sent me to a rubber room, the DOE’s notorious reassignment centers where hundreds of unwanted employees languish until they are fired or forgotten.

In 2016, I took a yearlong medical leave from the DOE to treat extreme post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Since the leave was almost entirely unpaid, I took loans against my pension to get by. I ran out of money in early 2017 and reported back to the department, where I was quickly sent to an administrative trial. There the city tried to terminate me. I was charged with eight counts of misconduct despite the conclusion by all parties that my ex-partner uploaded the photos to the computer and that there was no evidence to back up his salacious story. I was accused of bringing “widespread negative publicity, ridicule and notoriety” to the school system, as well as “failing to safeguard a Department of Education computer” from my abusive ex.

Her story isn’t unique. Victims of online harassment regularly face serious consequences from online harassment.

According to a  2013 Science Daily study, cyber stalking victims routinely need to take time off from work, or change or quit their job or school. And the stalking costs the victims $1200 on average to even attempt to address the harassment, the study said.

“It’s this widespread problem and the platforms have in many ways have dropped the ball on this,” Honeywell says.

Tall Poppy’s co-founders

Creating Tall Poppy

As Honeywell heard more and more stories of online intimidation and assault, she started laying the groundwork for the service that would eventually become Tall Poppy. Through a mutual friend she reached out to Dean, a talented coder who had been working at Ticketfly before its Eventbrite acquisition and was looking for a new opportunity.

That was in early 2015. But, afraid that striking out on her own would affect her citizenship status (Honeywell is Canadian), she and Dean waited before making the move to finally start the company.

What ultimately convinced them was the election of Donald Trump.

“After the election I had a heart-to-heart with myself… And I decided that I could move back to Canada, but I wanted to stay and fight,” Honeywell says.

Initially, Honeywell took on a year-long fellowship with the American Civil Liberties Union to pick up on work around privacy and security that had been handled by Chris Soghoian who had left to take a position with Senator Ron Wyden’s office.

But the idea for Tall Poppy remained, and once Honeywell received her green card, she was “chomping at the bit to start this company.”

A few months in the company already has businesses that have signed up for the services and tools it provides to help companies protect their employees.

Some platforms have taken small steps against online harassment. Facebook, for instance, launched an initiative to get people to upload their nude pictures  so that the social network can monitor when similar images are distributed online and contact a user to see if the distribution is consensual.

Meanwhile, Twitter has made a series of changes to its algorithm to combat online abuse.

“People were shocked and horrified that people were trying this,” Honeywell says. “[But] what is the way [harassers] can do the most damage? Sharing them to Facebook is one of the ways where they can do the most damage. It was a worthwhile experiment.”

To underscore how pervasive a problem online harassment is, out of the four companies where the company is doing business or could do business in the first month and a half there is already an issue that the company is addressing. 

“It is an important problem to work on,” says Honeywell. “My recurring realization is that the cavalry is not coming.”

The long Cocky-gate nightmare is over

in Amazon/author/Author's Guild/crescent/Delhi/India/Judge/New York/online communities/Politics/Startups/TC/The Guardian/writer by

I’ve been wanting to write about Cocky-gate for some time now but the story – a row between self-published authors that degenerated into ridiculousness – seems finally over and perhaps we can all get some perspective. The whole thing started in May when a self-published romance author, Faleena Hopkins, began attempting to enforce her copyright on books that contained “cocky” in the title. This included, but was not limited to, Cocky Cowboy, Cocky Biker, and Cocky Roomie, all titles in Hopkins oeuvre.

Hopkins filed a trademark for the use of the word Cocky in romance titles and began attacking other others who used the word cocky, including Jamila Jasper who wrote a book called Cocky Cowboy and received an email from Hopkins.

After taking up the cause on Twitter and creating a solid example of Streisand Effect, Jasper changed the title of her book to The Cockiest Cowboy To Have Ever Cocked. But other authors were hit by cease and desist letters and even Amazon stepped in briefly as well and took down multiple titles for a short time.

From the Guardian:

Pajiba reported on Monday that the author Nana Malone had been asked to change the title of her novel Mr Cocky, while TL Smith and Melissa Jane’s Cocky Fiancé has been renamed Arrogant Fiancé. Other writers claimed that Hopkins had reported them to Amazon, resulting in their books being taken down from the site.

This went on for a number of weeks with the back and forth verging on the comical…

to the serious.

Hopkins went to court to defend her trademark and then bumped up against the powerful Author’s Guild who supported three defendants including a publicist who was incorrectly named as the publisher of one of the offending titles, The Cocktales Anthology.

“Beyond the obvious issues with the merits, it is evident from the face of the complaint that Plaintiffs failed to conduct a reasonable pre-filing investigation before racing to the courthouse. Indeed, the number and extent of defects alone call into question whether the filing was made in good faith. Plaintiffs’ lack of due diligence failed to uncover the stark difference between a publisher and a publicist, i.e., non-party best-selling author Penny Reid is the former, while Defendant Jennifer Watson is the latter (Ms. Watson’s website even states that she provides “publicist and marketing services” and nowhere indicates that she writes or publishes books),” wrote Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York. “In sum, there is nothing meritorious about Plaintiffs’ situation, let alone urgent or irreparable. Defendant Watson cannot offer Plaintiffs the relief they seek as she bears no responsibility for The Cocktales Anthology they wish to enjoin from further publication. Defendant Crescent’s first allegedly infringing book was published over nine months ago. Plaintiffs have admitted that her use of “cocky” in titles would not likely cause confusion as to source or affiliation; moreover, she has publicly stated that she has not suffered lost sales.”

Online communities are wonderful but precarious things. One or two attacks by bad – or even well-meaning – actors can tip them over the edge and ruin them for everyone. In fact, Cocky-gate has encouraged other authors to try this tactics. One writer, Michael-Scott Earle, has attempted to register the words “Dragon Slayer” in a book title and there is now a Twitter bot that hunts for USPTO applications for words in titles.

Now that the cocky has been freed, however, it looks like the romance writers of the world are taking advantage of the opportunity to share their own cocky stories.

Monetizing computing resources on the blockchain

in ad networks/Amazon/blockchain/blockchains/ceo/Co-founder/Column/cryptocurrencies/CTO/decentralization/Delhi/distributed computing/Economy/ethereum/founder/Galia Benartzi/India/Microsoft/Mozilla/online communities/Politics/social media application/social network/Storj/streaming services/TC by

A while back, a blockchain startup approached me with their pitch, a decentralized social media application in which users can earn money by simply doing what they already do on other platforms, such posting updates, photos and videos.

I would have been intrigued had they sent me the message a couple of years ago. But not so much after observing the space for more several years.

Several blockchain applications profess to enable users to monetize various resources, whether it’s their unused storage and CPU power, or the tons of data they generate every day.

Regardless of whether they will succeed to deliver on their promises or not, these projects highlight one of the problems that haunts the centralized internet. Users are seldom rewarded for the great value they bring to platforms such as Facebook, Google and Amazon .

Blockchain applications suggest that decentralized alternatives to current services will give users the chance to collect their fair share of the revenue they generate with their participation in online ecosystems. It’s an enticing proposition since it doesn’t require users to do much more than what they’re already doing: send emails, browse websites, watch ads, keep the computer on…

But what exactly do you earn from monetizing your resources on the internet, and how accessible and reliable are your earning? Here’s what you need to know.

What can you sell?

A handful of blockchain platforms enable you to rent your unused storage, idle CPU cycles, and internet bandwidth with those who are in need. The premise is simple: You list your resources along with your payment terms on the application and get paid in the proprietary crypto-token of the application when others use them. Purchases are arranged, performed and paid peer-to-peer through smart contracts, bits of code that run on blockchain without the need for a centralized application server.

Examples include Golem and iExec, two decentralized marketplaces for computing power. Users can earn the platforms’ proprietary cryptocurrencies, GNT and RLC tokens respectively, by renting their CPU cycles to developers and users who want to run applications on the network. Golem and iExec aim to replace centralized cloud providers such as Amazon and Google, in which the service provider sets the rates and rakes in all the profits.

Storj and Filecoin are two distributed storage networks where users can earn cryptotokens for sharing their free hard drive space with the network. Both platforms are designed to provide infrastructure for various applications such as web hosting and streaming services. Gladius, a decentralized content delivery network (CDN) and DDoS mitigation solution, enables users to monetize their internet bandwidth to serve content from websites and services running on the network.

These applications provide a good opportunity to turn the hours that your computer sits idly in the home or office into a side income.

Other blockchain platforms enable you to monetize your data. An example is Datum, a decentralized marketplace for user data. Datum enables users to earn DAT tokens by choosing to share it with other organizations. Other players in the domain include Streamr, a real-time data-sharing platform geared toward the Internet of Things (IoT). With Streamr, users can earn DATAcoin tokens by sharing the data their connected devices generate with other devices that need it to carry out their functions and companies that use them for analytics and research.

Data is a huge market that is currently dominated by a few big players such as Google and Facebook. These companies hoard user data in their walled-garden silos and use them to make huge profits. Blockchain platforms give users the choice and power to claim their share of that market by giving them back the ownership of their data.

Matchpool is a decentralized social network that enables users to monetize their groups and online communities. Matchpool provides the decentralized equivalent of Facebook groups and provides tools for administrators to earn GUP tokens by setting fees on membership and access to content. And there’s Brave, the blockchain-based browser developed by the former CEO of Mozilla. Brave removes ads from websites and instead gives users the choice to earn Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) by opting to view ads.

How much do you earn?

It’s difficult to measure earnings on blockchain applications because most of them either haven’t launched yet or are in their early stages. Few of the companies I reached out to could provide stable numbers or average figures.

Also, the value of the resource you share on these platforms is often subject to supply-and-demand dynamics. For instance, iExec leaves it to the users to determine the price of their computational resources and doesn’t take any cut from their earnings. If there’s a large demand for decentralized CPU power, you’ll earn more from participating in the network.

Storj, the decentralized storage network, had the most accurate information to share. The platform provides a formula to calculate the monthly earnings of “farmers,” the users who share their free storage space with the network. Storj charges $0.015 per gigabyte of data stored and $0.05 per gigabyte downloaded, 60 percent of which goes to the farmers.

Several factors affect the final earnings, including whether the farmer nodes store primary or mirror copies of data, how long they participate in the network, and how well they perform in terms of up-time, bandwidth and response times. “If someone stored 1TB of data for the entire month, and that entire TB of data was downloaded once that month, they could potentially make $39,” said Philip Hutchins, CTO at Storj Labs. But the current average monthly payment for a Storj farmer node is around $2, according to the network data the company shared.

Storj has also launched partnerships with FileZilla, Microsoft and other companies to build decentralized apps on top of its network, which could increase demand for Storj space.

On Datum, the decentralized data market, users earn between $0.50 and $5 in DAT tokens for each promotional email they opt to open, according to Roger Haenni, the company’s CEO, though he did not share the details of how earnings are calculated. Currently the network supports monetizing email inboxes, but in the future, the company plans to provide users with the option to get paid for sharing various categories of data, such as the location data their phone collects, apps, services and websites they use, data that their smart gadgets collect and others.

That last bit sounds a bit invasive on user privacy. “This [data] is currently widely tracked by cookies from various ad networks,” explains Haenni. “However, the user is not asked to explicitly opt in to share this data nor does he get paid when this data is monetized.” Datum will give the chance to claim the money that’s already being made from their data.

The Datum network currently has 80,000 users, and since the launch of the Datum App in late December, users have collected 1.5 million DAT tokens, amounting to around $75,000.

Gladius, the decentralized CDN, doles out $0.03 in GLA tokens per gigabyte of bandwidth of data streamed through a node (however, the company’s website states that this is an estimate based on favorable market conditions). An internet connection with a 30 mbps upload speed shared with the network for eight hours a day could earn its owner around $49 per month.

What are the costs and risks?

In most cases, you’ve already paid for the resources you’ll be sharing on the blockchain, whether it’s your hard drive space, your CPU or your bandwidth (unless you’re on a metered connection, in which case sharing it would be unwise). However, you’ll have to factor in electricity costs of keeping your computer on, which varied depending on the region you live in.

Social and data-sharing platforms won’t have any extra costs, but you’ll be responsible for keeping the balance between sharing your data and preserving your privacy.

One of the real risks of earning cryptotokens is the constant price fluctuations. The value of what you earn today could double overnight—or drop by half in the same manner. This means you’ll have to choose between holding your tokens or cashing out. 

And there are always the risks of scams and failed projects that will absorb users’ funds and resources only to disappear and leave them out in the cold.

“Resource-sharing projects on top of the blockchain that allow users to control and profit from their own data will be the most profitable and successful projects in the future,” says Jared Tate, blockchain expert and the founder of DigiByte. However, Tate also notes that many of the current resource sharing platforms are PR projects that will never scale. 

“The majority of projects out there won’t be around in 5 years. Most of the projects don’t even have working software, just a white paper and some fancy graphics on a website,” Tate says. Some users evaluate projects by examining the market cap alone, which Tate believes is the absolute worst way to gauge a projects long term viability. “So many market caps are artificially inflated by developer pre-mines or deceptive coin counts,” he warns.

 

How do you deal with the liquidity problem?

 Another challenge users will have to overcome is what to do with the tokens they earn from monetizing their resources. For instance, if you earn Storj tokens from renting your free hard disk space, the only thing you can do with your earnings is, well, rent storage from other users, which doesn’t make sense since you already had an excess of it to begin with. 

Some platforms have multi-faceted economies that enable users to use their earned tokens for various purposes. For instance, in Flixxo, a decentralized streaming service, users can earn FLIXX tokens by sharing their free disk space and bandwidth to host content on the network. They can then use their earned tokens to consume videos published on the platform. But that is still a limited use case and might not be the problem they want to solve with their earnings.

Digital currencies and tokens have a liquidity problem. There are very few retailers and online services that accept Bitcoin as a method of payment, and even fewer that accept other cryptocurrencies. Users often must find some online exchange which matches buyers and sellers of various digital and fiat currencies. The process is slow and complicated and involves fees at different levels. 

An alternative is Bancor, a decentralized liquidity network built on top of the Ethereum blockchain. Supported by its own token, BNT, Bancor enables users to convert between tokens supported on its network without the need to find a buyer or seller. So, for instance, if you’ve earned an amount of RLC tokens from renting your idle CPU time on iExec, you can instantly trade it on Bancor for, say, MANA, the token that will let you purchase VR experiences on Decentraland. 

Bancor already lists several dozen tokens on its network and plans to add more in the future.

“The aim of this mathematic liquidity solution is to allow the long tail of tokens to emerge, by allowing any user generated currency to be viable on day one without needing to achieve massive trade volume in order to be listed and thus become liquid,” says Galia Benartzi, the co-founder of Bancor. “Great tokens will still rise, bad ones will fail, but all will have a chance to try.”

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