A website is not a lawless zone: it’s like a street corner

Cloudflare has blocked access to Kiwi Farms, a forum used by attackers to harass, swatting and of doxxing. This week in the #Rule30 newsletter published by Numerama, journalist Lucie Ronfaut shows that it’s not just social networks that must take responsibility for the spaces they host.

Often, when we talk about online moderation, an image comes to mind: a moderator or a moderator, probably working in appalling conditions, decides in a handful of seconds if a content is legal and / or authorized by the rules of a large social network. It’s not false. That’s not completely true either. Content moderation is a vast field, practiced by people with different experiences and a panoply of little-known tools: databases that automatically remove certain images or videos, reduced visibility in the newsfeeddemonetization, design tips to slow down discussions, etc. Finally, this control is not only practiced by social networks. On the web today, everything is moderation.

This article is an excerpt from our weekly newsletter Rule30, published by Numerama. This is the issue of September 7, 2022. To subscribe for free, it’s here.

A recent case illustrates this complexity well. This weekend, Cloudflare, provider of various services for websites, decided to block access to Kiwi Farms. This forum, created in 2013, has a long history of harassment and doxxing (the search and publication of personal data about a person, such as their address, the identity of their relatives, the name of their employer, etc.). These attacks generally target women, and more specifically trans people. Kiwi Farms has already been talked about in recent years for sordid reasons: its community ” claims » several suicides and he has been stranded since 2019 in New Zealand for refusing to cooperate in the investigation of the Christchurch bombing.

More recently, one of its targets, Canadian trans streamer Keffals, launched a major media campaign against the site. Victim of ” swatting (a practice of making people believe in an imminent threat so that the police arrive at an innocent person’s house and violently attack them) and then forced to leave their home to hide, the creator encouraged her supporters to lobby against Cloudflare. This American company offers several services, such as a content distribution network (CDN, which makes it possible to load a site quickly) or protection against DDoS attacks (the sending of a very large number of phantom requests to a site for the make unavailable). Until last week, it counted Kiwi Farms among its users.

Cloudflare initially declined to act, believing its services to be comparable to a convenience. ” In the same way that your telephone company will not cancel your subscription because you say horrible, racist and bigoted remarks, we believe that terminating security services because we consider that content published is despicable is bad policy. the company wrote in a statement you can read here. Finally, on Sunday, she reconsidered her decision, by blocking access to Kiwi Farmsciting ” an unprecedented emergency and an immediate threat to human life from the site. She maintained that it was a ” dangerous decision, which makes us uncomfortable“, and that she would have preferred to wait for the conclusion of any legal proceedings.

Cloudflare’s argument more or less resembles that long agitated by social networks in the face of the problem of online moderation: it is a private company, embarrassed by moral decisions, where it cannot rely on a law or a court decision (which does not exist, or which takes too long to arrive). Except that these questions no longer only affect Facebook, Twitter or TikTok. They now concern des sites de crowdfundingof the online payment services or accommodation, music and podcast platformsof the boutiques d’applicationsetc. « In the great technical pyramid that makes up the internet, which part is supposed to be neutral, which part should moderate, and what happens in between? asks Daphne Keller, a specialist in digital policy and platform regulation, who works at Stanford University, in an interview with Washington Post. It should also be noted that Cloudflare was not the host of Kiwi Farms. It provided it with a structure to counter online attacks and remain accessible to Internet users. This means that the forum will still be able to exist, but only with services that will agree to help it. So it is indeed a choice. In the same way that, every day, social networks choose whether or not to moderate abject content.

In conclusion, I find interesting the analysis of the American journalist Ryan Broderick, who judges that this case has nothing to do with freedom of expression online, or even cutting a telephone line. ” A website is not a phone », he writes in his newsletter Garbage Day. « A website is the corner of a street, an advertising poster, parks, shopping centers, spaces where people meet (…) Regardless of our laws on freedom of expression and demonstration. If the crowd you attract to a place starts threatening people, the company you hired to provide security for the protest has the right to let you down.You can’t make phone calls to the internet, but you can try to control it.

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The press review of the week

Policy

Talking about video games on social networks, particularly when it comes to touching on subjects of representation or diversity, is often to attract at least one smart guy who will tell you that politics has nothing to do in there. Visibly bored by the comments of the genre, From Gamekult released a very effective video that summarizes in less than 5 minutes why video games have, in fact, always been political. To spin to the trolls of your entourage! Look it over here.

Metamec

You probably know that Meta (Facebook’s parent company) is currently working on a metaverse project, and that it is putting a lot of effort into convincing us of its interest. This analysis of Bloomberg tackles a parallel subject, which I hadn’t necessarily noticed: to be taken more seriously, Mark Zuckerberg has started a change of image, claiming a more traditionally masculine attitude, rather than being seen as a geek. It is to be read (in English) here.


I can’t see colors (except for elves)

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a series broadcast since last week on Amazon Prime, which takes place in the universe of the famous saga of JRR Tolkien. She was eagerly awaited by the fans. She also quickly became the subject of racist remarks concerning some and some of her actors and actresses. On this subject, I appreciated this editorial published in the Hollywood Reporterwhich emphasizes that the controversy testifies to a worrying ” rationalization of racism », as well as a serious misunderstanding of Tolkien’s work. You can read it (in English) here.

Not touch

We are moving away a little from the subject of new technologies (at least those I often talk about here); but I really recommend that you read this incredible investigation into the history of the TSA, the American agency in charge of security in airports, from its origins to its questionable effectiveness to its terrifying legacy for very many people racialized or trans who take the plane. It is to be read (in English) at The Verge.

Something to read/watch/listen to/play

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Do you remember the internet in 1999? Its forums dedicated to niche interests, its animated gifs, its personal pages that are a little too personal, and above all all those nights spent browsing online, thanks to a banner connected directly to our unconscious? This alternate reality is that ofHypnospace Outlaw, a video game that immerses you in the beginnings of the mainstream web, with a good dose of science fiction. You play as a volunteer moderator for Hypnospace, the new fashionable platform, to which we connect thanks to a technology of sleeptime computing, literally sleep computing. Your tasks are initially quite mundane: you spot violations (cyberbullying, copyright issues, illegal traffic), then report them to the appropriate department. However, your job gets complicated pretty quickly. The co-founders of Merchandsoft, the company behind Hypnospace, have big ambitions, while on the forums, Internet users are worried about the effects of the year 2000 bug.

Hypnospace Outlaw is one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. Between simulation and puzzle game, it is the perfect metaphor for the beginnings of the web: slow, verbose and frustrating. Puzzles usually consist of responding to a request from the Hypnospace moderation team. We then have to search the forums or other resources ourselves via an internet browser. Unfortunately, some puzzles are really difficult, and I encourage you to look for a guide online to help you if you get stuck too long (you can also type hint! in the game). Nevertheless, Hypnospace Outlaw is a hypnotic and nostalgic trip, which manages to speak aptly about the moral complexity of moderation, or the forgotten joy of small online communities. If you’re not afraid to spend hours reliving the finest hours of Skbylogs, IRC or your favorite role-playing forum, it’s your turn to get high.
Hypnospace Outlaw, available on PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (in English)

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