Facebook And The Fake News Monster


The mainstream media looks to Facebook and technology to solve the problem of “fake news”, while utterly ignoring their own starring role in driving readers into the arms of more disreputable news outlets

Jeff Chiu has an interesting rumination in Newsweek on the way that Facebook tacitly encouraged the monster of “fake news” which it is now being ordered to help slay.

Chiu writes:

Think back just a couple of years, before the 2016 election cycle and before Facebook set itself up as the world’s newswire. Facebook grew to a billion users by being a social network. It’s where you found old friends and kept up with family. I just looked back at my 2014 Facebook timeline. Almost zero politics! And that’s how most people liked it. Many users back then even beseeched friends to avoid political posts, or muted the violators if they persisted. In real life, most of us don’t want to argue politics with our friends and family, so why would we want to do it online?

Then, over the past two years, Facebook aggressively morphed into a media site. It set up deals with publishers to populate all our timelines with stories. It subtly encouraged users to post stories and to “like” and comment on them. Facebook, of course, did this with its own goals in mind. To maximize profit, Facebook needs to keep users engaged and on the site as long as possible, and to get those users to create or interact with all the content in their feeds. That thrum of activity helps Facebook’s algorithms more deftly target ads to more people, which makes Facebook even more attractive to advertisers.

Since politics is traditionally news, of course that topic started to slip into our feeds, and Facebook’s setup encouraged sinister practices. As users zip through their news feeds, scanning only the headlines, they are more likely to click on and share stories that are outrageous or stir emotions. In other words, Facebook—unwittingly, from what I hear—incentivized clickbait “news” over more serious news, and the success of clickbait opened the way for fake news. “We’re more likely to share inflammatory posts than non-inflammatory ones, which means that each Facebook session is a process by which we double down on the most radical beliefs in our feed,” writes Mike Caulfield, an expert in learning environments. “Marketers figured this out and realized that to get you to click, they had to up the ante. So they produced conspiracy sites that have carefully designed, fictional stories that are inflammatory enough that you will click.”

It’s hard to say whether Facebook is the chicken or the egg in this wave of political propaganda—whether it helped create the acidic and divided politics around the world or if the ugly political environment merely found an accommodating home on Facebook. No doubt it was some of both, and the result is that our feeds are now overwhelmed with wingnut political content that gets amplified even if it’s crazy. During the election, a lot of Facebook users just didn’t care if something was true, says Paul Mihailidis, a media literacy professor at Emerson College. “They saw it as a way to advocate,” he says. “They see a catchy headline, and the default is to share.” If you look globally—the U.S., the U.K., France, Colombia, the Philippines—politics are getting more caustic, not less. In this kind of environment, all the media outlets that now rely on Facebook’s audience are driven to flood us with click-worthy headlines that play to our fears and anger. Every trend line points to more of what we’re growing to hate on Facebook.

The perverse incentives created by Facebook’s dominance and algorithms cannot be overstated. At peak times, when I am actively promoting Semi-Partisan Politics during newsworthy events, up to 50 percent of total traffic can come from Facebook alone, some days even more. Other sites have an even greater dependency on Facebook as a source of traffic.

And for media professionals, with this dependency on Facebook comes the temptation to generate extra precious pageviews by pushing the boundaries of acceptable journalistic practice, whether as a ploy to increase web ad revenue or merely for the supposed prestige of more clicks. All other ways of generating extra traffic – like, say, producing better content – are far more arduous and time intensive than simply being a bit more provocative on Facebook. And the returns are nowhere near as good. It would take a media organisation of exceptional poise and integrity to withstand these temptations. And as we know, there are few publications where the words “poise” or “integrity” come naturally as descriptors.

Compounding the problem is the fact that this Facebook traffic is both fickle and disloyal. One can win the passing attention of their eyeballs for a few brief passing seconds with a catchy headline (and often a provocative picture), but the moment your articles stop appearing in the Facebook feed, the vast majority of users will not go seek you out independently as a publisher of content – as a publisher, you are utterly replaceable by the swarm of other sites churning out often superficially similar-looking stuff.

This leads to an arms race of hysteria in terms of online political coverage, with some of those outlets now shouting loudest about pro-Trump “fake news” being themselves the worst offenders. Many of the headlines or Facebook post descriptions published by left-leaning sites like Huffington Post or MotherJones sound like the breathless, hysterical reactions of a high school student as opposed to sober, reasoned analysis, and of course the same goes for the likes of Breitbart on the right. Every utterance by Donald Trump is “scary”, every pronouncement by Hillary Clinton a “threat to America” – and these people dare to accuse others of generating a toxic climate for political discourse.

Chiu goes on to ponder the implications for Facebook:

Despite recent statements by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his efforts to rein in fake news, he won’t be able to do that easily. Zuckerberg hit on the reason when he said it would be problematic to set up Facebook editors or algorithms as “arbiters of truth.” Because—what’s truth? Centuries ago, it was true that the world was flat. When I was a kid, a mom would sit in a car’s front seat and put her baby on her lap and not wear a seat belt. If someone said that was insanely unsafe, you probably would’ve blinked quizzically and said, “That’s not true.”

Facebook apparently is working on software that would flag or block fake news. Last year, Google published research on a knowledge-based trust algorithm that would sort for truth. Some college kids recently got attention for creating a Google Chrome extension they called FiB that automatically labels allegedly iffy sources. British technologist Peter Cochrane recently talked to me about developing software he called a truth engine. These might succeed in banning certain sites or identifying stories likely to be fake because they come from a single source, and yet software solutions can probably never overcome the problem that truth to me might not be truth to you, and truth today won’t necessarily be truth tomorrow.

[..] One constant about the technology industry is that every seemingly bulletproof superpower at some point has a Waterloo. It happened to IBM, AOL, Microsoft, Intel; and it will happen to Apple, Amazon and Google. You might be witnessing Facebook’s moment of truth, in a very literal sense. If Facebook turns into a bottomless cesspool of competing political “truths,” a lot of us are going to soil ourselves and escape to something else.

Frankly, I am a lot less worried about the future of Facebook than I am about the future of political journalism. In Britain, the EU referendum and surprise Brexit vote exposed the mainstream media as horribly glib, superficial, biased and lacking in basic understanding of the topics that they were covering. While the shining ones in Westminster write their articles in prestige publications or pontificate in the TV news studios, one frequently has to turn to the independent political blogosphere – largely strangled in its crib by the big media companies over the course of a decade – for anything approaching serious, granular analysis.

Yet many of these writers are unpaid, doing what they do as a labour of love rather than as a viable career. Many of them could vastly increase their audiences by adopting the same clickbait tactics as practiced by the likes of Buzzfeed, HuffPo or InfoWars. From a medium term career perspective, the best thing that many of these writers and journalists could do for themselves would be to sell out, start trotting out establishment talking points wrapped up in the kind of hysterical catastrophisation which prospers under the Facebook algorithms.

The problem is partly one of human nature: there will always be a much bigger market for sensationalist partisan fluff than serious, sober analyis. But also important is the fact that there is not a neat dividing line between real news and “fake news”. Fake news can incorporate false facts, but also correct facts which have been deliberately misinterpreted or spun. And far more insidious than any one fake news story, no matter how egregious, is the way in which language is often used to subtly change public perceptions over time – note how we now speak about “undocumented” rather than “illegal ” immigrants, a change adopted by nearly all of the mainstream media in America, and now in Britain too.

When the media is secretly complicit in ideologically-driven agendas, trust in the more reputable media is rightly weakened. But this leaves people more vulnerable to peddlers of deliberately fake news, as they search for alternatives. The obvious answer is for mainstream prestige outlets to rediscover their integrity and stop forcing readers away with ideologically skewed coverage, but they will not desist, and so they fuel the exodus of readers away to the fringes of the internet, a place where the more outrageous a story sounds, the more people will read it.

We present this as a crisis of technology – or at least those who work for mainstream publications, unwilling to examine their own culpability, present it that way. If only Facebook could stop people falling prey to the great evil of fake news, they cry in anguish, utterly ignoring the role that they themselves play in driving people toward fake news.

But this is not a crisis of technology. It is a crisis of human integrity, and the prestige mainstream media need to examine their own consciences long and hard before finding fault in other people.



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German Politicians, Drunk On Power, Prepare A Fresh Assault On Free Speech


German social media users test their leaders’ patience by exercising awkward, unruly free speech at their own peril

German politicians, ever anxious to squash strident criticism of their unilateral and, uh, somewhat controversial decision to expand the population by nearly a million migrants and refugees in the space of a year, are rounding on social media companies to strike another blow on already-constrained freedom of speech in Europe.

From Deutsche Welle:

Volker Kauder, a member of German Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, has said Facebook should pay for failing to remove online hate comments. There has been a surge in xenophobic posts as refugees have arrived over the last year.

Speaking to German magazine “Der Spiegel,” Kauder said: “The time for roundtables is over. I’ve run out of patience.” He said if companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter failed to remove offensive comments within a week of them being posted, they should be penalized with a 50,000 euro ($54,490) fine.

Social media websites needed to rethink their strategy, he said. “Otherwise, I have another suggestion. Cigarette packs always carry a warning that smoking can be dangerous. Why don’t we ask these [social network] providers to carry a warning on their websites, saying: ‘Anyone who communicates here must expect insulting remarks,'” Kauder said.

Kauder also insisted that the justice ministry should demand that the companies submit the IP addresses of people who posted hate messages on social networks.

Because heaven forfend that politicians should have to explain their decisions and win support for their actions (or better yet, follow the will of the people in the first place once in awhile). Far better to simply make it increasingly difficult for people to register their boisterous dissent.

Note the language. Kauder has “run out of patience”, suggesting that free speech in Germany is something granted to citizens at the sufferance of their thin-skinned leaders rather than an inalienable right. And of course that is exactly how it is in Germany, and most of Europe (including Britain). If some jumped-up politician decides that the civil discourse has become too un-civil – or, let’s be realistic too critical of them – then it is perfectly legitimate for them to turn the screws on private companies to shut it down.

Note too the ludicrous “public health” defence creeping into politicians’ language. One interpretation of Kauder’s threat to slap a mandatory trigger warning on the home pages of social networks is that he thinks so little of the German people’s intelligence that he genuinely believes they might currently be unaware that websites where political issues are discussed may contain opinions with which they disagree. That is one interpretation. But the other one (and the correct one in my view) is that it is simply a way of trying to hurt private enterprise for not bending the knee and doing government’s bidding.

Stephen Fuchs of the German-American culture blog German Pulse shares the same suspicions:

Do I think Germany is out of line to expect a level of cooperation to remove highly offensive posts once reported? No, not entirely. Where I begin to disagree though comes when any government starts policing excessively to the point where our outlets for expression become restricted by a set of rules that make any level of opinion a bannable offense.

How long until Germany pushes Facebook to delete any negative comments or opinions about a certain political party or candidate?

Negative remarks about refugees are deemed hate speech in Germany, but what about the negative remarks about Merkel’s refugee policies? Should we expect Facebook or Twitter to delete those immediately as well?

Maybe the government would be better off addressing the real issues that lead to the divisiveness, instead of playing the “you hurt my feelings” game online.

This is why free speech needs to be an absolute and indivisible right. It is a fragile freedom, with the slightest infringement causing a crack which easily grows and fractures our entire right to self expression. And while some (like Fuchs) may find it distasteful, the battle for freedom of speech must be fought at the unpalatable margins. Only by defending the rights of the racist to spew their bile about Syrian refugees can we be confident of preserving the upstanding citizen’s right to criticise German immigration policy without fear or expectation of censorship.

And as German Pulse rightly points out, no one step, no new draconian crackdown on freedom of expression is ever enough – just as one new health warning on cigarettes sugary food is never enough for the public health police. Individuals and companies cede more of their rights and autonomy, and it only ever emboldens the state to demand yet more.

Demanding that social media companies submit the IP addresses of users who post “hateful messages”to the justice ministry suggests that the German government (or at least significant factions within the ruling Christian Democratic Union) aims to become much more proactive in their persecution of thought and speechcrime. Why dream of building a massive database of social media users who type unacceptable keywords or are reported for causing “offence” by their thin-skinned peers unless you plan on unleashing some kind of retribution on them in response?

This is yet another dark day for free speech in Europe, but perhaps there is an upside – Theresa May will be able to find so much common cause with Angela Merkel over their mutual contempt for basic civil liberties that their shared authoritarianism could yet grease the wheels of the upcoming Brexit negotiations.



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Pathologising Donald Trump Supporters Will Not Diminish His Appeal

The voices in this New York Times video of Donald Trump supporters may be “unfiltered”, but they were chosen very carefully indeed to reinforce every negative liberal stereotype about people who have the temerity to support Donald Trump

It is hard to understand exactly the New York Times thinks it is trying to accomplish with videos like this one, published today, scornfully “studying” Donald Trump supporters with a keen anthropologist’s eye, while tarring his many moderate supporters by associating them all with the most intemperate, rude and racist characters that their camera can find.

The Times helpfully explains to its readers that “at Donald Trump’s rallies, some supporters express themselves with slurs and violent language”, before linking them to a video in which the absolute worst dregs of the Trump campaign are paraded before the Times’ liberal audience like it were some kind of Victorian circus freak show.

And sure enough, after the obligatory trigger warning from the Times, the video’s subjects make themselves look extremely stupid, as well as racist and misogynistic in places. But this in itself is hardly surprising – it is obvious that racists and other undesirables will be disproportionately (though not exclusively) drawn to a populist politician like Trump, but this does not mean that a majority of Trump supporters share these vile sentiments.

In fact, one wonders why the liberal media which goes to excessive pains to avoid linking all Muslims with the actions of Islamist terrorists, and which frets about broadcasting the names and biographies of mass shooting perpetrators suddenly loses all squeamishness when it comes to linking all Donald Trump supporters with the specimens shown in their video. Why does the Times titillate its readers by showing the worst side of the Donald Trump campaign rather than making a hard-hitting and informative piece  debating the issues with some of the many Trump supporters who turn up to his rallies minus white robes and burning crosses?

If anything, this video reveals the bias of the New York Times, and the desperate liberal (in the American sense of the word) need to paint anything contradictory to their own worldview as being seeded in intolerance, bigotry and hate. This bias is never clearer when the Times’ video attempts to portray Trump supporters as anti-immigration, period. At one point in the video, an editor’s caption reads “vitriolic language is often aimed at immigrants”.

If the filmmakers wanted to produce a respectable, balanced piece rather than juicy footage for their Trump freak show, they might have engaged those supporters in conversation. But had they done so, it would have quickly become apparent that the Trump supporters oppose illegal immigration, not all immigration. These days, of course, the decadent New York Times is completely incapable of distinguishing between the two. All immigrants are saintly figures holding hands beneath a rainbow to the Times, a newspaper which long ago ceased any mention of illegality and started talking about “undocumented” migrants instead (whoops, where did their documents go, one wonders). And so the camera rolls, the supporters chant “build the wall!” and New York Times readers are bolstered in their prejudice that anybody who opposes illegal immigration is a big fat racist who actually opposes all immigration.

And so it goes on, for issue after issue. Legitimate questions and concerns about Hillary Clinton’s conduct and record are ignored while footage of a Trump supporter shouting “Hillary is a whore!” feeds the narrative that Trump supporters are entirely unreasoning and uncouth creatures. Serious questions about how the American political establishment speaks about and responds to Islamist terror attacks are swatted aside so that we can focus on the redneck wearing a “Fuck Islam” shirt. Forget nuance. Forget the decent people who go to Trump rallies as a fun family day out. Just focus on the morons and reinforce the message: the people who support Donald Trump are as unacceptable as the candidate himself.

Watching the New York Times (and much of the establishment media) report on Donald Trump supporters is like watching a David Attenborough wildlife documentary in which the grizzled naturalist attempts to explain to us the feeding and mating rituals of some lower primate species – recognisably similar to us in some ways, but far more primitive and with rituals and customs which we civilised people cannot possibly understand without their expert interpretation.

Watch the video. I challenge you to watch it and come away feeling anything other than that this is an unbearably condescending hit piece on Trump supporters, a nauseating attempt by a Clinton-backing newspaper to “play to the gallery” with a compilation of all the worst Trump supporters imaginable rather than an attempt at serious journalistic enquiry.

I’ve said it before (in the context of the Brexit debate and, repeatedly, the US presidential election) and I’ll say it again: pathologising one’s political opponents and assuming (or at least publicly declaring) that they are motivated by hatred and malevolence is the sure path to defeat, and is no way to unite a fraying country. And prissy little video explainers like this one by the New York Times only serve to further divide Americans, giving liberals more reason to be smug and Trump supporters more reason to feel besieged.

Imagine that you are a wealthy, Times-reading East Coaster. Does this video make you question any of the beliefs which currently make you want to vote for Hillary Clinton? Does the video make you question whether the Trump supporters have even the kernel of a legitimate point about immigration, or trade, or national security? Or does the video boldly reinforce all of your existing prejudices about Trump supporters, reassure you that you are quite right to fear and despise them, and encourage you to keep shouting your own message louder and louder rather seeking dialogue with people the New York Times clearly portrays as being impenetrable to reason?

This is coastal elitist mockery of flyover country writ large. It is unbearably sanctimonious, and does nothing to further understanding and dialogue between Americans of different political and cultural backgrounds. It serves to further validate the accurate perception among Trump supporters that they are looked down on and belittled by the rest of the country. And, if another external economic, security or political shock turns this election into a dead heat between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the high-handedly arrogant way in which the establishment media treats the insurgents could push Donald Trump over the line on Tuesday 8 November.

This blog has no time whatsoever for Donald Trump. But I have endless time for his supporters, the majority of whom are decent people – to think otherwise would be to write off a massive proportion of the country based on their political views. And while I firmly believe that Trump’s simplistic solutions, policy ignorance and prickly ego would do immense harm if set loose in the Oval Office, right now I am more offended by the New York Times’ portrayal of all Trump supporters as though they are somehow less than human, less intelligent, with less self control and possessed of unique and grievous character defects which are supposedly entirely missing from their more enlightened, liberal compatriots.

One expects this kind of two-dimensional, good vs evil, sanctimonious ra-ra nonsense from the Huffington Post or other leftist agitprop sites. But the New York Times supposedly aspires to something higher, something more closely resembling journalism.

Everything about this video fails that test.


Donald Trump Protesters - St Louis

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Brexit Will Not Cure The Cancer Of Authoritarianism In Our Society

Terence Nathan - UKIP - Facebook

Death to Remainers!

Imagine for a second just how much safer our communities might be if local police forces spent half as much time patrolling the streets and engaged in community outreach as they do scouring Twitter for “offensive” speech.

Imagine just how much more responsive and well resourced our public services might be if local councils took complaints about potholes and vandalism nearly as seriously as they seek to persecute idiots for airing their half-baked opinions online.

Well, you can snap out of that reverie:

An investigation has been launched after a Ukip councillor made comments on Facebook suggesting those who voted Remain in the EU referendum should be killed.

The comments appeared on Terence Nathan’s Facebook page, councillor for Cray Valley West in Bromley, on Tuesday night.

The post, written in response to a news article referring to legal efforts against the Brexit vote, mentions Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which when triggered would initiate the UK’s departure from the EU.

Mr Nathan wrote: “Time to start killing these people till article 50 is invoked”, adding “perhaps remainers will get the message then.”

After another Facebook user raised concern over Mr Nathan’s rhetoric, he replied in a second comment: “Not threatening anyone, no need for threats just a bullet.”

Mr Nathan has since apologised for the comments saying: “My comments were only intended to be taken with a pinch of salt.”

The Independent article concludes ominously:

Police and council officials have said they are looking into the remarks.

A Bromley Council spokesman said: “The Council has launched an investigation into the alleged comments made but it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Bromley Metropolitan Police Service said: “Police in Bromley are aware of comments apparently posted online by a Bromley Councillor. Enquiries into this matter are ongoing.”

Is it not enough for Mr. Nathan to have made a complete fool of himself for all the world to see, and torpedoed whatever hopes he may have entertained promotion within UKIP or higher political office? Is it not enough that society’s natural self-righting mechanisms saw the man challenged and upbraided by other people exercising their own free speech to oppose him?

Must we really now assign some bored police constable and dreary office bureaucrat to sift through his Facebook profile, looking for further nonexistent evidence of a dastardly plot for Mr. Nathan to slaughter his way through the electoral register? Do we really need to be that pinch-paced, authoritarian society?

What possible good does this serve?

“But Jo Cox!”, I already hear some insufferable idiot screeching in protest.

No. Mentally disturbed people who snap and kill innocent bystanders almost by definition do not casually announce their intention to do so on social media beforehand. And though I don’t have statistics to hand, I would bet the house that a single police officer can prevent more human harm in one year on the beat than they would scouring social media and arresting every single cretin who voices a generic, non-targeted violent opinion.

Of course Mr. Nathan was being stupid when he called for Remainers to be killed until the British government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. But why can’t we leave it at that? Who actually benefits from bringing the fearsome correctional power of the state crashing down on somebody just for being an idiot? Isn’t being the kind of intellectually tepid individual who jokes about killing people online punishment enough?

Sadly not. Britain is fast becoming an authoritarian hellhole populated by an army of thin-skinned victims-in-waiting who leap at the chance to criminalise those who disagree with them, and ruled by an activist big government which is eager, proactive even, in taking their side.

How utterly depressing.


Greater Glasgow Police - THINK - Social Media - Police State - Free Speech

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Introducing Camsurf Safespace – The Social Network For Safe Space Dwellers

Camsurf Safespace

Behold our victimhood culture’s latest creation: a new G-rated social media platform for those too delicate to use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Chatroulette…

Well, here it is – the logical end result of a victimhood culture in the grip of an identity politics feeding frenzy. Camsurf present to you their new Safespace social network – a heavily monitored video chat site for people (including grown adults) for whom all of the existing online platforms are simply too unsafe to ever contemplate using.

Camsurf describes Safespace in these terms:

Camsurf is a family friendly, G-rated Chatroulette platform and as such is strongly against all forms of bullying. To help combat cyberbullies, Camsurf is moderated by a team of professionals who are trained to spot when users of our service are being bullied. We have a zero tolerance policy against bullying and will ban all bullies from using our service.

However, it is also important that our users are able to recognize, understand, and deal with different forms of bullying. To help any users of our service who want to know more about bullying or feel they are being bullied we have created “safespace”, a place where you can learn about cyberbullying, its effects, how to deal with being bullied online, and much more.

While the press release notes:

Camsurf is delighted to announce the launch of the world’s first ‘Safe Space’ social network, an innovation designed to put a stop to cyberbullying through education and active participation. The idea behind the campaign stems from the rise in bullying and harassment on the web, specifically on social networks such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, a phenomenon which has grown rapidly in recent years to become more prevalent than bullying in the real world.

Users of Camsurf, and anyone else who feels overwhelmed by the rise in cyberbullying, can access the online arena and find a range of educational material and statistics, ask questions anonymously, and interact with other users in a safe and understanding environment. Participation in ‘Safe Space’ is solely focused on putting a stop to cyberbullying and all forms of online harassment. It is the first social network to openly place an emphasis on discussing and eliminating cyberbullying in a dedicated environment.

Camsurf Safespace is not merely a social network which takes a strong stance against cyberbullying. The whole ethos of the site sits in the shadow of cyberbullying – the “About” page says almost nothing about the technical or social features of the site, focusing exclusively on all of the measures in place to protect their oh-so-vulnerable users from ever being made to feel “uncomfortable” (a word that crops up frequently in the FAQs). And it freely uses the university campus-derived, identity politics terminology of safe space theory to promote itself.

But note the picture on the front page. These are not teens or tweens shown using the site, but fully grown adults – the woman is dressed in distinctly professional-looking attire, and the man is likewise dressed for work a shirt and tie. Safespace is not targeted specifically at schoolchildren (the group most likely to suffer from legitimate cyberbullying), but at people with jobs and mortgages and maybe even kids of their own – people who presumably shoulder all of the normal burdens of life, and yet believe themselves unable to participate in the same social networks as the rest of us for fear of being made to feel uncomfortable.

In fact, Safespace goes to great lengths to emphasise that adults are often the victims of “cyberbullying” too:

Q. Are teens the only people who get cyberbullied?

A. Not at all. Cyberbullying is a problem that affects both teens and adults. Although many adults would not like to admit it, cyberbullying is said to affect up to 40% of adults who use the internet. Cyberbullying transcends age or sex and anyone can be the victim of an online bully. In fact, many adults who are cyberbullied lash out by becoming bullies themselves. It is therefore extremely important to confront the problem by taking to someone rather than keeping it all locked up inside.

Yes, Safespace would have you believe that nearly every one in two adults are being persecuted online by nefarious cyberbullies right at this moment (of course, the term “bullying” has been defined downward to the extent that it includes any interaction which sees the victim come away with anything less than warm and fuzzy feelings of contentment).

And worse still, if these adult victims fail to take the correct protective actions and run to an authority figure (either a Safespace moderator or perhaps a trained counsellor) then they are at the risk of turning into a cyberbully too. Apparently being a cyberbully follows the same contagion principles as becoming a zombie.

Fortunately, Safespace has all manner of tools at its disposal to ensure that nothing remotely interesting or controversial ever takes place within its boundaries:

How Camsurf is Standing Up to Bullies

Our aim at Camsurf is to create a bully-free and family-friendly environment that is welcoming to all. As part of that mission we are taking a stand against cyberbullies by implementing various schemes to catch bullies and bar them from our service. We employ a team of moderators who monitor the chat platform for nudity, inappropriate behavior, and signs of bullying. All of our moderators undergo a course in understanding online bullying and how to spot the signs of someone who is being bullied. We are also implementing a series of informative articles and guides to help any victims of bullying and to educate our users to spot the signs of bullying. By taking these steps we will create the safest and friendliest Chatroulette platform online.

And they are very clear that when in doubt, users should err on the side of banality:

Q. Am I a cyberbully if I engage in an argument on Camsurf?

A. Not necessarily. It is important to distinguish the difference between talking to someone about a topic you disagree on and cyberbullying. On Camsurf you can meet thousands of strangers from around the world, all of whom have different opinions and views of the world. On some occasions you might find someone who disagrees with you about a certain topic. If you discuss this topic with them in a civilized manner where both of you can get your points across then it is not bullying. However, if you use insults and hurtful language while discussing issues then you may offend someone or hurt their feelings. This is the line between cyberbullying and talking about a topic you disagree on. The best way to avoid this is to stick to talking about topics you and the person you are chatting with are interested in. Remember, Camsurf is about having fun while meeting new people!

Cue lots of talk about the weather, and not quite so much about a certain American presidential candidate, then.

Note too the defining downwards of the concept of bullying, along the lines described by Jonathan Haidt and Nick Haslam in their recent excellent Guardian OpEd:

When research on bullying began in the 1970s, an act had to meet four criteria to count: it had to be an act of aggression directed by one or more children against another child; the act had to be intentional; it had to be part of a repeated pattern; and it had to occur in the context of a power imbalance. But over the following decades, the concept of bullying has expanded in two directions.

It has crept outward or “horizontally” to encompass new forms of bullying, such as among adults in the workplace or via social media. More problematic, though, is the creeping downward or “vertically”so that the bar has been lowered and more minor events now count as bullying. For example, the criteria of intentionality and repetition are often dropped. What matters most is the subjective perception of the victim. If a person believes that he or she has been made to suffer in any way, by a single action, the victim can call it bullying.

So this is what it has come to. Grown men and women forswearing online forums where they might potentially encounter a boisterous or rude opinion in favour of a “walled garden” where their every interaction is monitored by watchful moderators looking out for their “safety”. Everyday human interaction is now being presented as so fraught with peril that it is best not attempted at all without external supervision.

Fortunately, Safespace doesn’t have the feel of a platform that will be with us for very long, or challenge the major social networks for pre-eminence. But the mere fact of such a site’s launch is sufficiently alarming that we must take note.

Bear in mind that one of the key reasons why heavily moderated, anti free speech platforms are not challenging more aggressively for market share is because the big beasts – particularly Facebook – are choosing to respond to pressure to deal with cyberbullying in almost as draconian a way.

These are the options currently presented to users who want to report something on Facebook which they find to be offensive:

Facebook Report Post - Anti Free Speech

Note the third option – “It goes against my views” – which is now legitimate grounds to report someone else’s post as being offensive and deserving of removal from Facebook.

It can be tempting to make light of sites like Camsurf Safespace, regarding them as a sheltered playground for children, unrepresentative of the mainstream. But when the world’s pre-eminent social network treats its users in the exact same way, it is no laughing matter.

Cyberbullying is a real and concerning phenomenon where it occurs. But the idea of a fully grown, mentally capable adult being “bullied” is absurd, as are these incremental but damaging steps toward regulating and monitoring all of our online interactions to ensure that we are using the internet “safely”.


Safe Space Notice - 2

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