New York Times’ prophetic 1983 warning about the NSA

The scary part about the whole NSA Prism story is the predictability, if not inevitability of the whole affair. The shock of the disclosure lies mainly in the hope that government will not do what they have the power to do.

Via BoingBoing comes this 1983 article from The New York Times written by David Burnham: THE SILENT POWER OF THE N.S.A.

No laws define the limits of the N.S.A.’s power. No Congressional committee subjects the agency’s budget to a systematic, informed and skeptical review. With unknown billions of Federal dollars, the agency purchases the most sophisticated communications and computer equipment in the world. But truly to comprehend the growing reach of this formidable organization, it is necessary to recall once again how the computers that power the N.S.A. are also gradually changing lives of Americans – the way they bank, obtain benefits from the Government and communicate with family and friends. Every day, in almost every area of culture and commerce, systems and procedures are being adopted by private companies and organizations as well as by the nation’s security leaders that make it easier for the N.S.A. to dominate American society should it ever decide such action is necessary.

Slutshaming and gossipmongering

Eminem played a concert at Slane Castle in Ireland and 63 people were arrested. But the news online was not about the performance or the arrests but about a girl giving a guy a blowjob. She is now being mocked and shamed and has been given the epithet SlaneGirl. Sadly the hashtag #slanegirl is apparently trending in Ireland.

The slut-shaming is apparent with nobody criticizing the men involved, the people who took photos, the people who put photo’s online or the people who happily spread the photo’s on various social media. Some of the discussions are balanced this blog post or this but there are also the discussion threads on Reddit and other sites. Most harmful in the wider sense is the widespread shouting on Facebook and Twitter.

There has also been good support in discussions online, on Twitter and what about the Facebook page: Solidarity With Slanegirl We Suck Dick Too

So thanks to social media I wake up in the morning to find out people are angry at other people having sex. Oh the shock and horror. Imagine that.

What still surprises me is the way in which the gossiping about someone nobody knows but feels the need to include photographic proof and judgements of the person. All this rage and indignation… does it really stem from the fact that someone we don’t know gave a blowjob to someone else we don’t know? Really?

There are social reasons for gossip and pointless smalltalk but the need to be among the ones who spread the images are difficult to tease out for me.

Responding to attacks

In a very thoughtful and interesting post L’Hote writes about the Japanese response to their terrorist group/cult Aum Shinrikyo. The calm determination not to close down society and the results it caused to understand terrorism and threat assessment, look to Aum

Just as important was what the Japanese government and people did not do. They didn’t panic. They didn’t make sweeping changes to their way of life. They didn’t implement a vast system of domestic surveillance. They didn’t suspend basic civil rights. They didn’t begin to capture, torture, and kill without due process. They didn’t, in other words, allow themselves to be terrorized. Instead, they addressed the threat. They investigated and arrested the cult’s leadership. They tried them in civilian courts and earned convictions through due process. They buried their dead. They mourned. And they moved on. In every sense, it was a rational, adult, mature response to a terrible terrorist act, one that remained largely in keeping with liberal democratic ideals.

This reminded me very much of the Norwegian response to the Norwegian Breivik killed 76 people and bombed parliament buildings in central Oslo. He was politically motivated and left a, so called, manifesto “arguing” his misguided case.

The Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reacted immediately by calling for more democracy and more openness. It was a very moving and heartfelt response from a man who knew very many of the victims personally. He would go on to reinforce this position later (Huffington Post):

Five days after an attacker incensed by Norway’s culture of tolerance horrified the world, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday issued a quiet call of defiance to his countrymen: Make Norway even more open and accepting.

“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” Stoltenberg insisted at a news conference.

Of course each situation is different but it is interesting to note that the “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach seems to be the quickest way of returning to a state of normality and healing that ensures that the attackers have failed in impacting the society they attack. L’Hote ends his post, which talks about the American response but applies equally to other countries, with the words

We have examples of adult responses to terrorism. Instead, we betray ourselves, in every sense a terrorized, terrified people.

Don’t see this as a spoiler – go read the text.

Technology: older than we think

Technology is always older than we think. Recently XKCD published a wonderful series of quotes on how we perceive the changes technology brings on the pace of everyday life.

Then today I came across Mark Twain’s excellent use of the camera in King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule published in 1905.

The kodak has been a sore calamity to us. The most powerful enemy that has confronted us, indeed… Then all of a sudden came the crash! That is to say, the incorruptible kodak — and all the harmony went to hell! The only witness I have encountered in my long experience that I couldn’t bribe… Then that trivial little kodak, that a child can carry in its pocket, gets up, uttering never a word, and knocks them dumb!

Social Media for Coping with Grieving and Bereavement

My colleague Ylva and I are hoping to organize a panel at IR14 in Denver http://ir14.aoir.org on the use of social media for coping with grieving and bereavement.

If you are interested in participating please send us your short paper. In order to put together the panel application we need your submission by 1 March, please email your work to us. We will then put together the panel and submit everything to the final deadline by 14 March.

Here are the instructions
SHORT PAPERS (individual or multi-author) – Minimum 1000 words, 1200 word maximum not including bibliography. Papers should include:
- Description/summary of the work’s intellectual merit with respect to its findings, its relation to extant research and its broader impacts.
- A description of the methodological approach or the theoretical underpinnings informing the research inquiry.
- Conclusions or discussion of findings.
- Bibliography of work cited.
- Submissions must adhere to the template for the conference. http://ir14.aoir.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/SPIR2013_template.doc

Online instructions http://ir14.aoir.org/cfp/

We are also interested in gathering or joining a larger international network in this topic in order to carry out cross-cultural comparisons.

Ylva Hård af Segerstad
hardy@chalmers.se

Mathias Klang
klangm@chalmers.se

When stupid people have power

In January (this year) a man on a Qantas flight was asked to remove his t-shirt because it bore the text:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

As I understand it these words somehow disturbed the flight attendants on the plane so much that the passenger should fly without the offending text. Naturally they could not just refer to their perception of his bad taste so they stated that his text unnerved the other passengers.

The whole thing gets even sillier as the text is a quote from the 1987 adventure comedy Princess Bride. The passenger did not have anything else to wear and the whole thing was dropped. He was allowed to continue on his way.

This is just a strange and stupid situation. It’s totally unbelievable. And yet it has happened before and people have been forced off planes. Or not allowed on planes because of silly texts on clothes.

In 2003, John Gilmore was wearing a pin with the words “suspected terrorist” and was asked to remove the pin. Gilmore, a rights activist and a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, refused to remove the pin and was not allowed to continue on his flight. British Airways refused to fly him because they didn’t like his accessories. The pin was part of a campaign to protest the way in which innocent people were being profiled as terrorists.

In 2006, airport security at JFK forced Raed Jarrar to change his t-shirt because it contained the words “We will not be silent” in English and Arabic. Security said it was like “going to a bank with a T-Shirt reading ‘I am a robber.’” – Even their reasoning is faulty.

Texts on t-shirts are not the cause of concern. If fellow passengers are concerned then maybe the crew explain that their paranoia is silly and give them the option to leave. But it is much better to silence the person wearing the text. Its all very sad, and has nothing to do with security, safety or even perceptions of safety.

The problem is that stupid people have power. We cannot argue with these people because they are full of their own power and reason doesn’t work. Arguing would only aggravate the situations.

Slut Shaming: Notes from a panel

My university has decided that it must act more quickly to join into a larger social debate on current events and to this end they arranged an open event on cyber bullying. The topic was well chosen as in December Göteborg experienced “slut shaming riots” when groups of youths attempted to catch and punish the person they thought was behind a local slut shaming account on Instagram.

The event was in the form of a panel with psychology professor Ann Frisén, police commissioner and chief of the youth section Birgitta Dellenhed, and myself. The university vice chancellor Helena Lindholm Schulz moderated the panel and three thoughtful and perceptive school teenagers were given the role of questioning the panelists before the audience were given time for questions.

The event was held in the old university main hall and was very well attended.

Professor Frisén opened with a presentation of what the concept of cyber bullying was and presented the findings from her research. Her worked confirmed that many children and young people experienced cyber bullying. I was next and then the presenters session was completed by commissioner Dellenhed explaining how the youth section worked and the basics of the recent slut shaming riots.

My role was to talk was on the technological side of the problem. As the reason for the panel was the result of slut shaming I focused my talk on technology’s role in slut shaming. I began with a restatement technology as neutral by using the well know “Guns don’t kill people”. In this perspective I explained that technology is not misogynistic per se but it is important not to forget that the technology is embedded with the values of the creators and adapted by the users.

I used a timeline of the last decades social media innovations to show that we have in a particularly short time evolved a whole new communications infrastructure. This infrastructure has enabled us to do things which we previously could not. This enabling has created new behaviors that may previously been unacceptable.

The ability to do new (and maybe unacceptable) things through technology means that it is our use that brings into question the rightness or wrongness of the situation. Users need social cues and guidance to know the ethics of their actions. Carrying on in technology at time minimizes the ethical social cues and makes behavior online morally complex.

As the whole event was focused on slut shaming and the riots there was a call for order and justice underlying everything that was being said. So I tried to bring back some balance by pointing out that the value of freedom and freedom of expression is important to our lives and societies. Yes I raised a warning finger against moral panic.

What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
Salman Rushdie

The questions from the students were very interesting and deep. They reflected a need for both space and security. The complexity of this paradox (surveillance and control) was not lost on them. The questions from the floor were mostly good but towards the end was a gruff man demanding more surveillance, law and order. If we know who did it why don’t we prosecute and punish? His comments were applauded which made me think that some of the finer points were lost on the crowd.

The police explained that they do not ignore prosecutions but finding the guilty is not easy. She also pointed out that the person behind the account is also a victim (in some ways). I tried to argue that to catch the guilty in the way he was proposing would entail surveillance of all the innocent and was not compatible to a free and open society. But he denied that he was talking surveillance.

Most of the questions carried the discussion along nicely and the whole event seemed to be enjoyed by all.

The panel and the venue

Slut Shaming, misogyny and technology

This evening I shall be participating in a panel on slut shaming. The university has been quick to organize this panel in response to the slut shaming riots in December. The panel has the Swedish title NÄTMOBBNING – vad är det och vilken roll spelar den nya tekniken? which places the focus on two things (1) what is cyberbullying (2) what role does the new technology play.

Obviously the technology is vital. You just can’t have cyberbullying without the cyber. But there is an interesting undertone to the second question and my role will be to try to strike a balance between explaining why the technology does create or aggravate human behavior at the same time ensuring that the technology itself is not a problem.

Misogyny is not created by technology. BUT… the social norm systems embedded in the technology and the technology users MAY create misogynistic socio-technical systems. Therefore it would be strange not to place some of the (moral) social responsibility on systems developers.

Guns don’t kill people. But gun designers develop superior killing machines and placed in the hands of people with intent they become much more efficient at killing people than a bag of soft toys. (Gotta love an odd metaphor…)

So that’s the plan. Please drop in, if you happen to be in the neighborhood. It’s at 6pm in the university aula at Vasaparken.