August 03, 2013

#GnuAtheism + #BlockBot = gnu levels of censorship from #FTB & #FTBullies

Now, as a good journalist, I'm using the word "censorship" in its nontechnical level. Gnu Atheists aren't governments, and can block online whomever they want. That's their right.

That said, when they spread the idea to widely used social media, and try to get them to follow their lead, as does the Block Bot app for Twitter, then we have a problem. And, it's even more of a problem if Twitter doesn't investigate how legitimate these blocks are, because the app also, as I understand it, reports the blocked person to Twitter, with possible warnings, or even Twitter account deletion.

That's why, although Twitter harassment of outspoken women is simply not acceptable, the idea of a Block Bot isn't, either. Now, to riff on Georg Cantor and levels of infinity, sexual harassment is Aleph One, while the Block Bot is only Aleph Null. But, it's still bad enough. Certainly not what we now have. I've seen other people intolerant of free speech and the exchange of ideas get one email account of mine shit-canned, and another threatened. More specific to this, Gnu Atheist Greg Laden, a male peon of Stephanie Zvan, the nth-wave feminist who has falsely claimed I'm stalking her online, threatened to "ban me from the Internet."

To fight intolerance with intolerance doesn't work. And, given the history of the people mentioned above, P.Z. Myers and others, I wouldn't trust Gnu Atheists anywhere near the tolerance meter.

And, speaking of P.Z. and Stephanie, with BlockBot, yeah, that worries me, per this blog post of hers. Can you picture people like that trying to get Twitter accounts deleted?

Or, Greta Christina, with her penchant for seeing every issue as a hammer on which to wield her particular variety of Atheism Plus "everything is sexism" vitriol, does a head fake (shock me) of pretending to answer Engelhart's Salon piece linked at top, then engaging in a massive fail.

And, I now find out — as a result of pointing out things like this — that I'm a bigger, and more popular/unpopular burr to Gnu Atheists than I knew. My Twitter account is on Level 3 block from James Billingham (Twitter handle ool0n), the British Gnu who helped invent the app.

How did I, and others, like Barbara Drescher and Jeremy Stangroom, who I know, respectively, a fair bit and a little bit, online, get there? Here's how:
 The short answer is anyone that a blocker defines as block list worthy. The general rule is if you are the type that would find yourself banned on a blog on, or from the A+ forum then you will likely end up in the list…
There you go.

As for me specifically? Disagreeing with Zvan over Julian Assange's rape case in Sweden, namely the reopening of a closed case and whether Sweden had international geopolitical reasons to do so, started it all. (And Sweden did have such reasons, as I detail in this blog post.. It "cooperated" with the CIA on several "renditions" of alleged Mooslim terrorists.) The disagreement led eventually to comments like the following, documented on this blog post of mine about nth-wave feminists and Freethought Blogs denizens attacking the Center for Inquiry's Ron Lindsay:
Well, Steve Snyder/SocraticGadfly, since no one else can be assed to step up and say this, no matter how much me being harassed "pisses them off", no matter how much they'll stand up for JT, fuck off, you putrid, obsessive, pointless, sexist smear of slime. It is not anything but vilely anti-social to spend two and half years after a woman tells you that rape allegations need to be taken seriously popping up any time she and the man on whose blog you were schooled are mentioned together to say that this woman is controlling this man's behavior by having sex with him.
There's even worse on her own blog, like this.

Add in that I've been accused of cyberstalking her and other things, and you get the gist of what the "game" is. For the record, I'd be scared of actually cyberstalking her, and doubly scared of stalking her in real life. I'm afraid she'd attack me.

And, the "banned from blog"? That goes to further show that most Gnus aren't interested in actual dialogue, or, in even respectful terms, having their positions challenged.

Meanwhile, Tim Farley tells us more about just what's wrong with it. I've got some selected quotes, to which I will add my own analysis.

Problem 1:
The first sentence (of the above quote from Block Bot's website) is circular and the rest of it defers to guidelines which it does not link. It’s not clear there’s any enforceable standard here at all.  It’s clear as mud.

The core problem here is this tool was developed for specific needs of a very specific community (namely, those who identify with “Atheism+”). Therefore the operators of the bot assume knowledge or attitudes on behalf of the user base that may not be held by the average Twitter user.

So, what if fundamentalist Christians re-engineer Block Bot for their purposes? Will Billingham, Myers, Zvan, Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson and others suddenly cry wolf? Or, a more accurate metaphor, cry wolf while crying crocodile tears?

Obviously, they wouldn't have a leg to stand on, but they would bitch and moan, to be sure.

Problem 2, Farley says, is lack of transparency as to who's authorized to create/add to block lists, at what level, etc.

Not that anybody who's involved with creating the lists is likely to listen to me, Travis Roy, Drescher, Stangroom or others who are on Level 3 blocking. In fact, our queries, let alone complaints would probably be taken as signs of troublemaking and justification to boot us up to Level 2.

But, per Farley, we wouldn't even know to whom to complain or whom to query in the first place. And, there might eventually be a scrum between one person wanting to unblock us, another who wanted to keep us at Level 3, a third who wanted to move us up a level, etc.

Problem 3, he says, is that there's no audit of actions to block, paper trails, etc. This follows on problem 2. If somebody promises to unblock someone, how does the person asking for relief know that they actually were unblocked? Or, when someone is blocked, how much documentation is saved for what led to that decision.

Problem 4 is what the levels are about. Farley again quotes from the website:
Level 1 is sparsely populated with “worst of the worst” trolls, plus impersonators and stalkers. Level 2 (which we recommend for general use) includes those in Level 1, plus a wider selection of deeply unpleasant people. Level 3 goes beyond The Block Bot’s main purpose, and expands the list to include those who aren’t straight out haters, but can be tedious and obnoxious.
Fortunately, I'm just Level 3, but from the user's guide, it's made clear that people can be bumped up. In other words, it's kind of like me, playing fantasy baseball, and flagging a fantasy free agent for possible future pick-up, even if I don't want to immediately pull the trigger. However, in this case, I have no control over the trigger-pulling. A better analogy might be a person being put on the most basic level of a National Security Agency or Transportation Security Administration watch list. The idea there is: "We're watching you, and we're waiting to see if you screw up.

Farley has the details of the lists, from the website:
→ Level 1 blocking: this blocks only the worst of the worst. These are the really nasty ones.
Both “sides” across the Deep Rifts™ will hopefully agree these need to be blocked.
Accounts that spam extremely abusive messages to people with the intent only of hurting them with not a hint of “disagreement”.
D0x’ers who want to drop information on fellow atheists in order to scare them off the internet or have real life effects on their well-being.
Stalkers that create sock-accounts to inject themselves into your time line to get a response from you or imposters pretending to be you.
→ Level 2 blocking: these are the abusive subset of anti-feminists, MRAs, or all-round assholes who think nothing of tweeting their much loved photoshopped pictures, memes and other wonderful media directly into your timeline to get attention (Listen to Meee!!1!).
This level also includes the “parody” accounts, if you have better things to do with your life than “disagree” on Twitter with a parody of yourself that seems to have suffered a frontal lobotomy.
Level 2 blocking includes all members of level 1.
→ Level 3 blocking: these are the merely annoying and irritating Twitterers who trot out the A+ arguments to avoid at a moment’s notice, and show no signs of giving them up until you pry them from their cold, dead hands.
Given that is not a practical option, how about blocking them and avoiding tedious exchanges?
This is the 100% frozen peach option… These from time to time leap to level 1/2 so why take the risk?
Level 3 blocking includes all members of levels 1 and 2.

Again, you see how Level 3 is explained.

First, under Level 1, about what the "Deep Rifts" are. That's Gnus, Atheist Plusers and other fundamentalist atheists vs. people like me, who prefer the phrase "secular humanist" because of people like them.

That said, I agree that truly abusive people, the stalkers, publishers of personal information, etc., should not only be blocked but reported to Twitter. But, you don't need a bot for that, and you don't need to create levels 2 and 3.

As for Level 2? Wanting to block parody Twitter accounts reinforces what I've said about Gnu Atheists: They have no sense of humor.

As for Level 3? Wanting to block Twitter accounts that point out where your thinking is wrong shows that you truly don't appreciate or support free thought, and the free exchange of ideas, even if you blog at a place called Freethought Blogs.

Anyway, the "frozen peach" will actually mean, "dueling blocking." Or now, in the case of PZ's latest possible nuttery, dueling reporting of blogs to their ISPs for alleged terms of service violations.

Then, there's the related Problem 6, where Farley notes that the definition of troll, semi-troll, troublesome, etc., is ginned up by Gnu Atheists, specifically the subset known as Atheism Plusers.

Folks, for people who aren't actually abusive, if you want to be closed-minded, there's a simple option: Don't read. Don't click the link for the URL. Don't "follow" the Twitter account.

And, for other people who, like me, are on the more reasonable, and lower-key, side of  Deep Rifts™? Don't stoop to their level. Don't be like a Paula Kirby. There's no need to engage in name-calling.

And, as they come into my mind, I'll have additional thoughts below the fold.

And, I wound up grouping some of those thoughts into a new blog post, as new allegations of sexual harassment or abuse crossed the transom.

1. I just had one new thought. Ed Brayton, co-founder of Freethought Blogs, has not only not been a personal name-caller, he's also, outside the world of atheism and skepticism, an ardent civil libertarian. Again, civil libertarianism, in its proper sense, applies only to governments. That said, in the looser sense, just like censorship in the looser sense, it applies here, too.

So, Ed, if you get this forwarded to you, what's your stance on it?

I checked his blog on FtB. As of Aug. 3, late evening? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

That said, in a Facebook exchange, he's now saying he's not heard of it. I suppose that's possible. Maybe he doesn't read other FtB blogs that regularly? Or other FtBers, FtB friends, etc., on Facebook? But, as I noted about "checking his blog," he's had posts he's made himself over the whole time period, so he's not been afk.

He says on the Facebook exchange (the primary person's status is "public," so I'm not breaching anything) that because A. He Tweets rarely and B. Tim's piece (which I pointed out to him) is too technical, he's not really tracking the issue.

So, I've asked, "What if this were for Facebook or Google Plus?" He says, wouldn't matter. He wouldn't care. So, I then pointed out that Tim addresses other issues that aren't "technical," would relate to my hypothetical, and are really at the heart of what's at stake.

He then said it's still no big never mind to him.

Maybe, on the technical side of things, that's why FtB as a website got off to such a slow start? Because to me, only Problems 2 and 5 (which I didn't mention and applies to how the Bot interacts with Twitter's antispam algorithms) are the only fully technical ones of Farley's six problem points. The other four are partially to mainly non-technical, and would apply to analogous apps for Facebook and Google+.

And, on the non-technical side? See point 4 for my thoughts on Ed's thoughts.

2. As others have pointed out, and to put it less than politely, the BBC is lying about this, namely, about it not having names. It showed a website screen grab of the Block Bot's list of Twitter handles. Oh, technically, that's not "names," but Twitter handles. In the real world? In British English, the Beeb's claims are bollocks.

3. And, either I misread the original list, or else it's been updated since then. A re-read on Aug. 4 shows that I'm on Level 2, not Level 3. That's even worse.

And why? Assuming my eyeballs and memory are correct, why was I "upgraded"? The only thing I've done since then related to the subject matter at hand, is write this blog post, post it to Facebook and G+, and Tweet it, then update it.

The Beeb seems to have come down slightly off its high horse since I and others first wrote this. But not much. And given the canned, PR-ish feedback people I know have gotten back from the Beeb, I'm not wasting my time.

3.  Tim Farley says he'll have an updated blog post, mainly in response to people either criticizing or misunderstanding his original one, later this week.

That said, some of the comments at his original post are very good and informative.

One notes that ool0n/Billingham was himself once banned from FtB, and is perhaps trying to curry favor there, shades of Mark Carrier.

Billingham himself has tweaked the bot a bit, but more for efficiency than to address concerns.

Reed Esau notes that if it's going beyond blocking legitimate trolls, the Bot itself probably violates Twitter's Terms of Service. Hey, Twitter folks, seeing the way Plusers have in the past refused to admit they're wrong on making individualized reports to Twitter? You'd better hire more staff.

IAmCuriousBlue follows up to note that this is an "ideological blacklist." Couldn't have used better words myself.

4. P.Z. himself claims that people on the list either "carry out" or "passively support" misogynist behavior. He's refuse to admit this is untrue when directly asked about it on Twitter, or whether it's not spreading lies for him to make such claims in public.

And, yes, on Tim's blog, he claims he opposes the idea of the block bot, even while smearing people who were on it. If ool0n is doing this to suck up to FtBullies, then there's surely a psychological stance, probably related to self-righteousness, behind P.Z. opposing Block Bot yet totally supporting the lies, half-truths and innuendo behind it.

Meanwhile, per his comment here, he's an even bigger hypocrite than ever if he's going to lecture Tim Farley about black-and-white thinking.

That same link, a blog post by Ophelia Benson, is about her attacking Farley for asking for the principle of charity if some people think too much of the blog post is too technical.

Yes, he could slice the tech part out, but, that wouldn't satisfy the whingers, I don't think. Rather

 On Ed, when he and P.Z. first came up with the idea of FtB, I thought the two of them might be halfway like oil and water. Maybe not all the way, but halfway.

And, now, I think I was wrong.

Specific to this issue, and per the dialogue? I think Ed's being disingenuous.

It may be in the Sgt. Schultz sense of  "I see nothing ... "

Or, it may be in a more active sense, of, he knows what the score is. He's read Farley's blog well enough he could understand the non-technical issues, of who makes the decisions, what their grounds are, etc. If he doesn't know Twitter handles' owners, since he mentioned Ophelia Benson, he could easily ask her.

And, to make the non-technical even more non-technical, the WSJ has a piece about how Twitter's well-known openness to free speech is conflicting with governments and their laws (and governments' using spam claims to try to get people blocked) as Twitter expands its geographic area of service.

So, sorry, Ed. Doesn't wash. Back to part of what I deleted earlier. If you don't blog about this in the next week or so, I'll assume that it's more than "I don't care." Since you and P.Z. started FtB, especially in the last year or so, you've gotten cozier with the Atheist Plusers, from what I see.

5. On the Plusers' nth-wave feminism worries, I'm sure the worries are both sincere and reflect real-world experiences. But, when's the last time one of them blogged about a toymaker that continues to wrap all the girls' stuff in pink? Or, in other cases, like Rebecca Watson on Pop Ev Psych, knowing more about the subject at hand always helps.

But, that, even, is the lesser part of the issue.. The greater part, as per witwh Zvan, is a presumption of  guilt until proven innocent, both in a social-moral sense, ad in  alegal sense where applicable.

It, like most thought processes in Gnu Atheism and its subcircles, allows for no nuance. It doesn't allow for the unrelibility of memory by both parties in some situations. It doesn't allow for legitimately different interpretation of motives and intentionalities, when the memory of both parties agree. And, it doesn't allow at all for false accusations, which can and do get made. It certainly doesn't allow for deliberately false accusations, or the mindset behind them.

And, per this women in atheism Huff-n-Puff Post chat, whether they're using the Block Bot or not, some people who are tired of the Plusers are using new hashtags to push back, at the least. As I hinted above, this whole thing has the potential to become a Twitter-blocking flame war.

6. But, from my point of view, where my critique started with the old guard of Gnu Atheists, on non-feminist issues, such as stereotyping all religious people as fundamentalists, having no semi-academic, let alone fully academic, training in  in sociology of religion, philosophy or religion or psychology of religion, there's just no excuse. This issue isn't what got me on Block Bot, but it's what is under P.Z's skin as a burr.

7. Sadly, reinforcing what I've said elsewhere about how both atheism (which I normally stress) and modern "scientific skepticism" are neither guarantors of morality nor of overall critical thinking skills, leading female skeptic Karen Stollznow now says she was sexually harassed for four years.

And, while she doesn't name names, P.Z. does: Ben Radford.

I know neither one in person, though I've had enough interaction with Radford online that I would agree with what Stollznow, and other people she references in her post, says about his personality.

Also of note, given the furore over Ron Lindsay's speech to kick off the Women in Secularism conference hosted by Center for Inquiry, is that it happened while they were there, and any legal intervention was allegedly done primarily to protect them, not her, as the story reads.

Finally, this is yet another reason I'm glad I'm not involved with either Professional Skepticism or Professional Atheism.

I don't have anything further to say on the issue. Whether it's Radford or not, Stollznow's words speak for themselves about the subject of sexual harassment in general.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to my blog. FYI, I hope to post a follow-on blog post that addresses some of the criticisms of my post later this week, and will probably be talking about it on the Virtual Skeptics webcast on Wednesday too. IMHO many of the replies from the supporters of The Block Bot are really totally missing the point.

Gadfly said...

Thanks, Tim, and looking forward to your follow-up.

Maybe, just maybe, Ed will crawl out of his shell on this issue by then. But, sadly, I doubt it.

Matt said...

More GNU wars? Ye gods.

My theory is that the % of a-holes in the GNU community is falling, so they invented BlockBot to keep the non-a-holes out.