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“Can I say that?” He said, and he cut off his tongue so there was no more risk.

“Am I allowed to look?” He thought and he put out his eyes so his soul would not impinge on any other’s.

“Are there things I should not hear?” And his ears joined his eyes, cast aside on the floor, so he wouldn’t hear anything dangerous.

“Are there things I should not touch?” And he took the axe to his hands, leaving bloody stumps that would never explore, transgress or be idle again.

“Are there places I should not go?” And he broke his ankles so he would not stray – at least not without help.

“Does my presence offend? Are there things I should not think?”

And there was simply.

Nothing.

Left.

.

Bletchley Park

20150322_110149We spent today visiting Bletchley Park and the nearby Computing Museum.

Bletchley has a weird vibe to it. It has the weight of history to it, but doesn’t feel that old, even though the manor house dates back to the 17th Century and the site appears in the Domesday book – and was occupied back to Roman times. In some ways it feels like a school or a college campus, in others still like a military installation and layered over all of that is the museum, though it doesn’t feel so much like a museum as a more interactive/hands on.

It’s rare you can point to a particular time and place as the time and place that a new technology emerges, but Bletchley is that and a such a powerful and meaningfully influential place that you can feel it.

20150322_111751I’m still none the wiser as to how the Bombe works, because even the expert explanation didn’t show how the machine could understand when it got a positive result – without human intervention – but the Colossus at the neighbouring museum did make perfect sense and was incredibly impressive – especially considering it was pretty much the first fully operational computer. Even the paper-tape reader was impressive – the fastest one ever made – and its operation made far more sense (based on probability distributions).

The Computing Museum had more doodads, but less history. They run classes to teach kids to code, promote the Raspberry Pi (booo) – alternatives are available – and have a lot of big, old, working computers.

My dad was a maths teacher when home computers were just getting really popular, so I got to see a lot of older computers and to tinker around on the Acorn Atom, BBC, Spectrum and a bunch of old computers as well as to rummage in boxes of dead computer parts. I still can’t code to save my life, but I still find I know more about these things than I want to!

20150322_142635Bletchley is well worth a visit, but for my money the Computing Museum next door is more interesting to poke around in and look at the various artefacts of electronic history, in that nicotine-stained, yellow-beige plastic that’s always been so ubiquitous. As the spiritual home of computing, the whole area can’t help but feel special to netizens and digital kids of all ages.

Give it a shot, though Bletchley is pretty expensive to visit they force you to buy a ‘season pass’, so you can go back.

The computing museum sells Raspberrys and all kinds of casings and add-on widgets, so if you want to get hands on before you buy, it seems like a good bet.

I was going to do this as a video, but I’m in the middle of upgrading my desktop PC so you’ll have to make do with a blog post for now.

fc9

So, recently we all got the wonderful news that The Block Bot – a crude and breathtakingly stupid and stifling tool that came out of the AtheismPlus schism – was shutting down.

And there was much rejoicing.

rejoicing

But then… IT CAME BACK!

92175-massive-facepalm-gif-Imgur-e8XZ

Well, that’s not necessarily so bad. They seem to have kept all the wording changes etc they made to avoid legal action. Further, they’re trimming the team and consulting other people. Hopefully with a bit more legal advice and fewer and more level heads there won’t be a problem. So who are these people they’re working with?

Screenshot from 2015-03-21 19:55:13

I try not to be prejudiced, but I do think there’s a difference between prejudice and bitter experience. While I’ve met some awesome trans people in my offline life and via Gamergate, most of the ones I’ve met who are online activists are gigantic arseholes, more concerned with being gigantic shitheads to everyone that crosses their path than on education, discussion, explanation or understanding.

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Between the exhaustive lists of pronouns and the rest of the language used on the site, there’s more red flags than a North Korean march past.

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But this, THIS is the glacé cherry on the diarrhetic shit-sundae of the whole thing.

Screenshot from 2015-03-21 20:16:31

79cc3e6b891567444ebc7822548e277d16eb0c94870887d3c5915223c859d9f7

So you’re going to put a supposed ‘anti-harassment’ tool into the hands of self-admitted racists, sexists and heterophobes?

What a brilliant idea! Almost as good as Randi Harper, considered by a great many people to be a hate-spewing harasser, setting up her own version of the bot in relation to Gamergate and trying to set up an anti harassment initiative.

Here’s some other great ideas of the same form:

  • Australian daycare by dingos.
  • The Jimmy Saville Initiative – Paedophiles working in primary schools to repay their debt to society.
  • KKK-run racial sensitivity seminars.

Seriously, all this website needs is a Confederate flag and a looping midi of banjo music to fit the degree of gobsmacking prejudice on show.

But hey, maybe they can swallow their clusterfuck of ‘isms and continue the improvements and lawsuit avoidance that has been going on already. On the other hand, maybe they’ll make things worse but engage in ‘reverse libel tourism’. That may not help if they fall afoul of anti-discrimination and hate speech legislation though.

I’ll hope for the best, but I ain’t holding my breath.

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PS: Can we all agree that this kind of ‘article’, full of shitty memes and reaction gifs, and low on words has had its fucking day by now?

 

PrintThings do tend to move fast in the internet age.

The previous post was getting a bit long, so here’s where things currently stand.

Regarding the Block Bot

I’ve managed to actually have a conversation with ‘Oolon’ and away from Twitter he’s a lot more reasonable. The Block Bot has made considerable changes already and appears to be in the process of making more. Hopefully this will address the remaining issues but honestly as things stand my only remaining objection is to the titles of the levels and this is extremely iffy as something actionable, even in the UK, given the other changes in wording.

Given that Oolon’s been very reasonable and we’ve had productive conversations on the issues and given the changes that have taken place I see no reason to proceed any further on that score at this point.

Regarding the GG Autoblocker

Harper’s less amenable to reasonable discussion, at least so far. No changes have been made at the site as of yet either. I’ve consulted with a third solicitor with more specialist knowledge regarding defamation online and US law and they’re a bit less optimistic than the other two, though both agree that this is a pretty cut and dried case all things considered and don’t believe the SPEECH issue is really an issue.

Cheaper alternatives to a full libel suit are harder to prosecute and I’ll need to gather more evidence before deciding to proceed on that score.

I’ve been approached by some intermediaries, neutral parties, who are seeking via other means to repair the problems with the GG Autoblocker and have asked me to ease off.

Given the changes at The Block Bot seem to indicate the way the wind is blowing, the need to build a stronger case and in the interests of giving allowable time for these people to work and for potential solutions to come through (as well as not wanting to be used as an excuse to fuel Harper’s Patreon) I’ll hold off for now.

The letter is still a first step and exhibiting patience and fairness will build a stronger case – should it be necessary – in the future. Hopefully Harper et al seeking legal advice will lead to changes and not to ‘reverse libel tourism’. With a year free to file there’s no rush and meanwhile I’m talking to the local police as well as solicitors – as they have some options for dealing with online harassment and false accusations.

It is, however, amusing to me that when accused of harassment themselves – as a matter of record – people who will normally take it, if anything, too seriously will so quickly rush to judgement, shaming, trolling and further harassment.

Notes

To reiterate, yet again, the issue isn’t the block list in and of itself or being blocked. I don’t think anyone HAS to listen to anyone. While I think these kind of lists and pre-emptive blockings are a terrible idea and contribute to a potentially dangerous trend towards extremism (an internet equivalent of only ever watching Fox News) they’re not illegal and people have the right to do stupid things, so long as they don’t directly harm anyone.

The issue with the blockers is (or has been) that they defame people both as a group (the list) and as individuals (named individuals). By way of analogy, it is like having a big sign up saying ‘These people are all rapists’ with thousands of names listed underneath, many – even most – of which are not rapists.

It’s not about being blocked, it’s not even about the breathtakingly dangerous stupidity of ideological purity tests for who can talk to you or challenge your statements, it’s about defamation and – as Block Bot has shown – this can be relatively easily fixed.

hqdefault (2)Further to the reading and examination of this article I have consulted with two firms of solicitors that deal with defamation cases.

Both agree that there are definite cases of libel involving both the Block Bot and the GG Autoblocker, both however recommend taking the Data Protection route as a cheaper, easier, faster way to pursue recourse. Another option for those in the UK is the Small Claims Court which allows claims of damages up to a maximum value of £3,000 (this will cost £100 to file) and which usually go to the complainant if they are uncontested. Whether you’d ever see those damage from someone like Randi Harper or Oolon is another matter entirely, but at least you would have the court system on your side from that point onwards.

I have been loathe to taken action previously when I have been slandered and libelled because I consider the rough and tumble of the internet to mostly be insignificant and not worth making a fuss over. However, after 8+ months of this kind of treatment and the constant dredging up of old libellous statements against and about me I have reached the end of my tether.

One must also consider the problems these block bots have been causing in defusing situations, encouraging useful debate, creating dangerous echo chambers and libelling thousands of people all at once. The spread of this ‘tool’ is greatly concerning to people like myself who believe in the power of discourse and free expression.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with blocking and muting people. There is something wrong about writing people off, sight unseen, and accusing thousands of people of being trolls, harassers, bigots etc without proper consideration.

Below is a redacted version of the Letter of Claim I sent to the GGautoblocker site, this references UK & EU law so others will need to consult locally for legal advice. I would advise other UK people on either block list to use this as a template to make their own claims, but note that as of this morning the Block Bot checker appears to be down.

If you require further advice or the contact information for solicitors specialising in online defamation, you can call the Law Society (UK) on 0207 2421222

Cover Note

Please find attached my letter of claim as advised by my solicitors. Whatever our disagreements I believe strongly in the principle of free expression and would rather not pursue you through the courts.

Harassment and trolling are important online issues and do need innovative solutions. However, smearing a consumer movement as a whole and individuals in particular with such a crude and poorly thought-out measure is worse than the pre-existing solutions.

I look forward to your formal reply and proposal for remedy within the next 14 days.

[Your Name Here]

Letter of Claim

[Contact Information – You will have to doxx yourself]
[Date]

Dear Sirs,

Regarding your defamatory internet posts and publications:

I am contacting you in connection with the identification and pursuit of identified instances of libellous statements made across the internet.

I have been made aware of defamatory statements made on behalf of you and your organisation on your website and in association with your automated Twitter blocking system.

Examples of defamatory statements include but are not limited to:

  • Repeated accusations of harassment.
  • Describing Gamergate and those blocked on your list through association as a ‘hate group’.
  • Describing Gamergate and those blocked on your list as ‘harassing women for sport’.

My Claim
I have evidence to prove that the block list and the website associated with it contains or implies serious, untrue and highly defamatory comments towards myself and thousands of others. In doing so defamatory comments and reputational damage are being communicated to many thousands of people throughout the world, posing a serious threat to my reputation and those who work with me.

Further, these comments and the language used in the code and the website do or have seemed designed to damage my reputatio, and those of thousands of others, and to divert business away from me – rather than to have any fair comment basis.

There are also possible issues relating to UK/EU data protection law and its export from the EU in breach of the data protection act.

Under the law of England and Wales, a defamatory statement is one which tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally (Sim v Stretch [1936] 2 All ER 1237). The words are defamatory, identify or refer to the claimant and are published by yourselves to third parties.

The relevant data protection issues can be found in the Data Protection Act ([1998] Schedule1).

Legal proceedings
In order to protect my interests I am considering proceedings against you in the Small Claims or High Court. These proceedings would seek remedies including but not limited to the following:

  • Substantial damages;
  • an injunction to restrain you from publishing the same or similar statements in the future; and
    costs.

Jurisdiction
A defamatory statement is published at the place where it is read, heard or seen, and is not where the material was first placed on the internet. In internet cases, therefore, provided a small number of people have access to the material on the internet in England, the English courts will have jurisdiction to hear the claim against a foreign defendant (Spiliada Maritime Corp v Cansulex Ltd [1987] A.C. 460).

Next steps
I am not against freedom of speech and recognise the value of fair comment. Indeed, this is at the root of my objections to tools such as block bots. At this I have no desire to issue legal proceedings against the operators and the Website and I am keen to do all I can to avoid litigation where possible.

However, in accordance with the pre-action protocol for defamation, I will desist from issuing legal proceedings provided within 14 days of the date of this letter you agree to do the following:

  • remove from publication in their entirety the defamatory statements to prevent harm to my business;
  • produce an apology and a declaration that the allegations referred to are false and defamatory and cause such apology and declaration to be published on your website (such apology to be approved by me prior to publication);
  • remove my entry on your block list.
  • make proposals for the payment to me of damages for the harm caused to my reputation; and business – or perhaps a donation to a mutually agreed upon charity in lieu of damages.
  • undertake to actively monitor and delete any newly published defamatory content relating to me.

If the defamatory material is not permanently removed and the above undertakings are not complied with by 4.00pm GMT on 31/03/2015 I shall review the circumstances and consider proceeding to court.

I draw to your attention the terms of Section 2 of the Defamation Act 1996, under which you have the right to offer to make amends, which I will consider fairly.

I await your response. In the meantime I reserve my rights, in particular the right to produce this letter to the Court when it comes to consider costs under CPR 44.3.

Yours faithfully

[Your Name]

Update 1
I have had a response from Oolon (James Billingham) and it seems I shall have to seriously consider taking it to the next stage. I record it here for sake of having a complete record.

Your email and “claim” has been passed to Hampshire police as evidence against Sam Smith in his harassment campaign against me. I suggest you get some real advice, rather than a “solicitor” find an actual solicitor to make any further contact. Any further correspondence will be reported to the police as harassment. Sam Smith might want to share his own correspondence with head of litigation at Prieskel & Co … It might explain why he dropped his “legal claim”. 

Thanks
James Billingham. 
Personally I do not see how contacting him to try and sort out a redress of grievances can be termed harassment. Nor do I see why two pro-bono consultations with legal representation requires ‘scare quotes’. I have replied purely to confirm that he is not going to take any steps to correct the issue.
He did not provide contact information of any sort so it appears I may have to send a hardcopy of the letter to his place of work. Just to be absolutely certain. Something I hoped to avoid.
Update 2
Despite his bluster, the Block Bot appears to have made a series of updates to its pages and also appears to have removed the Block Bot checker tool, which was the thing that came up with the reasons you were on the block list (mine included ‘MRA’, ‘Atheist’, ‘Writer’, ‘RPG’ and more seriously, ‘rape apologist’ etc – the actionable parts.
With the defamatory search results removed and the wording on the pages changed, I’m actually fairly happy and provided nothing slips back I won’t pursue that matter any further.
The GG autoblocker is another matter. Harper has put out a defiant message and nothing has changed. I have reached out to her to have a conversation on her terms in hopes of getting some movement and understanding, but I don’t hold out much hope. There are other, neutral parties also seeking to talk to Harper about improving, softening or otherwise dealing with the GG autoblocker issues and the good changes at the Block Bot hold out hope that some sense might be seen.
Trolls and abuse aside (and boy am I getting a lot of that right now) I hope that my sincerity in this matter and my concern for the thousands of other people being defamed by the current state of the autoblocker comes through.
For sake of clarification:
  • I, personally, am not seeking to end the existence of either block list. While I think they’re dangerous and ‘problematic’ (to coin a phrase) people should be able to ignore who they want.
  • My concern is purely the defamation. The autoblocker lists thousands of people and it’s doubtless that the overwhelming majority are not part of any hate group nor do they engage in the ‘harassment of women for sport’. Yet they are described as such and individually listed.
It is a mischaracterisation of my position to claim that I am ‘suing for being blocked’. I haven’t decided whether to sue or not yet. The letter is merely the first step and the one that gives me the option later on. What I hope results from this is some pressure and a better conversation and – hopefully – a change along the lines of that which has occurred at the Block Bot.
Update 3
I have contacted Mr Billingham of The Block Bot, despite his claims that doing so are ‘harassment’ it seems to me that communication on legal matters is essential if they are to be avoided. Provided the changes currently made at The Block Bot remain permanent I see no reason to proceed further.
With The Block Bot Checker taken down the defamatory statements are no longer viewable and the changes to The Block Bot’s front page altered, what remains appears to be ‘small potatoes’. Technically the definitions of the higher levels (EG: bigot) are still defamatory but the changes show willing and it seems pointless to me to pursue that further.
I’ve contacted him to check if these changes are permanent and, if so, there’s no reason to proceed.
Similar changes to the wording on the GGautoblocker would solve the issue there, though I still doubt Randi Harper would be the type of person to change that without pressure – both of us are stubborn and combative it seems.
Ideally statements about ‘harassment’ would be removed along the lines of purely stating that it’s a tool for blocking Gamergate, without the defamation. Such as one might, say, present a tool for blocking Democrats (US political party) without asserting that all democrats are secretly Communist Muslim lizard people.
Even so, the real problem is on the FAQ section of the Autoblocker and its accusations of harassment, hate spewing, harassing women for sport etc (or ‘and n’, if you prefer).
I don’t think moderating the language of the GGautoblocker is such a huge ask. It would help deflate some of the rhetoric on the issues, allow the tool to continue to be used by those who want their echo chambers and would remove the issue of defamation from those on the list who do not fit those descriptions.
If Ms Harper will talk to me in good faith, and again I’ve agreed to do so on her terms entirely, perhaps we can find some useful common ground. Several people have come forward offering to mediate and it will be worth seeing how this proceeds before making any final decisions.
REPUTATIO is an important thing to defend, important enough to order a new laptop when your keyboard – including the ‘n’ key, stops working.

sci-fi-banner

Curated from @JeffNoon on Twitter.

  • A while back I wrote a sort of manifesto for science fiction. I’ve just updated it. I’ll present it here. 26 ideas and images…
  • Science Fiction infects and transforms. It questions, supports and replicates, firing off clichés and wonders at equal rates.
  • Science Fiction moves at the pace of life, accelerated or slow-motion. It walks the borderlines of mainstream culture, enamoured of edges.
  • Science Fiction is an emergent system. It exists both in the reality of the present day and the equally valid reality of tomorrow’s dreams.
  • Science Fiction conducts experiments upon Form and Content, inventing new techniques, new processes, new kinds of narrative expression.
  • Science Fiction evolves through small variations and wild mutations. It is designed to examine, distrust, perfect and dismantle itself.
  • Science Fiction enflames, enrivers, begulfs, undertugs, sidetwists and interslips. It befogs, englows, transplodes and intraflows.
  • Science Fiction is modified by its users over time. It revels in having loose screws and wires. It can so easily catch fire.
    Science Fiction is unashamed to fly on sentimental wings over lands populated by werebeasts, elves, vampires, androids, aliens and unicorns.
  • Science Fiction is trying to understand itself. It never will. It’s not that kind of genre. It’s diseased. The disease is its power source.
  • Science Fiction is the undercurrent, a visceral urge towards life. It worships weirdness and tradition, and will fuse the two to make anew.
  • Science Fiction is a magical sword forged in that ultimate of all fantasy realms: the human mind.
    Well-mannered literature is scared of pulp, of popular art. And of the avant-garde. And by this act it severs a deep vein of the life blood.
  • Science Fiction revels in elements from both pulp and avant-garde, and frequently mixes the two to create avant-pulp dreams and realities.
  • How fruitful this world is, when pulp fuses with the avant-garde. What strange, conjoined creatures are born. How the twin suns shine.
  • Science Fiction is a four-dimensional object (at the very least). It has more edges and borderlines than all other genres put together.
  • Science Fiction will create new ways of reaching the public. Words will flow from root to stem to flower to seed to air to earth to root…
  • Science Fiction does not have an operator’s manual. The operators are the manual.
  • Science Fiction is a journey of words through time. It says Down with perfection! Welcome to corrupted signals, glitches and fused wires.
  • To read, write or add new engine parts to Science Fiction is to partake in a grand, bizarre, dangerous, clumsy, vital, unique experiment.
  • Science Fiction embraces clichés. It can read through the clichés, explore clichés, dismantle clichés. It knows that wonders lie ahead.
  • Science Fiction moves along well-travelled paths, and yet, at the dusty end of the road, it desires to go further, out into the wastelands.
  • Science Fiction seeks out realms where no signposts or maps point the way. It crosses borders illegally under cover of night, in disguise.
  • Science Fiction celebrates hybrid creatures: monsters of the Id, machines of flesh, women who turn into fish, and floating men of fire.
  • At the liquid edge, Science Fiction leaves mainstream, middlebrow culture far behind. It travels beyond, into fog, into darkness.
  • Let us go now. Open all channels, connect to everything. Here we are gathered, lost in the flow of words. There is a strange light ahead…

Its an inspiring manifesto, but to me it embodies the ideals of the New Wave. Modern science-fiction is relatively insipid, timid, safe, inoffensive. Yet convinces itself it is radical.

Maybe we can change that.

Fahrenheit-451-007Switch your adblocker on and go familiarise yourselves with THIS Jezebel article, which I’ll be referring to as I go along.

There’s some obvious problems with the article, which I’ll get out of the way first, then I’ll talk about this development in more general terms.

Errors:
1. No threats etc have been linked to Gamergate as of yet and none have been considered credible.
2. Wu has been mocked, investigated and disagreed with by Gamergate, but again, no harassment has been linked to GG. Wu self-inserted into the controversy to make it about her specifically and about women in tech and online harassment. These are issues worthy of discussion, but are not Gamergate.
3. While it’s true no prosecutions have been made, there have also been no credible threats and these things are often very difficult to prosecute and severe punishments are hard to sell to the public (ref Criado-Perez’ trolls).

Representative Clark wants to make online abuse a priority, but there are very good reasons why it is not a priority for law enforcement. It’s hard to investigate, hard to track down, hard to prosecute, requires technical expertise, can be safely ignored the vast majority of the time and often results in prosecutions that seem draconian and unwarranted against people who are often seen as vulnerable – shut ins, people with mental or developmental issues or young kids.

The cost is very high, the benefit is very small and the amount of cyber-abuse incidents that carry over into the real world can be counted on the fingers of one foot.

Now to move into this event more generally.

Many people in Gamergate welcome this intervention, and not without good reason. Gamergate feels that it has nothing to hide and that it will – again – be exonerated. Gamergate would also welcome third-party trolls and any genuine abusers in its ranks being exposed and run off. Gamergate also would like more law enforcement scrutiny because evidence is increasing that various violations of business regulations are also taking place and investigation would likely end up supporting many of Gamergate’s concerns.

I would, however, enter a note of caution.

It is extremely unlikely – though not impossible – that this Rep. Clark is coming into this out of genuine concern for a constituent. It is far more likely that this has other political implications. Attempts to regulate and control the internet are ongoing and a moral panic about online abuse of women, however fake, is a very good way of getting these kinds of controls and regulations past a skeptical public.

I’m not just blowing smoke here, we’ve had years of this problem in the UK. The actions of campaigns such as No More Page 3 and others are bad enough, actively supporting campus censorship and doing all they can to demonise free expression campaigners but it has gone beyond mobbing and shaming as government involvement has increased.

Moral panic, stirred up by the likes of Gail Dines, accompanied by spurious claims about human trafficking, negative effects of pornography etc has contributed towards enabling the Conservative government (progressives and conservatives working together is a dead giveaway of socially regressive goals) to bring in various measures including:

The US has more protections than we do, thanks to its first amendment, but this isn’t just a free expression issue but about the preservation of a free internet in many other senses.

Just be careful.

It may, finally, be time to embrace PR and Gamergate definitely needs to ‘elect’ a few spokesmen to appear on the media as counterpoints to its critics.

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