Friday 15 January, 2021

Getting the picture

Quote of the Day

”Free speech does not mean free reach. There is no right to algorithmic amplification. In fact, that’s the very problem that needs fixing.”

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Randy Newman | My Old Kentucky Home


Long Read of the Day

 Richard J. Evans: Why Trump isn’t a fascist

Richard and I are colleagues: I was Vice President of Wolfson College when he was the President and between 2012 and 2017 we were (with David Runciman) co-directors of a big research project on Conspiracy and Democracy. He is a leading expert on the history of Nazi Germany, so it’s fascinating to see him take on the much-repeated current trope about Trump as a fascist. Trump is a lot of evil things, he argues, but fascist he ain’t.

Cory Doctorow and the FBI

The other day, Cory celebrated his two decades as a blogger. The occasion brought him an unexpected bonus: a call from the FBI.

I’ll let him tell the story in his own inimitable style.

As it happens, an anonymous reader gave me a hell of a blogiversary gift: my first-ever FBI investigation! I’ve spoken to FBI agents before (Agent: Does your Tor exit node keep logs by any chance? Me: Nope. Agent: Dang), but I’ve never actually been investigated.

phone rang with an unfamiliar local number. A calm voice on the other end introduced itself as an FBI special agent with the LA office. I pointed out that this was an unlikely claim and asked for a switchboard number I could call back on.

The agent said this was an entirely reasonable thing to do. A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with him.

Me: What can I do for you?

Him: I’m calling about a blog post you published. I’m sure you know which.

Me: Uh, no.

Him: The one about toppling statues.

He meant this post.

tldr: it’s a link to a Popular Mechanics article on the science of toppling monuments, with a brief intro and summary.

There’s nothing illegal in that post, but also you should never talk to cops without a lawyer, so I asked him if he minded my setting up a time to make that happen. He said that was fine with him.

My EFF colleague Mark Rumold was kind enough to volunteer to call the special agent. He reported back shortly thereafter to say that the agent was responding to a complaint, and that he agreed my post was not unlawful in any way.

Mark confirmed for the agent that I was not planning any unlawful activity, and the agent asked him to remind me that people can misinterpret the things we publish on the internet.

That was it.

It was an anticlimax, sure. I confess that I was a little freaked out. It was just the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death, and my mind kept going back to his account of the time the FBI showed up to ask him about PACER, and the horrors that followed.

But it’s over. The agent, to his credit, was pleasant and reasonable. But I’m mystified by the complaint – my guess is some troll has figured out that you can sic the FBI on people you disagree with on the internet – and even more by the fact that the FBI acted on it.

Wikipedia is 20 today!

Now that’s something really worth celebrating. And while we’re on the subject, why not give it a donation? It’s one of the wonders of the digital world. Link

I have a strategy for dealing with representatives of the two main views about Wikipedia.

The first is the person who speaks disdainfully about Wikipedia because “it’s full of errors”.

Me: So you’ve found something in Wikipedia that you know to be wrong?

Him: (it’s usually a male, btw) Certainly! Absolute rubbish it was.

Me: Well then, why haven’t you corrected it, since you know it’s wrong?

Usual outcome: Blustering about being too busy, what’s the point? etc.

The second is the person (male or female) who gushes enthusiastically about how wonderful Wikipedia is.

Me: So when was the last time you made a donation? It is a charity, you know, and your donation can be gift-aided.

Usual outcome: embarrassed silence

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