Twitter, Anonymous, Curt Schilling: Policing The Internet Frontier - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
IT Life
Commentary
3/13/2015
10:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
100%
0%

Twitter, Anonymous, Curt Schilling: Policing The Internet Frontier

Vigilante justice on the Internet is doing some good, but it also has a scary side. Here's a look at how Twitter, Curt Schilling, and Anonymous are changing Silicon Valley.

7 Emerging Technologies IT Should Study Now
7 Emerging Technologies IT Should Study Now
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The Internet is still a frontier. Like the Wild West, it lacks government, authority, or basic civilization. It once was more so, but despite a couple of decades of social norms and ad hoc rules set up by individual sites, the Internet lacks a central authority to police it.

For the most part, this is a good thing. But we're starting to see the need for more "police," and the desire by some to be those police. Before it gets too far, let's consider whether that's what we want.

The last few days have seen three seemingly minor, seemingly unconnected events that show a trend toward frontier justice. And frontier justice usually leads to someone coming in and taking authority.

The first was Curt Schilling's trolling incident. Schilling, a famous retired baseball player (he of bloody sock fame) tweeted his simple congratulations to his daughter for picking a college in the fall. This prompted people -- we can barely call them people -- to respond to the tweet with sexual innuendo, mentions of raping his daughter, and other threats I will not post here. If you want details, go here.

Schilling did something very few people have done before. He responded by tracking down the real names of the people who threatened and insulted his daughter, and showed the tweets from those attackers to people at their places of work and school. At least one person has been fired. Two were kicked off their college sports teams. Vigilante justice -- it's hard not to approve.

Recently, Anonymous trolled Kanye West with a video that said all of the things we have all wanted to say to Kanye West. Particularly, they were harsh on Kanye and Kim Kardashian's attempt to "break the Internet" with pictures of Kim's naked rear. That video is starting to get viral traction this week. I would show it here, except it contains a bit of profanity.

Here is the link if you must.

We all know Anonymous has often gone much farther than posting videos to make a point. Presumably, West's personal website is at risk next. It is easy to approve of taking West down a peg, but let's remember, for the most part, all that he's guilty of is bad taste.

[Read about celebrities with nerdy habits.]

Finally, a bigger authority on the Internet, Twitter, announced today that the company is changing its terms of use in an attempt to prevent so-called "revenge porn."

Revenge porn is when someone posts a nude picture or video of someone on the Internet without his or her permission to get back at that person for a perceived slight (like dumping you). Frankly, anyone who would do that deserves more than getting dumped. It seems like locking a Twitter account is a small but useful thing to do.

Add these incidents up and they seem like tiny victories for decency and taste. (I won't comment on whether Kardashian is being indecent by posing nude, but I will say we probably all have better things to do with the Internet than worry about it.) Who wouldn't cheer at the idea of actual consequences for individuals threatening rape via Twitter or posting unauthorized photos of someone (nude or not)? We at InformationWeek take decency very seriously on our own comment boards. We want a professional, civilized conversation here, so we're sympathetic to the challenges that websites face.

Here's the issue. What if Schilling took offense to something less obviously offensive? What if Anonymous picked on someone a little more likeable? How can Twitter actually police its own policy without hindering people's right to expression?

(Source: Wickedfire.com)

(Source: Wickedfire.com)

What if someone like Schilling called your boss simply because he was unhappy with an opinion that you tweeted about vaccinations? And what if Schilling and your boss happen to disagree with your views?

The Internet is definitely a place where crimes large and small occur daily. Real fraud happens. Real bullying takes place. Real threats are made daily against someone's safety (ask any woman). The "real world" authorities investigate some of these. The rest they leave to frontier justice.

As frontier justice increases online, the "real" police have to step in to preserve the rights of the accused -- for example, the first time someone uses a Schilling-style strategy on something that is less obviously wrong.

Right now, the "sheriff" in any particular Internet town is the company that's running the website. Social media companies and other website operators offer varying levels of control over what's posted, varying levels of insight into the problem, and varying levels of morality. That alone is clearly not working.

We're at a crossroads on the Internet.

After more than two decades of regular consumer use (and longer for some) the Internet is in the process of becoming civilized. How do we want that to happen? Who do we want policing it? Ourselves? The companies running the sites? The real police? Each option comes with its own set of problems.

If we police ourselves, we get trolls. Ask Schilling. Worse yet, we get people like those operating under the rubric of Anonymous who, if you are lucky, post trollish videos and, if you aren't lucky, take down your website.

If we let the Internet be policed by Silicon Valley, we get pockets of good and evil. Think of it like the TV series Bonanza. When the Cartwrights run your town, everything is fine. But there's always the town down yonder with a little more crime. Little Joe or someone always gets attacked whenever he goes there to sell cattle.

Involving the real police poses the biggest dilemma. Would they shut down all the saloons in town, lock up the show girls, and make everyone go to church on Sunday? The beauty of the Internet is its freedom of expression, which can be so powerful that some countries shut it down.

So what do we do? I don't know. But it is time to decide how we're going to run this little frontier before someone else decides for us. We won net neutrality (for the short term, at least). What did we actually win?

Attend Interop Las Vegas, the leading independent technology conference and expo series designed to inspire, inform, and connect the world's IT community. In 2015, look for all new programs, networking opportunities, and classes that will help you set your organization’s IT action plan. It happens April 27 to May 1. Register with Discount Code MPOIWK for $200 off Total Access & Conference Passes.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Technocrati
50%
50%
Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2015 | 3:19:34 PM
Re: Looking In The Mirror of Anonymity and The Internet
@David   Thanks ! I think so. : )  And if not, doesn't matter - I will not be stopped.  And thanks for your wisdom, I think the "intractability of human nature" has alot to do with it.

I got so riled up I have really forgotten to address other aspects of your piece, like the Kanye West/Anonymous video. That was fanstastic ! I have never seen anything quite like it - and their points were spot on - I hope he ( Kanye) sees it.

But this policing of the Net is the "slippery slope" that Whoopty referenced earlier in the tread, so while I am happy Schilling "got some payback" - I think everyone understands the dangers of policing the Net.

Twitters actions against "Jerks" is appropriate in my book, but there is just too much room for subjective judgement to be fair to everyone.

This might be the most difficult philosophical debate of our time.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
3/18/2015 | 2:36:00 PM
Re: Looking In The Mirror of Anonymity and The Internet
@Technocrati- Well, i hope you can be unblackballed. :)

But the funny thing about what you say is that one person's "reason" is another person's personal attack. It isn't quite as bad in technology but some major social issues create that. Vaccination, gay marriage, AIDS, Ebola, etc. People could post an entirely reasoned, calm, polite post about their opinion and someone will take it personally. It speaks to the important of these issues, perhaps, but also to how intractable we are.
Technocrati
50%
50%
Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/17/2015 | 11:11:36 PM
Looking In The Mirror of Anonymity and The Internet
Athough I find it difficult to like Mr.Schilling but as someone who respects respectable behavior, I side with his actions. The kinds of mean spirited comments that flow towards women and young ladies is abhorant.

While responding to this thread, it occured to me that I am opperating under the cloak of a moniker.  Some could very well accuse me of operating under the Cloak of the Internet.   Well,  I chose a moniker on this site because my views might very well get me black balled, even though I certainly convinced I am a voice of reason and unabashed realism.

But then it occured to me, I am already "black balled" so what difference does it make ?

I am think of coming out of hiding but for now I am focused on those who hide behind anonymity for nefarious reasons.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
3/16/2015 | 1:55:36 PM
Re: Wild West
@Susan- Right, I certainly don't want the police knocking on the door of every twitter troll. But if I said those things in the break room at work, I'd lose my job. If I said them in Union Square, and my job heard about them, I'd probably lose my job. So, I don't really have a problem with the idea of surfacing threats to the public. 

Well, maybe I do. But I can't say I feel too bad since they are real threats. I don't know what to do, but leaving the internet to be free ground where people are free to threaten at will doesn't seem like a great plan either.
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
3/16/2015 | 1:49:12 PM
Re: Wild West
Schilling had some IT chops, owned a company (albeit failed one) that wrote video game software. A normal person (read, like your Mom) would have no clue how to find the account owners.

The Internet has to be the most paradigm busting technology ever. Now, everyone has a voice. The problem is, most of them (and I'll include myself, who the heck am I?) don't need to have a voice. Add that to the rampant security issues which escalated credit and identity fraud, pretty much cancels out the gains from us having access to so much information, so quickly. I seriously am not sure how I actually debugged anything in the old days of having shelf upon shelf of manuals. Now, any problem is a Google away from solving.

But would I trade that ability to get rid of the ease someone could steal my money/identity? That's a tough call but personally I probably would. Of course, I'm probably last person on planet without a Facebook/Twitter account too.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
3/16/2015 | 1:48:07 PM
Re: Wild West
@jastroff- Ha! Well, good for him that he foiund a virtual bat to use and didn't just find out where they lived and hit them with a real bat.
jastroff
50%
50%
jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
3/16/2015 | 11:08:57 AM
Re: Wild West
I always find it amusing when strong physcial guys like  Curt Schilling, who would just have soon used a baseball bat against the twitter folks, run into the ether looking for the guilty parties
Susan_Nunziata
50%
50%
Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
3/16/2015 | 8:23:14 AM
Re: Wild West
@whoopty: it is a conundrum -- do we let the behavior of bad actors cause us to create rules that limit freedome of speech for everyone?

The idea of the police (and which police, BTW? your town cops? city? state police? feds?) getting more involved in policing the Internet is scary to me.

Also, typically in the real world the police can't act just because someone says they're goin to commit a crime or says something nasty to someone, as the people who said terrible things online about Schilling's daughter did. Anyone who has ever been the victim of real-world stalking will tell you there is very little the police can do to help them because of the way laws are written.

So, if someone spoke outloud on the street the heinous threats that were made online to Schilling's daughter, what could the police actually do about it? Not much, I don't think.

There are no easy answers here.

 
Whoopty
IW Pick
100%
0%
Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/16/2015 | 7:12:17 AM
Wild West
I agree that the Wild West days of the internet may well be coming to an end. It is difficult to predict what direction we'll end up going in though. 

At the moment, we have all three staking a claim. Part of me likes that as a scenario, where the worst offenders get hit by the police (even though that feels like a slippery slope to censorship) and those seemingly protected by fame or money get hit by the vigilantes out there. 

This way at least, the public has as much say in policing the internet as any corporate or federal entity. However, I worry that any more effective policing solution will lead to cramping of the internet's best feature: that it allows more freedom of speech than any other platform in history. 
News
COVID-19: Using Data to Map Infections, Hospital Beds, and More
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  3/25/2020
Commentary
Enterprise Guide to Robotic Process Automation
Cathleen Gagne, Managing Editor, InformationWeek,  3/23/2020
Slideshows
How Startup Innovation Can Help Enterprises Face COVID-19
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  3/24/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
State of the Cloud
State of the Cloud
Cloud has drastically changed how IT organizations consume and deploy services in the digital age. This research report will delve into public, private and hybrid cloud adoption trends, with a special focus on infrastructure as a service and its role in the enterprise. Find out the challenges organizations are experiencing, and the technologies and strategies they are using to manage and mitigate those challenges today.
Video
Current Issue
IT Careers: Tech Drives Constant Change
Advances in information technology and management concepts mean that IT professionals must update their skill sets, even their career goals on an almost yearly basis. In this IT Trend Report, experts share advice on how IT pros can keep up with this every-changing job market. Read it today!
Slideshows
Flash Poll