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January 2021
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Content Moderation Case Study: Social Media Upstart Parler Struggles To Moderate Pornography (2020)

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Summary: Upstart social network Parler (which is currently offline, but attempting to come back) has received plenty of attention for trying to take on Twitter -- mainly focusing on attracting many of the users who have been removed from Twitter or who are frustrated by how Twitter's content moderation policies are applied. The site may only boast a fraction of the users that the social media giants have, but its influence can't be denied.Parler promised to be the free speech playground Twitter never was. It claimed it would never "censor" speech that hadn't been found illegal by the nation's courts. When complaints about alleged bias against conservatives became mainstream news (and the subject of legislation), Parler began to gain traction.

But the company soon realized that moderating content (or not doing so) wasn't as easy as it hoped it would be. The problems began with Parler's own description of its moderation philosophy, which cited authorities that had no control over its content (the FCC), and the Supreme Court, whose 1st Amendment rulings apply to what the government may regulate regarding speech, but not private websites.Once it became clear Parler was becoming the destination for users banned from other platforms, Parler began to tighten up its moderation efforts, resulting in some backlash from users. CEO John Matze issued a statement, hoping to clarify Parler's moderation decisions.
Here are the very few basic rules we need you to follow on Parler. If these are not to your liking, we apologize, but we will enforce:- When you disagree with someone, posting pictures of your fecal matter in the comment section WILL NOT BE TOLERATED
- Your Username cannot be obscene like "CumDumpster"
- No pornography. Doesn't matter who, what, where,
Parler's hardline stance on certain content appeared to be more extreme than the platforms (Twitter especially) that Parler's early adopters decried as too restrictive. In addition to banning content allowed by other platforms, Parler claimed to pull the plug on the sharing of porn, even though it had no Supreme Court/FCC precedent justifying this act.Parler appears to be unable -- at least at this point -- to moderate pornographic content. Despite its clarification of its content limitations, Parler does not appear to have the expertise or the manpower to dedicate to removing porn from its service.A report by the Houston Chronicle (which builds on reporting by the Washington Post) notes that Parler has rolled back some of its anti-porn policies. But it still wishes to be seen as a cleaner version of Twitter -- one that caters to "conservative" users who feel other platforms engage in too much moderation.According to this report, Parler outsources its anti-porn efforts to volunteers who wade through user reports to find content forbidden by the site's policies. Despite its desires to limit the spread of pornography, Parler has become a destination for porn seekers.The Post's review found that searches for sexually explicit terms surfaced extensive troves of graphic content, including videos of sex acts that began playing automatically without any label or warning. Terms such as #porn, #naked and #sex each had hundreds or thousands of posts on Parler, many of them graphic. Some pornographic images and videos had been delivered to the feeds of users tens of thousands of times on the platform, according to totals listed on the Parler posts.Parler continues to struggle with the tension of upholding its interpretation of the First Amendment and ensuring its site isn't overrun by content it would rather not host.Decisions to be made by Parler:
  • Does forbidding porn make Parler more attractive to undecided users?
  • Do moderation efforts targeting content allowed on other platforms undermine Parler's assertions that it's a "free speech" alternative to Big Tech "censorship"?
  • Can Parler maintain a solid user base when its moderation decisions conflict with its stated goals?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Does limiting content removal to unprotected speech attract unsavory core users?
  • Is it possible to limit moderation to illegal content without driving users away?
  • Does promising very little moderation of pornography create risks that the platform will also be filled with content that violates the law, including child sexual abuse material?
Resolution: Parler's Chief Operating Officer responded to these stories after they were published by insisting that its hands-off approach to pornography made sense, but also claiming that he did not want pornographic spam.
After this story was published online, Parler Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Wernick, who had not responded to repeated pre-publication requests seeking comment on the proliferation of pornography on the site, said he had little knowledge regarding the extent or nature of the nudity or sexual images that appeared on his site but would investigate the issue.I don't look for that content, so why should I know it exists?" Wernick said, but he added that some types of behavior would present a problem for Parler. We don't want to be spammed with pornographic content.
Given how Parler's stance on content moderation of pornographic material has already changed significantly in the short time the site has been around, it is likely to continue to evolve.Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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posted at: 12:01am on 28-Jan-2021
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Britain Helps Children Learn From Home By Procuring Them Laptops Preloaded With Russian Malware

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As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, one of the main points of contention has been how to handle schools. Some countries sent all students home to keep them from spreading the virus. Other countries made schools the last thing they shut down, if they ever did, arguing that schools haven't been a major source of transmission and teaching kids is too important to shut down. Here in America, most states did a hybrid model, choosing the absolute worst of both worlds. Teachers get hamstrung having to teach students both locally and remotely, which is basically impossible, while still having students and teachers come into schools to transmit the virus to one another.Along the way, lots of schools took lots of actions meant to help students learn remotely, most of which were also quite dumb. Incorporating biometrics and AI to assist with remote testing sounds like a good idea, except these always go sideways. Privacy issues are discovered and kids learn how to game the AI-driven tests. Still other districts forced teachers to come into the school solely to teach kids who were at home and then told teachers to take their masks off if they were causing audio problems.But to see the cake-taking, best combination for good intentions gone horribly wrong, you really have to hand it to the UK ordering a ton of laptops for remote learning... that also came pre-loaded with Russian malware.

The affected laptops, supplied to schools under the government's Get Help With Technology (GHWT) scheme, which started last year, came bundled with the Gamarue malware – an old remote access worm from the 2010s.The Register understands that a batch of 23,000 computers, the GeoBook 1E running Windows 10, made by Shenzhen-headquartered Tactus Group, contained the units that were loaded with malware. A spokesperson for the manufacturer was not available for comment.
This is almost certainly an instance of someone prepping these machines using an image that somehow was infected with the malware... but still. Not having any checks prior to the machines getting out to school districts for this sort of thing and nearly rolling the machines out to students sure feels like incompetence. Also likely factoring into all of this is the extreme lack of supply for laptops from the more traditional manufacturers, leading some schools to go find off-brand alternatives. The GeoBook is one of those.But again, still, Gamarue calls home somewhere inside of Russia and allows nefarious actors to remotely access these machines. Machines that almost certainly have webcams on them. That's... not good?If the pandemic has exposed anything at all about humanity, it surely must be how wildly unprepared we were for it.

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posted at: 12:01am on 28-Jan-2021
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