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Upon news that Robert Mueller III’s exhaustive special counsel investigation found no evidence of collusion between President Trump and Russia, I attempted to do what many Internet users have done over the past week: share my 2¢. One comment was contributed in response to a Yahoo news story: “Does the media owe Trump an apology?“. Another was submitted in response to the Breitbart headline: “Jeff Zucker: No Regrets on CNN’s Russia Hoax Coverage, ‘We are not investigators’.

What did my comments have in common? They were on topic. They were coherently written. They did not troll anyone. Yet they were deleted within minutes by what I can only assume are anti-SPAM/abuse algorithms.

Unfortunately, for me, this is nothing new. And perhaps some who are reading this — if by some miracle you are! — can relate.*

I have been aware that my voice has been shrinking for some time — long before the term “shadow banning” came into use to describe the practice of limiting Internet users’ exposure to others’ content without suspending the offending creator/contributor’s account. In the late 1990s I published an e-zine — that’s what they were called before the term “blog” was popularized — which was noteworthy enough to make it into an Internet archive known as the Wayback Machine. In fact, this blog, The Social Critic, is an outgrowth of the efforts I began in 1998.

Today, however, there is no evidence on the Wayback Machine that this blog’s predecessor existed.

Approximately 10 years ago, Social Critic posts stopped indexing on Google. I combed through WordPress and Google’s webmaster tools to no avail. I had no idea what happened and I was unsuccessful finding answers. As a result, this blog is but one of millions of obscurities online.

About two years ago, I noticed that my decades-long DISQUS profile contributions had all but been blotted off the face of the Internet: No matter the topic, no matter the website, no matter how thoughtfully-worded the content, it was yanked — often so fast that I came to conclude that I was being nixed not by any human intervention but by a DISQUS algorithm (“bot”). I reached out to DISQUS and was told that for all the comments “Detected as SPAM”, I would have to individually petition each website moderator to approve my comments. When I pointed out that over the past three years my comments have been pulled so fast that no human moderator could have been responsible for their removal, I was told that there would nonetheless be no effort to address how the DISQUS bot operates on my profile. When asked if the length of my comments or the fact that I sometimes edit them for typos could be responsible for the pervasiveness of the problem, DISQUS refused to be specific. Why, I asked, does DISQUS allow users to post an unrestricted number of characters or make use of an “edit comment” option in the first place — if in fact writing more than one paragraph or performing an edit can trip a SPAM bot by which to nullify any and all efforts to participate in a discussion? Again, DISQUS refused to elucidate. As a result, I am left with years worth of posts — including early contributions that had accrued numerous “up-votes” by readers — that are no longer visible because they have been slapped with a false SPAM designation.

In 2018, Alex Jones, a self-made pundit on the Alt-Right, was banned from numerous social media venues seemingly overnight. That’s when the public, at large, learned about a little-discussed tech company practice of making user-submitted content less searchable and therefore inaccessible. In mid 2016, by contrast, our collective understanding about who might incur the wrath of the tech titans was quite different. News of Russian meddling in the election had scarcely entered the national conversation, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal wasn’t far behind. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted over a dozen Russian nationals last year, Americans came to appreciate in even greater detail the role of “troll farms” in playing havoc with our electoral system. In response, Twitter and other social media platforms promised to purge so-called bots.

Big Tech self-policing efforts, well-intended though they may be, lay the groundwork for behind-the-scenes social engineering of a more insidious and pervasive sort.

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With unemployment holding at a four-year low of 7.5 percent and the national economic outlook improving modestly according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market recovery is nonetheless slower than at any time since World War II, a UCLA Anderson Forecast study shows.

The question remains even as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attempts to keep closer tabs on hiring practices: How can job seekers make the most effective use of their limited time, money and resources? Ask a long-term job seeker if they feel the economy has improved and skepticism abounds. The unemployed and underemployed point to the record number of Americans who receive public assistance. They speak of the disconcerting impression that some job openings go nowhere: hiring decisions are delayed, the offer from HR that one is assured of after a promising interview fails to materialize or the right candidate remains elusive — as one can only infer when the same job opening is advertised week after week, month after month.

It doesn’t help that the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported the greatest plunge in hourly wages on record.

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It’s a presidential election year and by all counts the race is close. There is no question the post-recession recovery has been anemic at best. To call it a recovery is a stretch and the threat of a double-dip recession lingers. Whether anyone can really turn this lackluster economy around is anyone’s guess. Talk of the unsustainable $16T deficits looms large but specifics on job creation remain few.

It’s not just abstract conversation for the nation’s unemployed and underemployed.

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