Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Dec. 19 2017 7:10 PM

The Next Battleground for Net Neutrality Is Congress. And Republicans Have the Upper Hand.

Now that the Federal Communications Commission has gutted network neutrality by dismantling protections passed in 2015 that prohibited internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to websites, members of Congress are taking their own whack at kneecapping the open internet.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, just dropped a network neutrality bill with a rather Orwellian title: the Open Internet Preservation Act. Though the law would prevent internet providers from blocking access to websites, it would still allow companies like Comcast and AT&T to charge websites to reach users at faster speeds, behavior that the old net-neutrality rules prohibited, and which proponents of the concept argue would put websites with fewer resources at a disadvantage to large companies.

Paid prioritization would mean that some websites load faster than others, and that those that couldn’t afford fast-lane prices would be slower to load, and therefore less appealing to internet users. The House Republican bill, if passed, would also pre-empt states that could otherwise write their own local net neutrality protections, a feature of the FCC’s new anti-net neutrality rules, too. On the Senate side, Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, has said that Congress should unite to work on a legislative fix for net neutrality rather than defer to the FCC, although he’s generally in favor of the FCC’s deregulatory approach.

If Republicans were to pass a bill, it would tie the bow on the FCC’s efforts to dismantle net neutrality. But there’s also growing pushback across the aisle.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts was the first in line to announce a plan to challenge the FCC’s decision to undo the open internet protections. Last Thursday, the day the new rules were passed by the Republican-majority FCC, Markey said he and 23 other senators are preparing to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution that, if passed, would restore the Obama-era net neutrality protections that the FCC just voted to rescind. Just before that, last Tuesday, a group of 39 Democratic senators sent a letter to the FCC urging the agency to delay the vote, considering all the serious irregularities with the public comment process since the proposal to repeal net neutrality was introduced, including millions of comments from stolen identities, bots, Russian email addresses, and even a few dead people.

The idea of using a Congressional Review Act resolution was bolstered on Friday by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said at a press conference that a reversal of the FCC’s net neutrality repeal “doesn’t need the support of the majority leader,” according to The Hill. “We can bring it to the floor and force a vote. So, there will be a vote to repeal the rule that the FCC passed.” Since Trump took office, Congress has reversed more than a dozen agency actions—but these were Obama-era rules. This is the opposite situation.

Getting a simple majority in the Senate won’t be an easy lift. Though a small handful of Republicans in Congress were in favor of asking the FCC to delay its net neutrality repeal or have spoken out in support of not removing the open internet protections, fans of the 2015 open internet rules in the Senate are far sparser. Among Republicans, the only on-the-record supporter might be Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who said in a statement to the Bangor Daily News in November that she does not support the FCC’s plan to undo net neutrality and that “internet providers must not manage their system in an anti-competitive way that limits consumers’ choices.” Once Democrat Doug Jones is sworn in to represent Alabama, though, the Republican majority in the Senate will slim to 51-49.

If Republicans are successful in passing an anti-net neutrality bill, it could prove far worse for the future of an open internet than the FCC’s deregulatory move last week. The FCC only needed a few months to repeal its actions from two years prior. Undoing legislation, though, requires Congress to be productive enough to vote something into a law, which is a much more difficult proposition than getting the majority of a five-person agency on board. Codifying into law the ability of internet providers to charge access to reach websites faster would be a gift to the telecoms, who stand to make a lot of money from being about to charge both subscribers to access the internet and charge websites for priority access to users.

And while the FCC’s net neutrality reversal is expected to be challenged by multiple groups in court, including a handful of state attorneys general, people who are concerned about a future where internet providers will be allowed to charge websites a fee to load faster than their competitors might want to pick up the phone and call their lawmakers—especially if they’re Republican.

Dec. 19 2017 5:56 PM

Facebook’s Latest Facial Recognition Tools Introduce New Privacy Concerns

Facebook’s facial recognition algorithms have long been a source of widespread contention. It’s a system that we’ve voluntarily trained, feeding the company massive amounts of data about who we are and what we look like. As April Glaser has written in Slate, Facebook has actively worked to suppress laws that would limit its ability to collect and use this data. And though the company has faced at least one lawsuit, its technology has only grown more advanced.

While that process is unlikely to stop any time soon, Facebook is clearly aware that many users are concerned, and it’s still working to sell us on the project. To that end, it announced in a Tuesday blog post that it will be giving users new “optional tools” to help them “manage their identit[ies]” on its platform. Some of the details it lays out in that post may please privacy advocates, but the way it presents them should still raise eyebrows.

As many technology journalists suggested, the most compelling element of the announcement may be that the company will now help you find pictures of yourself, whether or not you’re tagged in them. Drawing on its existing “template” of what you look like, the company will tell you if it sees you in a picture that someone else has uploaded, assuming you have access to the photo, meaning that it’s publicly available or you are connected on the site. In its blog post, the company frames this new feature as a victory for user autonomy: “You’re in control of your image on Facebook and can make choices such as whether to tag yourself, leave yourself untagged, or reach out to the person who posted the photo if you have concerns about it.”

While this arguably does give users a modicum of control, it only goes so far. In the past, if someone manually tagged an unflattering picture of you, you already had the option to untag yourself. Now, you may know that it’s out there, but that information doesn’t give you much additional power over it. If you’re willing to look vulnerable, you might be able to nicely ask the person who uploaded it to take it down, but unless the image violates Facebook policy, you’re largely without other avenues of recourse.

In its post, Facebook also outlines two more practical features. First, it claims that facial recognition will benefit the visually impaired, such that “people who use screen readers will know who appears in photos in their News Feed even if people aren’t tagged.” As the company demonstrates in a cheery video, that means the site will automatically tell users both who appears in a photo and what they’re doing, or at least where they are. Second, it claims that picture review will extend to the profile photos of strangers. The company proposes that this will help fight digital impersonation, letting you know if someone else is pretending to be you.

These two features are both unobjectionable, maybe even admirable. Still, it’s still hard to escape the feeling that they aren’t really about improving Facebook as a whole so much as they demonstrate the bright side of its facial recognition technology. If anything, they’re designed to make it that much harder to object to the system in the first place by suggesting that it serves fundamentally benevolent pruposes.

Facebook knows, of course, that not everyone is buying what it’s selling, which may be why its announcement also makes a show of letting users know that they’ll be able opt out of facial recognition altogether: “Soon, you will begin to see a simple on/off switch instead of settings for individual features that use face recognition technology.” Facebook representative Rochelle Nadhiri told me over email that the company’s algorithms will stop looking for you in images if you select “off.” “Once a person turns off face recognition we delete their template completely. Without the template, we cannot recognize you in photos,” she wrote.

While that’s likely good news for those with privacy concerns, it’s still set up in a way that will leave many in a double bind. It’s a dilemma that’s baked into the Tuesday announcement itself: If we follow Facebook’s own rhetoric, those who opt out of facial recognition are also opting out of the identity management tools that come with it. Even as it’s giving us an alternative, it’s showing us the downside of embracing it. Facebook is, in effect, telling its users that if they want to pass on facial recognition, it will be that much harder to stop others from impersonating them, or even uploading ugly snapshots. Thus, if you want to protect yourself on the platform—whatever that means to you—you have to open yourself up to its own surveillance tools.

Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine Facebook ever introducing a truly satisfying option in its privacy and security settings. It’s possible, then, that the only way to reclaim your identity from Facebook may be the one we’ve had all along: deleting our accounts and opting out of the platform altogether.

Dec. 19 2017 12:21 PM

Here Are the White Nationalist, Anti-Semitic, and Anti-Muslim Accounts Twitter Suspended

Monday was day one of what the alt-right is calling the “Twitter purge.” If you don’t peddle in bigotry, however, you may see it as the start of the company taking the safety of its community seriously by extracting those who utilize the platform to promote hate speech and post abusive content.

Twitter verified white nationalists and anti-Muslim bigots for years, as if they were just like other prominent people. Most recently, in November, the company decided to bestow verified status on that Jason Kessler, who organized the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. A week later, after a flurry of bad press surrounding that decision, Twitter revoked Kessler’s verification, as well as that of others engaged in racism and anti-Muslim bigotry, including the infamous white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Though Twitter said that verification (and the accompanying blue checkmark) isn’t an endorsement, it does come with special privileges. Tweets from verified accounts are promoted in the “top tweets” search results. They also appear more likely to show up in Google search’s Twitter bar, which populates at the top of search results for important news events.

“In our efforts to be more aggressive here, we may make some mistakes and are working on a robust appeals process,” the company acknowledged in a blog post Monday announcing the start of its enforcement of stricter hate speech policies. Specifically, Twitter now bars users who take to the platform to “promote violence against civilians to further their causes,” as well as those who glorify such violence. The rules also bar attacking people “on the basis of their group characteristics” and using Twitter to harass people into silence.

Twitter wasn’t joking. By the end of the day Monday, the removal of accounts belonging to white nationalist and far-right extremists started to rack up. While Twitter isn’t keeping a public list of its expulsion efforts, here’s a (non-comprehensive, as the account removals are ongoing) list of newly suspended accounts as a result of Twitter’s recent clean-up efforts:

  • Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding, the leaders of Britain First, a far-right anti-Muslim group in the U.K. that gained notoriety stateside in November after President Trump retweeted its videos. The group’s main account was also suspended
  • Vanguard America, the white nationalist group that the man who plowed his van into protesters in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally considered himself a member of
  • Generation Identity, a European white supremacist and anti-immigration group
  • The Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group that Tony Hovater, who was the subject of a controversial profile in the New York Times, co-founded
  • Jeff Schoep, the leader of the neo-Nazi group, the Nationalist Socialist Movement
  • The American Nazi Party
  • Proud Boy magazine, an account affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s group created by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes
  • The English Defense League, a far-right anti-Muslim protest movement
  • The Canadian chapter of the Jewish Defense League, a violent pro-Israel far-right group
  • Jared Taylor, editor of the virulently racist and white nationalist magazine American Resistance, which also had its account shuttered
  • Bradley Dean Griffin, known on Twitter as Hunter Wallace, who is affiliated with the neo-Confederate group the League of the South and who organized a recent “White Lives Matter” rally in Tennessee
  • Michael Hill, also affiliated with the League of the South
  • Nordic Frontier, an anti-Semitic group across Norway, Sweden, and Finland
  • The New Black Panther Party and affiliated accounts. The group has been rejected by members of the original Black Panther Party and is known for promoting violence against white people and Jews

When an account is deleted, some on the alt-right are marking its removal with the letter “F” on Twitter. As Will Sommer—who writes the Right Richter newsletter tracking the rise of the alt-right and is an editor at The Hillsays, this is a reference to a scene from the 2014 video game Call of Duty, in which the player is asked to press the F button “to pay respects” at a military funeral.

Some white nationalist users, like Richard Spencer, still have active accounts. But more suspensions may follow in the coming days.

Dec. 18 2017 5:58 PM

We Shouldn’t Be Looking for Aliens. We Should Be Hiding From Them.

It’s rare these days to come across a blockbuster news report that isn’t, in one way or another, about the Trump administration, but a recent New York Times story manages to be just that. The article—enticingly titled “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’”—discusses a shadowy initiative within the Pentagon that set out to investigate UFOs. As Daniel Politi noted in Slate over the weekend, it’s hard to say what, if anything, the program found. Nevertheless, the mere existence of the initiative has generated a flurry of attention online, with many glomming on to a second NYT story about an unexplained sighting and others fixating on reports of a Las Vegas facility that stores mysterious alloys.

There are, of course, reasons to be skeptical about the reported $22 million in funding that went to the program. Key among them is surely that, according to the New York Times, “Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of [Harry] Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.” While the story suggests that Bigelow is a true believer, it’s still disquieting to learn that the program funneled cash to an ally of the senator who pushed for it in the first place.

That said, in the larger scheme of U.S. defense funding, $22 million is practically a rounding error. Like the military’s investigations into psychic warfare, which reportedly carried a similar price tag, it seems reasonable enough to at least look at unexplained phenomena, even if those inquiries fail to generate actionable information. Whether or not they have terrestrial origins, these supposed wonders are surely worth examining, if only because they might present a real security risk. It’s certainly not the worst thing that the Department of Defense could do with its massive budget.

But if this dark money really is meant to secure the homeland—and let’s just suppose, for now, that it is—it still might be put to better use. If the available evidence even begins to suggest that intelligent aliens are really capable of visiting us, we probably shouldn’t be dedicating our resources to chasing down their exploratory craft. To the contrary, if we believe there’s even a chance they’re coming, we should be doing everything we can to hide from them.

Assuming that there are aliens out there—and that they’re technologically advanced enough to cross the massive chasm of space that separates us—it’s unlikely that they’d see us as anything but insects. Though they might not do so maliciously, their first response to contact might be to send in the exterminators. In its most cynical form, this premise has come to be associated with the work of Chinese science fiction writer Liu Cixin. Here’s how Ross Andersen lays out Liu’s concerns in a recent article for the Atlantic:

No civilization should ever announce its presence to the cosmos, [Liu] says. Any other civilization that learns of its existence will perceive it as a threat to expand—as all civilizations do, eliminating their competitors until they encounter one with superior technology and are themselves eliminated. This grim cosmic outlook is called “dark-forest theory,” because it conceives of every civilization in the universe as a hunter hiding in a moonless woodland, listening for the first rustlings of a rival.

Many others share similar worries, even if they don’t fear that our interplanetary others would be actively predatory. In a Slate article from 2015, Dan Falk described science fiction writer (and planetary scientist) David Brin’s objection to initiating alien contact: “He points to the history of our own planet, in which encounters between cultures of greatly differing technological sophistication rarely go well.” Famously, terrestrial pathogens beat back alien invaders in The War of the Worlds. If Brin is right, however, even a well-meaning visitor might accidentally destroy our entire biome.

That said, if the aliens are already here—and there plenty of reasons to challenge evidence for that contention—it may already be too late to hide. So long as the government is committed to fiscal boondoggles, however, we should hope that they’re focused on the ones most likely to keep us safe. Where aliens are concerned, dark money is probably fine, but going dark might be just a little better.

Dec. 18 2017 1:59 PM

You’re Not Imagining It: The Internet Is Really Slow Right Now

Update, Dec. 19, 11:30 a.m: The outage maps on Downdetctor.com suggest that users of the backbone internet providers Level 3 and Cogent may still be suffering from slow connections in across major U.S. cities. According to the Internet Traffic Report, major metropolitan areas across the U.S. are suffering from slow traffic and response rates. The parent company of Level 3, Century Link, provided a statement Tuesday morning said that its network is operating normally and claims that Downdetector’s reports are not accurate. Clarification from Downdetector indicated that thier analysis showed Cogent was experiencing serious service disruptions, while Level 3 was not. The original post from Dec. 18 is below.

Everyone has a sluggish Monday sometimes. This week it’s the turn of … what feels like the entire internet? Right now, two major backbone internet service providers, Level 3 and Cogent, appear to be suffering from massive outages and downgraded service, according to the ISP monitoring service Downdetector, which collects and analyses network status reports to determine early interruptions.

According to Downdector’s outage maps, internet users in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., are being hit the hardest. Comcast also appears to be suffering outages, though they’re less severe than those hitting Cogent and Level 3. Backbone internet service providers work directly with large internet platforms like Netflix to deliver large amounts of data across networks, and also work behind the scenes of consumer-facing ISPs. Since the internet is an interconnected mess of wires, disruptions with Level 3 and Cogent could impact service for Comcast and Verizon users in turn.

Slate reached out to Level 3 and Cogent to ask if they’ve determined the cause of the disruptions.

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This is where people are the most annoyed.

Downdetector.com

The internet is a network of networks, and slowdowns can happen all the time for any number of reasons. These could be regular, vanilla network maintainance problems. More worryingly, it could be the side effect of a massive botnet, like the Mirai botnet that was identified last October when hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of internet-connected devices sent junk traffic to Dyn, a major domain name service provider, to cause severe outages across the internet.

Sometimes outages are the result of disputes over peering, a term used to describe the connections between websites and internet service providers that determine how they exchange traffic so that data can be carried from one part of the internet to another. Peering depends on pacts between internet companies, but sometimes, these companies don’t always get along. Take what happened in 2010 between Comcast and Netflix: Comcast said that Netflix’s high bandwidth video traffic demanded more from Level 3’s network then what they originally agreed to, and for a time, Comcast refused to upgrade its networks to handle Netflix’s increased traffic until they struck a new deal. Even worse, in 2008, a peering dispute between Cogent and Sprint became so bad that the two companies stopped exchanging traffic entirely, and the internet was momentarily portioned to the point where different parts of the internet couldn’t communicate with each other. But since this time the outages are happening with host Cogent and Level 3, a peering dispute is unlikely the culprit here.

This slowdown is also a reminder of what kind of internet we may well have once the new Federal Communications Commission rules axing network neutrality protections hit the books: They’ll allow internet providers to legally block or throttle access to websites, and are slated to go into effect as early as January 2018. The current outages are probably not a case of your ISP behaving badly—but come next year, that very well could be the case.

Dec. 18 2017 11:34 AM

Political Ads on Facebook Now Need to Say Who Paid For Them

On Thursday, many of us were distracted by the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to repeal net neutrality rules. But something good happened at the end of the week, too: The Federal Election Commission determined that political ads with images or videos posted on Facebook now have to include disclaimers about who paid for them. It was the first time the FEC had clarified its federal rules for posting political ads on Facebook in six years. Candidates spent more than $1.4 billion in the 2016 election on online political ads, so this decision could actually shake things up in advance of the 2018 midterms.

On television and in print, ads that are for or against a particular candidate must include a disclaimer about who pays for them. But as of 2011, online ads were largely exempt from this requirement, because—according to internet companies—they were too small to include additional information. The question gained new importance earlier this year after Facebook disclosed that Russian agents linked to the Kremlin–backed Internet Research Agency ran an extensive campaign over U.S. social media companies in an effort to sway the 2016 election and stoke political unrest.

“Many of the Facebook ads that Russia bought before the 2016 election didn’t include any disclaimers abut who paid for them,” said Brendan Fischer, the director of FEC reform at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington. Disclosures won’t fix everything, of course. For instance, super PACs commonly take on benign names to conceal the source of their funding and motives. “If Russia had included a disclaimer on its political ads, it may have only included information on a popup group set up to buy the ads,” he admitted. “But that disclaimer information still could have provided the breadcrumbs for the public to find out where these messages came from.”

Facebook, Google, and Twitter came under fire in October and November this year as unhappy members of Congress began to investigate how Russian agents used their online ad tools to manipulate voters in the run-up to the 2016 election. In response, the platforms all scrubbed content they identified as originating from Russian agents. That included thousands of ads from Facebook, more than 1,000 videos from YouTube, and thousands of Twitter accounts. The content from Facebook alone reached 126 million people over the past two years, according to the company.

The FEC’s decision was sparked by an inquiry sent by a conservative political group called the Take Back Action Fund, which asked whether the Facebook ads that it plans to run in the next election cycle should include a disclaimer about who paid for them. The FEC said that if the Facebook ads include images or videos, then they need information about who paid for the ad and whether it is endorsed by a particular candidate, according to Fischer.

In 2010, Google argued that many of the political ads it runs should be exempted as “small items”—similar to a bumper sticker or a text message—that aren’t subject to the same disclosure rules. Google ultimately was allowed to run its short election ads without a disclaimer, but the FEC did conclude that the ads would need to link to a landing page that you could click to find out who paid for it. The next year, in 2011, Facebook tried to take the exception a step further, arguing small online election ads shouldn’t even be required to include a link to a landing page with a disclaimer. The FEC was left in a 3–3 vote split on party lines, with the three Democratic commissioners voting against Facebook’s proposal. Because of the deadlock, Facebook basically assumed that it wouldn’t face penalties for running ads without links to disclaimers, former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel explained in an interview with Slate in early October.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group that counts Facebook, Twitter, and Google as members, testified in front of Congress at the end of October to call for a self-regulatory approach to online political ad disclosure. Randall Rothenberg, the president of the IAB, suggested that digital media companies could “police their supply chains for bad actors and provide greater transparency into who is putting what into their sites.” As it became clear that a crackdown was coming, the Internet Association—another lobbying group whose members include Facebook and Google—suggested in a letter last Thursday that a link to a landing page of the group that paid for the ad, instead of putting the information on that ad itself, would suffice. But clearly the FEC didn’t agree.

In October, in what may have been an attempt to dodge new regulatory requirements, Facebook and Twitter both unveiled online transparency tools to help users know more about where their political ads are coming from. Facebook’s do-it-yourself approach included an initiative to show users all the ads that a particular Facebook page buys. Twitter’s plan included a new online dashboard that will ostensibly show who bought the ad, how long its been running, and how the ad was targeted. Neither tool appears to be live yet, though. Political ads on Twitter will also be marked with a special indicator to set it apart from other ads on the platform, the company said in a blog post.

Last month, after receiving more than 150,000 comments about whether it should start a process to update its political ad disclaimer requirements, the FEC said it would begin to draft a new proposal. Still, there’s little indication that the agency will move fast enough to get its new rules in place before election season next year.

Dec. 16 2017 10:35 AM

Facebook's Snooze Button Is a Perfect Addition

In a rare move, Facebook is making an update that almost no one should dislike. After a few months of testing, the social network has begun rolling out a Snooze button—a discreet way to temporarily block someone’s posts from your feed.

The tool, which removes an individual’s posts from your News Feed for a month, is the perfect solution for the friend who goes on a days-long political tirade, or the cousin who keeps posting baby photos—but their baby hasn’t quite reached the stage of being “cute” yet. In its blog post, Facebook offers two more optimistic Snooze-worthy scenarios: That your uncle is posting too many photos of his new cat, or a friend is “tempting you with endless photos of ramen” on a visit to Japan.

It works like this: To Snooze someone in your News Feed, navigate to the menu icon in the upper right of their post. Then, select “Snooze.” This will hide content from that person, page, or group from your timeline for 30 days. After that, you’ll get a notification that their Snooze period has expired and their posts will reappear, interspersed in your News Feed like normal. Snoozing someone does not affect how or how often he sees your posts in his News Feed.

Like Facebook’s other discreet News Feed management options—Unfollowing and Hiding—the person you’ve snoozed isn’t notified that you’ve done so. But Snooze lies somewhere between those two options: Hiding only removes an individual post from your feed; Unfollowing, in comparison, hides all of someone’s posts from your feed, for an indeterminate amount of time. Hiding isn’t particularly useful except in potentially teaching Facebook’s algorithms what type of posts you do and don’t like seeing. Unfollowing, while helpful, feels more extreme. Maybe you don’t want to see Aunt Susan’s posts today or next week, but sooner or later she’ll post something you’ll want to know about. The Snooze button offers a happy medium.

Enabling the Snooze feature certainly seems useful—especially ahead of the holidays, a time of excessive oversharing. The update is also interesting in light of a report Facebook released on Friday. Facebook researchers David Ginsberg and Moira Burke examined the question: Is spending time on social media bad for us? After citing explanations on both sides of the issue, the researchers concluded that there’s a distinction—it’s not how much time you spend on social media, but how you use that time that affects your well-being. “We’re working to make Facebook more about social interaction and less about spending time,” they write as a conclusion to their investigation. Updating the quality of your Facebook News Feed, including the addition of this Snooze feature, is one way the company is working on the issue.

If users aren’t happy scrolling through their feed, that’s also a threat to Facebook’s long-term outlook. In an ideal world, Facebook wants you to spend lots of time interacting on the social network—and be happy about it—so you keep coming back for that dopamine rush again and again. If you’re constantly barraged by negativity, such as one person hijacking your news feed with ill-informed opinions, you might start distancing yourself from the platform.

The Snooze feature is one way Facebook hopes to make its social media experience less frustrating, and it certainly seems to be a move in the right direction. It’s as immediate as hiding a post, but puts no onus on you to remember to re-follow someone in the future—which should eliminate that twinge of guilt about removing him from your feed. The biggest potential negative is that the feature will be used to block differing viewpoints and reinforce personal biases.

While there’s plenty of other work Facebook can do to improve the News Feed experience ahead of the drama that’s sure to be the 2018 election cycle, this was a smart update to make.

Dec. 15 2017 5:03 PM

Prosecutors Are Planning to Sell Millions of Dollars Worth of Seized Bitcoin

Prosecutors got approval from a federal judge in Utah to sell more than 513 bitcoins and 512 Bitcoin Cash they had seized from a man allegedly running a counterfeit pharmaceuticals ring on the dark web, Ars Technica reports.

 

Dec. 15 2017 3:47 PM

Here Are the States That Are Planning to Sue to Protect Net Neutrality

Net neutrality suffered a critical blow on Thursday after the Federal Communications Commission voted 3–2 to repeal the network neutrality rules that prevented internet providers from blocking or throttling access to websites or charging websites to access users at faster speeds.

But the battle is far from over. Just hours after the FCC vote, the first state attorneys general promised to sue the FCC for moving forward with the net neutrality repeal even though the public input process was rife with fraudulent entries, including the use of stolen identities, comments from bots, and submissions from suspicious Russian email addresses.

The multistate challenge is helmed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office has been leading the charge against the FCC’s comment-process problem. So far, his investigation has found more than 2 million comments were made using stolen identities. Schneiderman contends this is a violation of New York state law, and his office set up an online tool to allow you to check whether your identity was used to submit a comment to the FCC about net neutrality without your knowledge.

Attorneys general from Washington, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Massachusetts have also announced plans to challenge the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. “There is a strong legal argument that with this action, the federal government violated the Administrative Procedure Act,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in his statement. "We will be filing a petition for review in the coming days.” On Wednesday, attorneys general from 16 states and the District of Columbia sent a letter to the FCC requesting the vote scheduled for Thursday be delayed until the agency could suss out exactly what went wrong with its comment process. (Of course, that didn’t happen.) Many of those states might end up suing, too.

A widely circulated tweet claims that, in total, 17 states are already planning to sue, but not all of those states have released official statements on their websites or on Twitter about any such plans. I reached out to the attorneys general who signed Wednesday’s letter but have yet to make public statements and will update this post when we hear back.

It’s not just attorney generals lining up to sue the FCC. Free Press, a nonprofit that supports net neutrality and opposes the repeal, told me it plans to mount a legal challenge. The National Hispanic Media Coalition is also planning to challenge the FCC’s removal of net neutrality protections. “Chairman Pai’s repeal of net neutrality rules is a frontal attack on Latinos and other communities of color, who already face substantial barriers in getting online, staying online, and having high quality Internet,” said Carmen Scurato, vice president of policy at the coalition.

They will have a pretty strong case. According to the Administrative Procedure Act, federal regulatory agencies have to engage in a public comment process before finalizing new federal policies, but, as Schneiderman has found, the process leading up to the net neutrality repeal was so ridden with fraud that it might not have given the public a fair shake at airing their concerns.

And that’s just one problem with the process. Legal experts told me there are numerous legal holes in Pai’s net neutrality repeal. For one thing, it’s not clear whether the old rules were actually faulty. Furthermore, his move to wipe them away could be read as arbitrary and capricious, meaning his rule change might not hold up in court.

But the important thing to remember is that going to court doesn’t mean a judge will grant an injunction on the rules. Without an injunction, internet providers can still move forward with opening up internet fast lanes or blocking access to websites while the legal challenges make their way through the courts. In other words, this net neutrality roller coaster isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Dec. 15 2017 2:00 PM

How the Far Right Is Reacting to Net Neutrality’s End

Far right and conspiracy-minded sites were applauding the FCC’s vote on Thursday to end Obama-era regulations preserving net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers cannot control speeds at which certain websites load.

A reporter for Breitbart characterized the vote as a move to “restore the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) traditional authority and expertise to regulate and litigate unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive telecommunications practices without onerous regulations and increased cost.” Andrew Anglin, the editor of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer news site, wrote, “This is the first step in a drastic reshaping of internet, making it free as it was before Obama’s second term.” Alex Jones of Infowars, in his livestream after the vote, said, “[FCC chairman] Ajit Pai’s a hero.”

On Gab, an alternative to Twitter for the extreme right, users also by and large applauded the repeal. For some, the notion that liberal entities were supporting net neutrality was enough reason to scrap it. One user wrote, “The only thing people needed to know about ‘net neutrality’ is that Obama, Google, FaceBook, Twitter and a number of other large corporations wanted it. That and that alone should have raised red flags.” Others accused corporations and “globalists” of covertly spreading propaganda to control discourse during the debate.

However, as Daily Beast senior news editor Ben Collins pointed out, these anti-establishment sites may actually be more vulnerable without net neutrality regulations.

In August, GoDaddy announced it would no longer host the domain for the Daily Stormer after it published an article mocking a victim of the vehicular attack during the Charlottesville protests. Before GoDaddy’s decision, the online community was active in flagging the article by tweeting it to the company. Now that internet service providers can block content with the repeal of net neutrality, they too may receive pressure from the public to block these websites.

Yet, if popular anger at the repeal continues, such a possibility may be a stretch. Josh Stager, a telecommunications law and policy specialist at the New America foundation, wrote in an email, “I’m also pretty skeptical that the public—which is enraged over this decision and loathe their ISPs—is going to be clamoring to ask Comcast and AT&T to block anything. People aren’t eager to embrace their ISPs as gatekeepers of the internet.” (New America is a partner with Slate and Arizona State University in Future Tense.)

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