Leslie Jones and the Ethics of Amplifying Online Harassment

Soon after news broke that Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones’s website had been hacked and replaced with stolen nude photos and racist memes, I got an urgent email from Whitney Phillips, one of the world’s foremost experts on online trolling and harassment (Phillips quite literally has a doctorate in 4chan). Phillips wanted to know if Motherboard was going to cover the hack, and how we were going to do it.

“I have some thoughts on the ethics of amplification—how, we can’t not comment on stories like this, but commenting perpetuates the disgusting narrative and associated imagery. The question being, what’s the ethical way not just for journalists and academics to respond, but for individuals, as well?” she said.

“Is more harm than good done when the association of Jones with Harambe is given longer life? I’m honestly not sure,” she added. “BUT I WANT TO HAVE THAT CONVERSATION.”

In her book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Phillips explores how early trolls from 4chan’s /b/ board manipulated the media into spreading their message. Though “trolling” is now an outdated, imprecise term, the Twitter harassment and illegal hacking of Jones’s website are amplified the more journalists write about it, the more people retweet it, the more we allow it to stay in our collective consciousness.

Phillips emailed me as I was also considering whether there’s an ethical way to cover abhorrent behavior on the internet—decisions about how and whether to write about racially, sexually, or xenophobically motivated hacks and harassment is a question the Motherboard staff considers all the time, but it’s rarely a conversation that ever makes it to the public.

And so I decided to have that conversation with Phillips and the roles we all play in amplifying questionable or grotesque online behavior.

The Future of Hacking

As our lives become ever more digitized, the security of our data will become ever more important to protect.

So far, judging by the daily routine of data breaches and large scale hacks, it seems like we’re failing to secure our most precious digital belongings. As some in the world of information security say, everything will get hacked. But is that really true?

As part of The Hacks We Can’t See, Motherboards theme week exploring the future of hacking, we asked real hackers what they think the future holds. We also spoke to Morgan Marquis-Boire, a well-known security researcher who’s spent the last few years hunting malware and helping human rights activists and journalists protect themselves.

 

What’s the craziest thing that’ll get hacked in the future? And what can you do to protect yourself? Listen to this week’s episode of Radio Motherboard to find out.

#fsociety Episode 1: How a Motherboarder Became a Writer for Mr. Robot

Hello, friend. If you’ve been a Radio Motherboard listener, you know that we’re big fans of Mr. Robot, USA’s moody, disorienting hacker drama. In fact, Motherboard and Mr. Robot’s respective moods align so closely that Lucy Teitler, a former Motherboard freelancer, is now a staff writer for the show’s second season.

We talk to Lucy about how she made the shift from security journalism to tv writing, why she thinks Mr. Robot hasn’t gotten hacked, and her brand new play debuting soon off Broadway.

This is the first episode of a brand new podcast series being launched by Radio Motherboard. On #fsociety, staff writers Jason Koebler and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai will discuss the parallels between the hacks on each episode of this season of Mr. Robot and the ones we see in real life. Apologies for the delay on this first episode—we’ll try to catch up to the series by next week, and will continue to post episodes each week. Search #fsociety on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to subscribe.

Reflecting on ‘Independence Day,’ the Greatest Hacking Movie Ever

This podcast contains spoilers for Independence Day and Independence Day 2: Resurgence.

We had 20 years to prepare.

That’s the tagline for Independence Day 2. It refers to Earth, and how long we had to get ready for a second alien invasion. But it also applies to Roland Emmerich and the team behind the sequel.

In this podcast, Radio Motherboard interviews Emmerich, goes to see ID4-2, and talks about what made the first film such a hit and the second one, not so much.

Inside the Dark World of Online ‘Competitive Tickling’

David Farrier is used to uncovering bizarre information. But his latest project investigating the online world of competitive tickling proved that you can never predict just how strange life can be. We talked to the journalist and filmmaker about his new movie, Tickled, and what it reveals about online harassment, internet tribes, and hacking.

I Skipped Showering for Two Weeks and Bathed in Bacteria Instead

For two weeks, Motherboard writer Kate Lunau skipped her soap and deodorant—spritzing herself with a “live bacteria spray” instead. Her goal was to colonize her skin with ammonia-eating bacteria, which are supposed to neutralize the smell of sweat. There are a growing number of believers out there: chemist David Whitlock, who came up with this, hasn’t showered in 13 years. But are live bacteria products really the future of skincare? And, maybe more importantly, how bad did Kate smell by the end of it?

The Case for Giving Everyone Free Money

Sometime in the last few weeks, or months, or years, you may have heard about this idea called “universal basic income.” It’s the idea that maybe governments should give a monthly stipend—no questions asked—to everyone who lives there.

It’s an idea we’ve covered quite a bit over the years, and it’s one that’s increasingly gaining steam among people on both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives and libertarians say that it can simplify the bureaucracy associated with things like welfare and food stamps, and liberals like it because it would strengthen the social safety net.

Why do we need a basic income now? Well maybe you’ve noticed, but automation is slowly but surely replacing a lot of jobs that humans used to do with ones that robots, drones, software, and artificial intelligence can do. We’re looking at a future where it’s possible that there simply won’t be enough jobs for everyone. Maybe that’s a good thing—in a post scarcity society, do humans really need to do menial jobs?

And so basic income has been floated as both a cure to automation and potentially a better way to redistribute wealth. The movement is gaining steam around the world: Switzerland voted this last weekend on whether the country should “guarantee the introduction of an unconditional basic income.” The measure failed, but the fact that it was even on the ballot speaks to its increasing relevancy. In the United States, the startup incubator Y Combinator is doing an experiment that will give 100 people in Oakland between $1,000 and $2,000 per month to see how the “mechanics” of a basic income would work and to see what people do with the money.

That project is controversial for reasons we get into the podcast. I called up Matt Krisiloff, who is head of the basic income project at Y Combinator, and Elizabeth Rhodes, the research lead of the project, to talk about how it’ll work and why a Silicon Valley startup accelerator is interested in this idea. Then, we talk to Natalie Foster, who is a cofounder of the Universal Income Project, about why she finds the idea so compelling. Finally, we look at the history of basic income around the world and deconstruct the policy itself. Could it ever work?

When Uber Left Austin

Remember when Uber came to your city? It was probably exciting—you could hail a car without talking to anyone or standing on a cold, rainy corner. It’s so easy, maybe you thought. Maybe the taxi commission or some local politicians expressed worry about this new interloper from San Francisco. But Uber has this game down. It comes to town, becomes incredibly popular, worries about regulations later and usually wins because the general public likes the service.

Soon, you forget about there ever being a time before Uber existed. When did it come to town, anyway? There were just suddenly hundreds, maybe thousands of regular people happy to drive you and your friends around town. Maybe your coworker drives an Uber in his or her free time. Remember when you used to have to beg your friend for a ride to the airport? Me either.

As fast as Uber came to your city, it can leave. It might leave. With no physical infrastructure and no real employees, it’s trivial for Uber to expand to a new city, and just as easy for it to depart. Those thousands of contract drivers? Some of them lease or buy cars specifically to drive for Uber. Some of them drive Uber to support their new baby. When Uber leaves, overnight, hopefully those drivers have a backup plan. Uber is an app, after all. It’s a platform. It’s a business. It can leave. It just left Austin.

“There’s something unique about Uber because unlike a telecom company or other businesses that operate in a city—what the company requires as far as infrastructure is very minimal,” Rick Claypool, author of a new report about how Uber does politics, told me. “They can credibly threaten, ‘it’s my way or the highway and we’re going to go.’ It’s an app versus something that has brick and mortar buildings. They have no employees, they have no cars, so really what their investment is in the actual place is minimal. They have an extraordinary amount of leverage in that sense.”

Uber (and Lyft, for that matter) followed its basic gameplan in Austin, Texas. It came to town in early 2014. Local lawmakers and the taxi lobby wondered whether ridesharing companies were following commercial driver regulations about driver insurance, licensing, and driver background checks. By the time they got around to enforcing any sort of regulations, the services were too popular, and Uber and Lyft were given temporary permission to operate in the city.

But Austin still wanted regulations. The city council proposed that Uber and Lyft require its drivers to get a fingerprint background check administered by the city. Uber and Lyft said that would discourage people from driving and would impose an undue burden on their companies and their drivers. Uber and Lyft got signatures from community members to put a ballot initiative at the poll called “Proposition 1.” A vote for Prop 1 would preserve the status quo, allowing Uber and Lyft to operate as it does in most of the country. A vote against would be a vote for regulation.

Uber and Lyft started a political action committee called Rideshare Works for Austin to lobby for Prop 1. Rideshare Works for Austin hired former Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell to support Prop 1. It plastered Austin with billboards, radio ads, flyers and leaflets, and television ads. It advertised on Hulu. Rideshare Works for Austin spent $9.1 million trying to pass Prop 1, which was roughly six times more than had ever been spent on any local election in Austin for any reason.

“It looked like, it felt like they were buying every piece of airtime that could be bought in the city,” Nolan Hicks, a reporter for the Austin Statesman told me. “It was just total saturation, something that no one had ever seen before in municipal politics.”

On May 7, Prop 1 failed; the voters of Austin decided that any corporation that spent that much money couldn’t really be trusted. On May 9, Uber and Lyft were gone.

Uber and Lyft are currently working on getting the Texas state legislature to pass a law that would overrule Austin’s local regulations. It’s unclear if they’re ever going to come back. Uber and Lyft aren’t saying. The companies declined to be interviewed for this podcast.

“My friend, she was like, ‘I thought Austin kicked Uber and Lyft out,’” one local told us. “And I said, ‘No, we wanted them to comply with something and, Uber and Lyft basically said no, and, like a toddler, stomped off.’”

What happens when Uber and Lyft leave? Do we even need them? That’s what I wanted to find out with this podcast. I spoke to Austin Statesman reporter Nolan Hicks about the leadup to Prop 1, Claypool about how Uber’s tactics in Austin mirror those it’s used around the country, and Austin native Michael Humphreys about a new underground ridesharing network he’s created. Motherboard contributor Rollin Bishop collected interviews with normal Austinites on the ground for me. Mark Leombruni edited this episode.

The Moon Walking, Alien-Hunting, Psychic Astronaut Who Got Sued By NASA

Edgar Mitchell, who passed away in February at the age of 85, was exceptional, even among astronauts. Like an archetypal moon man, he was a Boy Scout and a military test pilot with a protestant upbringing and an impressive command of engineering and aeronautics. In February 1971, on Apollo 14, he became the sixth man on the moon. But more so than other astronauts, Mitchell’s brief exploration of outer space led to a deep exploration of inner space and the entire universe of phenomena explained and not. After conducting an ESP experiment in space, he became a connoisseur of parapsychology; later, he sought to show that aliens had visited Earth and that governments around the world had tried to cover up the truth. But he remained grounded on Earth too, and worried that civilization’s narrow perspectives were exceedingly dangerous for the future of the planet and humanity.

(Read more at http://motherboard.vice.com/read/astronaut-edgar-mitchell-outer-space-inner-space-and-aliens)