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Gab Isn’t “Free Speech” But a “Safe Space” for Bigots That Censors Innocent Accounts Without Warning and Without Explanation for the Censorship

I used to complain that Twitter was shadowbanning and suppressing my account. As an act of protest, even though I wasn’t leaning towards the political worldview of most Gab users, I then opened an account there. I later opened another account, one for TuxMachines, in order to separate my GNU/Linux postings from more political ones (some people just want the technical news, not opinions).

The TuxMachines account has been in Gab for a long time, well over a year, and earned hundreds of followers (almost 500 people last I checked). I didn’t post anything controversial and didn’t do anything abusive.

More than half a day ago the account was terminated along with its 10,000+ posts! No prior warning was given and no reason is being given for this. They’re stonewalling. Even some followers of the accounts have enquired about it, but Gab isn’t answering. Curiously enough, as soon as I spoke out about it other people came out stating that they too had been banned by Gab, citing some truly ridiculous reasons.

Make no mistake; Gab isn’t some politically-correct hyper-sensitive site. The site has many accounts of literal Nazis, people who even call for genocides. For some reason, Gab appears to have no issue with such accounts. They cite “free speech”, but as the above comes to show that’s just a facade for tolerating extremely intolerant views, bordering glorification of violence (e.g. lynching black people) and condoning genocide.

Gab cannot really use the “free speech” card (or excuse) to rationalise having that cesspool among its userbase. They use terms like “free speech”, but they don’t actually believe in free speech. It’s a site for “snowflakes” who can’t stand leftist views and ‘gang up’ on those who express such views. Nazis? OK. GNU/Linux news? Get out!

Detexian Reviewed

I am an early adopter of Detexian, a service which I increasingly rely on for security. My wife and I run a small media entity which attracts about 5 million hits a week. The sites are TuxMachines.org and TechRights.org. One of the sites is modest and non-confrontational, whereas the other one (the latter) is more controversial because it is critical of activities such as bribery, illegal surveillance, and all sorts of corruption. There are certainly people and organisations that are willing to spy on and undermine the site. Some of those who get criticised are large technology companies and institutions they work with.

We cannot keep up with logs because we are a small team and we cannot properly analyse these for security threats. It is just infeasible. For analysis of logs we also require a service which is isolated from surveillance-intensive hosts such as Amazon. We moreover operate on a very small budget as the sites are public services rather than for-profit.

We now rely on Detexian to inspect the traffic and generate concise reports. Detexian helps to avert disaster or alert about troubling patterns in activity before disaster strikes or flaws are found/exploited. TuxMachines.org and TechRights.org are not young sites. They have been around for nearly a decade and a half; over the years we have suffered more DDOS attacks than we can remember and there were also intrusion attempts (none were successful). Some attacks managed to cause damage, but it was always repairable. Recently, Detexian alerted us about SQL injection attempts and made recommendations.

We shall continue to rely on Detexian in the foreseeable future and are happy to pay for the service knowing that someone “has got our back” and is providing informed advice on how to guard the sites.

Barrett Brown, Who Received Money From Pierre Omidyar, is Both Rude and Extremely Sensitive

A toxic mix

Barrett Brown

IT is no secret that I have supported Barrett Brown for a number of years. What I underestimated, however, was his temper and willingness to turn against his own supporters. Money from oligarchs does appear to change people.

Dedoimedo Interview About Tux Machines

Original at Dedoimedo

Can you please introduce yourself?

I am a programmer dedicated to promoting the cause of Free software, i.e. control by users of their computers/computing. This cause extends to various different facets because, quite inevitably, Free (or libre) software depends on transparent systems that maximalise cooperation and foster collaboration. This means that, unwittingly, I found myself writing a great deal about more ‘political’ things. I am based in the UK, where the public sector slowly if not begrudgingly adopts Free software.

You run tuxmachines.org, a popular Linux-oriented news site, but you’re not the first (original) owner. How did that come about?

tuxmachines.org is a rather old site (in relative terms), going back to summer of 2004. The site was a go-to source of news back in the days when PCLinuxOS was widely used and topped the DistroWatch charts. I was an early follower of that site because it syndicated a broad range of otherwise-hard-to-find stories about GNU/Linux.

In 2013, for purely personal reasons, the site’s founder put it on sale. She had already begun writing articles for OStatic on a regular basis and was about to remarry.

At the time, my wife and I, working in an IT company, needed to improve our Drupal skills (I had been closely involved with WordPress since 2004 but never Drupal). tuxmachines.org was a Drupal site, so buying the site meant that we would get some additional experience while at the same time carrying the torch for the founder, taking the site in the same direction as before. We did, I believe, maintainer that same spirit and a similar format.

What kind of content do you find engaging? What is the message you seek to share with your audience?

We rarely look at any statistics related to audience or popularity of posts (we also shred logs for privacy reasons), but we’ve found that our audience appreciates our speed. We try to identify and share articles faster than sites like LXer and Linux Today.

There is no particular message we try to convey other than that GNU/Linux is a success story in many areas and it is definitely worth using it.

tuxmachines.org traditionally favoured reviews of distributions and focused on the desktop; we do prioritise such material.

What’s your favorite Linux distro? Why?

I try to think not in terms of distributions anymore; I prefer to focus on the software and the desktop environments (if any are in use). The role of the distribution these days has more to do with package management, including patches, and the selection of available (pre-compiled) software. So I don’t have any particular favorites, though I typically suggest, based on one’s experience level, a distribution with access to extensive repositories like Debian’s.

And what’s your favorite desktop environment?

I currently use 3: GNOME Shell, KDE, and plain Openbox (as minimalist as I can make it due to lack of RAM). I use these in tandem on 3 laptops. My wife prefers Unity, but she used KDE for years.

I’ve been a huge KDE fan for many years (since I was a teenager when I also dabbled in Enlightenment for development), but in recent years it gave me some angst.

At the moment I feel somewhat ‘orphaned’ when it comes to desktop environments. At least I’ve become familiar with most. What matters a lot more is the software in use, not icons and menus associated with window management.

If you had infinite powers and unlimited budget, is there anything you’d change about Linux?

On the desktop, unfortunately, there has been neglect. The Linux Foundation does not seem to care, core Linux developers are sufficiently happy with their ‘geeky’ utilities on their desktop/laptop, and no company — not even Canonical which now focuses on server revenues — puts in enough effort to make GNU/Linux dominant on desktops/laptops. That is somewhat of a travesty.

On mobile devices, the dominant platform is now Android. It fosters DRM, favours proprietary “apps” (that’s the new buzzword for software), monetises mass surveillance, and leaves out GNU. Some believe that Google will also drop Linux and replace it with another kernel — one with a more ‘convenient’ (to Google) licence. Chrome OS is more of the same.

With enough (or “unlimited” as you say) budget we could get enough developers to work solely on the desktop and hire people to spread GNU/Linux through retail channels. A lot of people sadly underestimate the role of Microsoft blackmail, bribes etc. in ensuring that GNU/Linux is kept away from the public eye while thoroughly demonised in the media. I probably don’t have to tell you what happened in Munich; the real story, not the sanitised one.

That said, in your opinion, what are the three most prominent, innovative or successful projects in the Linux world?

I would say Firefox has been very “prominent” to GNU/Linux, even though it is a cross-platform application. It really opened up the Web to GNU/Linux users after that dark age of MSIE-only Web sites.

Regarding “innovative”, I always thought KVM was quite innovative. At the time of its rise to prominence many people relied on large bits of software for virtualisation, often proprietary.

When it comes to “successful”, different people measure “success” in different ways. To some people the number of users indicates “success”, to others it’s all about money. To me, personally, freedom matters a lot and I think GNU succeeded at getting people to grasp the value of having freedom all the way down to the core. Without GNU we would likely have had a “Linux” without the GPL and maybe without Free software, just a bunch of proprietary things on top (e.g. Adobe Reader and VMware).

A birdie tells me you’re down with privacy and freedom issues in the wider software world. Can you elaborate on that?

About a decade ago I became more interested in the effect of software on various things in the world. I’m not talking only about ethics but also self-determination (for persons, organisations, and nations). Think of activists, journalists, and transparency ‘guerrillas’ like those who shed light on power/wealth.

Over a decade ago I already wrote about back doors; it wasn’t a fashionable topic at the time. People would rush to use labels like “paranoid” when the subject was brought up.

Now we know better. Richard Stallman got his vindication. If you don’t control the program, then the program controls you, and many business model these days revolve around reading the minds of users and selling information about them.

Should I call you Doctor? Or?

Everyone just calls me Roy. I have a Ph.D., but the only reason I use my title (sometimes) is to discourage endless personal attacks, typically over my views. Recently, for similar reasons, I also hid the fact that I’m from Manchester, as some people would rather argue in an ad hominem fashion (your opponent’s location, credentials, gender etc.) than substance of the argument/s.

What’s a day in life in Roy’s … uh … life?

I sleep about 6 hours a night, I work full time, and in the remainder of the time it’s Internet and gym/spa. I’m actually quite tight with time, even in the weekends. My only real ‘escape’ or ‘distraction’ is football (we have decent clubs here).

In the morning I catch up with news published overnight, I then write some articles in Techrights (mostly regarding software patents and EPO these days), then it’s back to news and if time permits I go beyond FOSS/Linux and also touch on issues like the environment, politics, economics and so on. I watch issues pertaining to privacy, secret agencies and censorship every day regardless of time constraints. I think these are growingly important (and troubling) matters no matter where we are.

I find the contemporary software development practices and fads rather dubious. What’s your take on the 2017 world of software?

It frustrates if not disgusts me that many buzzwords now dominate the “scene”. And we’re collectively told to alter our résumés accordingly.

“Cloud”, “DevOps”, “IoT”, “Agile”, “Smart”, “Serverless” and so on… you know what I mean, especially as you know that none of these are truly novel. They’re marketing terms and I suspect they’re crafted to make us — mere ‘consumers’ — not think of moral issues, including security and privacy.

What’s your favorite comic strip?

It changes over time, but Dilbert usually strikes a nerve and isn’t “tl;dr” unlike some other comics.

What do you think Linux does well?

Ethics and trust. We live in a world where large corporations constantly lie to us, e.g. regarding privacy. Only yesterday I saw a report about Google harvesting locational information even when users toggle “location” off.

What does Linux need to improve?

I personally think we need a broader debate about GNU philosophy and incorporation of technology along those lines (including the UNIX/POSIX mindset). This also means a departure from monolithic designs. The more I read about and experience systemd (servers and desktops), the more I worry about it.

Where do you think Linux is headed? What will happen in 2025?

8 years is a very long time in technology terms, more so in software terms where the pace of innovation is huge.

Being a pessimist by nature (to keep expectations low and avoid disappointment), I’d say Linux will ‘vanish’ into the so-called ‘cloud’ and people will just have ‘smart’ gadgets all around the house (Linux at the core), transmitting plenty of personal data to the (Linux-powered) ‘serverless’ ‘Cloud Native’ ‘G’ thing (or Amazon thing).

You can rely on technology moving in the direction of capital and when much of the capital is distributed to/through the military it’s not surprising that UEFI restricted boot is becoming the norm, DRM is becoming an integral part of the Web, and Free software like Kodi is being described as “piracy”.

Do you use non-Linux operating systems?

No. Our house is all Linux. Even the gadgets. I still have (and sometimes use) a Palm PDA though. It’s old, but it still works, and sometimes older is better (e.g. for privacy and simplicity).

Do you have a role model?

Some people inspire me, but no role model. I’ve always said it’s risky to idolise people rather than underlying causes because people can betray or let you down. Causes have no moods are are harder to corrupt. No need to personify them.

Anything else?

We live in Orwellian times with divisive leaderships and technology that’s designed to oppress us. If we remain apathetic and passive, we will pay a high price in our lifetime, so certain so-called ‘novelty’ can be rightly rejected. Free software may be our only chance at antagonising regressions.

Mastodon is Actually a Lot Worse Than Twitter When it Comes to Free Speech. Avoid It.

Mastodon is Oppressive

Mastodon oops

It has been three days since the ban (“suspension” they said) and it turns out I was wrong to believe that this was temporary. It’s actually a lot worse than this. They added insult to injury.

As it turned out, the Mastodon network had effectively shadowbanned me for months. This isn’t the fault of one person or one instance because — as it turns out — the network/federation maintains some sort of blacklists for arbitrarily silencing particular instances/people. So even if I self-hosted my toots, I would be visible/active but blacklisted. What’s the point of such a federation then? It’s pure marketing from Mastodon! It’s a lie. And other people (elsewhere) have pointed this out too. It’s worse than Twitter in that regard. The only difference is that the code is “open” and one can run it oneself (outside the entire network).

It “sounds like mastodon is run by crybullies,” one person told me (MinceR). “Though it’s getting worse it has not bottomed out yet,” another person told me. “Be that as it may, reflecting on Mastodon I have always worried about how it is implemented in practice. While it’s great that it is federated to some extent, the nodes are basically fiefdoms controlled by a local sysop who turfs people out if they don’t both agree 100%. Of course people can and do then start their own nodes, becoming sysops themselves, but then the other sysops go out of their way to block the new nodes that they are not in 100% agreement with. Thus balkanization of ideas and populations continues.”

As I then pointed out, moving from node to node also means that the address of the user changes, which leads to other issues. It’s like starting from scratch all over again.

They had me shadowbanned for several months (people told me, but I naively thought it was a bug), so it’s clear they just didn’t want me there, as if I was some kind of radical or something. Twitter never treated me this badly; neither did Identi.ca or Diaspora*. So I wanted to concisely write about it and warn other people to stay away from Mastodon.

The sysop in question does not reinstate my account. He does not even respond to my E-mails. He’s rather arrogant about it and talks to me as though I, a person who brought many new users to his instance, am just a nuisance. What a nerve. What an attitude.

I decided that my posts about it (or tone) would be less gently-worded when the irreversibility of the ban is confirmed. Being gentle with words would not be useful/effective at warning other people, including existing users in that network.

A friend of mine called it “nasty stuff,” noting that “authoritarianism is ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ even to people who don’t dare admit it…”

I don’t want to name any names, but the sysop in question has depression problems, which he admits in his own blog. He is an Apple fan and his latest post says: “I’ve got an appointment tomorrow with my psychiatrist to follow-up about progress on the new med, hopefully I’ll be up to a therapeutic dose within another week or so.”

So a bunch of oddballs run the instances and when they get angry at something (like the volume I post or maybe even my criticism of Apple) they just toss me out without prior warning.

I cannot even get back in just to export my contacts (I was banned without notice!). What good is a federation where the sysops can throw you out and deny access to something as basic as your contacts?

Avoid Mastodon. The underlying software may not be garbage, but the people who manage the Mastodon network are garbage. And they’ll shadowban or even ban people whose views are quite reasonable. Game over.

Mastodon is Free Software, But It Does Not Respect Free Speech (Updated)

This is what I get when I log in

Mastodon oops

SO-called ‘social networks’ (I’ve coined the term “social control networks” for these) are supposed to facilitate a diversity of views. Not threats. Not calls for genocide. These strands of ‘speech’ constitute violations of very particular laws and for defensible reasons. But the point being, let people express their views, even if and when you disagree with these views.

I am not vulgar, I don’t really curse, and I don’t write negatively about vulnerable groups; my criticisms are usually directed at large organisations, institutions, corporations, political parties and so on. I never really considered myself worthy of censorship of any kind, yet Twitter has, on several occasions, shadowbanned me for no reason at all or simply because I was being bullied (shadowban by algorithms can lead to that). Time-limited shadowbans are not so severe because the user is typically not aware of them and can still post (albeit the audience is severely limited, it’s almost like talking to oneself sometimes).

Twitter, to its credit, never ever suspended me. Ever. The funny thing is that people in Mastodon say that I should delete Twitter and not participate in it. Eventually, as it turns out, it’s actually Mastodon that censors me. It’s an actual suspension for which I have not been given reason other than some people reporting me (as if that alone merits action, DMCA-style).

I am guessing that the suspension will eventually be undone, but that may still result in self-censorship. I was actually very surprised when it happened and spent over an hour investigating what I assumed to be a technical fault. The above says “error”; it does not tell me that I got suspended.

As Mastodon has just suspended me (mastodon.technology to be precise), I believe it can do it to virtually anyone. Apparently all it takes is a complaint citing something from the rather vague ToS, which can be interpreted as “don’t cause people offense” (or make an “oppressive” environment — whatever exactly that may mean). Even without insulting any other user — let alone a mention of another user — one’s views/links can apparently get one the ‘boot’, without as little as due process of some kind.

Mastodon was always known to be tough on Nazis; it was known that they were strict on free speech only to a degree. After the treatment that I received yesterday, however, I can no longer recommend Mastodon. It may be Free software, but it’s very weak on free speech.

The most insulting thing about all this is that I wrote many hundreds of toots/tweets/other in favour of Mastodon, urging people to join. I also wrote a lot in that platform and had amicable conversations there. To be treated this poorly by Mastodon admins hurts somewhat.

Update:

Mastodon Censored Me for a Long Time, They Just Found an Excuse to Ban Me As Well

So, after an E-mail exchange it turned out they had been silencing my posts for a long time, simply because of volume (people alerted me about this omission of posts, but I foolishly chose to believe it was due to a software bug) and it all ended when, totally out of the blue, I got banned without them even informing me (again, making it all look like a technical error/glitch, which I spent a long time trying to diagnose). The trigger was used was “Islamophobia” — I presume a link to some news article whose content someone found to be offensive. Everything was done to avoid showing me that they had been censoring me for a long time, albeit quietly.

There’s a lot at stake for me: Losing thousands of connections (people), tens of thousands of posts and replies, and no migration option (I cannot even log in to export anything!). They’re suppressing speech and then canning me, in spite of me being among the most popular users.

Identi.ca did something similar 4.5 years ago, though it was not censorship but merely a migration that nuked everyone’s posts.

BT Spies on Tweets About BT, Ignores Complaints About Price Hikes

BT mistake

NEW recruits can make mistakes; I get that. Some mistakes are a little more embarrassing then others however.

BT, like many other companies, tracks any mention (in Social Control Media) about BT. I’ve always wondered how that works behind the scenes and under an hour ago, after I had mentioned new price hikes, I got the above tweet from Laura. She must have entered her message in the wrong place in some program because it says they basically ignore such complaints. I responded accordingly (“Is this intended to be an internal comment?”) and then had it confirmed by a colleague.

No big deal. But it helps if you use programs correctly and don’t post to the client (publicly) internal comments which amount to “I’m going to ignore you”.

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