Trolls, Crusaders, and Internet Territories

The conditions that enable and encourage trolling aren’t exclusive to the internet, but they are more prevalent online than off, mostly thanks to the ease of anonymity and effects of crowd psychology. Territorial behavior โ€” based either on platform loyalty or tight-knit communities โ€” is amplified when geographical constraints no longer play a part. Internet crusades targeting other groups or individuals have become so commonplace that major platforms like Twitter have had to rethink their stance on free speech.

The internet population is growing, but it’s also fragmenting as real world issues polarize mainstream and fringe subcultures alike. In this article, I’ll examine the phenomena of internet territorialism and those who coordinate trolling on a large scale.…   [continue reading]

Computer Vision: How Bots See The World Around Them

In my piece on neural network art, I looked at how bots generate images based on their existing โ€˜knowledgeโ€™ of shape and form. These computers are trained on large data sets of images, all classified and tagged so the machine can make sense of them. Googleโ€™s Deep Dream, for example, uses a set of ImageNet material with 120 dog categories, explaining why almost everything it hallucinates has some kind of dog, however subtle.

Projects like Deep Dream are more of an artistic side-project than a useful tool, but the tech itโ€™s based on is a bridge towards computer programs being able to make sense of the world around them โ€” whether thatโ€™s an image tagger for a search engine, or a robot with nuanced spacial awareness.…   [continue reading]

Three Months as a Softcore Sex Worker in Latviaโ€™s Capital

โ€œI saw women broken by it. I saw girls crying at the end of the night. The only reason I could deal with it is because I had no sense of self worth.โ€

Past the grand churches and 14th century mansions, the bewildering side-streets of Old Riga are lined with failed bars and shuttered clubs. Every week, bars are bought, sold, and shut down by the police, only to reappear soon after with a new name and logo. This harsh environment, coupled with Rigaโ€™s legacy as a sex capital of Europe, leads establishment owners to employ young Latvian women with the job of bringing foreign men in off the street and giving them an expensive fantasy for the night.…   [continue reading]

The Great Text Speak Panic of 2003

I started school just as text messaging was making its transition from an obscure, barely-supported feature of mobile phones into a full-blown communication phenomenon. The medium itself was transformational; other than the few characters allowed on a pager screen or emails sent between PCs, digital text communication had not yet seen mainstream consumer adoption. Along with any new medium โ€” especially those developed in techโ€™s formative years โ€” comes interesting constraints, considerations and debates.

During the transitional era where computers were starting to fill homes all around the world, a collective social anxiety bubbled up to the surface and made its way into magazines, radio shows, and newspaper write-ins.…   [continue reading]

Cryptography; Ancient and Futuristic

When we think about secret codes, images of military intelligence agents in smokey basements decoding the Enigma probably come to mind. However, for as long as there has been the need to transmit information in secret, thereโ€™s been a way to do it โ€” however rudimentary.

In this article, I’ll explore how the ancient methods of encryption have evolved, the security of WhatApp’s end-to-end encryption, and the political anxiety working against progression in the field of encryption.

Ancient cryptography

An early example of cryptography comes from Ancient Rome, and was recorded by Suetonius in his biography of Julius Caesar. Secret messages were encrypted by Caesar using an extremely simple system, but a system that would produce messages that his illiterate enemies would disregard, assuming they were in a foreign language.…   [continue reading]

Facebook’s Meme Explosion: Why Are There So Many Memes on Facebook?

Itโ€™s easy to disregard memes as the scourge of your news feed โ€” which used to be populated with nothing but narcissistic diary entries โ€” but they have a much richer history than that.

Memes are iterative visual jokes developed by a community. Confined to the internet, where the tools to remix and republish are in the hands of every user, they should technically see more innovation as distribution increases. As weโ€™ve seen with the explosion of memes of Facebook, this is no longer the case.

Memes, which rise and fall democratically, are often jokingly referred to in economic terms.…   [continue reading]

The Politics of Software: Open Source Utopia

In a time where it seems impossible for Netflix to make an original series that isnโ€™t politically charged, where tech startup CEOs criticize Trump freely, and cryptocurrencies threaten to render the finance industry obsolete, software news has taken a step back from the dry figures of the latest Oracle merger and brought issues like power, accessibility, and discrimination to the forefront.

In this series, I’m going to explore the increasingly politicized nature of software. Here, I’m starting with one of the oldest and most contentious issues: open source licensing and distribution.

Before looking into it properly a few years ago, the phrase “open source software” conjured up images of gray, ugly, bug-ridden software that forever languished in the shadow of paid alternatives.…   [continue reading]

Archiving the Web: The Future of Internet History

Imagine trying to find an article you remembered in a magazine from years ago without a solid starting point. Or trying to find the best quality version of a rare film without having access to a proper database. Even on the internet, two decades into its evolution, the attempts to catalog, index and archive the web have been isolated, underfunded, abandoned, or narrow in scope. Even the largest resource, owned by Internet Archive, stores just 0.2% of the pages indexed by Google. That’s despite having being used to hold politicians accountable, win legal battles, and verify sources for important information.…   [continue reading]

The One With The Laugh Track (SCP Mini)

Laugh tracks started out as something unavoidable in the world of comedy. Pantomimes (the historical equivalent of sitcoms), plays, and early TV shows with studio audiences would have natural laugh tracks because there would be a real, laughing audience. Somewhere along the way, audiences got so used to being prompted when it’s time to enjoy a joke that laugh tracks went from being a side-effect of comedy to something that now needed to be inserted.

Television executives of the 50s and 60s had such a low opinion of the general viewership that they believed a comedy would get a bad reception if it didn’t have a laugh track.…   [continue reading]

How Horse_ebooks Changed Internet Poetry Forever

What’s the difference between a tweet written by a human and a tweet generated by a machine?

In a lot of cases, it’s difficult to tell. Twitter bot developers are allowed unbridled creativity, and Twitter’s open API makes it a place where a bot can do pretty much anything. For example, Nathan Bernard (a developer we interviewed in season 2 of our podcast) tweets both manually and automatically. The automatic side of his account runs a script designed to get the first reply to any Donald Trump tweet. Itโ€™s even engineered to match its reply to the original tweet, making it harder to discern whether or not a bot is at work behind the scenes.…   [continue reading]