Overhype

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
blogs, joe lieberman, terrorism

Companies:
google



Sen. Joe Lieberman Asks Google For A 'Report Blog As Terrorist' Button

from the clicking-our-way-to-a-safe-and-secure-nation dept

Senator Joe Lieberman, taking a break from his usual schedule of trying to stamp out all things Wikileaks-related, returns to his old anti-terrorism stomping grounds, sending out a letter to Google CEO Larry Page, expressing his concern that not enough stuff is getting labeled "terrorism."

He bases his request on the old "because someone did something once" argument that has served the DHS and TSA so well. (See also: "See something. Say something." because that one time a guy reported a vehicle with a bomb. See also: please remove your shoes and step into the Pornoscan because one time that guy tried to light his shoes on fire and that other time a guy had bomb-laced underwear.) Recent "lone wolf" terrorism suspect Jose Pimentel was, like so many other people in the world, a blogger. Lieberman apparently believes that the prevention of future acts of terrorism should be turned over to the blogosphere in the form of an option to "flag" a blog as containing "terrorist" content.

Talking Points Memo has more info:
"Pimentel's Internet activity - both his spreading of bomb-making instructions links and his hate-filled writings - were hosted by Google," Lieberman wrote.

"On his site www.trueislam1.com, Pimentel stated, 'People have to understand that America and its allies are legitimate targets in warfare. This includes facilities such as army bases, police stations, political facilities, embassies, CIA and FBI buildings, private and public airports, and all kinds of buildings where money is being made to help fund the war.' As demonstrated by this recent case, Google's webhosting site, Blogger is being used by violent Islamist extremists to broadcast terrorist content," Lieberman continued.
Lieberman also points out that Youtube already has this option (thanks to Liberman's tireless complaining), so it would logically follow that Blogger enforce the same limitations. In fact, he pretty much states that the same people that can prevent forest fires can also prevent terrorism (i.e. "You," meaning "all of us"), only in this case it can be done with a simple click of the mouse.
"The private sector plays an important role in protecting our homeland from the preeminent threat of violent Islamist extremism, and Google's inconsistent standards are adversely affecting our ability to counter Islamic extremism online."
Oh, wait. We can't actually stop terrorism. We can only flag "Islamist extremism," which for some people could mean the site quotes the Koran. For others, all it might take is a few angry words delivered by certain foreign types. And for others, all they need is the urge to start pushing buttons.

This is another attempt by a politician to shove the culpability for terrorist acts onto the shoulders of hosting platforms. By all means, Google could add a "Report as TERROR" button to its blogging platform, but does anyone not named Lieberman actually believe that this will ever prevent a future act of terrorism? I'd rather potential terrorists bogged themselves down in the minutia of blogging (endlessly checking stats, rescuing legitimate comments from the spam container, arguing with pesky commenters, following incoming links back into malware deathtraps, gaming their Technorati rating, etc.) than actually, you know, doing terrorist stuff.

There's also the fact that "flagging something as something" has got to be the most ineffective deterrent ever devised, whether you're trying to stomp out spam or to do something more difficult, like save the world from "Islamist extremism." Not only will whoever's policing this new banhammer have to deal with a new set of false positives, this also puts Google in the awkward position of trying to decide if the blogs reported are actually harmful or just some random person spouting a bunch of untargeted nonsense.

And if Google does decide to start doing this, odds are that there will be a bunch of racially-motivated clicking going on, which will only add to the "noise" side of the signal-to-noise ratio. Once you start shutting down a particular religion based on clicks -- all because the federal government demanded it -- you're asking for all sorts of trouble in the First Amendment arena. Uglier than this is the fact that asking for a "Report" button is yet another punt by those in charge of keeping this country safe. The implicit statement seems to be "We can't figure out how to stop terrorists so we're leaving that to you," which would make this no different from every previous foiled terrorist attack. It's not the DHS, TSA or air marshals that stop terrorists. When they're not being foiled by their own incompetence, they're being taken down by fellow passengers. A plea for a "Report as Terrorism" button has all the hallmarks of another windmill tilt in the hopes of appearing to be doing "something."

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  1. identicon
    Bob, 28 Nov 2011 @ 1:50pm

    Re: Re:

    I did read the article and understand that it claims such a button will not work... but there is no good reason given for why it won't work other than we don't like the idea. And I am pointing out that we should not underestimate the power of harnessing bored humans to do sophisticated interpretation of patterns of activity. It's a far better idea than trying to recognize classes of sites automatically based on keywords.

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