Friday, April 16, 2021

Viseu - Virtual Internet Services at the Edge

Indeed, I have named yet another project after a Portuguese town - a tradition I started during my PhD days with Sendim, Óbidos, and Évora. This time, I have Viseu. I am loving my footnotes for each of these works.


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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Radio Garden lists the world radios in a single world map. Go through it to listen to various radio stations across the world. Different languages and different cultures. It also has a mobile app. I am not responsible if you become addicted though!

Long weekends and short trips

Matcha Latte by the roadside

I am a big fan of long weekends. The 2-day weekends are too short to do anything interesting. I go for a long walk on one of the 2 days and the other day, stay home and handle stuff at home - mostly washing things, cleaning the apartment, and practicing some Chinese or Portuguese. But long weekends of 3 days are long enough to go somewhere. The arrival day is to idle and relax, and the second day is to have a full adventure and the final day to slow down and relax again before the return.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Resurrecting my Twitter from a suspension

Porto, days before my Ph.D. defense. 2019.

One fine day in 2020 December, I was roaming the streets randomly. Such randomness brings me happiness on a regular day. But these days are anything but regular. "Quit social media and come to real life." Not many realize social media is real life in the pandemic era. We are actively avoiding social activities due to a pandemic. Social media is the safest bet. When everyone is distanced, the demarcation of online and physical worlds collapses. Nevertheless, I decided to reduce my Twitter usage for 2021 to diversify my free time online. I had informed my Twitter friends too. By early January 2021, I had already reduced my Twitter time to 40% of my 2020 levels. "

When Twitter suspended me, I tried to consider it as the universe trying to help me reduce my Twitter time. There were some challenges, though. First, even if I wanted to reduce/stop using Twitter, I don't want to lose my previous tweets. I made many of those with care and effort. Second, my account's suspension through a mass-report was used as a "statement" by the bullies and the fakes that we were fighting. The fake person (who had apparently reported me with the help of his trolls and friends for "spamming him") had resumed tweeting vigorously on his verified profile. How does Twitter end up giving people with fake qualifications verified status? Doesn't Twitter verify you are who you claim to be before offering you that blue tick? I don't know. Some known bullies were hiding behind sockpuppets to attack me once I was gone - precisely because we were alerting everyone, specifically their victims, about who is behind these sockpuppets. 


Dormant bots and sockpuppets

These bullies use the main profile to portray a decent image while using sockpuppet accounts to bully people. Most (if not all) of these bullies are misogynists - if you look into their sockpuppets, most (if not all) of their victims are women. People assume how long a Twitter account was alive as a measure of trust. Not always true. Dormant bots coming back to life to bully after several years is a common challenge. We were also looking at certain trolls repurposing their old bots as new sockpuppets. Some of these sockpuppets are as old as their main accounts. The only difference - they were dormant until recently. Then suddenly, they come back online to defend their main account while fighting the main account's enemies. The usage patterns reveal more confirmation on who is behind the sockpuppets too.


Social media companies should seriously consider a Wikipedia-style community moderation, combined with their existing moderation teams. Indeed, people can use VPNs and Tor to hide their identity. But it is implausible that most of the bullies that we were dealing with use those. Twitter should consider locking suspicious accounts from the same IP address and device when they unify to attack someone. It is impossible that a bully and their friend/roommate/sibling are using the same device from the same network simultaneously. Even so, that is a coordinated attack, and that warrants some intervention. Free speech, you would say? Then, all it took for a fakeDr and his bully friends, the number of reports to suspend me on spam accusations. 


The aftermath 

Friends recommended me to appeal my suspension with details - which exactly what I did. Some suggested I come back in a second account to handle the bullies who were making up stuff while I was gone. I rejected both - I am not going to use a second profile. If my Twitter account is gone, I will end my Twitter usage with that. I was planning to reduce my Twitter usage anyway. I also don't want to bother replying to those without backbone who use only sockpuppets - and dare not say a word with their main account.

But, once my account is gone, my whole Twitter history was gone. Google still showed my images and posts. But when I click, it showed, "This tweet is from a suspended account." That wasn't pleasant. In my opinion, Twitter should lock the account, remove their harmful tweets, and then give the user a choice to either delete the account as a whole or keep the locked account as a record. At least for the first-time offenders. Also, with Twitter suspension, many of my embedded tweets looked weird in my previous blog posts. It gets more bizarre for Trump. Many news articles with his tweets embedded look worse. Fortunately for them, most of them were using screenshots instead.

In the meantime, my friends offered to look internally through their connections on Twitter to un-suspend my account quicker. I made a blog post on my Twitter life and the story behind my suspension. The response from Twitter and how the events unfolded around Twitter following my suspension helped narrow down the cause of my suspension. A fake Dr had reported me for questioning him under his profile as "spam." Often it requires a lot of effort to suspend a bully online. But with the number, Twitter verification, and power, they could suspend someone who poses a legitimate criticism - rather than fixing their problematic behavior. Any suspension mechanism without community involvement will be inefficient and imperfect, especially when dealing with local languages (Sinhala and Tamil).


The resurrection 

Twitter restored my account in 5 days. Of course, not a single tweet of mine was ever removed by Twitter before. This was my first "offense" of spam. So Twitter isn't going to keep an account suspended forever for spamming a person who faked his qualifications all the way to reach the top leadership - regardless of the numerous reports he and his friends has made. Once I returned to Twitter, I asked my Twitter friends to connect with me through other means (especially, LinkedIn), as I do not want to lose my connection to them if I lose my Twitter again. I warned my friends who were in similar fights to watch out and be careful about handling our fights - either it is a fight against the bullies, sockpuppets, fake doctors, and diploma mills, or for some other good cause. We don't want to lose our accounts. Repeat tagging the politicians, bullies, and fake people to call them out gives them an easy case to report us for spamming them. We should be smarter when our problems are trickier.


There had to be some initial increased Twitter use to tell my friends what happened, what went wrong, how to rectify this, and how to prevent it from happening again. But I am still committed to my decision to reduce my Twitter use this year. I am just trying to see whether I can use more of my free time online for something else while still stuck by the pandemic, with the end in far sight.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Anatomy of a "link spammer"

Link spamming with music
I have encountered several annoying link spammers in the past. Who is a link spammer? A link spammer uses the comment/quote functions in blogs and Twitter to promote their web site (which is usually a garbage site). Most often than not, the link spammers are bots. They are auto-configured to post links and music videos to random web pages, tweets, or blog posts.

Recently I encountered a sockpuppet and the link spammer, and reported them both. The link spammer (who was quoting random tweets with links to his pyramid-scheme website) was taken down within a few hours. The racist sockpuppet still continues to spam random Tweeps with his hateful replies. It shows how social media treats spam. Adding random links to several tweets as a comment/quote is an easier way to get suspended than posting random nonsensical text and images, even with nasty content.

Link spamming with personal web page
Later I encountered another link spammer, whose entire aim was to spam random people with a link to a specific song. The song eventually reached one billion views on YouTube. I don't think the link spammer contributed to the views significantly. But I am sure that link spammer was a bot as it was spamming random people en masse, without engaging to comments.
Today's encounter was with a person who would reply to random tweets with his garbage irrelevant website, hoping unsuspecting users would click his garbage link - check his twitter profile to find it out yourself. Sometimes these links are harmless, aiming to get traffic to their web site. Other times, they are a phishing attempt. Be careful of what you click, especially when it comes out of nowhere from a link spammer. My blog comments are moderated due to the severity of link spamming. They are quite a nuisance.