image According to an AP Newswire piece this evening, Israel’s internal intelligence organization Shin Bet “warned Israelis against answering unsolicited messages or sharing telephone numbers and other sensitive information over the Internet” because “Arabs are trying to recruit spies on the popular social networking site.”

“Terror organizations are using these sites to tempt Israelis to meet up in person in order to either abduct them, kill them or recruit them as spies,” the Shin Bet said.

Additionally, a number of examples were given where Israeli citizens were either arrested for giving strategic information to enemies of the state and members of terrorist Al Qaida cells.

I trot this editorial angle out about three times a year, but I continue to do it because I think it’s important. Every time I brought it up at Mashable, I was accused of being a ‘neocon media whore’ (or, my personal favorite, a proto-fascist). I think it bears repeating and review, though, because there’s a lot at stake and a lot that could be done that simply isn’t.

The truth is, though, that Loren Feldman and Joe Lieberman had very strong and unpopular points when they talked about a future where what Shin Bet is warning of is commonplace.

Joe Lieberman’s Warning to Google
image Last year in May, Joe Lieberman issued a warning to YouTube to stop allowing internationally recognized terrorist cells to create recruitment channels on YouTube. At the time, YouTube pretty much told him to bugger off.  I chronicled this as well as YouTube’s history of being consistently inconsistent with regard to their attitudes on censorship.

The fact remains that the videos are there to promote the organization, and those organizations regularly organize the killings of innocent humans, in Iraq and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, YouTube is capricious and arbitrary about content that they’ll take down that they do deem as promoting hate speech, objectionable, or promoting of violence, and what they don’t.  Let’s go down the list, shall we?

Michelle Malkin: Censored for promoting hate speech, when she created a music montage showing victims of Muslim terrorist attacks in response to the Muhammed riots.
BumFights: Uncensored. Videos of actual homeless folks paid in sandwiches for beating the crap out of one another.
Handsome Hong Kong Guy Censored for showing videos of clothed local females with derogatory towards women music in the background.
This Pornography Advertisement Uncensored. It doesn’t show actual nudity or sex acts.
A Breast-Feeding Mother Censored over obscenity claims.
This Strip Tease Uncensored. A small area over the genitals remains covered for the duration of the minute and a half long strip tease.
An Egyptian Fellow Censored (then uncensored) for showing video evidence of local police brutality.
This GTA IV Ad Uncensored, despite depicting a police officer firing a gun into a crowd of civilians.

As the pattern of hypocrisy indicates, YouTube has very little track record when it comes to censorship.  Several months later, in September of 2008, YouTube finally decided to crack down on terrorists, though, and heed my advice of “policing themselves or wait for the government to do it for them.”

It’s unclear exactly what’s changed, except that YouTube’s given a nod to the Senator, and a quote to the Washington Post that they’re going to decide things on a case by case basis.

Generally, the only thing that seems to influence Google to do the right thing in the past has been a combination of media and government pressure. The most prime example of this which springs to mind is the case of Orkut and the literal infiltration of pedophiles onto the system. The story stayed on our radar for quite some time, starting with reports in January of 2007 as noted by Pete, the problem continuing to grow on into September when Google decided to do something about policing their community, as noted by Kristen.

Google continued to protect the identities of pedophiles from Brazilian authorities for months, asnoted by Sean in October and myself in April of this year. Finally, in late April, Google finally caved to widespread media criticism and governmental authority and began cooperating with police in turning over the identities of those trafficking in pictures and video of under-aged sex acts.

Loren Feldman and Chris Brogan’s Warning to the World
image During the summer of 2008, a huge controversy arose around videoblogger Loren Feldman, who’s most famous in the tech-set for his Robert Scoble and Shel Israel puppets. Over a year earlier, he’d put out a series of video posts that very controversially pointed out the virility of certain ideas in social media, particularly when it came to racially charged posts.

I won’t re-hash all the nitty-gritty details, but it came to a head when a civil rights activist raised a protest to Verizon, who at the time had just agreed to carry Feldman’s posts on their mobile video network, but subsequently dropped the contract with Feldman ov
er public pressure.

What most people fail to realize to this day was that Feldman’s publicity stunt had very little to do with race, per se, and more to do with showing how bad and sometimes downright evil ideas can be very powerfully amplified with almost no effort or capitalization behind them. It was a thought that I tried to emphasize during all the reactionary browbeating that took place in the blogosphere to almost no avail. 

The only time I had any success was when I admitted my fear of putting my job in jeopardy, and leaned on the credibility of Chris Brogan, who also had the courage to stand up and re-iterate the true message Loren was trying to put across:

Chris Brogan very rightly likens the current controversy over the New Yorker magazine cover to the Loren Feldman incident as an echo. The mainstream media is performing their punditry over the “Terrorist Fist Jab” in much the same black and white tones as we did last week over the Loren Feldman “TechNigga” video. [Brogan] goes on to ponder the fact that there might be more important things to worry about.

“But this is what’s out there. This is the surface. This isn’t the secret campaigns that will (are?) spread through social networks, across back channels, hidden in some other kind of FriendFeed that we haven’t seen. Or maybe it’ll be out in the open, as Louis Gray reported on a short while back.”

“For a moment, we need to consider the larger implications of how social media can power some really negative experiences. Flash mobs are fun. But what else could they be?”

What’s really ironic here is that this is one of the larger points that Loren Feldman was driving at with his satire (and he even spelled it out verbatim in an expletive-laden post after the series, embedded below). In between all the “gotcha, you’re a racist” moments in the conversation surrounding this, it seems that point is what was lost.

Chris goes on to say: “This isn’t one of those “film at 11″ shocker posts. Instead, it’s something I wanted to write to say that if you think that beating Loren Feldman down because his video broke away from satire and fell into racism, then you’ve lost. The fight is, I believe, a lot more sinister, running deeper under the radar than that, and with names that aren’t in the blogosocialmediacirclefishbowl sphere.”

image As I outlined above and in other pieces elsewhere, terrorism is alive and well on the web. If you’re curious as to how social media is being used for ill-intent, you should just take a gander at your favorite source for Internet security news. 

Everyone’s into it these days – even governments! China and Russia are headline offenders, but tons of governments these days use social media to recruit the disillusioned of society into ideologies, and then manipulate them into cyber-terrorism or straight up suicide bombing.

The dark side of mainstream social networking tools is a blindspot for the operators of these sites, let alone most of us users. 

I repeat my refrain, though – it’s a topic that deserves more attention and thought, because if we don’t decide how to handle this, the government will decide for us.  It’s an issue far too important to them to let lay, and I for one am not interested in the government taking control of what can and can’t be said on the Web.