Friday, December 28, 2018

go home tumblr, you're drunk

Tumblr's new community guidelines came in earlier this month, and have been somewhat dissected already, of course. I had assumed that my largely anodyne tumblr (I use it as a basic scrap-book) had been passed over by the beady electric eye of image-analysis. Not so. Today I had a message about violating community guidelines. Really, Tumblr?

Yes, really. Presumably this one is violating guidelines for, I don't know, not really being funny any more? Appeal.

Ye-es. It does look a bit disturbing. Presumably all those little eyes triggered something, somewhere... sadly you can't see the jittering animation on this clip, which is quite nasty, but I'm still inclined to label this as NOT ADULT CONTENT.

Oh, but I've saved the best for last:

It's a giant river salamander, in case you're wondering.

Curiously, my other Tumblr, lesbians-in-flightsuits, has not triggered any warnings at all. Which is a bit of a surprise, as it's a fashion tumblr featuring a fair amount of experimental couture.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

and the end point of the data breaches is this

Here and there, emails are squeaking through my spam filter. A basic scam comes in auto-translated wonkspeak, an email address and password combination that feels like it came from the dawn of time, but that was probably only 5-6 years ago. Threats, an amusing spamster name (Tiphanie Hatch is my favourite so far) and a demand for money.

I reported it (like you should - I always do) and was told that most people thought that the password belonged to a site I didn't even remember being breached. Which just goes to show, your data is out there. Old, out-of-date, inaccurate, clumsy. But someone has crammed it into a half-working database that is now algorhythmically churning out threats in your general direction with what you fervently hope is minimal human intervention (though it is a sad truth that there are still a lot of content-related areas of work where humanskill copy-across can get through the job faster than writing programmes enough to automate it, so possibly there's a sad barn full of data-monkeys following a how-to script somewhere).

This scam is designed to ensnare moderately prosperous and easily embarrassed workers with no technical skills whatsover who have surfed porn sites at their workplace. I can't imagine that this is a heavily populated marketing persona, but this is a long way from my area of expertise, so maybe I'm wrong.

The threats are all delivered in chummy wink-wink speak:
I am in shock of your fantasies! I've never seen anything like this! I did not even know that SUCH content could be so exciting! So, when you had fun on piquant sites (you know what I mean!) I made screenshot! First part shows the video you were watching (you've got a nice taste ; )
The message is peppered with random techspeak, like someone vomiting up an aside from a tech thriller novella:
My Trojan have auto alert Antiviruses do not help against modern malicious code I installed a rat software i have a special pixel in this mail your internet browser started functioning as a RDP having a keylogger
The threats are filleted into incomprehensibility, and they follow the carpark-beggar pattern of asking for weirdly precise amounts of money. In bitcoin, of course, that bastion of respectability.
if i don't receive the BitCoins, i definitely will send out your video to all of your contacts including members of your family, colleagues, and many others ... if you need evidence, reply Yes! and i definitely will send your video to your 6 contacts. 
I'm tickled, but I also know about the dark side of all this. The people who have become ensnared, have tumbled into blackmail, debt and despair, who have killed themslves rather than face the embarrassment of seeking help, often the more vulnerable people, but not always. Sometimes they're highly functioning people who responded for a laugh and got caught up in layers and layers of bullshit that go all they way down to the dark, the desperate, the endebted and the enslaved and realised that it's not funny, after all. Not funny at all. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

thinking of setting up a myspace again

I'm in a band (woo-hoo) and we have of course done the usual of setting up an Instagram and a Twitter and a Facebook and a Bandcamp but in the way of these things I'm struggling to engage. It's not that the band doesn't have a voice and aesthetic (it does) or that I don't like it (it's awesome; everything about it is awesome) but something deep in the architecture of the platforms. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Bandcamp. Pictures, words, people, stuff. Where is the music?

Music-first social networking sites struggle. I remember the giddy delight at Soundcloud, but it's struggled to move with the times or feel properly social, and we haven't even set up one for this band. The last band, for which I provided various services over the years, had one. That was during its high years.  Whatever became of Audioboo? I used to fill it with snippets of found sound and birdsong. Now it's Audioboom and just another small scale online publisher. Last FM, RCRDLBL, emusic, there was even a DJ-ing one where you played at being a radio host and I actually managed to make never-met network-buddies through its delicious combination of blunt track-matching algorithms, and I-love-this interaction formats. All gone.

So of course I got to thinking about the first great social networking site that got music right. Myspace. Like so many, my data echo is still sat there in the empty halls, waiting for the winds of fashion and legislation to let in a shaft of light, to crack the door once more. I imagine Myspace Tom, grizzled and sat on his dusty throne, looking up confused as the music fans come flooding back, looking for their home online, that they still don't have, not really.

But of course, Myspace isn't what it once was, and Tom is doing other things now. We could do it though, couldn't we? Set up a Myspace for the band, like it's 2005 all over again?

Yeah, probably not.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

not going to turn off my ad-blocker, sorry

Just this year, the whining to turn off your ad-blocker has really been cresting. "Support your local newspaper" says one "our advertising revenue is a vital income source" says another. I'm a reasonable person, and I understand their point. Sure, let's turn off the ad-blocker. 

Particularly on local news sites, this is quite a serious mistake. Adverts load slowly, blocking the news story as they load, as they are primed to load before other content. They freeze the browser. Sometimes they do that so hard that everything crashes, or you have to go to task manager to kill the browser, clear cookies, and start all over again. I particularly notice this at work, where on one of my browsers ad-blockers are not actionable and I need to look at local news sites. Typically I'll leave a few pages loading while I go off and do something else on another tab. But I'd better not be doing anything important, as this can easily crash the entire browser.

The reason people block ads on the internet is not because they hate you and want to kill your income streams. That's your motivation, not theirs. The reason people block online adverts is because they are shit. They break your browser. They stop information loading. They flash in hypnotic, migraine-inducing colours at the periphery of what you're reading. They simper click-bait into your peripheral vision. They start talking over the video you're watching (this is especially a feature of American news-sites).

Darlings, you are missing the point. You want me to turn off the ad blocker. I'd love to turn off the ad blocker. I love adverts. They're one of my favourite art forms. Seriously, when I was a kid I used to collect Silk Cut adverts and stick them on my wall.

But you can't watch an advert when it's busy breaking the furniture.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

surreal follower suggestions

I kind of know why I was suggested this account to follow. But it still raised an eyebrow when the suggestion came:

Particularly when the bio stated firmly "For UK farmers/professionals (e.g. vets) only.". 

But, they're promoting their account (fair enough) and my account (this is a work account, which promotes apprenticeship opportunities, including occasionally some on pig farms) does have a faint acquaintance with modern pig farming. I've posted on pig farmer apprenticeships. I'm probably even following a couple of local farms that regularly have vacancies for young workers.

I didn't follow this account though; it's a step too far removed.  

Monday, July 02, 2018

life on the post-GDPR internet

Ever since GDPR landed, there has been an explosion of websites with full-page privacy flashes on the way in, redirects to unescapable permissions pages and from some providers, denial pages, either subtle (cookie-enforced trap-pages that cannot be passed), deniable (go to my plain-text version!!!!) or outright ("we have decided not to serve users within the European Union").

None of this is coming across as protecting the user, particularly as all those "solutions" bar the outright denial involve granting the sites more rights and permissions than they were previously exercising while withdrawing service to a larger or greater extent. So added to all the sites behind browser-buggering levels of advertising, undismissable startup flashes and paywalls, we now have to add all the sites that got into a strop over GDPR, and in their excitement let their legal and advertising staff trample over their UX and content workers in their rush to smack their users round the head repeatedly while yelling "look what you made us do!!!!!".

Because this is what it feels like. Come on, the world. Plenty of providers were able to look at GDPR, shrug and carry on, because that was what was being done already. No need to go off on a hysterical tizzy, guys - particularly as the horse has bolted here. My data is spattered through your servers, and no amount of privacy notices is going to change that, not now, not tomorrow and not for the future. particularly as I am a fully signed up Google-tithed, LJ-using, open Twitter account carrying, eyes-open-on-Instagram member of the open web.

It's not even shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, It's more like repeatedly slamming the barn door in my face while all my stuff is already strewn all over the grass outside.

Just. Stop it.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

and then the menus went blank

Mystery meat navigation underwent a whole new world of strangeness as I opened my seldom-used video programme in order to do a fairly normal bit of video editing. I use an old version of Premiere Elements (like many large workplaces we have a long process of license acquisition, safety checking, application virtualisation etc.) which isn't great but I don't need anything very clever, of course.

Except that today, the menus had mostly not loaded.

I've been using computer programmes for long enough that I can take a rough guess at where a menu item might be and basically click in the dark. So I edited and published. vaguely aware of a weird prickle of nostalgia.

I was also around for the early web, before the rise of usability, back when menus and navigation were seen as spaces for creativity and challenge rather than user coddling/tweaking/poking/peeping/pumping. People got cross about that, as I recall, but I always quite liked a nice slice of mystery meat navigation - menus that flickered in and out of existence, changed into strange things, crawled around the screen, and so on.

Well, I'd better like it, as that's what I've got now. After two afternoons of fix-reinstall cycles, deleting local and global profiles, and after I briefly showed a proper programme load on a fresh machine, an entire machine swap-out... it can't be fixed.

So while I'm waiting for a new version of Premiere to work through the approval and virtualization process, I'm back to stabbing in the dark.

Click, click, click.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

GDPR emails - the good, the bad and the inexplicable

Great news!!! Most organisations were already compliant with GDPR. Not that that stopped a lot of organisations going quite bananas over it (though not, predictably, the ones who were illegally buying my contact details and then illegally using them to spam me with (at best) grey legal marketing, gambling and dating "opportunities").

I'm going to quote my personal favourite notice here, because it's brief, to the point, and covers all the necessary:

Organisations have different approaches. [Redacted] is proceeding on the basis that people who have already signed up to receive our newsletter might reasonably want to continue to have it sent to their email addresses. This is referred to as relying on processing on the basis of 'legitimate interest'. As always, we will include a link to allow you to opt out of receiving our newsletters at any time.

This, plus a pretty picture, was an elegant sufficiency. But so many went down a different path. And here, in reverse order, are my GDPR email top of the flops:
  1. Three paragraphs of whingeing about the GDPR. I understand your woes. I feel them, having been to two briefings, one meeting, a compulsory e-learning and numerous informal chats on the topic this year. But if you're struggling so hard with the concept of data privacy perhaps your orgaisation is, I don't know... the kind that doesn't do that kind of thing?  Newsflash: these organisations exist and they send out LOADS of email, all the time. 
  2. Four increasingly needy emails in a row, three after I'd updated my preferences. Can it, Janet, I already said yes.
  3. A link to update my preferences, that lead to a form to input my information again, which you already have, or you wouldn't be contacting me. For heaven's sake, do we know each other or not?
  4. A link to update my preferences, that lead to a form to input my information again, which you already have, which then returned the error message "[redacted] is already subscribed to this list". I know that, you know that - but will you still love me tomorrow I still get your emails after 25th May?
  5. And in top place, standing out as a true beacon of practice in this area: An email explaining that the list you were subscribed to is being closed and you need to subscribe to a new GDPR-compliant list. On click-through, this form is asking you for a lot more personal information than you had previously shared with the company; it also has autofill disabled and a CAPTCHA that will not load in your (only very slightly slightly flaky) browser. Two browsers later, and the problem is still not resolving on desktop. Entry via the ipad (why is so much design still i-pad first?) finally loads the CAPTCHA - it's the notorious picture-style which drops into its usual round of fail. I wrestle the CAPTCHA to a standstill ... and the form crashes.
Never mind, eh.

There has been some really lovely practice in this area too - friendly checks, information pre-loaded, tidy forms, pretty design. Just for balance's sake, you understand.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

My bubble just got invaded - and hard

Not altogether impressed when I did a cursory search for a disappeared website from a small charity. It was the day after IDAHOT. Surely today of all days, it would be OK to be gay?

Apparently not:

Small websites come and go, of course, but this is harsh! You're only seeing the first six results here, but pretty much THE ENTIRE FIRST PAGE OF GOOGLE is results from Christian websites, which are far from clear on whether being gay is OK - even if they're nominally supportive. Several are in the love the sinner camp. Some are firmly telling you it isn't. There are a couple of equivocal news stories. But bar the Being Gay is OK colouring book, the whole thing smacks of bible study groups lead by sweaty celibates desperate to love the sinner, save your soul and bring you back to Sunday school.

Thank Oprah for the one exception. One item had squeaked past the seo-optimised bible-bashing search flooders; vlogger Doug Armstrong with "It's Okay to be gay (song), which is actually quite sweet in a vloggery kinda way, and does also accurately return on the search phrase "being gay is ok".

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

fantastic publish very

Distributed publication of the tools in use on your site can sometimes have unexpected results. Therefore I found myself in the annoying/amusing situation this month of the discontinuation of comment spam protection on one of my sites.

The spambots sing a bit of a different song nowadays. Cialis and Viagra have given way to cryptocurrency, gonorrhea treatment, random insults and bears. Sexually lively girls age 25 feature strongly. Episode Ignis and doxycycline and plantar warts.  All clad in a low-quality, unconvincing protective carapace of compliments, guest writer requests and browser compatability complaints, the webmaster's perennial favourite.

Mingled among them I saw something new and slightly piteous - little squeaks for help and understanding;  "I'm not doing this full time" and "I've been reviewing online" and "I been browsing online more" and "I am not sure where you are" - as poor Christen, Vada, Nelson, JamieVek, Jewli and their ilk understand what that amazing opportunity to earn money online actually entails. 

Nowadays, many of them read like a person is writing them, a deeply depressing thought. 

I pre-moderate (of course), so nothing ever went live. But it would be a sadness indeed if none of it ever saw the light of day, especially when I think of the person-hours involved, theirs and mine.

Gems from the 2018 Spamcrop

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

21st century sexual abuse

I run a few accounts. It's notable that one gets a lot more likes and follows from the ongoing epidemic of automated porn accounts. I got to thinking, what makes this account different? It's popular, but no more so than others. Then I started to notice a few other accounts in my lists getting these likes and follows. I dug a bit. The forums contain a few more clues. I'm coming to a pretty difficult conclusion, but I think these accounts are trying to target children. Pictures of children, profiles mentioning children, statuses about children.

Why would this be? Is it deliberate, part of a strategy intentionally and persistently squirting sexual imagery at underage consumers, hoping that some will shift focus onto sexual activities in the early teenage years, and, with that single-mindedness only accessible to those who have just left childhood, become the future star consumers? 

It doesn't seem very plausible, but as anyone who observes the economic activities of criminals knows, it doesn't have to work well (or even at all) for people to do it. All it needs is a rumour that you can make money this way and a fairly low opportunity-cost. The toolkit for this is small; some text to copy-and-paste, a folder of clip-art undressed girls, an automated account creation tool, a list of people to follow.

That list was what previously lead me to think this was accidental. My presence on a follow-list is confirmed by the occasional appearance of minor celebrities who have presumably bought in a "social networking expert" to build a profile fast and with scant regard to netiquette.

But now, I'm not so convinced. This has a weirdly targeted feel. Further evidence comes from the content of these profiles; kiddy language, brightly coloured hair, each one a sparkly unicorn into DC comics and cosplay. These is not adult-facing marketing. These are the cloying tones of the candy cigarette merchants. They're after today's fresh innocent faces as tomorrow's clientele. They want to get them young, and keep them for life. To them, the word "children" in a description is a list-includer, not a list excluder.

Of course, I could just be imagining things. After all, I've been subjected to a steady barrage of unwanted and unwelcome online sexual imagery and language for months now. After a bit, you start to want to see some kind of meaning in all those ... bits.

But I think I'm going to set aside an hour or so to do some investigation, and then if I get the faintest hint of confirmation of this theory, do something rather more nuanced than pressing the report button Because if I am right, then I can think of a few other amazing moneymaking ideas that could sit in the same stable, that would very much need to be closed down.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

the tipover point in the online environment

It's another week where I'm not very happy with Twitter. Dear old Twitter, where I post thoughtful things about birds and plants, and sometimes comics, and read a similarly sweethearted scatter from my friends and others. Or where I punchily network through my prosocial professional spaces, linking up our local players, passing on opportunities, maintaining that network. And while I'd always been aware of the boobs and the bots and the bullying that wasn't everything, or even most things, and non-engagement with that whole messed-up scene wasn't hard.

But this year, for the first time, when I talk to teenage kids about Twitter they get the same queasy evasive look on their faces that you get when you ask them about drugs, drinking or sex. Too much of it is a risky environment now. They know about it; but it's not for stuff you'd discuss with adults any more. The natural adolesecent urge is always to run and look and the bad stuff. Now there's just so much of that, they're never going to get to the good stuff any more.

If you want to see how a teen sees Twitter, run a few searches. Use a few likely search terms. If you hit a lively-looking hashtag, give that a click... and you'll see the decay that Downtown Twitter has tipped over into. Ts&Cs are flouted into non-existence. Silk Road, Pornhub and their unmentionable Darkweb siblings have colonised the dialogue; and wave up on wave of bot-generated advertising accounts crawl over everything, like automated obscene graffiti.

I'm normally a solid reporter. I've reliably reported every single account in breach that has interacted . But this was just too much. It was like that moment when the policeman wanders into the drug den in season 3 of the new Amazon series, and it's suddenly CGI vampires as far as the eye can see. You've hit the threshold shift; the tipover point; the place where the gangsters think they're running the show because they've managed to leave their shit everywhere.

I reported one account, then considered my position.

One of the great pleasures of having lived through so many decades is that you fail to really recognise the low roar of panic, and instead just carry on as normal. So with one hand I called the appropriate helpline, and with the other opened another tab to check up on Instagram. The helpline confirmed a few things; Instagram was better in some ways, worse in others - but just as comprehensively colonised.  

There's a thing that's done to public houses - pubs and bars, to you and me - by dealers and chancers and chaotic drinkers. They turn up. They carry on. They refuse to move on. They tell you that you rely on them, and that they're your best customers and that if they weren't there, no-one would be there. They threaten and wheedle and cajole and bully the staff and bring in their friends, and bother your other customers until they join in or leave. It's a make or break moment for the landlord. Will you bar, ban, confront, refuse, yell, shout, dig your heels in, persist and if necessary get people arrested? Or will you fold, fail and start the long walk to demolition in favour a Tesco Metro?

On the way to Tescos, a lot more happpens. The most usual thing is your pub going bankrupt under the should-be-obvious reveal that in your local area, only a tiny percentage of people actually want an environment like this (and even they have mixed feelings about it); and also that these are not the people with reliable disposable income that they'll come in and spend, reliably. They're people who will hide drugs in your toilets, run away from bills and throw up on your bar.  Then there's the trouble you might have, with the police either coming down on you hard or feeling they'll get better results by letting nature take its course and mopping up the pieces later. Orders and notices, damage and trouble; and you can be barred, too, from running a bar. Or maybe things just go quiet, and people stop coming by; the death of unpopularity, of silence.

MySpace Tom still sends me the occassional plaintive email, a salutory message about how the mighty may fall. Too big to fail they were; but they were too slow to put their house in order, and now digital tumbleweeds drift across their digital halls. I wonder how Twitter will respond now they're in that same crossroads? MySpace's executives fronted and blustered but in the end they cut large chunks of their functionality rather than face massive multiple prosecutions and accordingly  were both saved and doomed.

Even more I wonder about Instagram. When their owners, Facebook, were facing a similar issue, they took the route of admitting, addressing and fixing (usual caveats apply) the issue. Why isn't the same thing happening with Instagram?

Saturday, February 03, 2018

the day I had to re-educate my youtube profile

I was reminded by various things in the news recently (I'm still trying to parse that last link, seriously, Google is responding to what by doing what?) of the time last autumn when, for job-related reasons I briefly needed to reference some news stories about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) on Youtube for a training presentation.  I also needed at the same time to  access some video promotions for CSA perpetrator programmes, access some internet safety and grooming public information films by CEOP (UK Police) and some new (and old) films from the NSPCC. All job-related, fully factual content.

I noticed the problem when I then embedded an (unrelated) video in a blog post and watched the content through. Among the usual run of cat videos, 80s electronica and garden walk-throughs there was a single really odd-looking recommendation. I clicked it to check it (as one does) and discovered a truly deeply horrific fake news paedophilia/celebrity conspiracy "news" video. I made an abortive moment towards reporting the content, and then froze, remembering the not guilty verdict on the Girls Aloud torture porn trial. There was a good chance this bilge counted as free speech, fiction, comedy, entertainment or all of the above.

So I clicked away again and instead went to disable the related videos on the embed link, reminded once more that with the variability of content on Youtube nowadays you really kind of need to do this on personal content as well as professional, or you'll end up exposing people to who knows what. But the worst was yet to come.

I got back to Youtube and discovered that my "up next" videos had, to put it mildly, changed. My recommendations were now very one note indeed, and all variations on the same sort of video. Some  politicians, some celebrities, but all of it was CSA-related, all clearly fake, all news/expose/revealed shock-jock style ranting, and all uniformly the sort of horrible fake news crap that I was disappointed existed, and certainly didn't want to have spontaneously served into my browser.

I started to google for fixes.  I found the methodology quite quickly, but the process itself was slow.

The fix, fact-fans, is to go and adjust your recommended videos manually, i.e. for every single video click on "Not interested". This will remove the video, and eventually, all videos like it. This takes a strong stomach, and a lot of clicking, but in the end I fully resealed my bubble against the fake-news sewage tide. Which is great for my blood pressure, but this terrible, horrible, afactual... no, counterfactual content still exists, hovering, ready to jump in the moment someone shows a change in their viewing preferences. And while I did it as part of a research run, in a well-balanced and rational state of mind, how might it different if I'd triggered something similar inadvertently in a moment of doubt, confusion, unhappiness or vulnerability? What might be the long-term effects if I lacked the wherewithal to hack back the tide of misinformation?

After all, as I discovered, it doesn't have to be a big change at all. Just a few clicks, and it comes rushing in, a foul tide of information pollution; as damaging to mental health as the real thing is to physical health.

Friday, January 26, 2018

don't deny them their data points

So I was at some training again yesterday and there was the usual chat about how much people online know abut you, and how bad it is that, that the government and the private companies all know where you are and what you're doing and I was back suddenly to five years ago and writing a paper about how a culture shift was needed, because so many people felt they were protecting people by not recording things about them. The fear their details would be stored up and used against them later, the desire to protect them from the judgement of others was overwhelming.

The urge comes from a good place, but I feel it is fundamentally misguided.

Recording people's information accurately, respectfully and securely is an act of true respect for that individual. Every time you squirrel, omit or conceal a person's data points you are denying them recorded reality. You are making yourself adjudicator, gatekeeper. You are asserting privilege, and denying others their rights.

Each data point changes the world. Those of us lucky enough to be purchasing, paying, buying, reproducing, shaping, constructing and changing are constantly creating data-casts around us. Those whose data gets squirrelled and forgotten are often the damaged, disenfranchised and disengaged.

Don't deny them their data points.

Friday, January 19, 2018

a blur of infotainment

I'm playing Candy Crush Saga. With the serious, slightly pained focus that is only available when you are almost incapacitated by procrastination. To be fair, this is only happening when my mind begins to blur out of academic focus and start to flicker off into exciting vistas of other topics of interest, when the mind is dulling against the taptaptap of another chapter.

I'm not just playing Candycrush either, whoever only does that? Right now I'm also watching television (Dinosaur documentary), skimming through fashion shows on, fitfully conversing on Facebook and also, naturally, playing three other games (Words with Friends, Disco Zoo and Kleptocats) because that's the way to play if you don't pay. There's some stuff I'm looking up in a tab or two. A book, a magazine, today's paper.

I am thoroughly immersed in the blur of infotainment. And I'm not coming up again until I'm fit to study once more. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

My Christmas fighting the prnbot menace

It was the week before the week before Christmas and my social media apprentice was buzzing: "We got followed by [redacted]!!!!" in the same proud tones used when a healthy eating tweet gets retweeted by someone off of Masterchef. The name (unfamiliar to me) was rapidly annotated with a brief bio; something BBC related, youth-orientated, popular. Good for us, and duly I congratulated her and gave her the go ahead to follow back. I checked out the celeb later that day. Her stream was healthy, wholesome and positive. She looked good. All good, carry on, carry on.

Two days later, the first of them arrived. Love your tweet! You have a new follower! The apprentice was on leave, settling into her new-new-build. So I let the first few go by. When I came back after lunch, there were 17 of them. And many of the profile pictures looked disturbingly... similarly... undressed.

Cleaning the Stream

We need to keep the stream clean as (in common with many professional users of Twitter) we are catering to the 13+ age-group. Kids and parents, professionals and teachers. Family friendly is the order of the day. It's pretty normal (if a bit annoying) to get a daily spatter of speculative marketing profile engagements - t-shirt sellers, lifestyle coaches, SEO-jockeys and the like. It's part of the Twitterverse.

This, though, this was something new, at least to me. As the song goes, new, and a bit alarming.

These accounts were not in the slightest bit family friendly. Each one was an identikit assemblage of quease-inducing porn clip-art, unsubtle 100 character come-ons, and links signalled clearly (using the same six or so unmistakable and nasty euphemisms) as leading to live-stream, hard-core pornography. They were all using the same phrases, the same images, and I had little doubt that their carefully scrambled link addresses (See LINK in BIO!!!!!??!!) were taking you to the same set of porn websites.

Weirdly, they all also seemed to be following a set of rules about what they were saying and showing. I was instantly reminded of the the ridiculous things people used to do to "get around" the Obscene Publications Act, missing the point that obscenity was intrinsic in what they were selling.

Sisyphus on the block and ban

Every new like or follow now has to be checked. The process, once I stopped clicking around like an idiot looking for the right report route, smoothed down to six quick clicks: check > options > report > categorise > subcategorise > block. Then I have to click again to get off the page.

By five in the afternoon, having spent most of it blocking and reporting identikit profiles, the flow seemed to be dying down. I assumed that given that the profiles were pretty obviously generated by an algorithm, it had stripped my Twitters off their follow list and moved onto less active accounts.

I also had my first set of progress reports back from Twitter - and in case anyone is in any doubt about this, selling pornography on Twitter breaks its Ts & Cs. Every account I reported was closed down promptly.

As will surprise absolutely nobody who has ever been in this situation, the following morning, the accounts were back again, and since then, despite the accounts having been closed down and down and down by Twitter, they have returned again, and again. Generating at a less panic-inducing two to four every day per profile, they are now just another editor job. Retweet, post, favourite, post again ---- and block and report the prnbots.

After every block and ban, there is a small notification from Twitter: thank you for making Twitter safer for everyone.

Drowning in a sea of slime

I'm fond of Twitter, possibly for fuzzy historical reasons that have no place in our current, chiller world. So my first impulse is to worry about Twitter, particularly since my googling and talking to people made it clear that I'm hardly an isolated case. The bulk inactive account hacks and malicious profile generation has been going on since at least 2015. That means Twitter has a had a while to come up with a coordinated response, akin to the algorithmic system Facebook uses to delete spam posts as they happen. This hasn't happened, and I can only think of a few reasons why this would be, and none of them are good for Twitter.

Possibility one: something about Twitter's data architecture makes it impossible to create dynamic identification of accounts or tweets mass generated from a short list of clearly malicious phrases and images. Not good news for Twitter - does it really want to be relying on human report? Most users never bother to report anything.

Possibility two: the account generation is coming in at such a scale and level of technical complexity and adaptivity that it is flooding Twitter's defences and commercial users (and their customers) are seeing a little bit of  the overflow of a much, much bigger problem. Again, not a good situation, given that Twitter has too little UI to just turn bits of itself off (as happened to Flickr's notes function, for example) until a suitable resolution is established.

Possibility three: Twitter is tolerating, allowing or even accepting their bots, the ones selling adult content included. It's maybe an indicator of how much of an image problem Twitter has that most people I spoke to assumed that they simply didn't care, or treated these accounts as a form of "free speech". I don't think that, but I think it's possible that they might see it as an environmental emanation of the medium, like flyposters on a hoarding or postcards in a phone booth. 

I can't really, though, so. Report, report, report.