Weekend news roundup: Reddit’s censorship crisis and who really created the social web?

15 Oct 2012

In our roundup of the top tech stories from the weekend, we look at the question that has arisen over who really created the social web, which some say existed long before Facebook; the US is pointing the finger of blame for cyber attacks at Iran; controversial internet blocking rules emerge in the US; and a new controversy regarding Reddit and alleged censorship has emerged.

Dark social – who really created the social web?

The social media revolution is being credited with almost creating the web, but it existed long before Facebook and in many ways tools from instant chat to email were just as social. The Atlantic carried an interesting article about how the social media movement is attempting to rewrite the history of the web and is missing the dark social world – the world of other forms of cyber communication like email, IM and more.

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal wrote: “This means that this vast trove of social traffic is essentially invisible to most analytics programmes. I call it DARK SOCIAL. It shows up variously in programmes as ‘direct’ or ‘typed/bookmarked’ traffic, which implies to many site owners that you actually have a bookmark or typed in www.theatlantic.com into your browser. But that’s not actually what’s happening a lot of the time. Most of the time, someone Gchatted someone a link, or it came in on a big email distribution list, or your dad sent it to you. 

“Nonetheless, the idea that ‘social networks’ and ‘social media’ sites created a social web is pervasive. Everyone behaves as if the traffic your stories receive from the social networks (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon) is the same as all of your social traffic. I began to wonder if I was wrong. Or at least that what I had experienced was a niche phenomenon and most people’s web time was not filled with Gchatted and emailed links. I began to think that perhaps Facebook and Twitter has dramatically expanded the volume of – at the very least – linksharing that takes place.”

Reddit and free speech

The Verge had an interesting story about popular social network and discussion platform Reddit, where contributors speak freely on almost any imaginable topic. When a Gawker writer called Adrian Chen threatened to unmask the identity of one of Reddit’s most powerful moderators – or subredditors – Reddit moved to ban all of Gawker’s content, giving rise to criticism of censorship.

“Given recent events, Reddit’s leadership structure looks problematic on the surface,” the Verge reported.

“While Reddit’s official caretakers insist that the community model is carefully conceived, major decisions — and confusion about the site’s policies — end up trickling down to its de-facto rulers: its moderators. In the past few days, those rulers have grappled with the balance of speech and privacy in Reddit’s major forums.”

Controversial anti-piracy plans kick off in the States

A set of leaked internal AT&T training documents obtained by TorrentFreak reveal that the internet provider will start sending out anti-piracy warning notices to its subscribers on 28 November.

According to the site, customers whose accounts are repeatedly flagged for alleged copyright infringements will have their access to frequently visited websites blocked, until they complete an online copyright course. It’s expected that most other participating ISPs will start their versions of the anti-piracy plan on the same date.

Last year, the MPAA and RIAA teamed up with five major internet providers in the United States to launch the Center for Copyright Information (CCI).

The parties agreed on a system through which subscribers are warned that their copyright infringements are unacceptable. After several warnings, ISPs may then take a variety of repressive measures to punish the alleged infringers.

Thus far, the participating internet providers have refused to comment to the press on any of the details, including the launch date. But, leaked internal AT&T training documents obtained by TorrentFreak provide a unique insight into the controversial plan.

Exploding myths around angel investors

An interesting TechCrunch article at the weekend included what claimed to be a compilation of the largest data set on angel investor financial returns that exist. It attempted to explode the myth around angel investors being just unwitting philanthropists and show them to be legitimate entrepreneurial investors.

“The best estimate of overall angel investor returns from this data is 2.5 times their investment, though in any one investment the odds of a positive return are less than 50pc,” said the article’s author Robert Wiltbank, PhD, a professor at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. “This is absolutely competitive with venture-capital returns.”

US waves finger of suspicion at Iran over cyber attacks

The New York Times reported that American intelligence officials are increasingly convinced Iran was the origin of a serious wave of network attacks that crippled computers across the Saudi oil industry and breached financial institutions in the US.

“Among American officials, suspicion has focused on the ‘cybercorps’ that Iran’s military created in 2011 — partly in response to American and Israeli cyber attacks on the Iranian nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz — though there is no hard evidence that the attacks were sanctioned by the Iranian government,” the paper reported.

Social networks image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years