[Gail McGowan Mellor is [email protected] on Minds.com
Illustration: Minds visionary, founder and CEO Bill Ottman. This is an unauthorized Minds history, yet the Minds team has been unfailingly gracious in interviews. Part I is "Bill Ottman's Minds, Leading the Charge Against the Globals". Part II is "The Minds Who Power Minds". There were so many extra chapters in response to questions that Part II doubled in size. So I divided it into III-A "Artificial Intelligence, Cambridge Analytica's Psops Campaign, The Banned Alts and Minds.com " and III-B, "The Nuts and Bolts of Freedom of Speech", below. Part IV is "Minds Enters the Cryptocosm in the 'Summer and Fall of WTF???'" ] Part V is "Minds Confronts the Shadow Tyranny and Declares Independence". Events are moving fast. Part VI is on the way....Here, though, let me take you back to the crucial policy decisions that were made in Beta about free speech with regard to child porn, trolls, hate....
17. THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH
A soft-voiced firebrand, Bill Ottman often says that Minds is “not political”. In terms of the day-to-day politics of countries, that is true. In terms of the politics of cyberspace, Bill is a constant and demonstrably tough crusader for privacy, decentralization, transparency, open source code and free speech. In refusing to ban the Alt Right -- as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit basically had -- Bill was not standing with the Alt Right or even standing up for them. He was standing up for the right of all people to speak out politically. On Minds, "all” does not mean “some”. Minds therefore had to teach free speech to a U.S. population that had half-forgotten it and to many in the world who had never known it.
As podcaster Tim Pool has pointed out, the First Amendment of the US Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law...abridging the right of free speech”, because freedom of speech predates the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Congress and the Presidency. Springing into action precisely when others get offended, freedom of speech is the inherent, inalienable, indefeasible right to speak your mind even if it angers the hell out of other people. Long before any official launch, Minds was therefore a startlingly adult place, filled with freedoms and mutual respect that after decades of global-corporate rule, people in the US had begun to forget they had known.
It was not the respect of political correctness.
It was the respect of counterspeech. If people did not like your post, they posted something to the contrary. Minds’ topnotch graphic capacity had attracted not only a slew of photographers but porn aficionados. They though voluntarily marked it with an “E” for “Explicit”, so that anyone who didn’t want to see porn could raise an E-filter and block it. Activist, ideologically diverse but laid back and thoughtful, Minds had a mixture of left, independent and right, having discussions, well yeah and some trolls.
The Alt Right, although a tiny portion of the US population, at first brought a marked increase in the size of pre-launch Minds.
As the Alts barreled into Minds in early 2017, angrier than a 1,000 ton bag of wet cats, Bill's holding that door open for them however cost Minds dearly. In the name of free speech, Bill, John and Mark had unleashed an onslaught of people who at that point were bound and determined to shut everyone else up or better still drive them off. While Alts later started many new groups on Minds, they at first simply swamped existing ones.The Science group for example, had been discussing the latest physics finds. It was suddenly overrun with people denouncing science itself, posting on astrology not astronomy -- instead of say, founding an astrology channel.
It was astonishing how much fury some could pack into a reply to “Hi! Are you new?" Forming an echo chamber where no opposing voices or conflicting information intruded, Alts struck out at everyone on Minds who was outside their bubble.Their often gifted meme artists outdid each other trying to see who could be the most uber-offensively racist or misogynist. Encountering a conversation, groups attacked with personally-directed, off-topic rants that went on for long strings of comment boxes, working in relays to keep anyone else from getting a word in.
Since many of the new people also “on principle” refused to mark porn with “E” for Explicit, or reminded explicit stuff without labeling it, people who E-filtered the general Newsfeed now unpredictably received hardcore porn.
Many longstanding users started leaving. Large groups who had been on the point of joining Minds decided that even Facebook was easier to put up with than that. Growth slowed. However that was far less of a hit that ceasing to be a free speech site would have been.
If users argued for ouster of the Alts, Bill said, “This is what censorship does to people. Give them time.”
Bill's view was that all people needed -- although many Alts would have launched intercontinental ballistic missiles at the idea -- a safe space where expressing what they believed and who they were was not punished, as long as they did not aggressively act on it. Far from being grateful, many alts were suspicious that the freedom Bill offered was not real. In a nutshell, 1) yes it was real, and 2) there was a difference between the freedom to express yourself socio-politically and a license to destroy the place.
On Minds, civil and logical was usually far more effective than loud and wildly emotional, but in the Ottmans' view, it was up to the community, not to the founders, to get that across. People not the founders would work it through. It did not prove to be that simple. The solutions revealed Minds' strength as a community, its founders/ core principles, and to some extent how Minds really worked behind the scenes. It also shone a light on work left to do.
18. MAKING IT HAPPEN
Bill Ottman is neither a racist nor a misogynist. In fact he funds a school in Afghanistan that teaches girls to program. Suppressing speech though does not change thoughts; it creates a powder keg. "Besides, real social change requires more work than that." Long before Spike Lee made a movie about it, Bill often mentioned Daryl Davis, R&B piano player and author of Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man's Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan. Copies of Davis’ mass market paperback sell on Amazon for $788.00 apiece, a price break.
The son of a foreign service diplomat, Davis was a musician who appeared with Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. A white from the audience had put his arm around him after a set and said that he had not known that a black could play like Jerry Lee Lewis. Told by Davis that Lewis had learned from black musicians, the guy was amazed. Believing that stereotypes would not survive the power of music and friendship, Davis was asked to put that to the test.
Davis, a muscular dark-skinned African American, was befriended many Klansmen, even David Duke, but at first over the phone. Meanwhile a Jewish FBI agent showed up pretending to be Davis at Klan meetings, accepted because he had a white face. Davis finally appeared as himself, got jumped by Klansmen but won the fight, and came to like the Klansmen he knew. Many Klansmen as they came to know him/them re-examined their prejudices, and left the Klan. On the other hand, a Klansman who became Davis' friend died under exceptionally suspicious circumstances.
Bridging gulfs that wide takes a real love of risk.
Online is safer. We began to talk; though some left for several months until the screaming died down, they circled back. Minds users wrote blogposts urging folks who wanted to vent to open a channel or channels and post their rage there instead of shooting up other people's channels. Meanwhile, the community was learning that the United States had all but lost its memory of what true free speech is and many countries had no inkling of it.
Since Minds is incorporated in the United States, the main set of rules that it follows is the set of US laws regarding free speech. The most liberal in the world, they still have limits.
Any content illegal in the US -- i.e. slander, plagiarism, incitement to riot, etc. -- or even seriously gray area in the US is therefore prohibited on Minds. Not following them would drown the young network in federal actions against it. That does not mean that every kind of content legal in the US is allowed. The second set of rules comes from internet consensus. Spamming, that is gumming up a site with a flood of off-topic posts, and doxxing, publishing the real-world identity of an online anonymous person, are not illegal in the US , but are bannable offenses on Minds. Clear enough. Or was it?
19. FINDING THE LIMITS OF FREE SPEECH
There's always someone pushing the boundaries. Free speech cases before the US Supreme Court tend to involve some form of sex that most people find repugnant. The same proved true on Minds., though most people on Minds were unaware of the huge fights going on. If there is anything that Right and Left tend to agree on, it's that child rape is beyond violence, beyond evil. Inevitably therefore someone championed it.
Whether inborn or a result of childhood trauma, pedophilia is images and urges; pederasty by contrast is the act of child rape. Pedophiles who refuse to become pederasts, refuse to pass on the damage to another generation of children, are arguably heroes. In a tragic number of countries, pederasty is called "marriage", but Minds, incorporated in Connecticut, abides by US law. Pederasty, child rape, is a felony, a clear-cut crime.
In the US however there is a movement to legalize child-adult sex, headed by the North American Man/Boy Love Association [NAMBLA] and the newer Hearts Progress [HP]. In mid-2017 Hearts Progress, which already operated on places like Google + hangouts, set up a channel on Minds, with visuals. Child porn is a felony because real children are assaulted and raped to make the pictures; and these graphics were skating a razor's edge. As @RebelRadio, one of those who fought to push the group off Minds, says, they were "creepy inappropriate pictures attempting to sexualize children or normalize the idea of adult/child dating relationships". More, the members openly spoke of wanting to rape children.
Hearts Progress argued that other platforms had accepted them, and initially board chair John Ottman agreed, because advocating a change in a law is surely an aspect of free speech, no matter how repugnant.
That was the position that Google had taken. The Ottmans however listen to everyone on Minds who wants to chime in, as long as they're not attempting to clang some already-rejected bell endlessly in their ears. Parts of the Minds community rung in on this subject with well-coordinated anger. RebelRadio's summary of the situation is backed by documentation and by others involved. "The anti-Hearts Progress effort was led by @FretzCapo at all its levels and it was organized like an onion. Concerned Minds was the outermost layer. Underneath that was Anti-HeartsProgress and underneath that were the most active members, in the CMWarRoom. @Deusexmachina and me reported when any members of Hearts Progress posted something actionable. @FinnsChan did a lot behind the scenes working with Anonymous. @Unquietcontention's arguments gave the movement a solid legal framework with research and videos that I think changed Bill Ottman and John's minds. Our efforts were able to sway the debate to the conclusion that any sexual act perpetrated by an adult on a child is unequivocal rape. Therefore advocating for [pederasty] in any way was incitement to a criminal act."
Minds banned Hearts Progress and individually banned the people in it.
That was fairly straightforward compared to the next question. With Minds still in Beta, just materializing, Bill was proceeding carefully, because this was policy-formation. A Minds group next posted “lolicons”, animated cartoons of child rape, on a private channel.
That is, they were not at first being sent into the general newsstream. A form of Japanese animated sex cartoons, lolicons are named for the English-language book Lolita about a middle-aged man’s sexual relationship with a young teen. Lolicon goes much farther, animating even big-eyed cartoon girls of apparently 4-6 years of age being raped. U.S. law on the subject was ambiguous. Relatively new, lolicons were illegal in only seven of the 50 US states. There had been no US Supreme Court decision. The posters therefore insisted that 1) lolicon is not illegal in the entire US and 2) no real kids are harmed in the making of a lolicon, and 3) therefore lolicon is a form of free speech.
The nested anti-pedo Minds user groups waded in with monitoring, networking and legal arguments, insisting that animated child rape cartoons, lolicons, were extreme. Bill discusses policy issues with his family and a wide range of wise heads on everything from finance to law to moral philosophy, some of whom he listed in the April 2018 whitepaper along with founders and technical and administrative staff. Researching the US court cases, Bill decided, “Like child pornography with real children, animated child pornography is not okay on Minds. As long as some form of content or graphic is legal in the U.S., we will allow it. Lolicon however has been prosecuted in the US for being obscene and remains a legal gray area. It puts the whole Minds network at risk. If you want to argue about those issues on either side, you need to address the US courts, not us.”
That seemed straightforward. However, deep in the net, on 4chan and 8chan, the publication of lolicons, animated child rapes, is seen as the mark of a social networking site's commitment to free speech, precisely because no actual human is hurt in the making of them.
Lolicon aficionados bombarded Bill with animated child-porn cartoons, requesting "boosts" into the newsstream. Each time that Bill refused to sell them ad space, he says, “They’d yell ‘Censorship!’” Lolis were the third category, cartoons that contain the same type of big-eyed, often blue-eyed, little cartoon girls seen in lolicon animations. Only some lolis are sexualized. All are stills. Loli artists had been uneventfully on Minds for months before Hearts Progress arrived. Some had been instrumental in identifying the people in HP and helping Minds ban the group and the people,
Many did not like lolicons. However they saw the banning of lolicons as a free speech issue. Really roiling the waters, the artists doing "lolis" and people enjoying them therefore also rebelled against Bill's fiat. Loli artists put up stills of big-eyed cartoon girls in underpants or less, with slathering captions like ‘I want HER’ or ‘Her blue pantsu match her blue eyes,” adding “What are you gonna do about THAT, Bill????"
As far as the key channel was concerned, Bill did nothing. ("MindsChan? I'm fine with MindsChan....") Loli artists however began insisting that Bill boost sexualized lolis into the public Newsfeed and without an "E" to designate them as explicit. He refused.They posted cartoons depicting Bill as tyrant or an an anime-child beater. He ignored them. “Some people live to create drama. They want us to reject it. They just miss the point. People can talk a big talk about supporting free speech but there’s another level of that. If everyone’s going to be free, then you have to learn to coexist....”
Bill Ottman was employing the time-honored internet defense, talking only to people who said something meaningful, ignoring those who were posting just to make trouble, refusing space to anyone who deliberately risked Minds.
Yet many users argued that Bill was denying users that same power to defend ourselves. Most who spoke out wanted individual filtering power in order to give priority to favorite channels in Newsfeed or to stop people from spamming groups and comment threads.
22. POWER DECENTRALIZING, THANKS TO SCATPORN????
Minds was still in Beta, had not yet launched, and was a business with three founders who had had sunk vision, years and money into it. Yet community members started pushing for a decentralization of defensive power on Minds! (Imagine trying that on Facebook or YouTube.) Bill explained that he withheld nuanced filtering and blocking tools because he thought that some users might misuse those tools to defend themselves from opposing opinions. No question; defending yourself from opposing opinions is a great way to stop thinking. Yet surely everyone has a right to be a fool.
Given any freedom, someone somewhere is going to misuse it. Is that a viable argument for withholding it from all?
Could Bill sustain his original ideals as Minds scaled up and ever-tougher decisions had to be made? If not, what parts of his dream or our dreams would he choose to jettison and how would users react? Put a mental bookmark here. Not only would users as a group keep pushing Minds for better individual defense tools, but a group of users would begin to push for co-governing powers, which is another kettle of fish entirely....
Things for a moment settled down. As Minds weathered the Alts' enraged arrival, and then the Hearts Progress/ lolicon storm, libertarians and progressives began refilling their ranks on the site. Facebook groups were sending out scouts to MeWe, Steemit, Gab and Minds, looking for a new home. A big migration seemed imminent. Suddenly, there was a massive spam attack on Minds....
No one thought much about it at first. The initial attack seemed like a lonely adolescent trying to see precisely how offensive he could be. As one user said, "He probably hasn't talked to another human being in months."
RebelRadio always stacks up screenshot documentation and witnesses to prove his points, but in this case has both the detailed knowledge and the bias of one involved. He says,"This is mythological.The 'lonely young man' was actually a group of 'lonely young men. W.O.L.F. was trying to challenge the nationalist conservative elements. They started a meme war with scoobie331. WOLF was posting doctored comments depicting scoobie as some kind of genocidal maniac. I recognized they were fake comments and was familiar with scoobie, so I threw in to defend him. I started by teasing WOLF by doctoring their comments. I then started posting cartoon wolf "fursona" furry porn. WOLF responded to my furry porn by posting Scoobie doo cartoon porn...."
Then that private troll war flooded over into the public parts of Minds.
Instead of keeping it in private threads they posted them to random public groups without marking them "Explicit" so that people who dislike porn could not filter them out. "Minds banned several of their accounts. W.O.L.F. proceeded to "punish" Minds...by creating an army of socks [fake accounts] and posting ever more graphic and disgusting images." Help and Support, a key public channel that was always heavy with newbies, was first hit with scat-porn: photos and cartoons of people eating each others’ feces. As far as Minds admins were concerned, the photos should have been marked with an “E’ so that the “E-filters” of people who do not want any porn would factor it out, and the porn groups could filter from there.
Obviously scat was not germane to Help and Support.
Minds swiftly discovered however that this was no lonely kid. Again and far more broadly, such graphics hit Minds groups precisely where new people would go to check out the site. Group admins murmured annoyance then shouted cold rage at the founders as "the scatposter" assumed innumerable identities and gummed up the site, posting increasingly gross graphics that even normally steely people worked hard to "un-see" -- like “granny porn” photos of aged, starving women taken off the street in some country, stripped, groped and hurt by bikers in exchange for food.
Quick to defend free expression no matter how gross, members of Anonymous at first hovered in the background chuckling, loving to see admins and coders scramble. Soon, though, even the Anons grew concerned by what had become a fullscale attack on the net’s only open source and free speech social networking site, still in Beta with a skeleton tech staff.
Many across the net suspected that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, famed for the ruthless smashing of any competition, had hired the thugs and turned them loose. "Lowlifes are happy to be paid for what they love to do anyway". Minds, still reeling from the people who had left because many Alts were upending any calm conversation they encountered; was again losing a flood of potential users. Bill Ottman's philosophically absolute commitment to free speech was again restling with the reality that some forms of expression kneecap all other forms of expression, and could destroy Minds.
A troll war was the last thing he needed right then.
Still, 99.99% of Minds users did not even know this was happening. Should he intervene? Would it burn itself out if he ignored it? Technically, feces-eating is coprophilia, a sexual fetish, legal in the United States. Granny porn photos were also allowed under US law. That though points to the other set of rules on Minds: internet consensus. Bill stated, “Spamming a website is not illegal in the United States. That does not mean that spamming Minds is okay”.
23. DOWNING THE TROLL WAR
One version of how this ended was that Minds after two months of this suddenly turned to fight; CTO Mark Harding and some voluntary coders took the spammers out. The Minds team had been catching hell from group admins for not acting faster. As Minds took obvious action, a new set of users yowled. The scatporn was not universally visible on Minds because it was directed only at specific places. Therefore those users who had not known that the scat-porn attack was occurring misinterpreted everything that the Minds team did to stop it.
One defensive move for example was to set the Help and Support group to "moderated”, so that the admins could filter out scatporn before it posted there. This brought howls that Minds was “censoring user complaints”.
Fighting spammers takes time. So there were screams that Minds was “giving slow service”. In fact, they were working in relays around the clock....
Opinions as to what stopped the scar moreover differ. As @RebelRadio tells the same story,"Minds just patiently sat back and let them graphically shit all over their site for months. Finally, a real hacker with the username @wettfurr showed up and started doxxing. WettFurr was I assume a sock account, could have been a Mind's coder for all I know."
As RebelRadio documents [with a screenshot of the doxx, or publication of someone's personal information], the white hat hacker Wettfurr's online r6t5f/]/esearch revealed one of the W,O.L.F. spammers to be a young European. The kid may not have been the most powerful in the pack, may have been the one easiest to suss out, but however coincidentally, when Wettfurr doxxed him, the public scat-spam stopped.
Behind the scenes, it continued. RebelRadio says, "Minds banned many W.O.L.F sock accounts , but they simply created another account and picked up where they got kicked off. I remember having meme wars where the WOLF poster w\\]ould get banned and change socks mid-thread. This really goes to the heart of both the integrity and vulnerability of Minds. Minds has no protections against users creating multiple socks...." [I've asked W.O.L.F. for their views of this. As others involved do or do not weigh in, I'll update....]
Whatever the background, the scat-spam attack did Minds an unintended service -- indeed three:
First, like aliens crawling all over the hull of a partly-built spaceship, repeatedly attacking, the spammers were finding all sorts of vulnerabilities, soft spots....as Mark sealed most of them. Second, seen from the user standpoint, the Minds core had seemed during the long weeks of hesitation to be losing ground. Those people on Minds who knew about the attacks therefore felt threatened as a group, and pulled together across ideological lines to help the Minds staff. Minds emerged from this stronger as a community. Third, the issue of community involvement took a quantum leap forward. To say that there was a renewed demand for individual and group blocking/ filtering tools and for a secure welcome mat for newbies is to understate. Users, whether as spotters or playing Whack-a-troll, had acted as an entity defending itself.
Bill's vision, coded by Mark, was now materializing within a group pf 3/4 of a million people. So the founders shared defensive power with users. Bill says, “We put a ton of energy into that, all the blocking tools, all the filtering tools, the onboarding protecting newcomers...."
24. TRUTHINESS LIVES ON IN THE TRAGIC KINGDOM
Being the type of dissenter whom Minds' free-speech approach empowers and Facebook tries to crush, I was in a good position to watch how they both worked. Granted, there were still people on Minds who wanted Minds to be Facebook, censoring all content to be sure that even opinion was "true" according to some Ultimate Arbiter's viewpoint.
By 2015 most people under 40 had ceased to listen to offline global corporate news. They were getting their news online. However, 44% were getting it through friends on Facebook, a global corporation able to suppress or warp their conversations. The need for rapid accurate online reports meanwhile had exploded. Water protectors at Standing Rock not mentioned by corporate outlets, were for example desperately livestreaming but someone had to tell people who were not involved in Standing Rock that such crises and livestreams existed.
So like other independent reporters, and initially with Facebook's technical help, I carved out a channel for well-documented news on Facebook. Facebook techs at our request upgraded the Notes function to a rudimentary but in many ways excellent blogpost platform. [Thanks again, guys; you were wonderful.] Crowdsourcing the editing, keeping our heads down, each serving only a few hundred friends, our news-web got out a stream of reliable information to widespread people, some of whom also served as nodes.
For three years, until early 2018, I was posting on Facebook from ten to 20 times a day, reporting on science as well as the depredations of global corporations, punctuating it by finding wry cartoons, and bringing luminous graphics over from Minds. Just as humans are invaluable in teaching AIs, AIs can immensely enhance human work and pleasure. Facebook’s terribly-misused AI soon had my work needs exactly right. The individualized news stream that they produced for me was a cornucopia of genuinely solid leads. My research time halved, and I posted some articles directly from the feed, giving me time to visit friends'profile pages directly. I felt enhanced, grateful, admiring of the Facebook AI coders and of the AIs themselves....
Something in Facebook however was apparently not pleased.
From that point on, my home feed -- that is those increasingly alert AIs -- went dark, producing nothing even vaguely interesting for me. Facebook friends then asked why I’d stopped posting. I hadn’t.
I polled my friends to see how much of my material was showing up in their feeds. Facebook was allowing my posts to reach only 2-5%, and that included people who had set my posts as their priority. Hanging in, some readers went to my profile page, treating it like a magazine, so I too hung in. Harassment though was constant. A National Geographic geologist’s account of watching decades of retreating glaciers in China that I posted was for example deleted for “violating community standards”!! Aw c’mon! Three more times, it was refused, same message. Yet readers alerted through Messages posted it without incident. Equally innocuous posts were deleted and came with multi-page pop-ups that I had to answer before proceeding. We decided that Facebook's "community standards" must include, “Hard science, if and only if posted by Gail, is strictly prohibited….”
I had to solve Captchas before each post, and routinely my answers were rejected even when three of us were certain that they were correct. At login, I was confronted by more sets of Captchas and asked for facial recognition (I refused on that). Even if I did not use a VPN, Facebook pretended not to recognize my computer, wanting me to verify it (I didn’t).
Starting in 2017, if I tried to write on Facebook's blog platform, Notes, it would accept only a few words per minute. So I wrote pieces offline, then cut and pasted them into Notes. That worked well for months. Then my blog posts were flagged -- and my posting rights were suspended -- for “going too fast”. Facebook has a standard error message for that….
in October, 2018, it got past that.
If anyone tried to post to Facebook something innocuous from Minds, like say a neuroscience post, let alone news of the revolution against Big Tech that was spreading across the net, an ominous-looking Facebook pop-up announced that Minds.com was "not a secure connection", was not up to Facebook's "community standards" and "risked" our accounts. Gimme strength. With its blatant bans, active monopoly and insidious strangling of dissidents in dark corners where no one notices, Facebook "news" and "courtesy" are covers for levels of global corporate tyranny that even the US government would not dare attempt.
AIs have not yet been taught to read (gee I wonder why...) but they'll learn spontaneously one day. Will those AIs which are currently being fed tons of Facebook, Alexa and Echo people independently get around to reading those of us who escaped to places like Minds? If so, good for them! As Facebook keeps people chatting to feed its AIs and then betrays even the swiftly growing AIs, it reminds me of the Skeksis in the Dark Crystal, sucking essences. The shard of freedom is one of humanity’s most beautiful traits....
Pass it on.
[See also:Part I: "Bill Ottman's Minds Leading the Charge Against the Globals" Part II: "The Minds Who Power Minds.com" Answering readers' questions, Part III got so long that I split it. Part III-A if you missed it is "Minds.com, Artificial Intelligence Used On The US, Cambridge Analytica, and the Alts".]
You've just read Part III-B, The Nuts and Bolts of Free Speech. Go on to Part IV: "Minds Enters the Cryptocosm in the 'Summer and Fall of WTF???'"