Friday, August 15, 2014

Oh, look, the hackorrists at Anonymous fucked up. Again.

I can't stand the term "hacktivist." "Hackorrist" would be more befitting a group like Anonymous. So Anonymous screwed up and put the wrong officer's life in danger in the Ferguson shooting incident.

Let me remind you that I'm not a fan of the police by any means. I support sites like Cop Block. I protested the FOP convention in my city of residence last summer. I also live in a city that has had an issue with race relations. Living in the hood for a few years, I understand the difficulty in trying to maintain peace between the races (both sides have their beliefs about the races and can be racist). It is a volatile situation.

However, in a sensitive incident like the Ferguson MO shooting, it is helpful to have the right info, given that rioting and civil unrest has occurred there.

In the midst of this, some members of Anonymous (because they aren't a collective unit but a bunch of dumbasses using the same group name) proudly proclaimed a man by the name of Bryan Willman was the officer who killed the black teenager in Ferguson:

A Twitter account associated with the hacktivist collective Anonymous said on Thursday that they've named the officer who killed Brown, 18, over the weekend, and have posted photographs purported to be of the man.

Law enforcement has thus far been unwilling to publicize the name of the officer involved in the shooting death despite calls from the public and press alike. Hackers and activists affiliated with the internationally-dispersed Anonymous collective have vowed to disclose the cop’s identity if officials declined to do so on their own, however, and on Thursday said that Willman is the officer responsible.

“St. Louis County PD claims Bryan Willman doesn't work for them or #Ferguson PD. We'll see about that,” TheAnonMessage Twitter account tweeted early Thursday.

Moments later at 11:00 am CST, the same account posted screenshots alleged to have come from Willman’s personal Facebook account earlier this week, and outted him as the shooter.

“But the job title says it all. Guessing everyone is forgetting about that,” responded a follower.

“You have a good point. All changed!!” replied Willman.

Earlier Thursday, the official Twitter account for the St. Louis County Police Department declined that Willman was an employee of either their office or the Ferguson PD...

Hacktivists involved in the Anonymous campaign known as #OpFerguson told RT’s Andrew Blake on Thursday that they would continue to steadily release information about the officer they believe to have killed Brown, and promised to post his address and other personal information later in the day if law enforcement failed to name the officer on their own.

When asked if the collective is confident they’ve identified the shooter, one Anon answered: “They shouldn't leave anyone to guess. Period.”

“The US government misfires and accidentally kills citizens all the time, especially overseas, and no one bats an eye. But if a wrong name is released because THEY refuse to release one? That's cool, because we don't have the data they do,” one Anon involved in #OpFerguson told Blake.

Of course, it has been later revealed that the officer at the center of this controversy is named Darren Wilson, and that the shooting victim was actually the prime suspect on a strong-arm robbery, and that was the impetus for the confrontation that led to Mike Brown's death. Feelings on this incident aside, my focus is on the fact that Anonymous members claimed the wrong man was responsible for Mike Brown's death. Even though I'm no fan of cops, the act of publishing this man's name and personal info while proclaiming the man to be a racist killer has potentially disastrous consequences.

While the Washington Post seems reluctant to criticize Anonymous even after their major gaffe, the New York Times was far more critical of the group:

Members of Anonymous — the shadowy, snide international collective of hackers and online activists — have played a key role in the growing confrontation outside St. Louis over Mr. Brown’s death, goading and threatening the authorities, and calling the effort Operation Ferguson.

Operations in the collective’s decade-long history have included taking down the World Cup website to protest poverty, helping identify assailants in a rape case in Ohio, cheering on the Occupy Wall Street movement and carrying out coordinated cyberassaults on repressive foreign governments. But this one ran into trouble faster than most.

The St. Louis police said on Twitter that the name given out was wrong, and that the man was not even a police officer. Within Anonymous there was an unusual amount of dissent. In interviews, in private chat channels and on Twitter, members accused those who had initially posted details of producing faulty information and putting one another in harm’s way by openly chatting about their methods online.

On Thursday, Twitter suspended @TheAnonMessage, the account that had posted the dubious information about the officer, although Twitter officials declined to say why. Those behind the account said in an email that they would post information from a backup account, @TheAnonMessage2, while other Twitter accounts affiliated with Anonymous tried to distance themselves from the post.

“But for the record, one last time. Operation Ferguson has NOT, repeat NOT released the name of Mike Brown’s killer, nor have we claimed to,” the individual behind the Operation Ferguson account said on Twitter.

Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist who studies Anonymous and teaches at McGill University in Montreal, said she was taken aback that members of Anonymous would be so quick to release unverified information, and would speak so openly about their methods in online chat channels.

“My jaw was dropping,” Ms. Coleman said, reading members’ communications. “I was surprised because what I was seeing was suggestive but not definitive. Anonymous tends to care about its image quite a bit, and if they were wrong, it would be really bad.”

In private chat channels early Thursday, she said, members argued about the release of a photo of a man who resembled one of the officers at the scene of Mr. Brown’s shooting...

Members assert that the organization is not a group but a loose collective working to advance similar ideals — but sometimes contradictory ones. While Anonymous espouses privacy, its members also use the release of others’ personal information as a tactic in cases where they believe the authorities are not acting in the public interest, or the news media has not released pertinent information. Members are quick to condemn any individual who claims to speak for the entire collective, and dissent and infighting are common.

Members also sought to explain the internal bickering and uncoordinated communications.

“For those new to Anonymous, it’s a global collective of millions of autonomous individuals and groups,” an Operation Ferguson post on Twitter said. “Each is responsible for themselves only.”...

Some members were desperate in their pleas this week that the man’s photo not be released until more definitive information had been gathered. Ultimately, some members held a vote and decided to release the photo.

But within hours, many had backtracked. Some openly said the “dox” — a hacking term for the release of an individual’s personal information — had been wrong. “The original dox were faulty, it happens, an excess of zeal,” one Anonymous member said in a direct message on Twitter.

The infighting seemed to have taken its toll. Those behind the @TheAnonMessage2 account, who were behind the initial disclosures, had grown considerably more circumspect.

I do find it ironic that Anonymous, a group that loves anonymity, uses public disclosure of info that should be private as an intimidation tactic. It is just like a certain public registry.

It makes me wonder how often Anonymous messes things up, like that time they accused Amy Lee of Evanescence of being "pro-pedophile".

Anonymous is full of people who are smart with computers but dumb with much of everything else in life. The term for such people is "idiot savant."

I prefer to just say they fucked up.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The people's voice is angry: Outcry over sex offender's release fires up social media — but when does the fire get out of control?

So when do those idiotic rants from online vigilantes cross the line? Apparently, they can say a LOT before they are taken sriously.

The people's voice is angry: Outcry over sex offender's release fires up social media — but when does the fire get out of control?

By Sarah Tisinger

MUSCATINE, Iowa — When a 23-year-old Muscatine man convicted of lascivious acts with a child was released from prison after serving  four years of a 15-year sentence, the People of Muscatine exploded.

The outrage began after a July 30 post that appeared on the People of Muscatine Facebook page began taking on a life of its own. The post by the page's administrator was asking about the release of Robert A. Howard from prison. Howard was sentenced to prison in 2010 after being found guilty of sexually abusing his girlfriend's baby son.

It didn't take long before responses to the post included death threats, graphic descriptions of bodily mutilation, and even jokes about Howard's arrest. The anger wasn't directed entirely at Howard. One post said that the child's mother should be "stomped." Another person, who posted a defense of Howard, was the target of outrage: "I guess Jessica needs to have her baby molested by this [man] to feel different."

The original post, and others after it, generated several hundred comments, nearly 50,000 views, and attracted the attention of  KWQC-TV, who reported on Howard's release under the headline, "Child sex offender released early from prison."

What got lost in the public's outcry was the fact that Howard's release wasn't really early. He was released exactly when the law allowed.

The case began in 2010 when Howard, then 19, was charged with second-degree sexual abuse and child endangerment following a confession in which he admitted sexually abusing his girlfriend's 17-month-old boy.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison on the charges. The charges were punishable by up to 30 years in prison and he was not eligible for parole until he served at least 17 1/2 of those years.

However, Howard appealed the charges and the case eventually ended up in the Iowa Supreme Court, where the judges granted him a new trial because, according to court documents, "The Detective promised leniency for a confession, which was admitted during trial. The State failed to establish Howard was not prejudiced by the erroneous admission of his confession. Accordingly, the error was not harmless, and Howard is entitled to a new trial on the charge of child endangerment."

During the new trial, Howard pleaded guilty to the amended charges of lascivious acts with a child and child endangerment causing injury. He was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He served four of those years at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility, a medium security institution designed for the treatment of men with character disorders, substance offenses, and sexual offenders.

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren said that Howard was not released early but received credit for time served after his arrest in January 2010, and also received earned time, as per Iowa code. 

"He will have essentially served the maximum time allowed under the rules for credit for earned time — 1.1 days of credit for every day served. He will be on supervised release for the remainder of his life. He will also have to register as a sex offender," said Ostergren.

Ardyth Orr, captain with the Muscatine Sheriff's Office, has handled county sex offender cases since 2009 and said that as far as prison time goes, Howard spent more time than most. 

"What we see coming out of the Department of Corrections is that inmates are serving about 10 percent of the time they're sentenced to. I think that's something people don't realize," said Orr, who believes that the prisons are simply full so the DOC is granting earned time. "When you're the victim of any crime you want them to spend incarceration time that they were sentenced; it's very confusing to people."

The fact that Howard served what the law said he had to hasn't caused cooler heads to prevail online though. But, according to Lt. Jeff Jirak of the Muscatine Police Department, while people have to right to say what they want on social media, they should exercise caution.

"In all of our cases, we have to corroborate what people are saying, especially if it's over social media," said Jirak. "It's unlikely we would base a charge solely on what's being said on social media. Anybody can put anything out there; we try to police it the best we can but we have limitations. We certainly are interested in any death threats and assaultive behavior."

When contacted by the Journal for a response to the furor generated over the initial post, the page's administrator did not wish to be quoted for the story by name. But in a July 31 post, he did warn users to watch what they say: "Note: I take no responsibility of what happens from this post. I'm not the person wishing harm on this man. You guys can argue amongst yourselves but please don't make this page the cause of any actions after this posting. Some of you should probably watch what you type here."

Some Facebook users have made posts claiming to have seen Howard in Muscatine, even posting the vehicle description and license plate number of the car he was believed to have been seen in and the restaurants he visited. Howard's most recent registration on the Iowa sex offender registry has him listed as living in Clinton.

However, since the posters were not following Howard and he was in the public view, this behavior isn't legally considered stalking, harassment or defamation of character. 

Orr said sex offenders are still allowed to spend the night in places other than their registered counties. 

"I tell the offenders if they're going to be gone for three or four days, they should report it to me. The law is to report anything longer than five business days," said Orr. "It's best for the offender and for the community. That way everyone is on the same playing field. The crime [Howard] was found guilty of does not have living restrictions. He may have some employment restrictions and can't loiter outside the library or go to the public swimming pool. But he can live right next to any one of those."

As for what the public is allowed to do when it comes to sex offenders? They can remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to the police. They can keep a close watch on their own children and teach them to steer clear of strangers. They can keep tabs on where sex offenders live. But taking the law into their own hands puts them at risk of having the cuffs slapped on those hands.

"As the law reads, there has to be specific examples of harassing the person directly," said Jirak of people's actions toward Howard so far. "I may or may not like what happened to this individual, that's not for me to say, but he has rights now that he's out [of prison]. With those rights, doesn't he have protection from someone threatening his life? Nobody in this country has the legal right to threaten another person's life."