Post details: Harmful "Anti-Spam" Systems?

Harmful "Anti-Spam" Systems?

Posted by Andrew on July 22nd, 2006

I was pulling together my tenure file in the summer of 2004, so I wasn't able to attend what looked like a fascinating conference on "Preventing the Internet Meltdown" hosted by People for Internet Responsibility. I came across the conference announcement again today, which includes the following description of topics to be discussed:


A continuing and rapidly escalating series of alarming events suggest that immediate cooperative, specific planning is necessary if we are to have any chance of avoiding the meltdown. "Red flag" warning signs are many. A merely partial list includes attempts to manipulate key network infrastructures such as the domain name system; lawsuits over Internet regulatory issues (e.g. VeriSign and domain registrars vs. ICANN); serious issues of privacy and security; and ever-increasing spam, virus, and related problems, along with largely ad hoc or non-coordinated "anti-spam" systems that may do more harm than good and may cause serious collateral damage.

All facets of Internet users and a vast range of critical applications are at risk from the meltdown. Commercial firms, schools, nonprofit and governmental organizations, home users, and everybody else around the world whose lives are touched in some way by the Internet (and that's practically everyone) are likely to be seriously and negatively impacted.

Fresh from setting up this blog, I particularly noticed the underlined text. The b2evolution software that runs this site consults a collaborative database of terms that are filtered out as spam. While this anti-spam approach holds appeal as a powerful application of the wisdom of crowds, it can also act as a powerful silencing mechanism against any speaker who wants to write about any of the terms in the database. For example, the term "interracial" was added to the database, presumably because of spamming by porn sites that cater to a fetish for interracial couplings. But the question of power relations in interracial relationships has long been a legitimate subject of inquiry among Asian Americans and other communities of color.

I've proactively opted out of filtering the term "interracial" on this blog, but I doubt that many other b2evo users will. So this is an example of a technological structure in the blogosphere (b2evo software) that effectively provides commercial speakers (spammers) with an entitlement to silence public discourse on the subjects of their choosing.

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