Patriot Hacker The Jester’s Libyan Psyops Campaign


Is the Jester, a patriotic hacker better known for bringing down allegedly jihadist websites, injecting fake news strories about Libya to demoralize Gaddafi’s forces? Anthony Freed of infosec reckons so. Very good piece, and opens up all sorts of interesting avenues for dark hacktivism.

Hoodiephobia, Or We Don’t Lie to Google

Boris johnson the knight

Does what we search for online reflect our fears?

There’s a growing obsession in the UK, it would seem, with ‘hoodies’—young people who wear sports clothing with hoods who maraud in gangs. Michael Caine has just starred in a movie about them (well, a revenge fantasy about them.) This Guardian piece explores the movie-making potential of this phenomenon.

Recently a female documentary film maker was saved from a group of iron bar-wielding “feral girls” by the bike-riding mayor of London (I’ve always wanted to write the headline for the story).

So is this “growing fear” reflected online?

Well, yes, it is.

Here’s what a graph of British people searching for ‘hoodies’ looks like:


As you can see, it’s been a growing interest, more than doubling in the past five years.

But it’s also showing a weird seasonal element. Interest drops off in the summer months, and then rises towards the end of the year. Every year for the past five years, searches have peaked in either December or November. The lowest point each year is June or July.

I don’t know why that is. One guess would be that in the summer attacks tail off. It would be interesting to see if there’s any correlation there with the actual figures on attacks. (Update: Commenters have rightly pointed out that the seasonal interest probably has more to do with online shoppers. Thanks, and sorry for not thinking of this.)

The Guardian piece quotes research by the group Women in Journalism back in March as finding that, among other things, 79% of adults are more wary of teenage boys than they were a year ago, and that the most commonly used descriptions of such boys in the UK press were ‘yobs’ and ‘thugs’ followed by ‘sick’, ‘feral’, ‘hoodies’ and ‘louts’ (PDF version of the report is here.)

Online, however, the trend is clearer: ‘Hoodie’ (light blue) is the preferred search term, and has been since late 2006, replacing the ‘thug’ and ‘scum’ of the mid 2000s:


I don’t know whether this is meaningful, but another word used to describe this perceived underclass of British use is ‘chav’, a term of obscure origin. Compare searches for the words ‘chav’ and ‘hoodie’ and you see this:


Clearly the word ‘chav’ (in red) was most popular—or one that people were hearing but not familiar with, and so needed to look it up—in late 2004. It has been in decline since then and has indeed been overtaken by ‘hoodie’ (in blue):


I don’t know whether this is meaningful or not. Wikipedia cites ‘chav’ as common parlance by 2004 (unfortunately Google’s data does not go further back than that, but the rise in 2004 is clear.)

I tend to believe that Google searches are as revealing as anything else about what people are interested in, or worried about—indeed more so than surveys, because people don’t lie to Google.

Satellites to the Rescue

Satellite image of Muzaffarabad region of Pakistan showing landslides caused by the 2005 south Asian earthquake. Map created on 13 October 2005

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation on how satellites and space technology are helping, and might help, in the case of big medical emergencies, from earthquakes to Ebola. It’s a slightly different tack for me and perhaps not the usual fare for loose wire blog, but I thought I’d throw it in here anyway.

When former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was seen leaving a conference in Geneva in November 2005 clutching maps of the south Asia earthquake disaster, it was evidence that satellites – as a key weapon in humanitarian emergencies – had arrived.

In the hours and days after the October 8 quake struck killing more than 73 000 people and injuring some 150 000, experts from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United Nations scrambled to gather and interpret images data from satellites to assist rescue workers on the ground from local authorities to nongovernmental organizations (NGO), like Télécoms Sans Frontières.

WHO | Space technology: a new frontier for public health

Art, the Internet and the Rise of Symbiosis

Great piece from the NYT on the decline of mystery and the rise of symbiosis for artists, who find there’s a living of sorts to be made by engaging with fans online and allowing the community that emerges to choose the direction their musical careers take — even to the point of how much to charge for their creations. But it leaves some doubts:

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“I vacillate so much on this,” Tad Kubler told me one evening in March. “I’m like, I want to keep some privacy, some sense of mystery. But I also want to have this intimacy with our fans. And I’m not sure you can have both.”

Citizen Monitors

I like the idea of this: Using ordinary folk to monitor elections, via SMS from their cellphone. And it seems to have worked.

Nigeria used a system called FrontlineSMS, developed by UK-based to keep track of all of the texts. Some 54 trained associates recruited volunteers to invite as many people as possible via text message to participate in monitoring the elections.

Why might this work? Well, usually election monitors are highly visible, because they’re foreign, or they’re wearing clothes that mark them clearly as monitors, all of which may reduce fraud in front of them, but doesn’t help to actually identify fraud. As the report (no link available yet) from the Network of Mobile Election Monitors concludes:

Our monitoring is peculiar because people knew that if they try to rig the election there could be someone behind them that may send a text message reporting the incident.

In total over 10,000 messages were received covering reports of harassment, orderliness, stuffing of ballot boxes and poor voter turnout. The team concluded that there was extensive fraud and rigging in the election.

What I like about the system is that it’s not a typical election monitoring exercise, where monitors go in and view the process according to foreign templates and established norms. The free-form nature of the text messages received, and the ability of the monitoring team to ask follow up questions of participants revealed something more important than merely gauging whether the election was free and fair. It (apparently) revealed the underlying mood of the populace for peace and compromise. Asked for their reaction to the result

While about a fifth of our respondents wanted the results cancelled, the majority (about 80%) reacted that Nigeria could not afford cancellation and re-run.


LinkedIn to Attention Streams

TechCrunch spots a new feature on LinkedIn, the business network service, that allows people to see who has been looking at their profile. Commenters liken it to MyBlogLog and call it a social networking feature, which is true, but only part of the story. I’d say it is also an example of an early foray into the world of attention data. From the point of the person doing the viewing, who they view and what they click on would be the kind of information that would feed into an attention stream (i.e. outgoing data) and go to tailoring the content of that person’s data feed (i.e. the incoming information):

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Users choose what information they’d like to disclose when viewing a profile (name and headline, anonymous profile characteristiscs, or don’t show any info). The default choice is the anonymous profile information.

The Unintentional Narcissism of Plaxo

Plaxo is beginning to irritate people again. Now it’s David Weinberger, who is back to hating Plaxo:

Today I hate it again. I got an update notice from someone and noticed that my own info was out of date. So I took the seemingly innocuous step of updating my phone number.

Lo and behold, Plaxo apparently took that as a command to send mail to everyone in my address book (actually, I don’t know whose address book) that I have new info that they simply must attend to. I am, I seem, an inadvertent Plaxo spammer and unintentional narcissist.

What’s interesting here is the thread that follows: The tireless Stacy Martin, Plaxo’s privacy officer, jumps into the fray to try to explain what has happened. I don’t envy Stacy’s job: While Plaxo may not mean to be intrusive, and in David’s case didn’t behave quite as badly as he’d originally suspected, it clearly hasn’t fully addressed the issues that were irritating users two years ago.

The crucial thing here, I think, is not so much privacy of data as giving the user full control over how they present themselves to others. I get several requests from Plaxo users every month, and I ignore all of them. But how many of those requests are sent with the full knowledge and understanding of the user? Not many, I suspect. These folk’s public image — how they appear to all their contacts — is being largely determined by a piece of software.

Pretty much everyone is going to have in their contact database a range of folk from close friends to important sources you’re careful not to overburden with casual contact. What you don’t want a contact updater to be doing is to start sending out emails on your behalf without you being in full and easily comprehensible control. If someone like David can’t figure out the process and ends up feeling like an “unintentional narcissist”, what chance do the rest of us have?

Reaping The Whirlwind Of Spam Rage

A painful story of what can happen when you let your spam rage get the better of you.

Rachel Buchman was a reporter with National Public Radio affiliate WHYY when she tried to get off a mailing list from conservative for-profit company, according to a piece she wrote for the Philadelphia Weekly.

More annoying than the emails themselves is the frightening inability to get off the lists that generate them. I tried to unsubscribe from’s e-newsletter list. It didn’t work. Then I began deleting the emails. Eventually, I felt forced to contact them directly.

I called the number at the bottom of the last email I received.

An answering machine picked up. I was incensed that I wasn’t going to finally get to ask a real person to remove me from the list. The answering machine asked the caller to leave a name and number, and without thinking, that’s what I did.

The message she left included not only her name and number but “called the staff at horrible people and wished their children ill”. She writes, “It was a terrible message, and I apologize to anyone I offended.” (If you really need to read what she said in full, carries it. (There’s an interesting piece from the Blue Lemur here on the incident, and LaptopLobbyist itself.)

A few days later all hell broke loose as the head of called to tell her he’d be campaigning to have her fired. “The man said I represented the “liberal media,” and that I therefore had no right to report the news.” He turned the voicemail into an mp3 file (not sure if it’s still active) and “sent it out to the people on the company’s list, the media and my employer. He’d post it to later in the week.”

Although Buchman was asked by her boss to give an apology, which she said she would gladly do, “the apology wasn’t brought up at work the next day when my professional relationship with WHYY ended.” No futher explanation is given, although some accounts say she quit before she was fired.  “Nothing takes away what I did or what I said. I acted in anger, and that was wrong,” she writes. “But actively seeking to destroy my life and career was not warranted.”

I can’t help feeling sorry for Buchman. A dumb thing it was that she did, but I’ve yelled at people on the phone before (sorry staff from banks, electricity companies, airlines, phone companies, and relatives) and said things I probably shouldn’t have said. Let’s hope no one recorded them. Oh, and I hope those she’s offended accept her apologies and that she finds another job.

Whistling In The Dark

OK, this is not tech related but I’d like to know the answer. What exactly does ‘whistling in the dark’ mean? I found several different definitions (not including sexual ones. This is a family blog):

Can it be that the expression means different things in different places?

News: Six Degrees Reborn

 I think Friendster is probably a more dynamic version of this experiment, but it’s interesting anyway. Duncan J. Watts, author and Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia, has launched an experiment to update the 1967 findings of social psychologist Stanley Milgram who coined the phrase ‘six degrees of separation’ by testing the hypothesis that members of any large social network would be connected to each other through short chains of intermediate acquaintances.
The test is basically to give folk a package and ask them to pass it onto someone who could deliver it by hand to the addressee. They then hand it onto someone they know who may be more likely to know that person, or someone who knows that person, etc etc. As Watts points out, Milgram’s experiment was flawed, and didn’t really prove the hypothesis. So it could be interesting. Sign up if you want to participate.
My tupennies worth: As Malcom Gladwell’s excellent “The Tipping Point” points out not all people are equal. Some folk know no-one (me) and some know everybody (my friends Grainne and Ditta) so in my case I’d just give the package to them.