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Recent Society articles from Daily Dot

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    Former Green Bay Packers safety Leroy Butler woke up Monday morning excited to see that Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran of the NBA, had come out publicly as a gay man in America. 

    Butler was so moved, in fact, that he jumped on Twitter to address his adulation. 

    Harmless tweet, right? A message all sorts of professional athletes and public figures sent out on Monday. 

    But Butler's little tweet evidently carried big ramifications. He took to Twitter a day later to explain everything that went down.

    "Wow, I was schedule[d] to speak at a church in WI, and a member said that the pastor wants to cancel my event," he wrote. "I said 'Ok, why?' Then I was told [it was] because I said congrats to Jason Collins on Twitter."

    Collins added that the two parties had a contract but the church told him to "check the moral cause."

    "The fee was $8,500. I was told if I removed the tweet, and apologized[d] and ask God forgiveness, I can have the event," he wrote. "I said no." 

    Image via Leroy Butler/Facebook


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    Barry West thinks the best way to wink at a Muslim is to swing a double-barreled shotgun in his face.

    The Coffee County, Tennessee, commissioner spread that message on Facebook with this delightful image:

    That sparked a swift online activism campaign, and now West says he's the victim.

    West's post was quickly discovered by the American Center for Outreach, a Tennessee nonprofit that works to improve relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims in the state—something Tennessee desperately needs. In 2011, lawmakers proposed banning Shariah, Islamic law, with a haphazard bill that religious leaders said was so broad it actually might ban Islam entirely. A year later, a new Mosque in Murfreesboro was subject to an onslaught of vandalism, arson, and bomb threats.

    On its own Facebook page, the nonprofit immediately fought back against West's Islamophobia."This is a hate filled post targeted at Muslims and is not acceptable from anyone, let alone someone holding a public office!" the organization wrote.

    At its urging, the group's followers flooded his office and the mayor's office with phone calls.

    West felt the heat, and he didn't like it. The whole thing was a misunderstanding. It was unfair, he told a local paper: "[N]o I did not create this picture … yes I shared it … so why am I being singled out?"

    He didn't help his case when he laid his prejudices bare in another interview: “I’m prejudiced against anyone who’s trying to tear down this country, Muslims, Mexicans, anybody,” he told the Tullahoma News. “If you come into this country illegally or harm us or take away benefits, I’m against it.”

    County Coffee mayor David Pennington took notice, too. In a statement issued late Tuesday, he tried to distance himself as far as possible from West: "As the Mayor of Coffee County I apologize to the Muslim people. I have no control over what the commissioners do outside of public meetings. I personally wouldn't have done it, I have a great relationship with the Muslim community."

    West has since deleted the image. But he still hasn't apologized.

    Photo via the American Center for Outreach/Facebook


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    A student at the University of Wyoming is accused of interfering with a police investigation after allegedly sending a rape threat to herself.

    Campus police have evidence that a post appearing on the Facebook page UW Crushes, in which the anonymous poster wrote about wanting to "hatefuck Meg Lanker Simons (sic) so bad," was actually posted by Lanker-Simons herself. While the post has been removed from Facebook, it was screencapped and shared on Imgur.

    Lanker-Simons responded to the post, saying it should remain live to be made and example of. Her husband also appeared to respond, according to the Daily Caller.

    The post sparked an on-campus protest against rape culture, at which Lanker-Simons was a speaker and called out the anonymous poster. One organizer of the protest claimed the rally was fighting "the way rape culture becomes fostered among students.”

    The university said Lanker-Simons received a citation due to alleged false statements she made to its police department. University police determined the post was made using her computer while it was in her possession.

    Lanker-Simons was also the plaintiff in an unrelated 2010 lawsuit against the university. School officials tried to block activist Bill Ayers from appearing on campus. A federal judge said the university could not stop Ayers from speaking.

    Lanker-Simons is scheduled to appear in Albany County Circuit Court later this month. Her attorney said she will plead not guilty, according to local paper Laramie Boomerang, and she asserted the same on her Tumblr account. If found guilty of the misdemeanor charge, Lanker-Simons faces up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

    At first, the university offered assistance to Lanker-Simons and condemned the Facebook post. "No student should have to deal with such threatening language,” it said in a statement. While that tone changed slightly following the investigation, the school said the incident should not detract from its goal of making everyone on campus feel safe.

    “This episode has sparked an important discussion reaffirming that the UW community has no tolerance for sexual violence or violence of any type. The fact that the Facebook post apparently was a fabrication does not change the necessity for continued vigilance in assuring that we have a campus where everyone feels safe,” UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said. “It’s important that this event does not undermine the progress that has been made in this area.”

    The school will surely be keeping a close eye on the replacement page for UW Crushes, snappily titled UW Crushes 2.0.

    Photo via Meg Lanker-Simons/Tumblr


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    Wikipedia found itself squirming uncomfortably last week after charges of systemic sexism drew heat from media outlets across the world and sparked widespread outrage on social media. 

    Yet according to the head of Wikimedia, the nonprofit that runs the encyclopedia, the whole sexism kerfuffle shows the system actually works

    In a New York Times op-ed, American novelist Amanda Filipacchi exposed how the site's volunteer editors were segregating women out of its American novelists category and into their own Wikipedia ghetto, a so-called "American women novelists" subgroup. There was no corresponding section for male novelists.

    In a statement earlier today, Sue Gardner (who describes herself as a "feminist Wikipedian") admitted she sympathized with the widespread outrage following Filipacchi's discovery. "I agree with many of the criticisms that have been raised," she wrote, "as I think many Wikipedians do." 

    Wikipedia already officially discourages the behavior Filipacchi observed, Gardner emphasized: Editors are not supposed to categorize on gender or race, unless it's specifically relevant to the topic at hand. That was in fact the very justification Wikipedians had been using: That American women novelists are a subject of special academic interest, and therefore deserve special treatment on Wikipedia.

    That was an incorrect interpretation of the rule, Gardner suggested. But it did not indicate entrenched sexism at the encyclopedia. 

    Wikipedia is continually downsizing its massive categories and "moving out the women from American Novelists would surely have been followed by moving out the satirical novelists, or the New York novelists, or the Young Adult novelists," Gardner wrote.

    I’d argue it’s still an inappropriate thing to do, because women are 50 percent of the population, not a variant to the male norm. Nevertheless the move needs to be understood not as an attack on women, but rather, in the context of continuous efforts to refine and revise all categories.

    Here, Gardner begins backing herself into a corner of contradictions. She claims Wikipedians are "a vastly more diverse group than the staff of any newsroom or library or archive, past or present." That statement is demonstrably false: Wikipedia is overwhelmingly young, white, and male. Its users are as diverse as the readership of Maxim.

    Yes, Wikipedia officially discourages categorization based on gender, and yes, Wikipedians misunderstood that rule as they shuttered women novelists into their own subsection. Of course, Gardner, as a woman, understands that such behavior is unacceptable. That's the crux of the problem: There simply aren't enough people like Gardner who can point out when the boys do something stupid on Wikipedia. 

    Sexism doesn't always manifest in the form of raving misogynistic rants or harassment campaigns (like the one Wikipedians launched against Filipacchi after her article published). It is arguably more insidious and damaging when it surfaces in subtle and systemic instances of discrimination, as it did in this most recent controversy.

    "In this instance the system worked," Gardner writes. "Filipacchi saw something on Wikipedia that she thought was wrong. She drew attention to it. Now it’s being discussed and fixed. That’s how Wikipedia works."

    If that's the system, then it's broken. Women should have never been cut from that list. And they probably wouldn't have, if only more than 10 percent of editors on the biggest encyclopedia in history were women in the first place.

    Photo by fletching/Flickr


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    Taunt Anonymous at your own risk. 

    One Australian teenager took to Twitter and public Anon site CyberGuerrilla to write post after post calling the site administrator for the hacktivist hub a "f**king c*nt."

    What happened to him next was predictable. Gruesome, but predictable.

    His real name revealed. His address. His phone number. His parents' names. His gamer IDs, his hacker IDs. His school (and an admission he'd tried and failed to crack the firewall). An article on his own illegal hacking that he'd appeared in under a pseudonym, with his face blotted out: it didn't matter; they found it. They found it all, including his age: 14 if you believe the article, but 16 if you believe his post in Hackforums. 

    And a list of his hopes and dreams:

    My plans for the future is to finish school and get a degree in a computer course. I hope i'll still be around on Hack Forums. I plan travel the world, and seeing places i've always wanted to see. I've still got a lot to learn in life, as i;m just only 16 years old. I know that i'll be going through things in life that i don't want to. But it is for the good...

    I'm going through this stage right now, where I seem to care about everything. I know this might not mean a lot to you guys, but it really means heaps to me. 

    And then, a screenshot of him begging for mercy. The last we saw of "Skyline," he was begging Anonymous to remove the dox and offering to donate to the very pregnant wife of w0rmer, an incarcerated member of LulzSec.

    Screenshot via Picturepush

    After that (yes, they kept going) they hacked his Twitter account. For the last 20 hours or so, the group has been relentlessly posting things to make him look and feel even worse (if that was even possible). In one of the several posts about this on CyberGuerrilla, hacker crew ro0ted rubbed salt in his wounds:

    Address confirmed. #ro0ted #Anonymous Runs your shit. You are just a lil kid. you lack knowledge. We are legion. You are Skid. Expect us. When you test us, we test you. You think Remote Admin. Tools is hacking? You think shell booters is hacking? You thinking taking skype accounts is hacking? You will always be a skid. 04/27/13 is the date #ro0ted & #Anonymous put an end to #Skyline/Siegew0w. You are expired. Should of expected us sooner. ~ Adapt. Overcome. Root.

    A Skid is a "script kiddie," someone incapable of writing his own code, who simply copy/pastes and runs the code developed by others, but still calls himself a hacker. "Remote Admin. Tools," or RAT, is what enables the nefarious to spy on you through your own webcam. Ro0ted is one of the most famous, long-running hacker crews in the world: Today it celebrates its 10th anniversary. It's as if Darth Vader just walked into kindergarten and started spanking a kid.

    The Daily Dot talked to Doemela, the administrator of the CyberGuerrilla site, about how it all started. It's important to know that CyberGuerrilla is one of those websites that advocates strongly, even dogmatically, against censorship and refuses to delete contents. I know: I tried to get them to delete an article of mine that had been scraped and posted in its entirety, to no avail. As you can see from the "Anonymous" quote at the top of the article, Skyline taunted Doemela, posting insults and saying he'd continue to post insults until CyberGuerrilla took down his dox. We all know how well that worked out.

    Doemela explained on Twitter: "Started with some1 posted a dox and than the person want that I delete that from my site April 28, 2013 - 2:32 am they are stil. Thats in the first or other post's thought it was for trolling somebody and say or act as a 'I am l33t H4xor.' Fun thing is I told it would happen "Ur entered the hive now" the crying can begin." And so it did.

    The kid's crimes? Apparently nothing more than an inflated perception of his own hacker skills; copping to stealing other gamers' game coins; an obnoxious, teenagerish manner; and really, really poor target selection.
     

    Image via the-g-uk/Flickr


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    At a time when even the CIA has trouble keeping its secrets from hackers, can anyone truly be anonymous online?

    That's the question being posed to Hacker News readers. One of their own has created a page they claim is truly anonymous and challenging their peers to connect the page to his or her identity.

    "Today, to host a piece of content on the Internet, you must link your identity to the content on some level," writes voidnull. "This is most prominent with social networks such as Facebook and Google+, but even to host an anonymous blog on a free service such as WordPress.com or Tumblr is not trivial."

    But voidnull, a user handle created just two days ago, thinks he or she has found the way to protect their identity online. Voidnull explains the process in greater detail on the plain HTML page, but essentially they used a secure shell over Tor to conceal their online actions, then registered with Super Dimension Fortress (SDF) to host the site. Unlike most hosting sites which require an email address or credit card to host a url, SDF merely needs $1 sent through the mail to validate the web page.

    The result, voidnull argues, is a completely secure website.

    "If you think there is a way that this page could be linked to my identity, I challenge you to send me a postcard to my mailing address with the content that says 'I see you voidnull' and a self-addressed postage-paid envelope," voidnull writes.

    Voidnull isn't offering much by way of a prize, merely $10 to the first person who correctly identifies him or her. But really, this challenge seems to be more about bragging rights anyway. In comments on Hacker News, voidnull professes to be an ardent fan of SDF's services and claims to be doing this as a "publicity stunt" purely of his or her own volition.

    Now a massive online manhunt, the likes of which we haven't seen in nearly three weeks, is underway. Hacker News users have already pitched a lot of ideas for nailing down voidnull's identity, from analyzing the website's text to locating the registration envelope.

    "Isn't the way to get through this is to start running a lot of Tor nodes and hope to trap voidnull?" writes loumf. "If so, don't we think that those that care about breaking Tor are doing this?"

    But in an update to his or her original challenge, voidnull said this method would be "somewhat problematic, as I also only access resources as voidnull over HTTPS." In that same update, voidnull also dismissed the theory that he or she could be connected through their Hacker News username, since an email is not required for registration.

    Others, however, aren’t as concerned with discovering voidnull's identity as they are with disproving their premise. Many have pointed out other ways one can conceal their identity online without SDF.

    "If Wordpress.com accepts Bitcoin, couldn't you just acquire some Bitcoins not tied to your personal ID (you can use Moneygram with fake information and route it through mixers, buy them offline, etc.), and utilize Tor/Tor Services to set up the account, and give them fake information?" writes ssharp.

    But as others have pointed out that using fake information to acquire bitcoins would be an act of fraud, as where voidnull's solution seems to be "100 percent legal."

    As it stands right now, no one has successfully cracked the case. In an update on his or her website, voidnull denies being Stephen M Jones or Martin Naskovski, two names that were circulated among Hacker News commenters. He also apologized to Raul Díaz, the owner of the unaffiliated voidnull.com domain, who may be recieving some unexpected mail over the next few days.

    Photo by ginnerobot/Flickr


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    "Exclusive: Terror is striking the #USA and #Obama is Shamelessly in Bed with Al-Qaeda," the official 60 Minutes Twitter account posted in April, sending CBS scrambling to remove the tweet.

    "Do you think Saudi and Qatar should keep funding armed gangs in Syria in order to topple the regime? ‪#Syria‬," asked Al Jazeera's account in July last year, a message also taken down quickly.

    For the past two years, at least until last week's terrifying snafu, the hacker group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army has been but a pest for most Westerners, doing little more than seizing the occasional news feed's Twitter account. The SEA stood out with a few unique traits: it adopted a war-torn middle eastern country's name in its own, and it seemed to have a rough agenda that the western media shouldn't speak ill of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government. It appeared to target news organizations that had recently given Syrian rebels or civilians sympathetic coverage. But its messages were slipshod, alternating between serious political screed, inside jokes and simple hacker bragging. And besides, in a real hacker's toolbox, it's not that impressive to take control of someone's Twitter account. Burger King's account got hacked too, and everybody laughed. That was simply part of the Twitter landscape.

    But that was before the Syrian Electronic Army, in what started as another, standard hack, took control of the Associated Press's main feed, and posted"Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured." Ignoring the pedantry (explosions shouldn't be capitalized, and AP's style is to put BREAKING in all caps), the tweet fooled thousands of Americans into thinking they had been seriously attacked and their president injured. The ensuing panic caused the Dow Jones to briefly drop about 145 points, a temporary loss of $200 billion.

    It seems odd, at the outset, that the group takes a strong stance in favor of the Syrian government and its president, Assad. Anyone familiar with Anonymous knows hacktivists are supposed to be critical of all governments. But the SEA is not Anonymous—in fact, the two groups got into a hacking war in 2011 after Anonymous defaced the webpage of the Syrian defense ministry. And Syria, which has been been embroiled in civil war since 2011, has been accused of horrendous atrocities like massacring its own civiliansThe U.N. says that Syrian rebels are guilty of war crimes, too.

    But the rebels, like the governments of Mali, Somalia, Burma, or heads of any other ongoing internal conflict, aren't hacking the BBC Weather Channel's Twitter account, ribbing nearby governments with seemingly-official tweets like "Saudi weather station down due to head on-collision with camel."

    The SEA says it's not federally sponsored; it’s just a group of young, committed, technology-savvy citizens. "No, we are not supported by anyone or part of the government," a representative for the SEA—identifying as "a (not the) Leader"—told the Daily Dot. "We are just Syrian youths who want to defend their country against the media campaign that is full of lies and fabricated news reports."

    That may be true, at least for some SEA members, especially considering that source said that the SEA is decentralized. "Every one of us is working from his home.. and some of us are in Syria and some of us are not," the leader said. But Helmi Noman, a Senior Researcher at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, has been following the SEA since it came onto the scene in 2011, and sees a clear government connection.

    "What we know is [the SEA's former] domain name was registered by the Syrian Computer Society. We looked into the Syrian Computer Society and discovered that it was headed by al-Assad in the 1990s, before he was president," Noman told CNN.

    And the Assad government’s support for the SEA is ongoing. The SEA moved to a new domain name, sea.sy, on Monday. "It is interesting that the domain is a country code top-level domain name," Noman said. (The SEA's old domain, syrianelectronicarmy.com, hasn't been seized, though it now just redirects to the new, Syria-based site.)

    "What is even more interesting," Noman said, "is that the Syrian agency in charge of managing domain names does not find anything objectionable about the SEA's activities even though they are potentially illegal. To me, this is yet another example of the tacit support the SEA receives from the regime."

    "Moreover, the fact that the president of the country publicly thanked them for their activities gave them a significant political cover," he added, "which also works as an incentive to carry on."

    Such an accusation carries far graver connotations considering that a simple Twitter hack had such an impact on the U.S. economy, and that by the White House and the Pentagon's standards, cyberattacks can be considered acts of war. The FBI is reportedly investigating the AP hack.

    "The government proud of our work," the SEA leader told the Daily Dot. "But it don't know who we are."

    The SEA has accomplished many of its major Twitter hacks, including one against The Guardian on Sunday, by phishing—emailing employees with an enticing message to get them to click a malicious link. Twitter is now in the process of stepping up its security to make it harder for such attacks to succeed.

    When asked who its real enemies were, the SEA leader offered a laundry list—"the US government and its allies and specially in the Arab world like Qatar,Saudi Arabia,Turkey and sure we don't forget about Israel the Snakehead."

    "We don't have a goal," the leader added. "We have a mission, that is to defend our country in the cyber space."

    Illustration by Jason Reed


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    Six years ago, I broke up with a jerk. The sob story leading up to that point is irrelevant now, but suffice it to say I was crushed and being confronted with his face whenever I signed into Facebook or MySpace didn’t help me get over him any faster. I yearned for some kind of button or switch to just turn this person off, but the conceit of those social networks seemed immune to my pain—whatever happened online stayed online, regardless of whether it had ceased to exist. 

    Though it took awhile, the founders of KillSwitch eventually challenged this notion that our digital lives should function less as an evolving snapshot than a fixed time capsule, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart. Their clever and free smartphone app will re-launch by the end of the week (pending Apple approval) and aims to help people get over breakups faster. For $0.99, KillSwitch will do everything I couldn't: unlike status updates, delete wall comments, untag photos and sweep any casual mention of the ex under the carpet of one’s digital domain. It’s like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, except for the social network. 

    For those wary of erasing their former flame, the iPhone version of the app will offer a “severity slide,” geared to show you how much to delete, says Clara de Soto, co-creator and co-founder of ClearHart Digital, the company behind KillSwitch. There’s also the option to cherrypick what you trash, whether it’s saving tagged photos or deleting every post from the past six months. “We’re going to make it so you don’t have to stay friends with your Facebook ex either,” she adds, a strong selling point given how awkward "staying friends" after the fact has become in the new millenium. 

    “Social media tends to reflect a big part of the human experience, but it ignores the fact that sometimes relationships end,” de Soto explains, noting how a “gap in the market,” where people wanted “a less permanent web” and were gravitating toward of-the-moment apps like SnapChat, inspired KillSwitch. “The way we interact in life doesn't have a permanence, and it's weird that our digital lives do. We saw KillSwitch as a tool for people to move on the way they can in their non-digital life.” 

    The mourning period following a breakup has been fetishized in pop culture to a sickening extent, partly for the way it symbolizes moving on, or just getting over the shock. The ritualistic burning of snapshots and nights spent in watching “Golden Girls” is more than a staple of romantic comedies, it’s the way we get by until we realize self-pity is boring.

    But the digital equivalent—delete, delete, delete!—seems hardly as effective or final, given all the random ways our clutter can linger. When we hit that top right button, all we’re left with is the feeling that someone, somewhere has screen-grabbed the evidence, or worse still, that our ex saved it to a hard drive. Everything we share is inherently public, even if we don’t want it to be. And that mix of paranoia and reality—the Library of Congress is saving our tweets as you read this—doesn’t help us sleep better at night. 

    That's why the idea of hitting fast-forward on breakup grief sounds so appealing. When we Facebook stalk our ex, it's like we're reliving the trauma over again because we're confronting the source of the pain, says Dr. Paul Greene, a clinical psychologist based in New York. But with an app like KillSwitch, you get to move on without those distractions, behaving as if the breakup never occurred. 

    Read the full story on Motherboard

    By Jill Krasny | Photo via Focus Features


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    Administrators at Lil Boosie Release Date, the leading online authority for all things pertaining to Lil Boosie's release date from prison, has it that the cultish Baton Rouge, La., rapper will be free to leave nearby Jackson's Dixon Correctional Institute "early 2014," but a new advertisement posted to Craigslist suggests that the 30-year-old architect of Gangsta Muzik may be getting out the clink much sooner than that. 

    Supposed representatives of Houston's Trill Entertainment put a Craigslist callout Wednesday evening for "17. white females and 17 black females and 10 hispanic females for our VIP settings" to celebrate the release of Torrence Hatch, aka Lil Boosie, on May 29 of this year—one full year before Lil Boosie Release Date lists as Lil Boosie's actual release date from prison. 

    The listing suggests that Boosie's throw down will be the party of a lifetime, and we're inclined to believe it. We're even going to go so far as to drive the two-and-a-half hours from Austin to Houston in an effort to make it inside the venue. We'll even bring the 10 hispanic females if necessary.

    Meanwhile, this YouTube video, a 59-second shot of a cellphone making a call to the Offender Locator Service for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, reports that Boosie won't be released until May 5, 2014.

    At this point, we're left to consider one option: Lil Boosie's going to escape from jail on or around May 29, 2013. 

    He's going to escape from jail and make his way to Houston, where a party will be thrown in his honor, showcasing 44 females of various ethnic backgrounds and diversities. 

    And we will be there, whether it's May 29, 2013 or May 29, 2014, because you don't miss a 50 year storm—or any other storm that just so happens to take the full 51. 

    Photo via Lil Boosie


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    A team of researchers have found a way to gauge Twitter's overall happiness on a given day.

    Their hedonometer tool went live this week and plots the joyfulness levels on a chart, where each point represents a single day. As to be expected, there are clear spikes on holidays and notable dips in moments of tragedy.

    The community's happiest day since September 2008 (when the researchers started analyzing data) was Christmas Day that year; it's saddest, the Boston Marathon bombings last month, proved even worse than the Newtown school shooting in December.

    The real-time tool is the brainchild of researchers from the University of Vermont and the Mitre Corporation. They look at around 10 percent of all tweets—around 50 million each day—with a focus on English-language tweets.

    The team grabbed the 5,000 most frequently used words from Google Books, New York Times articles, song lyrics, and tweets to give a database of 10,000 words to analyze. Each word was given a happiness score between one (the lowest) and nine through Amazon's Mechanical Turk small job marketplace.

    The top-ranked word is "laughter," with a score of 8.5. The lowest is "brutal" at 2.6. Many profanities have a score of between four and six, due to their varying usage as expressions of dismay or delight. The researchers also have a volume control which allows them to "tune the relative importance of the most emotionally charged words by removing neutral words from consideration when determining the happiness of a given day."

    The death of Osama bin Laden two years ago proved more complicated than anticipated:

    Many people presume this day will be one of clear positivity. While we do see positive words such as “celebration” appearing, the overall language of the day on Twitter reflected that a very negatively viewed character met a very negative end. It was a day of complex emotion which is best explored in the word shift for the day, rather than the single number of its average happiness.

    The team said the hedonometer will soon take in data from other sources, such as Google Trends (to see what people are searching), link-shortening service bit.ly (what Internet denizens are clicking), and the BBC (what people are reading) to gauge trends in society beyond conversation.

    The researchers also plan to explore different languages, examine phrases instead of words (for additional context), and probe emotions other than happiness in the future.

    If Twitter truly is the world's watercooler, the hedonometer seeks to be the analytical fly.

    H/T Reddit 


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    Kiera Wilmot was expelled from Bartow High School in Florida’s Polk County and is facing felony criminal charges—as an adult—over a harmless science experiment.

    When Wilmot’s story first made the news on Tuesday, police initially said only that Wilmot faced felony charges for making, possessing or discharging a destructive device on school grounds, and possessing or discharging weapons on school grounds.

    Later reports provided more detail: The 16-year-old honor student had combined aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a plastic water bottle, resulting in a firecracker-loud pop and a little smoke. Nobody was hurt, no property was damaged, and Wilcox never tried to hide what she had done.

    Even so, she was arrested, handcuffed, expelled from school and slapped with felony charges. Wilmot’s own principal, Ron Pritchard, told local news: “She is a good kid [….]  Honestly, I don't think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did.  Her mother is shocked too.”

    While the incident could be seen simply as a stroke of curiosity, Polk County Schools responded with a statement strongly implying that Wilmot is threat to those around her.

    Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules. We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions. We will not compromise the safety and security of our students and staff.

    The response from the actual scientific community has been equal parts outrage and WTF. DN Lee, who blogs for Scientific American as “The Urban Scientist,” wondered how much of Polk County’s overreaction was motivated by standard zero-tolerance policy and how much by racism:

    I don’t like what our public education (and justice) systems do to urban youth (e.g. the discipline gap with  Black kids). ... I worry what this will mean to [Wilcox's] family financially. What will it mean for her future? Will graduating from an alternative school prevent her from attending college? Will she be marked as a trouble maker? Will she have a criminal record that prevents her from gainful employment and a meaningful life? More immediately, will she get locked away for 20 years? Sh*t like that happens to kids who look like her.

    Andrew Thaler, a North Carolina biologist who blogs at Southern Fried Science, said Polk County was “stifling scientific curiosity in the most egregious way possible.”

    Thaler added: “Science in messiest when we just start learning how to turn our curiosity into something testable. … High school programs should be nurturing that curiosity and fostering responsible experimentation, not punishing it. I asked my twitter followers, many of whom are practicing scientists, whether they, during high school, had accidentally caused an explosion in the course of scientific curiosity.”

    So he started a Twitter poll, asking, “How many of y’all accidentally blew something up in high school using science?” The answer was pretty close to “all of them.” Most responses mentioned mishaps far greater than Wilmot’s little experiment:

    Scientists aren’t the only ones who went online to show support for Wilmot. There are at least two Change.org petitions in her favor: “Petitioning Dr. John A. Stewart, superintendent, Polk County School District: Drop charges and re-enroll Kiera Wilmot,” and “Petitioning Joe Hall, the Bartow Police and Bartow High School: Drop charges against Kiera Wilmot.”

    Hundreds of posts tagged with Wilmot’s name appeared on Tumblr. “QueenBandora,” for example, linked to a Feministing post about Wilmot and added “I went to Bartow high school and I know for a fact there a bigger problems there than this girl and her science experiment. Way to go Polk County.”

    Tumblr also saw many links to a US Prison Culture blog post highlighting Wilmot’s treatment as merely the latest example of “Black girls and the school-to-prison pipeline.”

    The OCD Diaries called Wilmot’s treatment “Proof we’ve gone off the deep end,” while Salonnoted, “America hates science. A student scientist is arrested for experimenting with Drano. No wonder we're falling behind the rest of the world.”

    Dan Satterfield, a meteorologist who blogs for the American Geophysical Union, called Wilmot a hero and said, “The only good news out of this is that a bright, inquisitive student whose science experiment went pop when she was not expecting it, will not have to be in such a horrid school system. Truly disgusting what happened to this poor girl, but I cannot fathom a jury convicting her.”

    As of this writing, the two petitions listed above have been signed by a total of more than 27,000 people.

    Photo via Change.org


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    If you've been on Twitter at all today, chances are you've come across a tweet like the one below.

    That tweet was published to my feed on my behalf by Social Meter, a third-party site that taps into Twitter's API—after you grant it permission— to calculate how much time you've spent on the microblogging platform. According to their web page, Social Meter comes up with the figure by taking into account the age of your Twitter account, how many followers you have, how many people you follow, and how many times you've tweeted.

    Sounds great, right? After all, who wouldn't want to know how much of their life is spent writing subtweets?

    There's just one problem. Social Meter may very well be a scam.

    The first red flag popped up just seconds after I authorized it to access my Twitter information. Once I agreed to the site's terms and conditions, I was redirected to a page that was completely empty save for two ads, a link telling me to click on it to continue, and a note explaining that the "site could not function without the support of [their] advertisers." It also forced me to wait 60 seconds before I could actually proceed.

    Once the minute expired, I clicked the link and it took me to yet another page with yet another set of ads and yet another link.

    After clicking on the second link, I was taken to the dashboard page. Finally, I was able to see exactly how they came up with 88 hours, a number I internally disputed given my propensity to compulsively check my Twitter feed. Instead of seeing a breakdown, however, I was greeted with—yep, you guess it!— another ad and a message that read:

    "The dashboard is currently still under construction and only available to a select few beta testers. In the mean time, your statistics are still being tracked and will be available for you to see as soon as the dashboard is complete. Time spent on Twitter is not 100% accurate. It is merely an estimate based on the number of tweets you have sent and the number of people you follow."

    The page also informed me that I could tweet at @SocialMeter if I had questions. I reached out to them for comment but have yet to hear back. In fact, no one has really heard back from that Twitter account. As of this writing, it hasn’t tweeted anything, follows 21 people, and is followed by 12. 

    If the site eventually does deliver on a dashboard that shows how they came up with the figure, then, save for the annoyance that came from the barrage of ads, Social Meter is actually a nifty little tool.

    The more likely scenario is that whoever created this page—the domain name was registered anonymously—is capitalizing on the more than 142,000 people who went to the site after coming across a friend's tweet and were driven to follow suit by their own desire to know more about themselves.

    Photo via Jacque Davis/Flickr


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    In the “Dating Freedom Lovers” group on Infowars, Alex Jones’ “news site,” nearly 6,000 men and women are looking to meet somebody special. Their profiles usually indicate interests (firearms and survivalism rank high), location (often in terms of the FEMA zone in which they reside), and how long they’ve been “awake” to the conspiratorial nature of the United States government, Zionism, Obamacare’s true aim, fluoride exposure effects, GMO dangers, or some breathless, hang-wrung cocktail thereof.

    I’ll admit I’m an occasional conspiracy-theory enthusiast. By this I mean I enjoy a poorly-mic'd, ancient alien-themed documentary on my Roku’s ‘UFO’s’ channel, likely the result of a formative childhood interest in Fox Mulder. And I’ve seen lots of conspiracy theory docs, from “Loose Change” to “Zeitgeist” to animated slideshows on YouTube alleging a scenario in which Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard buried the de-animated fetus of the Antichrist in a concrete bunker. (Hint: Only a nuclear blast can re-animate the Dark Lord and usher in the apocalypse.) I’ve also watched with interest the emerging Boston #falseflag theories, originating with Alex Jones and Infowars and then finding a reasonable following on YouTube.

    Studies show that the tendency to prescribe to any conspiracy theory is positively correlated with belief in another conspiracy theory, even if the two contradict one another factually. So, it’s an attraction to disbelief rather than an attraction to a particular belief that seems to underlie this phenomenon. You can see this distinctly when sorting through the various Boston False Flag believers. They seem to simultaneously believe that the government framed the Tsarnaev brothers, slaughtering and maiming Americans for the benefit of a New World Order that seeks to enact drastic gun control measures and that the events were somehow entirely fabricated by “crisis actors” wearing prosthetic makeup to feign severed limbs. Conspiracy theorists can believe both that Osama bin Laden was dead before the Navy SEALS stormed the safe house and that he’s alive today living in Pakistan—both views simply reflect a distrust of the widely-accepted narrative.

    It’s fascinating to watch the machinations at work, the mental gymnastics required to meet every fact reported by the media with some counter story. YouTube videos devoted to the Boston bombings are a labor of love; they zoom in impossibly close to reveal some “clue,” claim loose severed feet are photoshopped, and spend a lot of time claiming the amount of blood on the street is too much or too little to have come from the wounded. The need to find some greater order, some greater enemy than a mentally ill young man (Sandy Hook) or two religious zealots (Boston) to rail against possibly provides a sense of satisfaction. Maybe we don’t want to believe that one person is capable of inflicting so much harm; it’s easier to accept so much death when we can attribute it to a greater enemy.

    So, if conspiracy theorists are drawn to this mode of thinking for whatever reason, their interest will likely expand to other, tangentially associated fringe beliefs. A walk through Infowars reveals advertisements for water filters to remove fluoride, along with news stories dedicated to the Boston bombing conspiracy and its relation to gun control as well as a story on the threat of a General Mills strain of genetically modified wheat that can “potentially silence 100s of genes in the human body.” Radical food activists make strange bedfellows with Second Amendment champions, but here on Infowars they are simply “awake” to the truth.

    I’ve only been signed up for the site for a day, but I’ve already been contacted by a freedom-fighter right here in New York. He’s my age, his profile picture is a dashing sniper riflescope, and he goes by “Awake” (in case there was any confusion). And there’s something in me that relates to these people; there’s something fun about believing you’re the only one with the answers. It makes you feel special. But the bizarre anti-Zionist, Illuminati-obsessed rhetoric distracts us from the real issues as much as the round-the-clock, tabloid-esque coverage of the Boston bombings.

    Read the full story on Motherboard

    By Kelly Bourdet


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    Because clearly this is a thing that needed to happen, a Glass Explorer has a new app for the Google device that lets users browse Reddit.

    Called Reddit Timeline, the new app will allow users to view the top 25 posts from your front page on Glass, with a new bundle updated every hour. Glass users can upvote the latest GIF from r/thanksobama, or downvote whatever content you vehemently disagree with because it goes against whatever worldview you currently hold. The app also reads comments out loud to you and lets you share content you created to r/creepshots or whatever new name the subsection is going by nowadays.

    Malcolm Nguyen, the Sacramento, Calif., developer who created Reddit Timeline, says he got the idea by sitting and procrastinating at his desk.

    "So I go to work today, and think to myself, today i'm going to be productive employee, attend a few meetings, make that deadline, commit some code, but NOPE, gotta click all those Reddit links," Nguyen writes on his Google+ page. "Then there's Glass, with no compelling reason to use while at the office or work, it sits tucked away inside the desk drawer."

    "That's all about to change, because now you can get pictures of cats and memes and _gonewild beamed directly to your face without anyone suspecting a thing."

    It's very telling that Nguyen chose to mention r/gonewild, the subreddit in which exhibitionist redditors flaunt their naked bodies. After all, who wouldn't want to have the ability to look at NSFW content while at work?

    Though we haven't tried Reddit Timeline yet—Google didn't like what we wrote in our application—we imagine that users blink their left eye to upvote a post, blink their right eye to downvote it, and look down at their junk if they want to get permanently banned from r/shitredditsays.

    Photo via Malcolm Nguyen/Google+


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    With fanfic archives like Fanfiction.net and Wattpad becoming infamous for their low-quality writing and love of censoring adult-rated fanworks, Archive of Our Own provides a user-friendly alternative. Created by the fan-run Organisation for Transformative Works (the OTW) in 2009, Archive of Our Own is now home to many of the most popular fanfic-based fandoms, from Teen Wolf to The Avengers

    But with popularity comes serious expense. AO3’s costs for this year are projected to run up to $70,000, and with recent upsets in OTW leaderships, the archive might seem like it’s on unsteady ground. Its users, however, are eager to prove such doubts are misplaced.

    In a Tumblr-based auction, 371 authors offered their services in exchange for donations to the archive. The AO3 Fundraiser Auction was quickly shared across social media, with fans bidding to pay for customised stories in the fandom of their choice. Bidding ran from April 25 to May 2, with the end total being an impressive $16,729, which comes to just over $45 per author. A lot more than most of us would pay for a book, never mind the 1000-3000 word short story offered by most authors. As one of the AO3 Auction mods wrote on their Tumblr:

    “When I had this idea, I genuinely expected maybe ten or twenty people to participate, thought maybe we’d raise a few hundred dollars. I cannot even comprehend the fact that we raised enough to buy a brand-new damn car.

    The fanfiction community is a gift-based economy, with certain stigmas (not to mention legal issues) attached to paying an author directly for their writing. However, for many fans this auction really does seem like a win-win scenario. Not only can you commission your favourite author to write something tailored to your own specifications, but you’re also supporting the AO3, which is generally regarded as a breath of fresh air after years of Fanfiction.net being the dominant multi-fandom archive online.

    With the only real expense being internet costs, fanfiction is a very cheap hobby, and the community is often happy to give back. From fan donations towards Teen Wolf’s wolf sanctuary project, to people clubbing together to help other fans reach a convention across the world,  fandom has a long history of community support. And although there are still some concerns about the stability of AO3, its users are evidently willing to lend their financial support. . 

    Image via Twitter/@AO3_status


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    He's Antoine… wait! He's Kevin Antoine Dodson, a one-time YouTube star who's now apparently renouncing his sexuality and coming out as, that's right, a "True Chosen Hebrew Israelite descendant of Judah."

    The Internet celebrity, who first emerged within the national spotlight in 2010 after appearing on a television news report to talk about an intruder who broke into his Huntsville, Ala., home and tried to rape his sister, announced last night in a series of off-kilter Facebook posts that he is "no longer into homosexuality" and now "know[s] that there are certain things we can't do."

    Among them: driving a Mercedez Benz, buying a big house in Beverly Hills, and, oh yeah, apparently dating other men.

    Considering the strange nature of the announcement and the altogether un-Dodson-esque verbiage and writing style used within the posts, it's understandable that some people may think that Dodson's accounts were hacked and that the sentiments expressed within the four posts were not exactly his. Dodson went onto YouTube this morning to refute those thoughts, calling TMZ a liar for accusing him of worshipping Satan and declaring that he's proud to be a part of his "true history."

    "To all my fellow Hebrew Israelite descendants of Judah, Levi, et cetera," he said. "Go to Deuteronomy, read all the way down to [verse] 28, and see if you fit in that category. I know I do."

    Dodson's sexuality was never the focal point of his fame, but it was certainly a difficult distinction to ignore. The Alabama native has always fallen on the flush side of flamboyant, and his second most iconic pop culture moment occurred in the summer of 2012, when he took to YouTube to say that he'd still eat Chick-Fil-A even if its CEO was an opponent of gay marriage.

    Dodson's had a hard time breaking out of the "Bed Intruder" trap in recent years, releasing new YouTube videos regularly but rarely eclipsing the 20,000-view mark. Last week, he released a 2:25 video that finds him rapping a cappella in a friend's living room. 

     

    Here's guessing that those watching over Dodson in the Jewish faith won't be so cool with the rap's final line: "Bitch, where my fuckin' money? Bitch, I'm looking for that ass."

    H/T HyperVocal | Photo via Antoine Dodson/Facebook


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    On Saturday, May 4, Star Wars fans around the world will be wishing each other “May the Fourth be With You” as they celebrate Star Wars Day, a holiday dedicated to the science fiction franchise. But one family is hoping that this day of celebration and connection between fans can make a difference for their injured son.


    A Twitter-bomb campaign scheduled for May 4 aims to raise awareness for Ben Wolverton, the 16-year-old son of author Dave Wolverton (also known as David Farland). Ben is suffering from severe brain trauma, a cracked skull, bruised lungs, and a broken pelvis and tail bone. He was injured in a longboarding accident on April 4 and recently emerged from a coma. His family apparently has no insurance because of pre-existing illnesses and hospital bills for Ben are expected to rise above $1 million.

    That’s where Star Wars fans come in.

    Dave has written a number of Star Wars novels, including The Courtship of Princess Leia. When Star Wars fans learned about his situation, they decided to help by encouraging people to spread the word about Ben on social media during Star Wars Day. The goal of the campaign according to their Facebook page is “to get #helpwolverton and #davidfarland trending on Twitter and Google+ on May the 4th (Star Wars Day) and encourage the kind people online to donate and help.”

    The family has also set up a website, Help Ben Wolverton, where people can read updates about Ben’s health, learn more about Saturday’s campaign, and donate money by buying books or T-shirts.

    “Ben is someone who lights up your world. If you talk to him, you want to know more. He is always full of compliments and goes the extra mile to brighten your day. I can’t imagine my world without him,” Ben’s sister Danielle wrote on the website. “I am so grateful for the outpouring of love and support our family has received on his behalf. Keep rooting for him, this is one hero who won’t let you down.”

    Ben’s brother Spencer also set up Ben’s Recovery Fund on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe 3 days after the accident. So far the campaign has raised over $35,000.

    Dave wrote about the Star Wars Day campaign on Glipho, saying “Thank you to everyone who has helped us out so far.”

    According to updates on Ben’s website, on May 1 he was able to say his first words since the accident and his brain swelling has decreased. On May 2, he was able to take a few steps for the first time in a month, and he’s now being prepared for a transfer to Primary Children’s Medical Center for rehabilitation.

    If you’re interested in taking part in the Star Wars Day campaign for Ben, the organizers suggest tweeting, and asking others to tweet, the following message: “Help Star Wars author's son on Star Wars Day! Visit http://www.helpwolverton.com/ to learn more. #davidfarland #starwarsday #helpwolverton.”

    “Several independent studies show that spreading the word will significantly increase your midichlorian count,” write the organizers on Facebook. “Help us, Obi-Interwebs, you're our only hope!”

    Photos via Help Ben Wolverton


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    What's the only thing funnier than following a teen on Twitter? Following an adult, of course.

    It started with #FollowATeen, prankster journalist David Thorpe's 2012 hashtag that urged Twitter players to follow a teen, either on Twitter or in real life, and then report on their doings. In April, Buzzfeed editor Katie Notopoulos brought it back with gusto, and the hashtag has been making the rounds with hilarious entries:
     

    But not everyone was laughing—particularly, teens. There's a thin line between affection and mockery, and with some news reports comparing them to pet Tamagotchis, it's easy to see why some teens took offense to the attempt at inter-generational bonding.

    Enter 17-year-old Tavi Gavinson, founder of Rookie magazine, a fount of wisdom and culture for teen girls. While others had floated the idea of #followanadult since April, it didn't really take off until Gavinson and Rookie launched it officially, starting with an inaugural tweet by Rookie writer Hazel Cills:
     

    Directing their playful jab at "Growns" who think teens are dumb, Rookie encouraged others to play along and follow an adult.  The result? An endless hashtag of hilarity, as possibly unsuspecting adults have their moment in the spotlight. 

    Judging from the tweets, it appears to be less like owning a Tamigotchi and more like playing Sim City: Yuppieville edition.
     

     

     

    Of course, knowing how to find an Adult to follow is crucial. Pertinent Twitter search suggestions provided by Twitter users include "escrow," "my Sebring," "golf," bill payments, and, of course, general ennui.  In addition, a perusal of the tag shows that Adults seem to like Harlem Shake videos, How I Met Your Mother, and Taylor Swift. Hmm. Could it be that Adults secretly yearn to be teens who can listen with unironic naive abandon to "Love Story"?

     

     

     

    All signs point to Yes.

    As the hashtag gained popularity, it inevitably invoked jokes from confused in-betweeners unsure which "side" of the hashtag war they were on.

     

     

     

    Perhaps not so coincidentally, the theme for this month's Rookie is "Attention."  Ironically, through #followanadult and attempting to deflect attention away from teens, they may have gained more of it for themselves, and showed off the best of teen wit in the process.

    Art by Jason Reed


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    A Ken Burns documentary on the wrongful conviction of five minority teenagers has inspired an online petition to get one of the lead prosecutors of the case fired from her current job.

    On April 16, 2013, PBS aired The Central Park Five, the 2012 Ken Burns film that covers in great detail the 1989 "Central Park jogger case," a case in which Trisha Meili was assaulted, raped, and left for dead (she would miraculously survive). Police arrested five teenagers—Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Kharey Wise—and forced confessions out of them, which would result in their convictions. In 2002, however, those convictions were vacated after the true perpetrator confessed to his crime.

    Among those watching the documentary that night was Frank Chi, a 28-year-old political consultant. He was so disturbed by their wrongful conviction that he took to Google to find out the name of one of the main prosecutors. Chi learned the name of his target, Elizabeth Lederer, and that not only was she still an assistant district attorney, but that she was also teaching at Columbia University's school of law.

    Appalled by his findings, Chi took to Twitter.

     

     

    That wasn't enough to placate Chi. An hour after posting the above tweet, he took to the platform once again, this time to push a petition to get Elizabeth Lederer fired from her teaching position at Columbia.

     

     

    The petition aimed at collecting 6,000 signatures to send to David M. Schizer, Dean of Columbia University's Law School.

    "No individual who is responsible for locking up innocent boys for years should ever step foot in a classroom to teach students," the petition reads. "Ever."

    Chi's online effort gained some traction on Twitter. Legendary hip hop group De La Soul came across it and tweeted it to 27,000 followers.

     

     

    The petition also got the attention of Raymond Santana, one of the five men who was wrongfully convicted. Santana retweeted Chi's original tweet.

     

     

    Chi even tried to get Ken Burns on board, but the documentarian refused.

    "it is just simple retribution and we are appalled by it," he told the New York Times on Thursday. "We don't subscribe to any of it."

    Burns’s condemnation aside, the petition seems to be doing quite well, at least in terms of getting people to sign. As of this writing, it has collected 5,835 of the 6,000 signatures.

    Lederer is still teaching, though Columbia University did scrub her original bio to remove any mention of the Central Park jogging case.

    Photo via University of Mount Union/Flickr


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    “Hi, I’m Marc and I’m an alcoholic,” says an older gentleman in a black cowboy hat. Next to him, there’s a queue of people waiting to speak: a woman with long white hair and unruly bangs, a man with a thick gray mustache, a smiling young woman with bright eyes. Marc continues: “For years I’d taken away my family’s peace of mind. Every social function they’d wonder if I’d get out of line or when I went out with the guys if I wouldn’t come home and misbehave.”

    Marc, the group’s leader, always starts the meeting by gently putting his Stetson to his chest and reciting the serenity prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The theme of today’s meeting is step nine in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book: making amends.

    “Marc” is Marc Dunn—my dad. He joined AA more than six years ago after totaling his car during a Crown Royal blackout, a relapse after two years of independent sobriety. He walked away without a DUI or a scratch. The next day, with my mom threatening to leave, he attended his first AA meeting with the intention of getting sober for real this time. He’s attended meetings almost every day since, and he leads this one on Sundays at 5 pm called “Sober Serenity.”

    This meeting isn’t being held in a church basement or at a clubhouse. It happens online.

    “Sober Serenity” is one of 34 weekly video chat meetings on a controversial recovery website called In The Rooms. The site was launched in 2008 by longtime friends and recovering addicts Ron “RT” Tannebaum and Ken Pomerance. Both men are almost 30 years sober and live outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

    In The Rooms, or ITR as it’s known to users, is essentially a social networking site for alcoholics and addicts. Its interface evokes Facebook, with a simple blue and white theme, complete with the accoutrements: individual profiles, a chat option, a box for birthdays (and sober anniversaries), walls for people to write on, friend requests and private messages, photo sharing, and status updates.

    In April 2007, when Pomerance approached Tannebaum about building “a Facebook for addicts and alcoholics,” it wasn’t a new idea. At that point, the most successful site of its kind was called SoberCircle, the Friendster to ITR’s Facebook, but it was on its way out. Tannebaum and Pomerance met with the creators of SoberCircle, but instead of purchasing the dying site, which has now become a site called OneHealth that works with insurance companies, they thought: What if we revamped the concept? And much riskier: What if we added video chat meetings?

    The video meetings, like the one my dad runs, are helmed by one group leader who can flip the main camera’s focus between members’ webcams, allowing them to “get up and speak” throughout the meeting. When you log in, you can hit a “request to share” button, activating your webcam and putting you in the queue. My dad’s meeting usually has about 50 attendees, with fewer than ten choosing to speak.

    ITR membership is free. The site survives on ad sales, sponsorships, and the work Tannebaum and Pomerance do building platforms for other sites. As of now, 136 countries are represented on the site. There are more than 218,000 members—83,000 in the Narcotics Anonymous group and 99,000 in the AA group, technically making ITR the largest of both groups in the world. Their list of available meetings gets 300,000 hits a month. The site also caters to other fellowships like Overeaters Anonymous, Al Anon (for relatives of AA members), and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

    Anyone seeking sobriety can join, but In The Rooms is most useful for homebound or isolated addicts and alcoholics—people who are sick or who live in remote areas far from face-to-face meetings. Some live in countries like Saudi Arabia, where a woman imbibing is punishable by law. Some are in the hospital or at other in-patient treatment centers. Some have disabilities that keep them from traveling.

    For these people, ITR is  less a preference than a necessity. Santosh R., a 62-year-old Mangalore native, would otherwise have to travel almost three hours by bus every Sunday to attend the only “nearby” AA meeting—at a church in Bijapur with five or six other people.

    Instead, Santosh, who has been sober for 13 years, was at one point logging on to ITR every night, messaging with friends in recovery for an hour or two. The town he lives in does not have broadband Internet, so he can’t participate in video meetings, but he relies on chats and daily email meditations.

    Other experiences with In The Rooms are just consequences of the noncommittal nature of the Internet age. Alison, a 50-something woman in New England who was addicted to prescription pills, came to her recovery the same way someone else might privately Google “weird skin rash” before going to the doctor.

    Though curious about addiction, Alison didn’t want to admit she had a problem. She listened to addicts and alcoholics speaking about their journeys in clips from ITR’s speaker tapes archive. The first tape, by Vito L., made her cry; she couldn’t believe someone who’d been so down and out, like she was then, could have such a successful journey of recovery. It gave her hope for her own future for the first time.

    “He’s been through insurmountable odds and he’s had personal life-changing experiences and he still stayed clean,” she said. “After listening to that speaker tape, I realized I had a problem and that I needed help.”

    Still, even after she cleared that hurdle, Alison was reluctant to go to in-person meetings. She lives an isolated small town (she declined to say where, exactly) and describes herself as a “recluse.” She was so afraid of running into people she knew at local in-person NA meetings that she drove to another state for her first one.

    In the summer of 2009, she entered detox, and after getting out, she was required to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. But during that period, she got sick with a fever. Bedridden and on antibiotics, Alison logged in to ITR and found pre-video meetings, specifically a conference call meeting called “The Bridge,” which she could attend from home. Every day of her first year clean, Alison listened to a different speaker tape on ITR. In the beginning, she looked at other people’s photos to see the life she could have in recovery. She attends two video meetings a week, works the steps, and uses a sponsor.

    “I am clean today because of In The Rooms,” she tells me over the phone. “There’s just no doubt, question, anything. I found recovery. I found out about Narcotics Anonymous. I found the speaker tapes.” She begins to tear up. “It’s just a wonderful format to learn from all these people. If there had not been ITR, one, we would not be having this conversation and two, I seriously doubt I’d be alive.”

    For every satisfied addict gushing about In The Rooms, there’s a harsh critic defending the old-school road to recovery. Online rehab and video meetings may seem like the natural next step with the ubiquity of webcams and Skype, but in an organization compulsively dedicated to a tradition of anonymity, taking AA and NA to the Internet—or anywhere outside the meeting room—is a controversial move.

    In 2010, my dad was mentioned—by his full name—in a South Florida Sun Sentinel article about Jews and recovery. After the article ran, old-school AA-ers warned him that personal recognition can inflate the ego and lead to a relapse.

    It’s the same problem critics have with Tannebaum and Pomerance, who thumb their noses at the notion of a low profile. To promote In The Rooms, the two founders put a face on a traditionally faceless organization.

    And in Tannebaum’s case, at least, it’s not a squeaky-clean face. I know Tannebaum better than I do Pomerance because “RT” and my dad have been friends since he was in college. Tannebaum was a student at University of Florida in the late 1960s when my dad, then a recent grad, owned a leather shop in Gainesville. My dad says they partied together—a disturbing thought, given that Tannebaum was in so deep he had a headboard built over his bed that could harbor 100 kilos of cocaine. It was his main addiction, along with heroin.

    An unsupervised childhood (his mother died when he was 11) led Tannebaum to start drinking young. By the time he got to the University of Florida, he was smuggling in marijuana from Colombia and dealing it on campus. Into the early 1970s, Tannebaum’s drug business grew. “It was big money,” he explained to me in an interview for my own blog in November of 2010. “We had our own planes, boats, ranches. I’m talking millions of dollars. And there was always a scene at my house with drugs laid out but I was really unhappy.” Tannebaum was doing coke, then doing heroin to come down from his cocaine high.

    “It was always two in the morning and people were like, ‘Well, it’s time to go,’ ” he said in the same 2010 interview. “And I was always that person that was like, ‘No, no, we’ll go to bed tomorrow! Let’s keep partying.’ ”

    But privately, Tannebaum was coming undone. He swallowed 80 Dilaudid pills on a flight to Samoa, where he planned to go cold turkey. But he drank the whole time he was there. Later, in Thailand in the late 1970s, he started using heroin again. Back in Miami, he sold everything he had; paintings came right off the wall and into a needle. He started robbing houses, got arrested, and served one year in prison. When he got out, in September of 1983, Pomerance took Tannebaum to his first NA meeting. He finally got clean.

    “Your bones feel so brittle, like they’ll break if you walk on them. I probably didn’t sleep for a month,” he told me in 2010. “It’s an itch on the inside that makes you want to stick your hand down your throat just to scratch it.”

    Since then, he’s never relapsed, and he’s proud that his kids, now 19 and 21, have never seen him drinking or drugging.

    To him, founding In The Rooms was his way of giving back to the community that saved his life.

    “It doesn’t take the place of meetings, but it’s a place to come for the other 23 hours of the day,” he told me in a recent joint interview with Pomerance.

    “We have people that have found the site simply because they were looking for a way to die,” Pomerance added. Their search led them to the site, and shortly after, they started going to meetings.

    That stopgap measure can be lifesaving. One of the most unique aspects of the site is the “Burning Desire” button on every profile page. If a member presses it, their profile goes red and is featured on the In The Rooms homepage. Other users can then flock to the person’s profile and send support messages. A few ITR members I interviewed, including Tannebaum, recalled a night when an anonymous Irish man was talking about killing himself. They located someone else from the site in his city and sent the person to sit with him.

    “We’re allowing them to reap the benefits of 21st-century recovery,” says Tannebaum of ITR’s members. “It’s not watered down. It’s not different. It’s the same literature and the same books, it’s just delivered in a different medium. That’s it.”

    But not everybody’s buying the Good Samaritan storyline. One AA member I talked to, “Bernard,” a man seven years sober who wished to go by a pseudonym, told me he opposes In The Rooms because it breaks one of AA’s key principles: attraction, rather than promotion. 

    “[Recovery is] not about selling T-shirts. It’s not about promoting who your advertisers are,” he says. (In The Rooms actually does sell T-shirts. My dad owns one that says, “Higher Powered” with the ITR logo on it. Sales go to support the site.) “The impetus is a business,” Bernard continues. “The primary purpose of that vehicle is not recovery. The two gentlemen who started that website have a business plan.”

    So what about homebound addicts like Alison or alcoholics in remote locations like Santosh? Bernard counters that people managed to stay sober before the Internet. They sought out likeminded recovering addicts nearby. They asked for rides to AA meetings. Meetings were held in disabled people’s homes.

    “It breaks down to if you have willingness, then there’s a way,” he says.

    Tannebaum knows this attitude all too well. “Some people still don’t get it,” he says. “[They think] if you’re doing something successful that makes money, then it’s a scam against people in recovery. Well, it’s not a scam. We’re bringing recovery to people’s fingertips in a way it’s never been done before.”

    “We’re keeping our members’ anonymity,” Pomerance added. “It’s sacred to us.”

    Still, the establishment isn’t convinced. Tannebaum and Pomerance want ITR to appear on Alcoholics Anonymous’ official AA.org website where people search for nearby and upcoming meetings, but it’s nowhere to be found.

    AA does acknowledge online meetings in a fourth edition of its 12-step bible, The Big Book: “Taking advantage of technological advances, for example, A.A. members with computers can participate in meetings online, sharing with fellow alcoholics across the country or around the world ... Modem-to-modem or face-to-face, A.A.’s speak the language of the heart in all its power and simplicity.”

    On AA.org, there is a link to “find information about online meetings,” but In The Rooms is not listed. Tannebaum says AA worries that technically unaffiliated virtual AA meetings appearing on a webpage with the In The Rooms logo is a traditions violation because it implies endorsement. He says he and Pomerance are willing to remove the logo from video meetings if AA will list them, a compromise that may happen in the future.

    “We want them to be real meetings. We don’t give a shit about whether it says ‘In The Rooms,’ ” Tannebaum says. “We want to help people.”

    NA, which is run separately from AA and, according to my dad, is more “liberal,” has added In The Rooms to its site’s meetings list. When someone looking for a meeting visits NA.org under “location,” they are given the option of “Web.” If it is selected, In The Rooms’ meetings are listed with a link.

    Colin Sevareid, an NA public relations representative, said that NA views “meetings” and “groups” as different entities. While the organization recognizes online meetings as relevant and valuable events, they don’t necessarily endorse In The Rooms. Not that that’s a judgment on the validity of the site, he says, but NA, like AA, explicitly prohibits recognition of outside, independent organizations.

    NA lists online meetings because it views ITR as a landlord, where the website is the venue, the same way an NA meeting leader could use a room from in a church or treatment center without being affiliated with either. “These are not NA groups, but they are NA meetings,” Sevaried says.

    NA is the Eve to AA’s Adam. It formed almost two decades later, in the 1950s, and used the AA traditions as a basis, but they are now completely separate organizations and have diverged on several issues (AA, for instance, is more God- and Higher Power-focused). Sevaried says that “we list [ITR] at the request of our members because we list online meetings.” But ultimately, he says, it is up to each member to decide how anonymous they want to be online. And he says addicts aren’t safer at an in-person meeting; a member of the press could just as easily show up at a church basement as log on to a website.

    AA’s trepidation to follow NA’s example makes sense. To those who fear it, In The Rooms may as well be an open registry of the names and information of addicts and alcoholics, a lurker’s playground that flies in the face of anonymity. Anyone can sign in as a guest and observe a meeting without participating or identifying himself. But Pomerance and Tannebaum have installed technology to guarantee that ITR profiles not turn up in search engines. In the video meetings I attended, some attendees have blacked out their cameras or spoke using voice modulating filters.

    Tannebaum and Pomerance dance on a double-edged sword. Without official AA or NA referrals, In the Rooms relies on outward promotion. But getting the word out without showing their own faces or using their names is impossible. How can people know it exists without Tannebaum and Pomerance promoting it? Both detractors and supporters associate the site with its founders. They make themselves known, individually messaging every person celebrating a sober anniversary (sometimes that means 300 messages a day) and posting welcome wishes on new members’ walls. On ITR, Tannebaum goes by the same name he uses in real life, RT. Pomerance goes by the cheeky moniker “Mr. Clean.”

    Tannebaum thinks this is perfectly kosher. “That day and age in 1935, you could get in trouble for being an alcoholic,” he says. “You were considered a taboo, a sick person. Nowadays, everyone has a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, eating disorder, gambling in their family.”

    The conflict is almost biblical; AA’s founder Bill Wilson didn’t give specific guidelines for how AA should be handled online, because he could never have predicted the Internet. How could he have said it was not allowed when there was no concept back then of how life and technology would change?

    For my dad, a salesman in real life, In The Rooms has given him a greater sense of purpose. On the phone, he enthusiastically tells me about a woman who was saved from relapsing by an inundation of support from fellow ITR members.

    “[I]t brings more people together from a wider variety of geographic locations,” he says, and that preserves AA’s primary purpose: “to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety.”

    For my dad, the “social element” isn’t an inconvenience—it’s key to his sobriety process. In The Rooms is my dad’s Facebook: a place where he can share photos, chat with friends all over the world, update his status with inspirational quotes or thoughts on sobriety. The people of ITR help him to stick with the program—even though they’ve never met in person. The meetings may be virtual, but the recovery is real.

    This article was originally published by Tomorrow magazine.

    Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III


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