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Recent Society articles from Daily Dot

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    Are you a criminal? You probably don't think of yourself as one, but Amnesty International has an exciting new website that's here to tell you otherwise. 

    Trial by Timeline is a dynamic, animated site that analyzes your Facebook timeline and presents for your delectation a list of crimes of which you would be convicted in various countries around the world, along with their often-gruesome punishments. It's dark, scary, and quite fascinating.

    By analyzing your Likes, your activities, your photos, groups, pages, and friends, the site gets a rather frighteningly detailed picture of your life. "Interrogating Barrett Brown" are just words nobody wants to see as a result of a whimsical Facebook analytics tool, but there they were on the site once I'd hit Enter. It "interrogates" your friends, meaning it looks at your interactions with them and what the association might imply. Just as governments can and do.

    Here's what it got from me.

    Photo by Kristie Wells/Facebook

    This photo, a shot of the Social Media Club of Vancouver having a night out a few years back, is enough to get me beaten and imprisoned in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, for being in a bar and socializing with an unrelated male (how many counts is that?), not to mention drinking alcohol. 

    Liking the Wizard World Portland Comic Con got me beheaded (twice!) in Saudi Arabia and hanged in Iran (only once, those moderates) for sorcery. Thank Allah they didn't find my Severus Snape memes!

    We shall not speak of my appearance in the 2010 Reading is Sexy calendar except with counsel present.

    The totals are impressive. Mother would be so proud.

    • Beaten: 103 times
    • Tortured: 117 times
    • Beheaded: 2 times
    • Imprisoned: 181 times
    • Lashed: 47 times
    • Hanged: 1 time
    • Killed by extremists: 109 times
    • Persecuted: 101 times
    • Mutilated: 4 times

    And from the results, I may be postponing my visit to Portland, lest I be actually, instead of only virtually, imprisoned for protesting the government of the U.S.

    Sure, I'm a proud pinko commie, but even I didn't expect a result of 372 convictions for 15 crimes in 104 countries. It bears noting that most of these crimes would be non-crimes had my gender been male. 

    These crimes may be jokes to us, but to millions of people around the globe they are devastatingly real.

    The site is compelling to use, not just because we're all secretly addicted to quizzes about ourselves, but because of its impressive and impactful design, courtesy ColensoBBDO New Zealand. Amnesty hired the ad company to put together a site which contrasts the freedoms enjoyed by Kiwis with the everyday oppression facing many in other countries around the world. It sounds dry, but using the site is like being in the middle of your own episode of 24.

    Kashmir Hill at Forbes raises the issue of privacy with regard to the site: It really does want to see absolutely everything, and she simply does not trust it. That, of course, depends on how much information you feel comfortable sharing with Amnesty International as opposed to, say, PepsiCo. If the government of Saudi Arabia takes over Amnesty International, we're all gonna be in trouble, but for reasons that have nothing to do with Facebook. 

    In answer to the obvious questions: No, it won't spam your friends if you say no, and it won't turn you over to the religious police. But it might give you something to think about. 

    Photo via Princess Hijab via Napalm Joy/Tumblr

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    The easiest way to learn how to do something is often by seeing how it's done. But what can you really teach someone in just six seconds?


    Vine, the rising video-sharing network, is full of short tutorial videos that illustrate everything from how Wiz Khalifa sleeps on planes to how to “drive with a death wish,” according to Noah Sebastian. Some viners have adopted Tuesday as the de facto day to post such videos, using the hashtag #HowTuesday.

    Much of the advice is hilariously useless, but there are a few gems out there. We'll leave it to you to decide which is which. Here are some fun, strange, and insightful tips offered on Vine.

    1) How to remove a stripped screw

    2) How to do your makeup before date night

    3) How to tie a Windsor knot

    4) How to rearrange your roommate's den

    5) How to paint the deck and get a tan

    6) How to smile

    7) How to grill steaks

    8) How to not pay attention

    9) How to be honest when ordering Taco Bell  

    10) How to shop for rainbows with a baby

    11) How to vine without using your hands

    Photo by @k_rose_walk/Instagram

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    Rapper Tyler, the Creator delivered this fantastic Twitter rant after claiming he was temporarily banned from Instagram Tuesday. As you might expect, he didn't hold back, lashing out at Instagram, his peers, and his fans.




    Later in the day, he regained access to his account, @feliciathegoat. He didn't lose his 648,000 followers after all.


    Tyler's Instagram has made headlines in the past. In February, he photobombed tycoon Donald Trump backstage at a Late Night With Jimmy Fallon taping. More recently, he was at the center of a storm due to the ad he directed for Mountain Dew, which featured his compatriots in hip-hop collective Odd Future. Many called the ad racist, although its worst crime might just have been that it wasn't funny.

    It's not entirely clear why Tyler was temporarily banned. Perhaps it had something to do with his love of taking selfies while on the can.

    Photo by Tyler, the Creator/Instagram

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    Children grow up too fast these days—and we can probably blame the Internet for it.

    That's the takeaway from a new study conducted by Romanian-based antivirus merchant Bitdefender, which surveyed 19,000 parents worldwide and factored in data collected from the various parental control services it offers.

    According to the company, children are beginning to watch porn as early at 6 years old. While shocking, this isn't that big of a surprise given its prevalence. In fact, according to neuroscientist Ogi Ogas, pornographic content accounted for 13 percent of all Web searches from July 2009 to July 2010.

    The study also claims that a quarter of all children were on a social network by the age of 12, and that 17 percent were posting inane content on Facebook and Twitter by the time they were 10 years old. Facebook, no doubt, was already aware of these figures. In October 2012, the social network company triedand failed—to amend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) so that it could potentially allow children under the age of 13 to use its services.

    According to a Bitdefender representative, these stats are a result of the prevalence of the World Wide Web. 

    "Kids nowadays are acting like young adults—just give them an Internet-connected device, and they will find a way to things parents would like to ban forever," Chief Security Strategist Catalin Cosoi told USA Today, who had exclusive access to the study.

    So what can parents do to prevent Junior from visiting pornographic sites? The most obvious solution is to not give your kid a Web-enabled device at such an early age. Kids have no business owning an iPad when they can't even tie their own shoes.

    Photo via Luceila Ribeiro/Flickr

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    “This is the story of a feminist takeover,” wrote the author of Feminist at Sea, a Wordpress blog.

    A group of six feminists got hold of a notoriously misogynistic Facebook page called Bra Busters and replaced all the titillating, sexist content with feminist memes and quotes by authors like Andrea Dworkin and Virginia Woolf. There was mass outrage from Bra Busters’ original members—and mass victory celebration by feminists. Facebook moderators got involved, but the page contentiously remains in the hands of the feminists.

    How did this happen? Fairly easily, actually.


    Bra Busters’ administrator wanted new content for his pornographic page. A typical BB post might have included a paparazzi photo of actress Emma Watson buying underwear and then a scroll of comments discussing what her breasts look like. The original page was peppered with the words “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore.” He emailed a friend of Feminist at Sea, a woman he did not know but said he had “seen around,” to ask if she had any ideas to spice up the page. He told her it was an “objectification” page and that he was looking for posts that would make the members “think.”

    “I thought it was a trap. I do not know what his full motives were in the end,” she wrote. He made her an admin on the page.

    Her first act? Removing his control and giving Bra Busters to her feminist pals.

    The six women running Bra Busters, who agreed to talk to the Daily Dot collectively and anonymously via Facebook message, were concerned for their safety, they said, because they’d been receiving backlash and angry threats from men’s rights activists. They were worried the MRAs would publicly post their addresses or emails if they revealed their identities.  

    The Bra Busters page now has just over 3,000 subscribers. One admin spent an hour removing all the old content, including memes about women being “bitches” and “sluts,” upskirt shots, creepy close-ups of bras and underwear, and a photo of Jennifer Lawrence’s nip slip. (“She looked very unhappy and the guys on this page were laughing and joking about it,” wrote one moderator.)

    About a thousand members have so far “unliked” the new Bra Busters and complained loudly about the change in management, with such eloquent phrases as, “fack (sic) you bra busters new editor bitch!! ... go scissor your buth biker slut girlfriend.” The original male moderator seems to have disappeared.

    Feminist at Sea, a radical feminist who is one of the six new moderators, wrote on her blog: “Not only was the objectification of the women posted, who seemed often not even aware they were being fotographed (sic), obvious, but there was also evidence of extreme hatred for these women as well. The men loved to look at the pictures, but there was neither respect nor admiration for any of these women.”

    The women then upped the ante. “The comments men were leaving,” they wrote. “It was grotesque.”


    They decided to make these men accountable for their words and to shame them the way they’d shamed the women in the photos. They took the more vocal male members’ Facebook profile photos and captioned them with their vulgar comments. The new Bra Busters admins said the resulting “Whiney Dudes” meme has been one of the most popular features of the new page.

    On May 3, Feminist at Sea reported on her Twitter that she’d been locked out of Facebook for 24 hours for “posting pornography.” What she’d posted were the “Whiney Dudes” image macros. Someone had complained and Facebook took swift action. In a hypocritical twist, the men claimed their photos are being critiqued against their will. They reported the action to Facebook, which banned the admins from posting them, but the women have kept them up on a Blogspot site also called Whiney Dudes. The feminists were floored. Their initial complaints about the sexist Bra Busters page had gone unanswered, so why were they being banned for retaliating?

    “We have been reporting pornographic pages and pages that advocate violence against women, but they hardly ever get taken down,” they wrote. “Facebook's moderation is strange.”

    Articles constantly crop up about controversies arising from Facebook moderators' decisions to remove certain posts and to allow others. Photos of a woman breastfeeding and a new mother’s placenta, for instance, have been taken down. But a graphic video of a woman being decapitated was left alone for months, though Facebook is now reevaluating its policies on such videos.

    I wrote to Facebook’s press department: “I was wondering if the Feminist at Sea women were right in their claims that Facebook did nothing to shut down Bra Busters, but was helping the men by taking down the photos the women posted of them on Whiney Dudes? Are you monitoring the situation and what is your policy on pornographic FB pages or pages that objectify women?”

    Fred Wolens of Facebook Policy Communications said the social network has no record of the site being blocked from being linked on Facebook. “There's no current block on posting the site,” he said. He expressed confusion about my question and directed me to Facebook’s community standards page, which says that pornography is illegal on Facebook.

    Thank you so much for responding, I wrote. “I am confused a bit as to why a site like Bra Busters wouldn't be taken down, after numerous complaints? What is Facebook's policy on offensive pages?”

    “I can investigate further,” he wrote. Wolens has not written back since.


    Some have labeled the takeover “man-bashing” or “misandry in action.” Beyond replacing the porn with feminist content, the new admins have no plans for the page. The women feel they’re helping to educate a group of misguided men about feminism.

    “Some people chide us for ‘not being nice enough’  and that we should focus on education of and dialogue with these guys instead of ridiculing them,” they wrote. “I really don't want to engage with yet another man trying to tell feminists how to ‘do feminism right.'"

    There’s also been a flurry of “you go, girls!” from new feminist fans flocking to the site because they find the men’s outrage funny and say it’s inspiring them to take action against sexism. The women feel they’ve opened the site to very interesting discussions on gender and sexism, which are now going on in the comments—replacing the sexist displays via revolt and action.

    “When I was fairly new to feminism I was at times also shocked with how direct some of the feminists I encountered could be. I too had been taught from childhood to choose my words carefully and to not piss people off,” they wrote. “I have learned that for many men empowering women is all fine and dandy as long as you, as a woman, give them the opportunity to ignore you. This is where the 'be nice' indoctrination factors in. ... If you are more direct in your communications you quickly get labelled ‘a bitch,’ but they don't ignore you.”

    They added, “Sometimes you need to shout from the rooftops to be heard.”

    Photos via Bra-Busters/Facebook

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    Want to read Reddit but don’t have the time? Our daily Reddit Digest highlights the most interesting or important discussions from around the social news site—every morning.

    Fuck! Reddit sucks sometimes. It's now a daily occurance to see some advice animal meme deriding black people in general. I come to the comments and see it's a very American centric view on how blacks behave and what not. I mean can I live?!

    If I had to choose, I honestly would not have wanted to be black. This isn't a healthy way to think, but goddam it's really fucked up on Reddit. It's shit like this that makes me weary of Reddit meetups.

    Please dude, don't let some racist fuck inform you on how blacks behave. Most of us aren't what the stereotypes make us out to be. There are lots of blacks around the world not just in the U.S.

    EDIT: cue the PM's calling me a noisy nigger. It's cool guys, I get it. I'm genetically predisposed to be a noise maker...

    Fucking hell O_O

    Picture of the day: A set from the Tim Burton film Big Fish still stands in Alabama. (r/AbandonedPorn)

    Hottest subreddit: r/NewsCrowd (9 days)

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    In a grainy, black-and-white video of her final performance, Zhu Ling sweeps across the stage in a black skirt and white blouse before taking a seat behind a guqin, the six-stringed Chinese zither. She's been feeling sick recently, and you can tell she's a little nervous. But her fingers are precise. They pluck out a cautious melody.

    Zhu has no idea she's been poisoned.

    A heavy metal is coursing through her body, brutalizing her neurological system. By the time the rare element is finally diagnosed and purged, Zhu will be physically ruined, her brilliant mind permanently damaged, her mental capacities reduced to that of a 6-year-old. She will forever be trapped in 1995, believing she's a student at China’s most prestigious technical university.

    She will miss everything that happens next.

    Zhu's story has straddled and defined two ends of the Internet revolution, connecting two decades, two continents, and two generations. She was probably the first person whose life was saved thanks to crowdsourced medical advice.

    Nearly two decades later, her case has become the subject of what may be the largest amateur online manhunt in history, as millions of strangers in two countries unite on message boards and social media to scour the world for the only suspect in her poisoning, a woman barely seen or heard from since 1995—her college roommate.

    Photo via CCTV/YouTube

    It all began with an SOS made of ones and zeroes.

    Dr. John Aldis was sitting in his home office in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 1995, when the message popped up on his computer screen.

    “Docs in China unable to diagnose this disease. HELP!!"

    Aldis had served 20 years as a doctor in embassies around the world, from Jakarta to Lagos and eventually Beijing. Towards the end of his four-year tenure in Beijing, he’d taken a tour of Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMC) with his friend Dr. Chen Dechang, head of the critical care unit. Chen told him about a patient who suffered from mysterious symptoms they were struggling to diagnose.

    The Usenet message had his attention immediately.

    This is Peking University in China, a place of those dreams of freedom and democracy. However, a young, 21-year-old student has become very sick and is dying. The illness is very rare. Though they have tried, doctors at the best hospitals in Beijing cannot cure her; many do not even know what illness it is. So now we are asking the world—can somebody help us? 

    My god, Aldis remembers thinking. That's the same girl. He was no expert in toxicology, but Aldis knew people who were. He printed out the message and marched it straight to work at the state department the next day.

    Aldis wasn’t the only one digging into the mystery. First posted to the Usenet group on April 10, the message was jumping across phone lines and satellites at light speed, popping up on computer screens belonging to complete strangers across the world. In years to come, a thousand memes would propagate with the same kind of viral intensity. But to doctors poking around on the proto-Internet, this was an entirely new phenomenon. And it was deadly serious.

    In Los Angeles, toxicologist Ashok Jain would learn of the case from the teenage son of his department’s chair. Fellows at New York city’s world-famous poison control center, including 33-year-old Richard Hamilton, printed out the message and discussed it as an academic case study. At UCLA's School of Medicine, Xin Li, a China-born graduate student studying the untested field of telemedicine—sharing medical information over phone lines and the Internet—replied to the message.

    Keep me informed of what happened next, he said.

    He might be able to help.

    A month earlier, Beijing University student Bei Zhicheng had received a phone call from an old friend. He’d better go visit Zhu, the friend said, because it might be the last chance to see her alive. Zhu and Bei had had grown apart after graduating high school and attending different universities, but Bei had fond memories of her. She was sweet and kind, a whiz at math and science, and a gifted musician.

    Stepping into her hospital room, Bei’s first reaction was to flee. His former classmate was half-naked, strung up with so many tubes she hung like a puppet. Her eyes bulged out in an expression of unbelievable pain. “I was terrified,” he later recalled.

    Photo via CCTV/YouTube

    He paced the halls, trying to think of what he could do. Then he had an idea. His friend Cai Quanqing was experimenting with a new technology, just introduced to top universities and research institutions in China. Cai was one of the few students at Beijing University with an email address and access to Usenet groups.

    He asked Zhu’s parents if they would object to sending a message over the Internet, to spread her story to people all over the world.  

    “Please try if you can," her mother said.

    On April 10, the pair copied their digital SOS into a window on the board. Then they clicked "enter."

    In Los Angeles, Doctor Jain immediately suspected thallium poisoning. The same answer came to Hamilton and the fellows at New York's poison control center. And when Dr. Aldis heard back from his trusted colleague at the state department, the answer was clear: thallium.

    More than 1,500 other replies, many from top toxicologists around the world, poured in. Bei and Cai had turned on a faucet that they couldn’t control. The information was coming so fast they could barely translate a message before another two or three appeared. But even as the responses overwhelmed them, they couldn't help but notice that one alien word appearing again and again.


    Photo by W. Oelen/Flickr

    The 81st element on the periodic table looks like how you might imagine frozen mercury. Silver and delicate with a sharp metallic sheen, thallium is soft and malleable, giving with the ease of butter when cut. Called ta in Chinese, the metal does not exist free in nature, and it was unknown to science until 1861, when English chemist William Crookes noticed a strange residue left behind after making a batch of sulfuric acid. A year later, another chemist, Frenchman Claude-Auguste Lamy, figured out how to isolate the new element. Neither man had any idea they’d just discovered one of the most dangerous poisons in history.

    One gram of the stuff will kill you—slowly, painfully, over the course of two weeks. Since it’s odorless and tasteless, you can add a pinch to a drink and your victim will never know.

    Thallium competes with potassium, a key nutrient, replacing functioning ions with duds that just don't work. “It blocks energy production in the body at just about every level," Hamilton told me. "In neurons, in the gastrointestinal tract, in every organ system.

    “There's nothing it doesn't poison.”

    Dubbed the “poisoner’s poison,” thallium has long a been a favorite weapon for assassins and creative killers looking for a quiet murder weapon. It was Saddam Hussein's assassination tool of choice and a favorite of the KGB, too. For a long time, thallium sulfate was a common ingredient in rat poison, and murderous housewives baked it into treats or dropped a serving in tea. Between 1948 and 1953 in Australia, thallium poisoning almost became a fad; Sydney hospitals were overwhelmed with more than 103 cases of poisoning during the time period.

    Authorities slowly wisened up. Now thallium is illegal in most countries, its use restricted to a select few chemistry labs where researchers study its application in computer hardware and other high-tech fields. In 1995, only a few students and professors at Qingua University had access to thallium.

    Zhu wasn’t one of them.

    As the poison continued to ravage Zhu's body, Bei and Cai rushed to deliver their messages to the hospital. But the doctors were hesitant to believe diagnoses gathered from strangers over the Internet. Since Zhu didn’t have access to thallium, how could it possibly be the problem? They seemed unwilling to entertain the notion Zhu had been deliberately poisoned.


    For Zhu’s parents, the crescendo of voices from around the world was too much to ignore. They collected samples of their daughter’s blood and hair and sent them to a toxicology expert elsewhere in Beijing.

    Aldis remembers receiving the phone call April 28 from either Bei or Cai (18 years later, he can’t remember which) while he was at a medical conference in Hawaii.

    “It is thallium poisoning!” the voice shouted over the receiver. More than 1,000 times the normal amount.

    Now the PUMC doctors were willing to admit they needed urgent help: How should they treat her? UCLA grad student Xin Li ,27, stepped up as an impromptu coordinator, reaching out to Jain and Hamilton, of the Los Angeles and New York poison control centers, and translating their instructions for Beijing. He set up a website to track the case, (still available on the Internet archive) where he uploaded a rolling set of updates on her condition, as well as MRI scans of her brain and other medical documents.

    The American doctors urged administering the antidote immediately: Prussian Blue, a pigment frequently used in painting and inks.

    There was no medical Prussian Blue in the entire capital, the Chinese doctors soon discovered. Could they use the industrial dye from local factories? Yes, the Americans responded. On May 3, nearly a month after Bei and Cai’s Usenet plea for help, doctors finally began administering the antidote. Thallium levels plummeted and then rose and then plummeted again.

    At one point, Zhu’s mother noticed beads of blue sweat forming across Zhu’s skin. But the Americans said that was not unusual. She was sweating out Prussian Blue—and with it, the thallium. On May 9, the poison's levels were 21 milligrams per liter of blood, down from a high of 33. By May 12, the levels had dropped to almost zero.

    Zhu was cured.

    But the help had come too late.

    “She’s a girl with no brain and one lung," Aldis said. "She will never tie her shoelaces. She's severely neurologically bad off. Did we succeed?"

    Zhu was left nearly blind, permanently brain-damaged, confined to a wheelchair. For the rest of her life, she would depend entirely on her parents' care.

    For her family and everyone who had helped her, one question still lingered: Who poisoned Zhu?


    There’s no real American parallel for Tianya. Launched in 1999, China’s largest Web forum has dominated the country’s Web culture for more than a decade, a petri dish for Internet subcultures but also a hub for China's mainstream Internet: Imagine 4chan and Reddit spliced with the old AOL launch page. In the 2000s, Tianya achieved a certain level of fame and notoriety for something called the “human flesh search engine,” a somewhat grotesque term used to describe China's unique brand of crowdsourced online detective work.

    In 2005, the human flesh search engine was let loose on Zhu’s case. It began on Tianya, with a single post from a user calling herself Skyoneline: “Ten years ago, while I was still in college, I heard about Zhu Ling’s story on the news."

    The case laid out by Skyoneline told a story of jealousy, corruption, and cover up, all pointing a finger at a woman named Sun Wei.

    Sun Wei was Zhu Ling's classmate, roommate, and teammate on the college folk music team. According to some Tsinghua students, Sun was doing a research with her professor at that time, and was the only student that had access to thallium. Besides, due to her close relationship with Zhu, she had the best chance and time to poison Zhu. (Translation via China Daily)

    The story was a lot more than hearsay. Police really did question Sun Wei in August 1995, but they released her after eight hours. In 1998, they dropped the case, citing lack of evidence

    Speculation on Tianya suggested something more sinister at play: Sun Wei had powerful family connections. Her father's cousin had once been deputy mayor of Beijing, and her grandfather was a close acquaintance of Jiang Zemin, China's president at the time. In China, guanxi, or personal connections, are a powerful cultural force, encouraging nepotism and favoritism, and perpetuating class disparities. In Sun’s case, Tianya users alleged, guanxi was enough to help Sun get away with murder.

    As the Skyoneline post set Tianya alight with conspiracy theories, old names resurfaced. Bei Zhicheng posted to the forum, asserting his own suspicions: “The police's suspicion was based on facts presented by Qinghua University: Sun Wei was the only student with access to thallium, and Zhu Ling's back-up on the Folk Music Team," Bei wrote.

    He continued:

    According to a retired officer with the Beijing Municipal Police Station, Zhu Ling's cup was found in a box under Sun Wei' s bed. The other thing I want to mention is the apathy shown by Zhu Ling's classmates. Nobody offered a hand when I asked them for help in translating the emails on Zhu Ling's illness we got from the foreign experts.

    Here was word from someone who had firsthand knowledge of the events, hinting both of a motive and perhaps conspiracy. Sun was jealous of her beautiful and talented roommate. And her friends refused to help the campaign to save Zhu’s life.

    Strangers began calling Sun’s family home. They hounded her old friends, too, the ones Bei accused of apathy: her former roommate, Jin Ya, her next-door neighbor, Li Hanlin, and Li's husband, Xue Gang. The tireless human flesh search engine appeared to be weighing Sun Wei down. After talking over the situation with her friends, she finally broke her 10-year public silence. She issued a statement—on Tianya:

    "I am innocent, and also a victim of the case,” Sun began, before suggesting that thallium was very easy to access at the university. “Sometimes, the laboratory was even left unlocked.”

    She added: “On the Internet, even though everyone has just a virtual identity, one should still be rational, objective and responsible for their own words and actions."

    Around the same time, a hacker broke into Sun’s email account and posted her conversations with her friends online. The emails revealed a sense of helplessness and a desire to to fight back, but Zhu’s supporters saw the discussion as a conspiracy to whitewash Sun’s image.

    Sun was fighting an impossible public relations battle: One woman and her friends against pretty much all of China’s Internet. After posting once more to Tianya, she apparently gave up. In the years that followed, she allegedly changed her name to Sun Shiyan and fled to the United States, where she goes by the name Jasmine Sun.

    Despite the groundswell of public interest in the case, it never reopened. It went cold as it was in 1995.


    The longer Zhu Ling’s poisoner remains unpunished, the deeper anger settles into the bones of China’s Internet.

    “The intelligent, diligent, multi talented, and beautiful Zhu Ling ... represents every Chinese parent’s dream and is every young Chinese student’s role model,” ChinaFiles Sun Yunfan wrote last week. “For 19 years many people in China have believed that her dreams were shattered by someone with a powerful family, and that justice could not be served because the ‘ruling class’ was above the rules.”

    Few things inspire Chinese populist rage as much as corruption; the case symbolizes the helplessness many Chinese feel in the face of a judicial and political system that bends to the will of the powerful.  

    These tensions have always simmered under the surface, but the Internet provides a platform for anyone to sidestep censors and reach audiences in the millions. Private companies like Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media giant, employ small armies of censors to comply with government directives, but sometimes information simply moves too fast. Last year, social media exposed a half dozen sex and corruption scandals among Chinese officials. And in 2011, it proved a powerful force in revealing how graft and corruption helped cause a train derailment that killed 37 people.

    On April 15, 2013, a graduate student at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University fell ill and died. The similarities with Zhu’s 20-year-old cold case ago were obvious, except for one key detail: In Shanghai, police moved swiftly to arrest the murdered student’s roommate.

    A switch clicked in the Chinese Internet. Overnight Zhu’s name dominated conversation. The Beijing Security Bureau's Sina Weibo page became a lightning rod for online fury, as netizens littered it with invectives and complaints and demands to reopen the case. Celebrities with millions of followers helped fuel the fire, and soon Sina Weibo censors stepped in with a ham handed censorship campaign, deleting high-profile posts about Zhu Ling. That only spurred conspiracy—a sense of dread that the government was once more shirking justice in favor of the powerful. Wrote one Sina Weibo user:

    A powerful force has decided that microblogging related to Zhu Ling has become worthy of censoring and controlling, including those tweets written by celebrities and the People’s Daily. The force is so powerful it can withstand millions of microbloggers in pursuit of justice. (Translation via Bloomberg)

    By April 30, Zhu's name was a trending topic on Weibo, before suddenly disappearing. It’s not clear if Sina Weibo was acting on its own or if the government itself was directing censorship. A leaked memo acquired by China Digital Times, however, revealed Chinese officials were taking online chatter about the case seriously. The directives from the state's propaganda department demanded that Chinese media official police accounts of events be trusted implicitly:

    If producing reports concerning the thallium poisoning of Qinghua University student Zhu Ling, all media and website coverage must without exception accord authoritative information from the relevant Beijing municipal departments. Do not challenge [the information from the authorities] and do not sensationalize the story.

    As the state’s stranglehold began to settle in, it was almost natural for Chinese to once again look overseas for help.

    Occasionally blocked in China and little known to most Americans, is a bustling message board catering to the the U.S.'s sizable Chinese population. Members have followed Zhu for years, but discussion heated up a few days after the Shanghai poisoning incident.

    Leaping off trailheads from mainland China, Huaren users trawled through the online footprints of Sun’s alleged accomplices (the “Thallium Party”). Li Hanlin and Xue Gang had long ago married and moved to the United States, launching successful careers in big pharmaceutical companies. Hanlin was formerly a principal scientist at Pfizer; Xue Gang recently began work Amgen.

    On the Huaren boards, details from the trio's social media profiles trickled in at constant pace: home addresses, phone numbers, emails, satellite photos of their houses, photographs of the couple and their young child. Their employers were hit with a deluge of phone calls and emails, most of which were some variation of this:

    I know Mr. Gang XUE through this crime and I know your company, Amgen, through this crime. I feel deeply sorry to see that your company, a prestigious image preciously created and maintained, is linked to this cruel, cold-blooded crime through Mr. Gang XUE, a dishonest, low morale and manipulating person.

    (Amgen declined to speak to the Daily Dot, saying it does not speak on the private affairs of its employees.)

    When Huaren users discovered the couple was posting their $400,000 Waterford, Conn., house for sale, they peppered the listing company with emails. Within a few days the listing agent had dumped it from the website. Both Xue and Li have since worked to scrub their trail from the Internet.

    “Although I'm a bit younger, Zhu Ling and I are from the same generation,” Huaren user chitchat told me. She’s been deeply involved in the campaign and told me she’s a naturalized U.S. citizen and a professor at an American university. “We could have shared similar personal joys [and] and dreams and professional ambitions.

    “Zhu Ling's aging yet resilient and respectable parents could have been mine.”

    Another branch of the Huaren campaign focused on publicizing the case to a U.S. audience, like a crowdsourced America's Most Wanted.

    They battled over Zhu Ling's Wikipedia page, eventually prevailing in ensuring that Sun Wei's role in the case was included. A dozen other Huaren users worked feverishly to translate a famous CCTV news report on Zhu Ling’s case, hoping it might hit the front page of YouTube. That never happened, but the video has been viewed more than 90,000 times and does provide one of the best English-language introductions to the case.

    “The production group doesn't want to create a wrong impression of a ‘Internet witch hunt,’” chitchat told me. The goal, she suggested, was to “push Sun and/or her accomplices to confess,” so their statements would stand as evidence for reopening the investigation.

    The pressure on Sun boiled over on May 3, when her name landed on the White House's front steps. Thousands had flocked to an online petition started by Huaren user Y.Z., demanding the U.S. investigate and deport Sun Wei. (There’s still little solid evidence she lives in the United States. Sun has been an online ghost since 2006.) With more than 100,000 signatures, the petition easily gathered enough supporters to pass the White House's threshold for an official response. It’s not clear the Obama administration can do much of anything, however, beyond making a public statement; the Justice Department has no jurisdiction over foreign criminal cases.

    The campaign was always more about raising awareness than somehow forcing Obama’s hand, however. Back in the mainland, agitation from the public finally forced the Beijing Public Safety Bureau to release a feckless statement on its official Weibo account about the case. The police claimed Zhu's poisoning case was simply too old to effectively reopen, and things were handled correctly the first time around: “The dedicated investigation team worked according to law, and the investigation was never compromised or interfered with in any way.” Around the same time Sina Weibo finally lifted its censorship of Zhu Ling's name.


    For Americans, the Zhu Ling campaign may recall uncomfortable similarities to the vigilantism after the Boston Marathon bombing, when thousands of amateur Internet detectives scoured public footage of the attack and misidentified the bombers—twice. But China's judicial system works behind a veil made murky by political sensitivity and corruption. As Motherboard’s Alex Pasternack put it:

    Of course there is a risk to the vigilantism that Zhu's case has inspired. Crowdsourcing may be useful for diagnosing a disease, but as America's failed attempt to crowd-source the Boston bomber's identity demonstrated, it's not necessarily a very good way to solve a crime.

    In the wake of crimes like the Boston bombing, Americans can speculate about the power of the crowd to do that sort of thing; in China, sometimes there's no other option.

    There is another option.

    A private investigator is now on the hunt. Earlier this month, Huaren members chipped in  $1,500 to hire to hire the U.S.-based PI, hoping he might be able to discover Sun Wei’s location and uncover alleged tax fraud she committed with her husband.

    Zhu Ling is now 40 years old. Her septuagenarian parents still take care of her everyday, flushing sputum from her lungs, massaging her legs, hooking her up to a respirator.

    "Things used to be so different," her mother toldChina Daily. "Before the tragedy all she brought me was joy. Her life would have been so promising if her plans had worked out. But now all that is lost. There's nothing left."

    Sun Wei will probably never receive a fair trial. But most of the Chinese-speaking world is making sure she'll be a fugitive the rest of her life.

    Donations to Zhu Ling's family can be sent via the Help Zhu Ling Foundation.For an excellent contemporary account of the case, check out Malcolm McConnell's excellent 1996 Reader's Digest article, "Rescue on the Internet," which provided some of the background information for this article. Check it out here (pages 1, 2, and 3).

    Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

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    Swedish bloggers are learning something Americans have known for quite some time: American Apparel ads are sexist and objectify women.

    On Tuesday, 24-year-old Emelie Eriksson wrote a piece on her blog "En Blommig Tekopp" lambasting the Los Angeles-based company for using sexualized images of women to promote their unisex clothing while showing fully-clothed men to push the same products.

    Eriksson juxtaposes photographs of both men and women wearing the same shirt and inserts her own snarky commentary.

    "No. I think I'll give this shirt a miss. Cos I kinda think I want to wear pants with it. I'll probably catch a kidney infection walking around with a bare ass like that before summer," she notes.

    "Because it seems as though women can ONLY wear this shirt (ONLY) if they tie it to the front. But if I were a man, well I could have worn this shirt whilst hanging out with my friends, chilling, smoking. Crap. Oh well, I'll wait."

    It's not just Eriksson who's offended. News outlet The Local confirmed with the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman that they had gotten multiple complaints over the ads. Unfortunately, because the images were posted on a site that doesn’t use a Swedish .se domain, there's very little the government agency can do.

    But just because the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman is powerless, it doesn't mean that others are taking this lying down. On Wednesday, online retailer byPM responded to the offensive images by posting one of their own, only this time around it's a man who has his derriere exposed.

    Photo via byPM

    The model baring it all is Peter Lindqvist, byPM's founder and co-owner.

    "We wanted to do something of our own and reverse gender roles to see what happens when a guy is in the same position," Lindqvist explained to Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

    "We wanted to open people's eyes by turning things on their head. People don't think it's okay to see a naked man in the same way."

    For its part, American Apparel is deflecting any criticism by claiming that bloggers are misunderstanding "artistic photography" for "product photography."

    "We don't think there is anything in these pictures that deviates from the norm and we think they show our clothes and the models in an attractive way and aren't discriminating in the least," company representative—and professional media manipulator—Ryan Holiday told Aftonbladet.

    Photo via Guilhem Vellut/Flickr

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    Team Breezy must be on cloud nine right now. Chris Brown has a new smartphone app that is all about him, all the time, forever and ever. 

    The app's billed as a way to keep up with the singer 24/7, rolling in his tweets, photos, videos, and music. Some fans will have the opportunity to chat with him one-on-one, and he has control over the content that appears in the app.

    "I am so excited to get closer to my fans—to bring them into my world, hearing from me directly, in my own words wherever I am, whenever they want," Brown said in a statement. "Through my channel app, they can be part of my music, my art and my life, day in and day out."

    "My own words" is the key phrase here. Brown has complained that he feels misunderstood and that the media, not his violent attack, strained his relationship with ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Here's his chance to interact with Team Breezy without having to threaten to shart in the eye of any critics.

    Before you get into the app, you'll need to give Brown and his management team access to your Facebook and/or Twitter account, or provide your email address. 


    Once you're in, you'll be treated to Brown's music videos and clips he's sharing with fans. When we tested it out, the first screen showed the message: "Welcome to my Channel. We can hang here anytime, anywhere, wherever we are in the world. Dope right?" Yes, Chris.

    That welcome message had 3,454 "stars" (akin to likes or favorites), and more than 1,300 comments within 15 minutes of its posting. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of criticism in the comments; it's all Team Breezy members saluting their hero. It should be noted that Brown and his team have full control over the app, so any dissenting commenters may get short shrift.


    His face is everywhere in the app, gurning out at fans who follow his every move. No paintings of Jesus with a six-pack just yet, but maybe we'll see more of his art soon.

    Brown was sentenced to five years' probation and six months' community service after assaulting Rihanna in 2009. He quit Twitter for a while after a spat with Jenny Johnson in which he, incredibly enough, made misogynistic comments. It was nice to be rid of him for a while. And yet, it's harder to get rid of Brown than it is a cockroach. He resurfaced on Twitter and Instagram soon after, unfortunately.

    Brown may largely use his app (or channel or whatever you want to call it) to keep in touch with fans from now on. If we could just lock him in there and keep him away from the rest of the Internet, that'd be smashing.

    H/T USA Today | Photo via the Chris Brown Channel

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    Jennie Lamere's anti-spoiler Twitter app just won her a pretty sweet summer internship.

    Lamere hit headlines earlier this month after she created Twivo, which blocks out certain keywords to protect you from TV-show spoilers on Twitter. The app is now a couple of weeks away from its official launch.

    Twivo was the only woman-submitted project at TV Next, a hackathon in Boston. It was the only solo project too. She scooped the grand prize, beating out teams from event sponsors such as Klout and ESPN.

    On Thursday afternoon, she shared her good news on—where else?—Twitter.

    Lamere, 18, will be working closely with the company's Crashlytics team on a crash-reporting tool Twitter acquired earlier in the year. Lamere's father, also a developer, tweeted a photo of her receiving the offer letter.

    The internship is a positive note in Lamere's already upbeat story. Thankfully, there were no spoilers in sharing her news.

    H/T Techcrunch | Photo by @plamere/Twitter

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    In the classic Simpsons episode "Deep Space Homer," viewers get an inside glimpse of NASA that's, well, a little cartoonish.

    To justify a plot that puts buffoonish Simpson patriarch Homer in space, the show's writers concocted a version of NASA that was supremely concerned with ratings. After the latest shuttle launch fails to beat Home Improvement and Married With Children in the Nielsen race, NASA administrators show up at Moe's Tavern to pluck a couple of "average Joes" out of obscurity to become the nation's next astronauts.

    Nearly 20 years have passed since that episode first aired, and suddenly the premise seems a whole lot less absurd.

    After only two weeks (and with plenty of time before the Aug. 31 deadline), more than 78,000 "average Joes" have already signed up for a spot aboard a proposed colonization mission to Mars that also just happens to be a reality show. The Mars One project, which claims it will send a crew of pioneers on a one-way trip to the red planet by 2023, is using the Internet to democratize the astronaut selection process.

    "Applicants we have received come from a very wide range of personalities, professions and ages,” said Norbert Kraft, Mars One's chief medical officer. "This is significant because what we are looking for is not restricted to a particular background." 

    The flight candidates are indeed diverse. That's obvious enough from the video applications posted on the Mars One site. They include everyone from students to engineers to theme park employees (who say their job makes them accustomed to thrills). Gone are the early days of space travel, chronicled in The Right Stuff, when the government culled through the crème de la crème of military pilots. The doors have been flung open to everyone who wants to throw their space helmet in the ring.

    It is the American Idol of space travel. And as is the case with that show, the first round of auditions bring out the delusional and the jokers. There are candidates like Kitty Kane, 23, who said she wants to go to Mars because "she likes eating food out of pouches." Others seem to think attitude is all it takes.

    “Why would I like to go to Mars? Well that’s the cowboy side of me," said Benjamin Payne, a 20-year-old security guard.

    Screen grab via Mars One

    But as one pores over the applications, it becomes clear that those sort of videos are the minority. Most of the applications are surprisingly sincere. Their videos are not like the narcissistic, gimmicky video essays born out of The Real World and carried on by its progeny; many of the candidates have a refreshing earnestness about them. They don't care about the criticism Mars One has received, and they see this as their legitimate chance to take the next giant leap for mankind.

    "A lot of people online, I've noticed, have been rather negative, calling Mars One a scam, or foolish for even trying," said Jason Canard, an Australian applicant. "But frankly, of all the efforts to go to Mars, Mars One appears to have done the most work towards that goal."

    It's true, many experts have criticized the program, with its reality TV component and sensationalized candidate search. But Canard and many of his fellow applicants are dreamers, hypnotized by the romanticism of interplanetary travel. Infatuation with manned space flight (or even just fictionalized shows about space flight) from an early age is a recurring theme among many of the applicants.

    "I was very obsessed with space travel when I was young," Canard told The Daily Dot. "When I became old enough to understand that the only astronauts that got to go to space lived in a spacefaring country (USA, Russia, China, etc.) that obsession directed itself towards fiction rather than reality. But now with all the private space industry popping up, all that desire to personally go into space and visit other planets has come back with a vengeance."

    This drive for exploration seems to come with a very sober sense of what a one-way trip to Mars actually entails. 

    Mars One's stated plan is to start sending unmanned supply ships with critical infrastructure to Mars by 2016. In the meantime, training of Mars colonists will begin on Earth in an elimination-style reality TV contest where viewers get to help decide the actual crew. The first crew of four settlers would be launched in 2023. If their mission is successful, follow-up crews would be sent on a regular basis every two years when the Earth and Mars are in optimal alignment.

    But the major caveat for prospective colonists to consider is that, no matter what, this is a one-way mission. They would leave all their loved ones behind to live out the rest of their lives with a small group of people on a planet that can be as far away as 249 million miles from Earth. 

    The men who walked on the moon talk about the surreal feeling about being able to fit "your entire sense of reality behind your thumb" held out at arm's length. Settlers on Mars could fit their entire sense of reality — every person they've ever known and every place they've ever been — behind the head of a needle at arm's length.

    Photo by NASA

    Many of the more serious applicants appear to have considered this eventuality and have ultimately decided they still want to take voyage.

    "The most common question I get is, how can you even consider leaving the ocean, fresh air, us, forever?" said Jeremy Goodwin, 40, of Canada. "What I've been telling them is, 'We find meaning in our lives in different ways.'"

    Like many others, Goodwin believes that being among the first to voyage to a new planet would surpass any possible experience that could be had here on Earth. In fact, many seem motivated by the idea that they could leave a lasting legacy that goes beyond nationality and generation, that could ripple out across mankind.

    "I have my mom, dad, sisters, and friends, and I love them and I have a good job here," says applicant Mubashshir, 27, of India. "But when I have an open and significant option to contribute to the whole living kingdom, I would definitely not mind compromising my life on Earth for such a great mission. Of course I am going to have my remaining life on Mars."

    Testimonies like this make it clear that these are not your average reality show applicants. These are idealistic dreamers with a macrocosmic view on humanity. Countless application essays are delivered in language that is self-aware of the speaker's place in the evolutionary ladder. The sacrifice of a social life on Earth is viewed as a necessity for continued survival of the human race. 

    But is Mars One really the vehicle for tackling such an audacious mission, or are they preying upon the naivete of hopeful scientific dreamers? 

    Mars One is a nonprofit organization based out of the Netherlands. They rightly claim that a Mars trip is feasible in the foreseeable future with "existing technology." But Amy Shira Teitel of Physics Focus says there is a big difference between technology that could theoretically take humans to Mars and technology that is "flight tested" for such a journey. 

    "The team behind the mission claims that the mission is feasible with existing hardware. That may be true, but 'existing' does not necessarily mean flight ready, let alone suitable for a manned mission. Only the Russian Soyuz is currently able to take humans into space, and that’s not a spacecraft equipped to land on Mars. And the landing is another issue. Mars One says it will use retrorocket (rockets that fire to slow the spacecraft for a soft touchdown) and no parachute to land its crew on Mars. That’s a method that’s never been done. NASA’s Viking landers use retrorockets, but they also used a parachute in the early stage of their descent and weighed far less than a manned spacecraft. I can only imagine how much the fuel for a powered descent would weigh for a spacecraft not taking advantage of a parachute-assisted descent."

    There is also plenty of concern about the way Mars One is going about its search. Any healthy individuals over the age of 18 are eligible to make the trip. Applications are being accepted in 11 languages, but fluent English will be required of anyone who actually makes the journey. And in the first round of applications, candidates are being asked not about their scientific expertise, but rather their sense of humor. The idea is that candidates are being screened as colonists, not scientists. But with a staggering amount of deep space infrastructure to be maintained millions of miles away from any other humans, technical and scientific expertise will obviously be critical.

    Mars One did not return The Daily Dot's request for comment on any of these concerns.

    Still, it's unlikely that the practical concerns of a one-way mission to Mars would dissuade applicants — at least for now, while the mission still seems a bit like science fiction. After all, for the average Joes who dream of life beyond our planet, this is a fantasy come true.

    "That I’m now actually applying to be a crew member on a human expedition to Mars is my wildest fantasy come true," said applicant Erica Meszaros. "I know, pretty tame fantasies, huh?"

    Photo by NASA

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    Barrett Brown is, per the classical definition, a tragic figure.  

    The Anonymous associate is in jail, where he’s likely to remain for the foreseeable future, serving as a touchstone—a spokesman less for truth, justice, and the American way than for the dangers of believing a little Web knowledge and a ferocious posture will make you untouchable.

    Brown is not a hacker but rather a journalist and information conduit. He first came to major public notice with a campaign called #OpCartel. In October of 2011, Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel created by dirty cops from the Mexican Federales and other quasi-military law enforcement groups, allegedly kidnapped Anonymous members.

    An apparent spokesman for the hacktivist collective, Brown threatened that most violent of narcoterrorist groups, one which has apparently used hackers to target social media users, with exposure—by hacking their information and publishing the names of law enforcement officials, politicians, journalists, and taxi drivers who were working with the groups.

    #OpCartel was by no means a widely embraced campaign, with many inside and outside of Anonymous decrying it for its potential to get innocent people killed. It was eventually dropped after the kidnapped Anonymous member was apparently freed.

    Brown’s actions were criticized as self-aggrandizing and reckless by many. But he continued, accusing a North Carolina U.S. district attorney, Asheville’s Ron Moore, of being in league with the cartels. He followed that up by accusing another hacker, Robin Jackson of Montana, of the same thing.

    In December 2011, Brown solicited help on Reddit in sifting through over 3 million emails secured by the AntiSec subgroup of Anonymous in a hack of the private security group Stratfor.

    Finally, in March of 2012, Brown's apartment was raided in a large cross-Atlantic arrest of LulzSec hackers, another subgroup Brown was associated with. It was later revealed in the course of these arrests that LulzSec leader Hector Xavier Monsegur, known as “Sabu,” had been acting as an FBI informant. Brown was not arrested at the time.

    It wasn’t until six months later, in September, that the FBI apprehended Brown. It happened on camera during a live chat between Brown and a dozen other participants.

    As the Daily Dot reported at the time:

    “The shirtless and relaxed Brown is sitting in the dark with his girlfriend, teasing an attractive chat member about being a GIF instead of a real person, when he evidently hears something and goes off camera. His girlfriend evidently shut off the webcam, but the audio continued to run, capturing what sounds like a very agitated Brown having a shout-off with officers who react with predictable physicality.”

    A few hours previous, Brown had released a video, titled “Why I'm Going to Destroy FBI Agent Robert Smith,” in which he threatened to ruin an FBI agent's life and "look into his fucking kids"  if he were harassed.

    Brown’s tendency to put himself forward as a “spokesman” for the amorphous group irritated many Anonymous hacktivists and their supporters. But his ability to get press was valued. So feelings about him ran hot and cold. With his dramatic arrest, it ran hot, with members posting the video of the arrest, the cleaned-up audio, and a transcript. And then cold, with some asserting he, like Sabu, had been working with the FBI and the arrest had been staged.

    In a subsequent letter, Brown alleged his ribs had been broken during the arrest and that he was withdrawing from a heroin substitute, and authorities in the Texas facility where he was held were refusing him medical care.

    Brown was indicted in October for threatening the FBI agent in the video. In December, he was indicted on a slew of additional charges relating to the Stratfor hack. Brown was instrumental in communicating the information, which he was not involved in securing, to the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks. He helped to “allegedly disseminate a link to the hacked information by pasting a link to the documents into an IRC chatroom, and this is the basis for the new charges,” as Daily Dot wrote at the time.

    The new indictment included one count of stolen authentication features, one count of access device fraud, and 10 counts of aggravated identity theft.

    This month, Brown appeared at a pretrial hearing in Dallas with a new defense team, including Charles Swift, the former Navy lieutenant commander who defended Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden’s driver; Univeristy of Texas law school instructor Ahmed Ghappour; and Marlo Cadeddu, an attorney from Dallas.

    His trial is scheduled to begin in September. If found guilty on all counts, he could face a century of jail time.

    Why is Barrett Brown important? Primarily as a cautionary tale. Quite aside from whether or not he did what he is accused of and whether his actions make him legally guilty under U.S. law, his situation proves you don’t have to be a hacker to be arrested and charged with doing the things hackers do. You don’t have to be a terrorist to be lumped in together with them in the governmental, or public, eye. The appearance of impropriety, as they say, can be enough to redefine you against your will.

    Another important thing Brown’s story teaches us is that widely distributed digital partnerships like Anonymous, LulzSec, AntiSec, and others are often thought of in a manner much different than they operate, sometimes even by those involved. Anonymous is not a group like the Boy Scouts, SAG, or the Chicago outfit.

    But at times individuals like Brown, who acted as though he spoke for “the group” will be considered its face and indicted (metaphorically as well as literally) for its sins as soon as he is admired for its achievements.

    Barrett Brown is important not because he is a simple figure. He is neither a cartoon villain nor a comic book superhero. He’s a person who took real personal chances to bridge the gap from marginal hackers to the newspaper-snapping public but also repeatedly made idiot mistakes, building Babel-high on a tottering but needy ego.

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story asserted that Brown had threatened to kill an FBI. Brown actually clarified his threat with the following statement, made in the same YouTube video: 

    When I say his life is over, I’m not saying I’m going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids. Because Aaron Barr did the same thing and he didn’t get raided for it. How do you like them apples?

    Illustration by Jason Reed

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    Professional dominatrixes, VIP escort services, and independent workers alike are speaking out against LinkedIn for perpetuating the stigma that their work is not legitimate. 

    The job-networking site changed the language on its user agreement last week to include specific language banning sex work. The way the update reads, one may not:

    Upload, post, email, InMail, transmit or otherwise make available or initiate any content that: Even if it is legal where you are located, create profiles or provide content that promotes escort services or prostitution.

    The reaction from sex workers and those in the prostitution industry, especially brothels and workers in places such as the counties in Nevada where sex work is legal, has been largely negative. Adding specific language to ban sex work from LinkedIn, they say, suggests that the site views sex workers as troubled or troublemakers.

    Mistress Matisse, a professional dominatrix and writer in Seattle, posted a link to the story on her Twitter Wednesday, expressing displeasure with the new rules. Matisse told the Daily Dot she doesn’t use LinkedIn anyway but that her problem is more the principle of the matter.

    “I think it's ridiculous—and simply unjust—that consensual adult sex work is illegal in some places, and that it's so stigmatized that people would be offended by even seeing the profile of a sex worker,” she said. “There are lots of professions that are regulated very differently from country to country, and I doubt that users expect Linkedin to ban ANY mention of ANY profession that MIGHT be illegal in ANY country. That's the part of this that's wrong.”


    LinkedIn’s new rule—which extends not only to prostitution businesses but to freelance or self-employed sex workers the industry calls “independents"—is a part of a larger problem associated with sex work on social networks. In 2010, Craigslist caved into outside pressure and famously got rid of its adult-services section. A quick LinkedIn search as of yesterday revealed that the site still allows you to search for strippers and porn actresses under “Jobs.”

    Yelp, a site where businesses might advertise their services, does not show any escort services or brothels in search results (even in legal Nevada counties), but it does allow discussions on where to find prostitutes in its “conversations” section. There are also separate sites like Yelp for prostitution and escort services that are currently up and running, including My Red Book and The Erotic Review.

    “There really is no story here,” said Doug Madey, an associate at LinkedIn’s Corporate Communications. “Here's the reality—we have always prohibited these kinds of profiles. The recent change in our UA just makes it more explicitly prohibited.” 

    In the old LinkedIn user agreement, he said, the company had covered the area of escort services and prostitution by saying that one could not use a profile to promote anything "unlawful." However, in some countries, sex work actually is lawful, so the new language isn’t legal, just the company’s personal position.

    “It was confusing, and a little too general and vague, for our members,” Madey said. “And the whole purpose of our rewrite of our user agreement was to make it clearer for our members. … But to be totally clear, our policy has not changed. We didn't allow profiles to promote these kinds of activities before, and we still don't.” 

    As LinkedIn becomes aware of profiles and other activity on the site that may be in violation of its policies, he said, the company will take “appropriate action.”

    LinkedIn might be used by sex workers in conjunction with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter to create a personal brand for a prostitute’s persona, said Stacey Swimme, a sex worker for the past 15 years and an advocate for sex workers' rights. She said LinkedIn’s ban is the result of the false idea that sex workers aren’t “normal” people.

    And if a large social-networking site like LinkedIn is able to ban sex workers, what is stopping other large sites like Twitter, Facebook, and even Google?

    “If he’s saying this is a non-story,” she said, responding to Madey’s comment, “that indicates to me that [LinkedIn’s] attitude is that the people that they are discriminating against aren’t actually people, and that these aren’t lives we’re affecting.”

    For the sex workers that actually use LinkedIn, the ban affects their ability to keep in touch with clients, who might be businessmen or CEOs. Madison Graham, a prostitute at Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch North in Carson City, Nev., currently has a LinkedIn profile that she’s worried every day will get taken down. She joined the site to procure regulars who wanted to message her for repeat connections. Before the controversy last week, her LinkedIn profile had about five views per month. Since the ban, her profile has received about 26 views a day,” Graham said—a significant increase due to upped Googling of “prostitution + LinkedIn.”

    Her boss Hof’s profile has been removed, and he’s been vocal in the media recently protesting the ban. Graham told the Daily Dot that she understands if the company wants to take down illegal prostitutes who are using LinkedIn to break the law, but she stressed that her work is legal.

    “I have a federal background check. I have medical tests every week. I have a license from the county I’m in,” she said. “I’m fully legal. I pay taxes on my money, so don’t question the morality of Nevada. They’re not the moral police. I’m a legal business, and I should be treated with the same respect as any other legal business.”

    Sex worker and activist Siouxsie Q, like most employees, entered her profession by choice and wants to be taken seriously as an entrepreneur. Sex work is real work, she insisted, but those who choose it as a job are treated as second-class citizens.

    “I'm just like any other American girl working hard to pursue her dreams,” said Siouxsie, who also created a podcast called The WhoreCast in the hopes of humanizing sex workers. “Under LinkedIn's new policy, I would not be able to have a profile or make professional connections because my podcast certainly ‘promotes’ sex work.” 

    Some of the users listing “prostitution” in their profiles might actually work to help victims of human trafficking, so it will be interesting to see if the ban affects them as well. It will also affect those involved in prostitutes' rights activism and services. Siouxsie worried that LinkedIn might hone in on places like Solace SF, a faith-based organization that provides compassionate care to sex workers, SWOP (The Sex Worker Outreach Project), and SWAFF (Sex Worker Allies Friends and Family), a resource group for families and allies of sex workers. 

    Kathy Harris, marketing director for SLIXA, a website where professional independent escorts, escort agencies, and erotic massage and BDSM practitioners advertise their legal services, said the company planned to join LinkedIn soon as a way to build SLIXA’s professional brand and to network like any other business.

    “It's a real dichotomy to image yourself as an online professional directory and then exclude legal professions and companies,” she said of LinkedIn. “Most professionals are so used to this age-old tactic that they probably won't bat a pretty eyelash at LinkedIn's BS.”

    Australian escort Madison Missina said that in her country sex work has been largely decriminalized. LinkedIn exists as an international website, so it should be respectful of international laws.

    “We abide by laws, run our businesses legitimately, and pay taxes. There is no difference between my business as a sex worker and my neighbor's, who's a beauty therapist,” Missina said. “It's a shame that these so-called ‘pioneering’ Internet companies take such a backward step and prohibit people from being open about their legal occupations.”

    Violet Rose, a sex worker in the U.K., agreed. 

    “It should not be up to businesses to take a moral stance on whether certain occupations should or should not be included,” Rose, who runs the site Stockings and Seams, said. “[I]t is totally unacceptable that profiles for our careers should be removed from such an important global networking tool as LinkedIn. That sex workers should be banned from connecting with peers and colleagues shows that LinkedIn doesn't see the sex industry as capable of being a professionally networked one, let alone the idea that sex workers should be free to be added by clients, the same as a plumber or a graphic designer can be.”

    Especially in places where prostitution is illegal, Siouxsie said, LinkedIn's ban on sex work will make it harder for sex workers to connect with one another. Sex workers’ rights campaigns are built on sharing resources and fostering community, which the Internet in general has been integral in helping sex workers do.

    “Now more than ever, we are online and able to connect with activists across the globe on the issues that we face as sex workers. LinkedIn's new policy limits our access to the tools we need to build our movement and make change possible,” Siouxsie said. “If sex workers are banned from these online spaces, we are essentially banned from participating in the online community and the global economy.”

    “That is our only safety mechanism,” said Swimme. “LinkedIn is saying they’re fine with sex workers not having a safety network … to protect each other from rape, assault, theft, extortion. So for me, social media and the sex industry is more about sex workers networking with each other than with finding clients.”

    Plus, she said, LinkedIn isn’t even addressing the real issue; the ban is a bandaid on a geyser. The number of people turning to sex work increases every day, especially in a down economy and especially for disadvantaged groups like women and trans people. If LinkedIn actually cared about prostitution, Swimme said, they’d be about campaigning for fair wages for women, people of color, and trans folk, or an end to education discrimination and unequal pay. Banning sex work doesn’t solve anything, she noted, because sex workers will just move to another site.

    “This ban,” she said, “is about scapegoating and finding a boogeyman instead of actually looking at the real issues.”

    Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

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    Kids are viewing porn as young as 6, and head teachers in the U.K. say they've got to learn about the dangers of online smut as soon as they start using the Internet. 

    So how do you talk to your 6-year-old about porn?

    "There isn't an easy answer, but as soon as children are getting access to this, it's time to begin the conversation," said Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), according to the BBC

    One teacher discussed a boy discovering explicit images when researching the North Pole. 

    "Children as young as 3—nursery-age children—access computers," said Stephen Watkins, head teacher of Millfield School in Leeds. "If they see something that shouldn't be there, they should know to go and tell an adult."

    Watkins also warned against parents setting up Facebook accounts for youngsters, with the possibility that they might access illicit material. He claimed that of the 33 kids aged 10 and 11 in his school's top grade, he found out 24 are already on Facebook and had written to those children's parents.

    A researcher claimed earlier this year that 34 percent of U.K. 9- to 12-year-olds have Facebook profiles, despite the site being officially off-limits to those under 13. It's likely that even younger kids have Facebook accounts.

    In a NAHT survey of 1,009 parents, 83 percent said students should learn about the dangers of porn in sex ed classes. 40 percent felt kids should learn this in early primary school (that is, between the ages of 5 and 8); a little over half felt it more prudent to approach the topic with teens. Around 90 percent believed any device with Internet access should automatically block porn.

    A study published last week suggested children are watching porn online as young as the age of 6. Antivirus firm Bitdefender's report also claimed a quarter of kids use a social network by the age of 12, with 17 percent sharing to Twitter and Facebook by 10.

    Making kids aware of the dangers of porn at an early age is one thing, but approaching the subject in school in a sensitive manner may be difficult. To articulate what pornography is to someone who's just learned to tie their own shoelaces cannot be a simple task.

    Watkins advocated for dealing with issues in a "low-key" manner when they arise. Only there's often nothing low-key about porn.

    Photo by whiteafrican/Flickr

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    More than 167,000 people have signed a digital petition calling for Tumblr to back out of its $1.1 billion deal with Yahoo.

    The bare-bones petition, which doesn't have an official sponsor or explanation, is just the latest form of retaliation Tumblr users have taken against the search giant.

    Tumblr users have complained that Yahoo is too "mainstream" and too old to understand its teenage user base. Many people also pointed to Yahoo's botched attempts at running Flickr and Delicious as a reason for concern.

    While the petition will have no effect on the billion dollar deal, Tumblr users are prepared to flee the site if Yahoo messes with its design or content.

    "You best not come up in our happy little community and delete our porn," diagonali1192 blogged. "That’s just rude.  Porn, cat gifs, and fandoms make this website go 'round.  Don’t mess that up please."

    Tumblr watchdog Andrea "bluechoochoo" Lopez sees it as a "good sign" that users are passionate and engaged. She also believes that, in spite of users’ worries and Yahoo’s track record, the Yahoo deal will produce positive results for the six-year-old blogging platform.

    "As somebody who loves Tumblr, I feel like we dodged a bullet, and that Yahoo will be a much more hospitable home than some of the other options available," Lopez told the Daily Dot.

    "Yahoo has some strengths that may help Tumblr. Tumblr search has never worked. Tumblr has never offered 'pro accounts' with analytics. Users have longed for those things, and Yahoo knows a little something about that stuff."

    So far Tumblr co-founder and CEO David Karp and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer have both promised that Tumblr will operate independently, and that Yahoo has no intention of “screwing up” Tumblr’s community. Both addressed users’ concerns in Tumblr blog posts today.

    "We’re not turning purple," Karp wrote. "Our headquarters isn’t moving. Our team isn’t changing. Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission – to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve – certainly isn’t changing."

    In a press conference announcing the deal Monday morning, Mayer repeatedly said that Yahoo plans to “let Tumblr be Tumblr,” porn, cat GIFs and all.

    Art by Jason Reed

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    We've seen a lot of bizarre rumors and hoaxes spread across Facebook, but this is surely one of the most embarrassing for all involved.  The administrators of a sleazy Facebook page are not stealing photos of your babies. They are not stealing your friends photos of their babies. The page in question is not even really a Facebook "page." There's no human involved.

    Let's take a journey through Facebook mass hysteria.

    Here's a copy of the message spreading around Facebook over the past couple of days, spotted by the folks at That's Nonsense:

    Hi there is a page called babies that are "stealing" photos of anyone that has baby written on the wall/photo. Friends have noticed other friends babies on the wall. The thing is you have to "like" the page to see the info.

    Admittedly, that sounds pretty horrifying. Facebook does have a sketchy track record when it comes to protecting children from sketchy and downright dangerous people--in one case earlier this year, the company refused to take down a page that targeted two children in Australia with sexual comments and innuendo. In March, it took Facebook eight hours to finally shut down a child porn video that had gone viral on the site.

    But what's really going on here? Well, to begin with, no actual humans are running this page. It's an "about" page, which Facebook automatically generates around certain topics. Here's one for dogs, for instance, and one for cats. Both pages will show photos of your friends with their cats and dogs, just like how the babies page shows photos of your friends with babies.

    Screen grab of the deleted Facebook page via That's Nonsense

    Everyone who visits will see a different page. Facebook scours your social circles to see what pull out photos they've shared that are relevant to this topic. So while my "cats" about page is loaded with pics of my aunt's gray cat "Dobby," he will not appear on your page. Same goes for the baby page (which it appears Facebook has actually taken down, perhaps as a response to all this panic).

    H/T AllFacebook | Photo by Randy Deuro/Flickr

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    Brace yourself, Tumblr: the reign of terror has begun.

    The reign of terrible troll blogs, gullible Tumblr users falling for them, and Tumblr banning them for impersonating Yahoo staffers, that is.

    Well before Yahoo's acquisition of Tumblr was officially announced, Tumblr embarked on a weekend-long meltdown of epic proportions.  But once the buyout was confirmed, Tumblrites had even bigger problems on their hands: the proliferation of fake panic-baiting tweets and blogs from "Yahoo".

    This was the first epic troll incident to land on Tumblr in the wake of the news: a fake tweet purporting to be from "Yahoo" that sent half of Tumblr into a rage apoplexy and the other half into a paroxysm of headbanging over what should have seemed like an obviously fake trolling attempt.

    Instead, it made "family-friendly" an incendiary buzzword all weekend long, and led to the creation of even more troll posts:

    Photo via baruchsbalthamos

    Photo via baruchsbalthamos

    Enter the troll Tumblr users. Earlier today, Tumblr saw a host of quickly proliferated and quickly dispatched troll blogs: first, yahooofficialblog, which went around liking posts from users reacting negatively to the buyout, pretending to be cheekily unmoved by Tumblr's tears.

    After inspiring intense agony

    —the fake blog officially got suspended by Tumblr. But more were on the way. TheYahooStaff addressed Tumblrites as "peasants" and informed them, "We own you, bitches!"  OfficialYahooStaff made a run of fandom jokes, and marissamayeryahoo joked about shipping Yahoo/Tumblr.

    The various fake staffers alternately delighted and annoyed Tumblr users who thought they were the real deal. From one ecstatic fan:

    Have you seem how amazing the Yahoo! staff blog is! They give great advice, they have a personal FANDOM blog. They are the best blog ever!

    The initial "sassy" first impression of the fake Yahoo staffers may make it harder for the actual staff to establish themselves. But if they truly intend to change nothing about Tumblr, then it probably won't be a problem.

    The actual Tumblr staff will probably remain impudent enough for both companies.

    Photo by skreuzer/Flickr

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    You can't view Tumblr in Yemen. Netsweeper, the country's Canada-based Internet filtering service, thinks the whole site is porn.

    To be fair, the majority of Tumblr blogs—more than four out of fivearen't porn. But that doesn't stop Netsweeper, used by four middle eastern countries to keep its citizens from seeing whatever pages it deems worthy of censorship.

    In 2011, the service decided to slap on that NSFL tag on, according to a study by the OpenNet Initiative. It gave the entire domain a dual classification of both "journalism and blogs," but also the red flag of "pornography." Citizens protested the sudden ban; plenty of Qataris were pissed. So Qatar, as well as UAE and Kuwait, stepped up.

    All but Yemen soon "removed the blocking from their end," the study's author, Helmi Noman, told the Daily Dot Monday.

    However, Tumblr "continues to be blocked in Yemen as of today," he added.

    Yemenis aren't the only ones who find their censorship outsourced. At least nine Middle Eastern and North African countries use a western censorship program to censor online content from citizens, Noman's study found.

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    The hacktivist group Anonymous has gotten into the act again, not of punishing corporations, but of rallying to the support of someone they — and many others beside — feel has been wronged. In this case, it is 18 year-old Kaitlyn Hunt, a basketball player voted the student with the most school spirit by her peers at Sebastian River High School in Indian River County, Fla.

    Anonymous has announced#OpJustice4Kaitlyn to pressure the prosecutor to drop the charges against her of sexual battery.  

    Hunt was arrested by local police and then expelled from her high school after it was discovered she had a romantic relationship with another teenage girl.

    Hunt, according to her father, who wrote about the situation in XO Jane, developed a relationship when she was 17 with a girl in her high school who was three years younger and a fellow player on her basketball team. When Hunt turned 18, the girl was technically still underage.

    If in fact the officials at her school were alarmed at the law-breaking going on, they have done a reasonable job of hiding it. What they haven’t done as good a job of hiding was their Victorian embarrassment and bureaucratic fear of legal responsibility. Perhaps that’s an unfair accusation. But not as unfair, many believe, as the disproportionate actions taken against this teen.

    In February, Hunt’s girlfriend’s parents discovered the relationship and, bypassing Hunt herself, Hunt’s parents and the school officials, went straight to the police.

    “The police taped a conversation between Kate and her girlfriend,” wrote her father, Steven Hunt, Jr., “which led to Kate's arrest. Kate was interrogated extensively without a lawyer present. I am a former police officer, so she trusted the police and didn't feel she had anything to hide. Kate was eventually charged with two counts of felony lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12-16.”

    The prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman, has offered Hunt a plea deal of felony child abuse, which would saddle her with two years of house arrest and one of probation. Additionally, because she is legally an adult, she might also wind up with a lifetime on the National Sex Offender Registry.

    The judge in Hunt’s case said she could continue going to school. She was set to graduate in short order, after all. She was to have no contact with her girlfriend, the judge ruled, but could continue her education. However, this was insufficient for the girl’s parents, according to Hunt’s mother, writing on the Facebook account she set up for her daughter, Free Kate, which has more than 25,000 members as of this writing.

    “They were out to destroy my daughter, they feel like my daughter ‘made’ their daughter gay. They are bigoted, religious (zealots) that see being gay as a sin and wrong, and they blame my daughter. Of course I see it 100% different. I don’t see or label these girls as gay. They are teenagers in high school experimenting with their sexuality, all teens do it in one form or another. They are teens, its healthy and normal. And even if their daughter is gay, who cares, she is still their daughter.”

    Despite the judge’s clear orders, the area school board expelled Hunt, either sharing the alleged bigotry of the girlfriend’s parents or preferring to rid themselves of the problem by ridding themselves of the girl.

    If any of this is making your blood boil, you probably already understand what has inspired Anonymous to try to help.

    Her girlfriend “has said from day one, she cares about my daughter,” wrote Hunt’s mother, that “she never wanted her parents to do this, she was 100% consenting and it was by her own choice that she was with my daughter. She doesn’t want Kate to be punished at all, and feels like they did nothing wrong.”

    If you wish to voice your opinion on this, you can use the hashtag #OpJustice4Kaitlyn, chime in on the Facebook group Free Kate and add your name to the 75,000 on the petition that has been launched on

    H/T Gawker | Photo via Free Kate/Facebook

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    It is with a heavy heart that we relay the news that Zach Sobiech, the Minnesota teenager whose acoustic guitar song "Clouds" went wild on YouTube last year, died of cancer Monday morning. He was 18 years old. 

    Sobiech had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that develops in children and affects only 800 people each year, when he was 14. Doctors gave him just a few months to live, but he outlasted expectations. Last December, he grabbed his guitar and recorded a song called "Clouds," a song about saying goodbye that went viral on YouTube and turned Sobiech into a household name. More than 3.5 million people watched Sobiech perform "Clouds." 

    The song also inspired a celebrity-filled remake, one featuring lip-synched contributions from Ed Helms, Jenna Elfman, Jason Mraz, and Sarah Silverman. Since its posting onto YouTube May 6, the song has attracted more than 1 million views. 

    Sobiech died Monday morning at his home surrounded by his family and girlfriend, according to a notice his mother made on her son's CaringBridge page

    "Our family has been blessed not only by his amazing presence, but also by the love and support of our family and friends and by so many people in the community," her family offered in a statement. "In particular we'd like to thank those people who listened with their hearts and helped Zach bring his message and his music to the world."

    Sobiech celebrated his 18th birthday on May 3. A few days after that, he attended his senior prom. He's survived by his parents, three siblings, and and endless supply of friends and admirers. 

    "It's just, try and make people happy," he recently explained in a SoulPancake documentary. "Maybe you have to learn it over time, maybe you have to learn it the hard way, but as long as you learn it, you're going to make the world a better place."

    One high-profile fan of Sobiech's is the author John Green, whose novel The Fault in Our Stars features a lead character with osteosarcoma.

    Photo via The Whooly Rhino/YouTube

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