News–A Better Form of Gossip

Things like Reddit can add to the chaos and anxiety surrounding a fast moving event. For example, the sub-edit on the Boston bombing just added to the chaos.

Reddit is a major media property where others, who should know better, quote the observations of Reddit editors. However, it is really a platform like Twitter. It only does corrections AFTER something is published. This can and does wreck lives especially when the traditional media piles on to amplify the effect. 

Both Buzzfeed and Reddit falsely named a missing student as a Boston bomber, when in fact, he committed suicide before the bombing.

To many, Twitter looks up-to-date as erroneous data is retweeted repeatedly. A Tweet from the hacker collective Anonymous to its hundreds of thousands of followers illustrates this effect when it identified the deceased student and that Reddit had discovered his identity. The denizens of heavily trafficked corners of the Internet quickly accepted that the deceased student was one of the people responsible, and that Reddit was the first to uncover this.

Journalists fed the rumor mill and jumped to conclusions in their reporting. This only fed the frenzy. Eventually, authorities found the body of the missing student and proved that he committed suicide before the bombing.

Self-defence in Jail

In July 2016, Ontario Superior court Judge Edward Morgan wrote an astounding judgement in favour of self-defence in R. vs. Michael Short.

Short shivved an assailant in a provincial jail. While Short is a violent gang member, the Judge understood that he had the right to defend himself with a weapon, even in a jail. This Judge understood the poorly managed jails offered no protection to inmates facing unprovoked attacks.

Let’s hope more judges exhibit this level of understanding when faced with prosecutions of ordinary citizens who are forced to defend themselves.

The Edwardian Terrorist Redux

The Beltway Sniper, the Mumbai attacks, Charlie Hebdo, the Paris attacks. This is a hideous trend. We no longer face terrorists just planting bombs or shooting dignitaries with a pistol–they now come in gangs armed with military weapons and suicide vests. They attack whole cities. This is their version of strategic bombing.

This modus operandi is not new to anyone who reads. Edwardian fiction is replete with characters dreaming of mass destruction. Like Joseph Conrad’s archetypal terrorist, the professor in The Secret Agent, today’s Muslim terrorist’s thwarted ambitions have crystalized into a delusion of moral superiority and a desire to destroy modernity.

The Muslim terrorists want to change our religion and our liberal ways. Like the professor, they want a crackdown on suspected terrorists to destroy our individual liberties and to motivate potential recruits. They want the exigencies of our counter-terrorism efforts to serve these perverse objectives.

This terrorist strategy is not new, nor is our current response to it. From 1881 to 1901, two U.S. Presidents, a French President, a Spanish Prime Minister, and an Italian King fell to anarchist terrorists. In Paris, they hurled bombs onto the floor to the Bourse and bombed theatres and cafes. In the early years of the twentieth century, newspapers printed daily lists of political assassinations and bombings. Arguably, a terrorist started the Great War.

While the political plots and conspiracies of the Islamic world seem irrational to us, they are real in the minds of the people who commit the violence these plots demand. To them, violent action bears testament to their sincerity. Today’s cult of the suicide bomber is not new. One only has to read Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes to see today’s Muslim terrorist.

Under Western Eyes was written in 1911, yet it tells us clearly that despotism breeds terrorism and the tolerant west that shelters refugees becomes a laboratory for terrorists to perfect their paranoias and grievances along with murderous weapons created from modern western technology.

Anarchist Assassinations & Bombings

  • 1881: the assassination of Russian Tsar Alexander II, by the group Narodnaya Volya
  • 1894: the assassination of the French president Marie-Francois Sadi Carnot
  • 1894: Bombing of Greenwich Observatory in London
  • 1901: the assassination of American president William McKinley in September 1901, by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz.

Violence by anarchists was historically directed at political figures, not civilians, as in the current eruption of terrorist violence. However, the reasons for Islamic terrorism now and anarchism then are similar. Muslims worldwide are being united by a growing sense of fear and hatred of the West due to propaganda that Islam itself is in danger. This is fertile ground for a fanatical minority who are using terrorism to gain power in the Muslim world.

The 2nd Edition

I am currently writing the 2nd Edition of Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research. This is a lot more work than you might expect and it is occupying time I would normally spend writing blog articles.

Please bear with me. When I get to the editing stage of this project I will again have time to write more blog articles. However, I am still posting interesting articles, sources, and methods on my Confidential Resource Twitter feed @LocusCommunis.

King John’s Ontario

Ontario wants to launch the Administrative Monetary Penalty (AMP) system. It’s a cute name for an extortion racket.

AMP will treat Highway Traffic Act (HTA) offences as a tax that you must pay. The accused cannot contest the charge; only discuss the amount of the penalty or perhaps the number of demerit points. This discussion will occur online with an ‘independent arbiter’.

The arbiter isn’t there to provide justice. You’re already guilty—you can only discuss the amount of the penalty. The money goes to the municipality and the municipality employs the so-called ‘independent arbiter’. The independence is a fiction.

The entire thing is an effort to bilk drivers. The government knows we must drive vehicles to exist in Ontario. Economists call this an inelastic demand. In such a demand, the quantity demanded is the same at any price because we must have it, and therefore, it may be taxed at any rate. The provincial government creates this tax by replacing the judicial process with automatic convictions and arbiters with a quota to meet—true government efficiency at last!

In 2011, the Law Society of Upper Canada specifically told the Law Commission of Ontario that AMP was not appropriate for HTA offences. The Ontario Para Legal Association rightly calls this an egregious violation of our legal rights. In rebuttal, the Ontario government imperiously states that there was a six-week public consultation about AMP that ended a couple of months ago, but I never heard of it and I haven’t found anybody else who heard about it either–some public consultation that was.

This will cause a drastic increase in the cost of insurance for residents of rent-seeking municipalities, as they will acquire artificially bad driver’s records. The term rent-seeking isn’t typically applied to government but I don’t see any alternative. Rent-seeking is seeking to increase your share of existing wealth by using the political process while not creating any new wealth. A rent-seeking government uses its discretionary and legislated authority to extract ‘rent’ for its own benefit.

What economists might call ‘rent-seeking’ is a coercive extortion racket, plain and simple. King John would feel a deep kinship with today’s Ontario government, since this type of behaviour brought about the Magna Carta eight hundred years ago.

UPDATE–1 May 2016:

Ontario scraps idea to take traffic ticket system out of the courts

“Ontario has scrapped a proposal to have people pay traffic tickets online or dispute them outside of court.”


Media Bias

I’ve written about the dangers of believing everything you read and here I go again.

Matti Friedman was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of Associated Press who now exposes a particularly pernicious bias within the established news media. The article is entitled, An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth, and it exposes the news media’s bias against Israel. While I don’t agree with everything Friedman says in the article, my experience tells me that he is right that “the old comfort of parsing the moral failures of Jews, and the feeling of superiority this brings” is alive and well in the news media.

For over 20 years, I have had to sort through bias, prejudice, propaganda, and stupidity from the semblance of fact presented in news articles. Friedman’s article illustrates only one underlying narrative that distorts what passes for news reporting these days. If you must resort to searching for “facts” in news articles, then I urge you to read Friedman’s article.

Propaganda War

Shooting down a passenger jet has exposed some good old-fashioned Soviet-style propaganda. It’s not as good as some of Putin’s efforts, but it’s interesting to watch.

The Wayback Machine has captured some very interesting evidence that Russian-backed terrorists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. In a post by Igor Girkin on Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook clone, the Ukrainian terrorist leader who is also known as Strelkov, claimed his forces downed what he thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane.

The Russian-backed terrorist claims he shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was caught by the Wayback Machine and publicized on their Twitter account, @InternetArchive ( See The Christian Science Monitor article that translates the content and provides a timeline of the attempts by the terrorists to hide this and blame the Ukraine government.

Meanwhile over at Wikipedia, the Twitter account @RuGovEdits monitors Wikipedia edits by the Russian government. It reveals Russia’s efforts to shift the blame to the Ukrainian government. Putin’s office and Russian media outlets made multiple edits to the page for the murder of the MH17 passengers to blame the “Ukrainian military”. @RuGovEdits should be trustworthy as the Wiki-twitterbot code is widely available on Github.

Trolling RSS Feeds

RSS (Rich Site Summary) is a format for delivering regularly changing web content. Many news-related sites, blogs and other online publishers syndicate their content as an RSS Feed to whoever wants it.

I have written quite a lot about RSS in the past. The following are my choices for both installation on a PC and for a web-based reader.


RSSOwl is cross-platform as it’s Java-based. It handles RSS, Atom and RDF in terms of feed formats. You must have Java installed, no matter where you run it. It cooperates with Firefox to add feeds to RSSOwl from the browser. Just go to the feed and copy the URL then go to RSSOwl and click on add feed and it knows where to find the feed. You can also drag and drop Feeds from Firefox into RSSOwl. RSS Owl has an embedded web browser, so you don’t have to open up a separate browser window to view links or to view the full version of feed items that are shortened. You do have to set this up under “Browser” in the Preferences menu option. Choose to Default to the Embedded Browser. To get the RSSOwl embedded browser to work properly with OneNote so that it includes the URL in pasted items, you must enable Java Script. I do not recommend doing this except on an isolated machine otherwise, malicious Java Script code could cause serious problems.


When I need to collect video and podcasts from RSS feeds, I turn to RssBandit. The embedded browser is MS Internet Explorer, therefore, it includes the pertinent URL when you copy to OneNote as the embedded browser is the same.

This is my favorite RSS reader overall, though, I have experienced occasional problems with exporting feeds for another implementation of the reader. This problem seems to stem from differences in the underlying OS on the importing computer. It can be an irritation when starting a project with tight deadlines.

RSSOwl has an edge for a group of researching working in a collaborative environment as it is easier to set-up and distribute to the group.

Web-based RSS Reader

The two most popular seem to be Feedly and Inoreader readers that offers similar features and options.

Inoreader offers secure HTTPS access and over 40 different customization options. If I must use a web-based reader this is the one.

I refuse to use Feedly because extensions like NoScript, Adblock, HTTPS Everywhere, etc. prevent the site from loading. I never use sites infested with stuff that my normal suite of extensions prevents from loading. You only have to encounter one ad with malicious code to cost you many hours of work to purge the problem code from your machine.

ICANN Wants to Close Whois

A working group for Internet regulators at ICANN wants to close all Whois databases. They what to force anybody needing this data to grovel before them before granting access. They are trying to centralize global control over a key component of the Internet. WHOIS allows you to find out who owns a domain name. Without this data, fraud and other crimes will become easier to commit and harder to solve.

Tim Horton’s & Investigative Internet Research

An article titled, Tim Hortons apologizes for blocking gay and lesbian news website by The Canadian Press on Friday, July 19, 2013 caught my attention. Tim Hortons is a popular Canadian coffee shop chain.

The online site of a popular paper that caters to the gay community was blocked by the coffee shop chain as “not appropriate for all ages viewing in a public environment.”. Once the outrage got going, Tim Hortons relented and changed its WiFi network policy.

What has all this got to do with Investigative Internet Research (IIR), you ask? Well, think about it. We often work while on the road and that means doing some aspects of IIR in places like coffee shops.

When you do IIR outside your normal work environment, different rules apply. How do you know what the WiFi network allows and what it doesn’t? How do you know if some things are censored and others are not? How do you know that your results are complete?

Now do you understand the dangers that doing this presents? I haven’t even mentioned the security issues.

Google Reader is Gone

Canada Day (1 Jul 13) has come and gone, and so has Google Reader. You have until 15 July to get your data out of Google Reader.

Now what? Do I need an RSS reader? Where do I get a web-based RSS reader? Have Twitter lists (which you may divide into different topics that focus on blog sources, news feeds and individuals) supplanted RSS? So many questions! So many decisions to make!

The RSS sky isn’t falling quite yet. There are alternatives and choosing one is a good reason to do some digital housecleaning. Alternative readers offer versions for Web browsers, mobile devices running iOS and Android, and cloud-based service. Hopefully, we will see innovation and competition in RSS apps and platforms.

Certainly, social media offers a human element that isn’t present in RSS feeds. However, RSS usually offers focused technical or industry information, the details of which social media usually omits. In the short-term, using  Reeder and Feedly as a front-end for RSS won’t work as these relied on Google Reader. I’m sure that will change very quickly, if it hasn’t already. (I don’t use either of these.) Twitter and Flipboard won’t replace an RSS reader for the information worker. The passing of Google Reader will only affect the ‘normal’ user who relied upon it.

The demise of Google Reader hasn’t changed how we deal with RSS feeds while doing Investigative Internet Research (IIR).  For a detailed explanation of how to handle RSS feeds while doing IIR get my new book, Sources & Methods for Investigative Internet Research, which is scheduled for publication in September.

Addition: Here’s How You Can Extract All Your Google Reader Data


If you haven’t heard, the Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford, supposedly appears in a video smoking crack. Gawker wants donations to buy the video for $200,000. Well this seems like a 80/20 situation. 80% of the damage done in 20% of the time that this goes on.

Here are some things to consider about this strange news item:

1. If they don’t get enough money to buy this video, then we don’t know if it really exists, but the damage is done.

2. If they buy it, then they are paying-off criminals. After all they are self-professed crack dealers. They are the gangsters that bring about most of the shootings and murders in Toronto.

3. If they buy it, they need to buy the device that recorded the video or we can’t tell if it was altered.

4. It will take a long time to analyze the video to determine if it is likely unaltered. If it is altered or fake, it doesn’t matter, the damage is done.

5. While the video may be unaltered, we might not ever know if it was a continuous recording or one that was recorded selectively for some desired effect.

6. No matter what happens, the damage is done — damage that goes far beyond one mayor or city. Welcome to the brave new journalism.