Archives August 24, 2020

Trolls Are Swarming Young Climate Activists Online

On the morning of August 25, 11-year-old Lilly Platt tweeted a video clip of a Brazilian Amazon tribe speaking out against deforestation. Awareness of the Amazon wildfires was already at a fever pitch, and the tweet exploded. Then, within an hour, a swarm of troll accounts started flooding her mentions with porn. Shortly after the attack, her mom, Eleanor Platt, made an online plea for help: “Dear Friends of Lilly, this is Lillys mum she is being targeted by revolting trolls who are spamming her feed with pornography. There is only so much i can do to block this. Please if you see these posts report them.” Over the course of the day, some of Lilly’s nearly 10,000 followers did just that.

Young girls like Lilly, who has been striking in her hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands, every Friday for the last year, are overwhelmingly leading a growing global movement to draw attention to the climate crisis. They spurred an estimated 4 million people across seven continents to walk out of work and school on September 20 — and they are getting attacked for it. They have faced a barrage of daily insults, seemingly coordinated attacks (like the one that targeted Lilly), creepy DMs, doxing, hacked accounts, and death threats. This is the new normal for young climate leaders online, according to BuzzFeed News interviews with nearly a dozen of the kids and their parents.

Personal attacks have always been a part of the climate denial playbook, even as fossil fuel companies secretly funded campaigns and researchers to question the scientific consensus on climate change. The most famous incident, 2009’s Climategate, involved scientists getting their emails hacked and then facing death threats. And as the politics of climate change begins to mirror the broader dark trends of global politics, weaponized social media — in the form of intimidation, memes, and disinformation — has emerged as the dominant vehicle for climate denial. But the rise of a new climate movement means there’s now a much more visible — and especially vulnerable — target: kids.

Fearing Coronavirus, a Michigan College is Tracking Its Students With a Flawed App

Albion College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, said in June it would allow its nearly 1,500 students to return to campus for the new academic year starting in August. Lectures would be limited in size and the semester would finish by Thanksgiving rather than December. The school said it would test both staff and students upon their arrival to campus and throughout the academic year. But less than two weeks before students began arriving on campus, the school announced it would require them to download and install a contact-tracing app called Aura, which it says will help it tackle any coronavirus outbreak on campus.

There’s a catch. The app is designed to track students’ real-time locations around the clock, and there is no way to opt out. The Aura app lets the school know when a student tests positive for COVID-19. It also comes with a contact-tracing feature that alerts students when they have come into close proximity with a person who tested positive for the virus. But the feature requires constant access to the student’s real-time location, which the college says is necessary to track the spread of any exposure. The school’s mandatory use of the app sparked privacy concerns and prompted parents to launch a petition to make using the app optional.

Police in Several US Cities Used Facial Recognition To Hunt Down and Arrest Protesters

Law enforcement in several cities, including New York and Miami, have reportedly been using controversial facial recognition software to track down and arrest individuals who allegedly participated in criminal activity during Black Lives Matter protests months after the fact. Miami police used Clearview AI to identify and arrest a woman for allegedly throwing a rock at a police officer during a May protest, local NBC affiliate WTVJ reported this week…

Similar reports have surfaced from around the country in recent weeks. Police in Columbia, South Carolina, and the surrounding county likewise used facial recognition, though from a different vendor, to arrest several protesters after the fact, according to local paper The State. Investigators in Philadelphia also used facial recognition software, from a third vendor, to identify protestors from photos posted to Instagram, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.