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7 Ways the Internet Has Been Used for Good

It seems like every day you hear a new story about cyber-bullying, phishing or a new computer virus. But when good people get together on the web, it’s amazing what they can achieve.

1. Preventing Suicides

While you probably have heard stories about cyber-bullies pushing someone to commit suicide, there are also tons of stories about depressed people deciding not to kill themselves after talking to someone online whom they never even met. Unfortunately, we don’t hear about these cases nearly as often.

Despite all the trash talking in online gaming sessions, there is also a real sense of camaraderie and friendship. In one case, a teenager from Ontario called the police after one of his gaming buddies in Texas said he was thinking of ending it all. An officer came to the Ontario boy’s house and talked to the other teen over Xbox Live until he was able to earn the trust of the suicidal boy. Eventually, he convinced the teen in Texas to let him speak to his father, who reported that he had no idea his son was feeling that way and would do whatever it took to help his son get through this difficult time.

These sorts of incidents aren’t limited to gaming sessions though; one woman in Australia saved an English man’s life after seeing a post where the man said he would kill himself within the next 15 minutes. She spoke to him online for a while, gaining his trust until he gave his phone number to her. She then got one of her friends living in England to call the suicidal man and talk to him until the man felt comfortable sharing his location. When the police showed up at the depressed man’s house, he already had a phone cord wrapped around his neck, but had not yet tried to end it all. Police praised the actions of the Australian woman and her friend, pointing out that the young man probably wouldn’t have made it if the two hadn’t acted so quickly and diligently.

Even actress Demi Moore has been credited with saving someone’s life thanks to the net. When a woman Tweeted to Demi that she was going to kill herself, Moore tried to talk her into changing her mind. Meanwhile, the celebrity’s followers contacted the police in the area of the Twitterer and they were able to get to her home before she did anything drastic.

There are major online communities developed to help people in need. Reddit’s Suicide Watch has over 10,000 subscribers, many of whom offer valuable advice and help for those looking to end it all. And the “It Gets Better” project has helped thousands of students who have been bullied due to their sexual orientation.

[Images courtesy of Samantha Marx's Flickr stream and David Shankbone.]

2. Saving Lives

Internet users have also saved the lives of those who didn’t want to kill themselves, but couldn’t get themselves out of a dangerous situation. In January 2011, Robert Chambers, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, was gaming on his computer when his toaster caught on fire and smoke quickly started filling his home. Since he was unable to move quickly due to his condition, getting to the phone to call 911 was not an option, so instead he shared his address and asked others in a chat room to call for help for him. People from around the U.S. called his local fire department and it wasn’t long before Robert was saved.

In a similar story, Wales resident Peter Casaru, who suffers from spinal problems, found himself paralyzed one morning. With his cell phone battery dead, his only option was to ask for help online. After dragging himself across the room, and without being able to see the keyboard since he didn't have his glasses, he was still able to post an update on Facebook asking for someone to call the medics. Almost immediately, his friends and family responded and just before Casaru passed out from pain, the ambulance arrived to take him to a hospital.

[911 poster image courtesy of Tricia Wang's Flickr stream.]

3. Helping Victims of Crime -- While It Happens

Sometimes crime victims have found the net to be the best way to ask for help as well. In late 2011, a woman and her one-year-old were being held prisoner by her ex-husband. While she was unable to use the phone during the entire ordeal, she was able to post a plea for help on Facebook. A woman who had never met the abused mother saw the post and called the authorities, who found the victim and her child severely beaten, but alive, after four days of starvation and torture. Their tormentor was quickly arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, domestic violence, child abuse, forcible sodomy, animal cruelty and more.

Just this month, a South African carjacking victim who was locked in his trunk by the thieves was saved thanks to Twitter. While the police in the area are anything but reliable, the man knew he was at an advantage since he had his cell phone in the trunk with him. He texted his girlfriend, who then put the information out on Twitter, where it was picked up by a roadblock notification service with over 110,000 followers including a number of private security firms. Soon enough, the car was located and the man was saved before he suffered any serious physical abuse.

[Crime scene tape image courtesy of Brandon Anderson's Flickr stream.]

4. Helping Crime Victims After the Fact

Internet users have also come through to help crime victims recover after they have been victimized. For example, when a young girl had her 300-pound TARDIS replica stolen from her own front yard, Redditors donated enough money to get a new box built, complete with a chain and security camera to ensure it isn’t stolen again.

TARDIS fans aren’t the only ones feeling the love of the net. After the London riots last year, Aaron Biber, an 89-year-old barber, was sure he would have to shut down his shop since he couldn’t afford to replace everything that had been stolen or smashed in the ruckus. But his story touched the world and soon enough, a campaign to Keep Aaron Cutting spread across the net and raised $56,000 to help the barber get back on his feet. The donations were far more than Biber needed, so he, in turn, donated the rest to a local youth center.

Early this year, shocking photos were posted on Reddit showing an African man who had his face sliced open by a machete while trying to protect an orphanage from local thugs. The forum poster asked readers to chip in a total of $2,000 so the orphanage could afford a security wall. Within only 24 hours, the charity received 40 times that amount, $80,000. With all the extra cash, the orphanage was able to provide the children with bunk beds and start a fund to purchase the land where the facility is located so they will no longer have to rent the property.

Even when crimes haven’t been committed, Reddit has stepped in to help victims of cruelty that may not be illegal, but is certainly wrong. Perhaps one of the most heart-melting stories in this vein was that of Kathleen Edward. The seven-year-old and her family were viciously taunted by her next door neighbors after they discovered Kathleen had Huntington’s Disease. When the girl’s story was posted on Reddit, readers quickly started working to raise funds to give Kathleen a spending spree at a local toy store owned by a user of the site. Eventually, the girl received $19,000 worth of credit at the store, with any unused balance donated towards local children’s hospitals. As for her tormentors, 4chan went after them, posting all of their personal information on line and harassing the family until they formally apologized to Kathleen and her family.

5. Holding Animal Abusers Accountable

While 4chan might be known for their love of gruesome and sickening videos and photos, they certainly have a soft spot for innocent people and creatures being victimized. When someone posted a video on YouTube showing a boy beating up a house cat, members of 4chan tracked down the wrongdoer and reported him to the authorities, resulting in the cat, Dusty, quickly being removed from the home.

Similarly, the group was up in arms when a video came out showing a woman throwing a cat into a trash bin. The owners of the cat posted the video to the net to find out the woman’s identity. Soon enough, she was identified. People were so angry at her, she eventually went to the police, telling them she worried about her safety. Even so, she was eventually convicted under the Animal Welfare Act and had to pay $2200.

6. Catching Child Predators

While everyone may have a different opinion on Anonymous, pretty much everyone can agree that child porn is a bad thing. That’s why, although their other hacks were criticized, no one seemed to have a problem with the hacker group going after child pornography sites and their hosting services. At one point, the group even leaked stolen user info on over 1,100 pedophiles from one site and invited the FBI and Interpol to follow up on the info for leads.

Alt.Hackers.Malicious have also taken on child predators, even breaking into NAMBLA’s servers and disseminating membership information that led directly to the arrests and convictions of several criminals.

Of course, hackers aren’t the only ones fighting pedophiles around the globe. Perverted Justice is a group you are probably already familiar with, even if you’ve never heard the name. That’s because they’re the group responsible for all those Dateline pedophile stings. Unlike the hacker attacks on child pornography, members of Perverted Justice actually pose as children and talk to older men who are trying to solicit minors for sex. They then lure in the predator, helping law enforcement officers score an easy arrest while collecting ample evidence in the process.

7. Saving Weddings

Not all good deeds need to be so serious. Regular readers might recall the article I posted last month about the couple whose wedding was saved by Twitter donations after their wedding planner disappeared with their entire deposit. As it turns out, that’s not the only wedding that’s been saved by the internet. When one Redditor put up a post about how the owner of the mansion he had booked for his venue backed out of the deal only three weeks before the big day, other readers put out all kinds of suggestions. Eventually, he decided to host the wedding at a field at a nearby farm, as suggested by another Redditor, leaving the poster with enough savings to provide his guests with ample free booze, as well as two bouncy houses.
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Of course, between online charities, Kickstarter, free education lessons, support groups and other great programs, the examples above are only a few of the many ways people online have shown themselves to be altruistic. Have any of you ever joined a great cause online or been the recipient of such kindness?

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6 Things Americans Should Know About Net Neutrality
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Net neutrality is back in the news, as Ajit Pai—the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a noted net neutrality opponent—has announced that he plans to propose sweeping deregulations during a meeting in December 2017. The measures—which will fundamentally change the way consumers and businesses use and pay for internet access—are expected to pass the small committee and possibly take effect early in 2018. Here's a brief explanation of what net neutrality is, and what the debate over it is all about.

1. IT'S NOT A LAW; IT'S A PRINCIPLE

Net neutrality is a principle in the same way that "freedom of speech" is. We have laws that enforce net neutrality (as we do for freedom of speech), but it's important to understand that it is a concept rather than a specific law.

2. IT'S ABOUT REGULATING ACCESS TO THE INTERNET

Fundamentally, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to prioritize one kind of data traffic over another. This also means they cannot block services purely for business reasons.

To give a simple example, let's say your ISP also sells cable TV service. That ISP might want to slow down your internet access to competing online TV services (or make you pay extra if you want smooth access to them). Net neutrality means that the ISP can't limit your access to online services. Specifically, it means the FCC, which regulates the ISPs, can write rules to prevent ISPs from preferring certain services—and the FCC did just that in 2015.

Proponents often talk about net neutrality as a "level playing field" for online services to compete. This leaves ISPs in a position where they are providing a commodity service—access to the internet under specific FCC regulations—and that is not always a lucrative business to be in.

3. INTERNET PROVIDERS GENERALLY OPPOSE NET NEUTRALITY

In 2014 and 2015, there was a major discussion of net neutrality that led to new FCC rules enforcing net neutrality. These rules were opposed by companies including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. The whole thing came about because Verizon sued the FCC over a previous set of rules and ended up, years later, being governed by even stricter regulations.

The opposing companies see net neutrality as unnecessary and burdensome regulation that will ultimately cost consumers in the end. Further, they have sometimes promoted the idea of creating "fast lanes" for certain kinds of content as a category of innovation that is blocked by net neutrality rules.

4. TECH COMPANIES GENERALLY LOVE NET NEUTRALITY

In support of those 2015 net neutrality rules were companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Vimeo, and Yahoo. These companies often argue that net neutrality has always been the de facto policy that allowed them to establish their businesses—and thus in turn should allow new businesses to emerge online in the future.

On May 7, 2014, more than 100 companies sent an open letter to the FCC "to express our support for a free and open internet":

Over the past twenty years, American innovators have created countless Internet-based applications, content offerings, and services that are used around the world. These innovations have created enormous value for Internet users, fueled economic growth, and made our Internet companies global leaders. The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open Internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users.

5. THE FCC CHAIR ONCE QUOTED EMPEROR PALPATINE

Ajit Pai, who was one of the recipients of that open letter above and is now Chairman of the FCC, quoted Emperor Palpatine from Return of the Jedi when the 2015 rules supporting net neutrality were first codified. (At the time he was an FCC Commissioner.) Pai said, "Young fool ... Only now, at the end, do you understand." His point was that once the rules went into effect, they could have the opposite consequence of what their proponents intended.

The Star Wars quote-off continued when a Fight for the Future representative chimed in. As The Guardian wrote in 2015 (emphasis added):

Referring to Pai's comments Evan Greer, campaigns director at Fight for the Future, said: "What they didn't know is that when they struck down the last rules we would come back more powerful than they could possibly imagine."

6. THE TWO SIDES DISAGREE ABOUT WHAT NET NEUTRALITY'S EFFECTS ARE

The Star Wars quotes above get at a key point of the net neutrality debate: Pai believes that net neutrality stifles innovation. He was quoted in 2015 in the wake of the new net neutrality rules as saying, "permission-less innovation is a thing of the past."

Pai's statement directly contradicts the stated position of net neutrality proponents, who see net neutrality as a driver of innovation. In their open letter mentioned above, they wrote, "The Commission’s long-standing commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth."

In December 2016, Pai gave a speech promising to "fire up the weed whacker" to remove FCC regulations related to net neutrality. He stated that the FCC had engaged in "regulatory overreach" in its rules governing internet access.

For previous coverage of net neutrality, check out our articles What Is Net Neutrality? and What the FCC's Net Neutrality Decision Means.

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Facebook Just Made It Easier to Tell the Difference Between Fake News and Real Reporting
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On Facebook, fake news stories "reporting" international conflicts over Toblerones can appear alongside fact-checked journalism from trustworthy outlets. This leads to some bogus stories racking up thousands of shares while real news stories are deemed "fake" by those who disagree with them. With its latest news feature, Facebook aims to make the distinction between factual and fictional posts clearer.

As The Verge reports, articles shared on Facebook will now display a "trust indicator" icon. Clicking on it reveals information about the publisher of the piece, including their ethics statement, corrections policy, fact-checking process, ownership structures, and masthead. By providing that context, Facebook hopes that more users will make better decisions about which news outlets to trust and which to disregard.

The social media network is launching the feature with a handful of publishers and plans to open it up to more down the road. But unless it becomes mandatory for all media pages, it won't be the end of Facebook's fake news problem: Phony sites and real publishers that leave this information blank will still look the same in the eyes of some readers. Additionally, the feature only works when people go out of their way to check it, so it requires users to be skeptical in the first place.

If you want to avoid the fake news in your feed, looking for trust indicators is a good place to start. To further sharpen your BS-detecting skills, try adopting the CRAAP system: The American Library Association has been using it to spot sketchy sources since before the Facebook era.

[h/t The Verge]

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