Monthly Archive: October 2017

Colin Kaepernick vs. the NFL – lawyer makes a big claim

Mark Geragos, the lead lawyer for Colin Kaepernick in his collusion grievance against the NFL, made a bold claim today, during an appearance on the Adam Carolla Show:

“I think within the next 10 days somebody will sign him,” he said. “I think somebody’s gonna sign him. I think the NFL has to come to their senses, and realize every day that goes by just proves the collusion case even more.”

Now…that is a pretty bold and specific claim. Several possible motives for the claim spring to mind:

1. Geragos is trolling or bullshitting
2. Geragos believes that discovery will uncover evidence of collusion against Kaepernick
3. Geragos believes that discovery will likely uncover other evidence of collaboration or collusion between teams and owners that may put the NFL in a difficult legal position

(1) still seems likely. Absent a clear communication between two teams along the lines of “remember don’t sign Kaepernick”, it is still likely that insufficient direct evidence of collusion exists. Whether Geragos thinks that the circumstantial evidence of collusive intent (via the intemperate public and leaked comments of the POTUS and several NFL team owners) is strong enough is open to debate. However, absent a “smoking gun”, the case may well become a trial in the court of public opinion. (there may well, of course, be other private comments from owners that will turn up in discovery that could be damaging. We just don’t know that those might be).
(2) and (3) would add up to multiple problems for the NFL. If (2) is proved, they would would be forced to pay Kaepernick a large pile of money for effectively running him out of the NFL – that sum could easily be more than $50m. They would end up with an enormous PR black eye.
However, (3) represents the more serious risk for the NFL owners. The NFL currently enjoys a limited exemption from anti-trust legislation via the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961. This was passed specifically to allow the NFL teams to collaborate on negotiating broadcasting deals. That is the full scope of the exemption. The NFL teams are not allowed to collaborate on any other commercial matters, or they risk being found guilty of violations of anti-trust law.
This means that evidence of collusion on any matter other than broadcasting rights carries two risks for the NFL. Firstly, it may make it easy for the arbitrator to rule against the NFL in Colin Kaepernick’s grievance hearing. However, secondly, and potentially much more dangerously, it may open the NFL to being charged with broader violations of anti-trust law. The TV broadcasting rights exemption has already come under fire on multiple occasions in the past, with threats being made to repeal the 1961 Act. A clear-cut finding of collusion on any subject could result in the entire act being nuked, leaving the NFL unable to operate as a group in negotiating distribution rights for broadasts of games.
Now…this is where it could get interesting…if the Sports Broadcasting Act was repealed, then theoretically any NFL team could do its own deal for broadcasting rights. They could sign a deal with a network or they could set up their own broadcasting operation with live streaming of games and other exclusive or non-exclusive content. For teams in big media markets (like Dallas, Washington, Seattle, New York etc.) this could actually be more lucrative than the current mechanism where all broadcasting revenues are pooled then distributed equally to all 32 teams. In other words, some of the new-wave aggressive owners like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder might not care about the loss of the anti-trust exemption, since they may have done the math and concluded that they can make more money selling their broadcast rights direct to the public.
However, any evidence of any sort of collusion will be embarrassing to the NFL, and will increase the chances of a ruling against them on the Kaepernick issue. More seriously, it opens the entire NFL up to complaints of anti-trust violations, which could be very expensive, not for fines, but for other remedies that a court might order. Courts have a LOT of power when punishing violations of anti-trust law.


The convoluted history of Digital Rights Management

Digital Rights Management (DRM) was a concept that evolved in the mid to late 1980s as a means of securing artifact copyright in the digital era.
I was exposed to early attempts at DRM earlier than this, as PC software vendors struggled to prevent unlicensed copying of software programs. The attempts, involving the spending of increasingly larger amounts of money on increasingly complex copy-protection schemes, were largely unsuccessful. Nerds and hackers love nothing better than a large business stating confidently “our copy protection scheme is unbreakable”. That’s like waving a red flag in front of an angry bull, or red meat in front of a pride of lions. Once the hackers had done their jobs, the copy protection schemes were mostly circumvented, and the end of the attempts came when PC software prices fell to a point where the RoI for illegal copying became unfavorable.
This article explains the history of what is now known as DRM. It’s a long story.


Anatomy of a bot conversion on Twitter

The Twitter account RightWingAngel was seemingly inactive for 3 years after 2013. Then, suddenly, on November 8th 2016, RightWingAngel came back online at a warp rate of tweeting. I wonder what happened then?

However, the really interesting information is the before and after for the tweet patterns from the account. here is the time-based analysis for 2013:

Note the patterns are what one would expect from a person living in the Continental USA.
Now here is the tweet timeline pattern from October 2017:

This is completely different, more widely and randomly distributed across the day. This is unlikely to be Tweet activity generated by a real person hammering on a keyboard.
The most likely explanation is that RightWingAngel has been converted to a Twitter account which is largely controlled as a bot. There may be human intervention occurring, but the overall pattern is that of a bot-controlled account.
The other interesting aspect of this account is pointed out here:

It is likely that the human feeding this bot account is not in fact a US resident or US citizen. The work looks like a person whose first or primary language is British English.
One final thing; the Profile picture for this account just screams “stock photo”.


Beware – Whataboutism

Whataboutism as a defense for bad behavior has become endemic on social media in the last few months. My own phrase for this is “but they did it too!”.
As a defense, it has no merit. You wouldn’t accept it from your own misbehaving child.
However, if you are a partisan supporter and Your Side is in trouble, oh yes, it is a great defense.
Right now, the deployment of whataboutism is being orchestrated on social media by a bot network supporting the Trump administration. Twitter user Conspirador Norteño, who is a data scientist, has been analyzing the conflation of the names “Manafort” and “Podesta” in tweetstorms that have appeared since the announcement that Paul Manafort has been indicted. The conflation is a campaign to point the finger of guilt back at the Democratic Party, for whom Tony Podesta operated as a lobbyist.

It’s Whataboutism, Twitter-style. Don’t get played.


Quick Stuff – Monday 30th October 2017

1. Bot-based propaganda wars
Donald Trump has been accumulating new Followers at the rate of 100k a week for a number of weeks now. The interesting factoid is how many of them appear to be bots.

2. DisInfoCon
Somebody at that conference summarized the fundamental issue with the internet quite well:

3. The NFL defense against collusion over Colin Kaepernick
Unless a “smoking gun” piece of evidence is uncovered that proves collusion between two or more teams to deny Colin Kaepernick a job, the arguments for collusion are going to turn on circumstantial evidence.
A lawyer representing a defendant will almost always tell the defendant to stop talking about the case in public. This is in order to avoid any communication that prejudices the defense.
Unfortunately, the NFL, being a loose collection of 32 business owners, many of whom have large egos and an approach to publicity that often revolves around self-promotion and promotion of their teams, is not currently doing a very good job of stopping owners from talking about issues related to the Kaepernick grievance.
When a team owner like Bob McNair complains about “the inmates running the prison” in reference to player rights under the CBA, he s playing right into the hands of Colin Kaepernick’s lawyers.
Remember that Kaepernick and his lawyers are not just trying to win a grievance hearing. They are trying to win in the court of public opinion (since the grievance evidence may by itself be insufficient). Team owners shooting off comments that are racially insensitive at best, and at worst can be interpreted as downright racist, are slowly building an image of the NFL as an organization full of privileged white owners who are determined to get their way most of the time, and who think that the players should STFU and just do as they are told.
This is not good from a defense standpoint, and it is even worse from a PR standpoint. The NFL’s approach to this whole issue is starting to look like a case study in how not to manage PR.


More research on Brexit trolling and propaganda

While I have been busy with my day job, Mike Hind in the UK and France has been busy.
1. He has begun to investigate a woman in Sussex who claims to have been evicted from her apartment by a landlord who is a Remainer, and she now claims to be living in a tent. She has started a GoFundMe, claiming that she is writing a book and needs help.
Mike, in his usual meticulous way, asked the woman some questions, which she did not care to answer, so she blocked him on Twitter, and then started deleting his comments off her GoFundMe page and reported him to GoFundMe for violation of their Terms of Service.
In the meantime, other Twitter users are busy pointing out the bullshit parts of her story…
2. Mike has collected a lot of his thoughts and findings about bot networks on Twitter on this timeline. One of the points he makes in the timeline is that many of the disinformation operations are set up under shell companies that superficially look like legitimate businesses, usually in marketing. Then they pump out propaganda as part of their “marketing”. The fake business Logical Campaign, the backers of which have been frantically trying to cover their tracks for a couple of weeks now, falls into that category.


Twitter activity correlations

As a regular on Twitter, I noticed that 2 weeks ago there was sudden surge in recycled allegations about Hillary Clinton being involved in the sale of uranium resources to opponents of the USA. It was also clear to me that many of the accounts pushing the narrative were bots or sockpuppet accounts. Many of the twitter accounts were acting as amplifiers, re-tweeting old allegations.

Now you know why the horseshit uranium story was getting pushed so hard

— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) October 28, 2017

“>This article shows the actual metrics for recent Twitter activity, confirming that the Uranium stories have been re-cycled.
We can expect a flurry of bot activity in the next few days if Robert Mueller’s activities lead to the arrest of Trump administration members. Do not be distracted. Expect to see any and all allegations against popular hate figures like the Clintons to be recycled. I would not be surprised if Pizzagate is revived by the botnets.

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