Diaspora: we can't stop spread of beheading videos

21 Aug 2014
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The alternative social-network is being used to spread disturbing videos

Alternative social-network Diaspora can't ban videos posted by terror groups, because it's decentralised system is working exactly how it's designed to.

Diaspora is an open-source social network; users set up their own "pod" to host and share data and messages, meaning the network itself is spread across many small, independently held servers.

That means it's difficult if not impossible for the team that runs Diaspora to perfectly censor any material - and now Islamic State members are taking advantage of that to share graphic materials, which are being taken down by other social networks. Twitter said yesterday it would ban any user that posted the video showing the murder of journalist James Foley.

Anyone is able to use Diaspora's software in any way they choose

The way Diaspora is designed means it can't ban any material across the entire platform - the lack of central control protects against censorship, but also makes it "difficult to act swiftly when there is inappropriate activity on the network", the project team said.

"There is no central server, and there is therefore no way for the project's core team to manipulate or remove contents from a particular node in the network (which we call a 'pod')," the lead development team posted on the Diaspora blog. "This may be one of the reasons which attracted IS activists to our network."

The Diaspora project team said it's "concerned about the activities of these members inside our network", but noted that as a free and open-source project, "anyone is able to use Diaspora's software in any way they choose".

"We cannot therefore prevent anyone from using the software; we are also not able to influence the decisions of podmins," the administrators who run each node, the post added.

Diaspora has a report function that goes to the specific "podmins", but that relies on user reports and means the administrator of each node needs to be individually contacted.

To help, the project team is organising an account clean up. "However, because this is such a crucial issue, we have also accumulated a list of accounts related to IS fighters, which are spread over a large number of pods, and we are in the process of talking to the podmins of those pods," the post says. "So far, all of the larger pods have removed the IS-related accounts and posts."

However, if IS decides to set up its own Diaspora pod, there's little the project team can do. "We will continue our efforts to talk with the podmins, but we want to emphasise once again that the project's core team is not able to decide what podmins should do."

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