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October 7, 2012 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Civil Rights CAPTCHA is unique in its approach at separating humans from bots, namely by using human emotion. This enables a simpler and more effective way of keeping sites spam free as well as taking a stand for human rights.
posted by mahershalal (107 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Frist!
posted by infini at 4:16 AM on October 7, 2012


This concept really disturbs me, because it amounts to a Political Correctness filter. The couple of cases I saw just now weren't massively difficult to figure out the "right" answer, but I can see this as being subject to considerable abuse about issues (e.g. gay marriage, abortion) which are not so straightforward, about which there are legitimate disagreements.

In other words, it filters out bots, but also conservatives. (And yes, there's a difference.)

It also disturbs me because it reminds me of the test in Bladerunner that they use to detect replicants.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:27 AM on October 7, 2012 [50 favorites]


The audio version doesn't appear to actually work :(
posted by public at 4:30 AM on October 7, 2012


There should be some positive examples, or else the negative emotion could just be picked every time.
posted by leviathan3k at 4:40 AM on October 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


There's going to be a lot of replicants destroying their monitors over this...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:41 AM on October 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is not "taking a stand" against anything. Taking a stand typically implies acting out of conviction, even at personal risk, for what one believes is right. This is just a "choose the word that suggests the Correct Response, based on our mores."
posted by ellF at 4:48 AM on October 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Think it needs more work...
posted by matthewr at 4:48 AM on October 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


In other words, it filters out bots, but also conservatives.
Most MeFolks would characterize that as a feature, rather than a bug.
posted by DWRoelands at 4:49 AM on October 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


“You see a turtle.”
posted by acb at 4:52 AM on October 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


Wired: Empathy CAPTCHA

This depends ona definition of 'troll' that is at odds with the 'someone who makes a statement that they do not believe, in order to start a fight.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:53 AM on October 7, 2012


Most MeFolks would characterize that as a feature, rather than a bug.

No. This (ironically) is bad and you should feel bad.
posted by jaduncan at 4:53 AM on October 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


In other words, it filters out bots, but also conservatives.

Are you saying that liberals and conservatives have different emotional responses to torture and press freedom? If not, why do you think that this could be used to filter out conservatives rather than liberals?
posted by howfar at 4:54 AM on October 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Are you saying that liberals and conservatives have different emotional responses to torture and press freedom? If not, why do you think that this could be used to filter out conservatives rather than liberals?

On the example page it showed me the statement that the parliament in St. Petersburg passed a law against "homosexual propoganda". Unfortunately, some conservatives could have a positive emotional response to this.
posted by notme at 5:23 AM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can also see a language/vocabulary issue here; in practical terms it's a test of whether or not you know what "horrified" or "awe-struck" mean. I really don't want to preclude people with limited English or more limited vocabularies from using websites.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:31 AM on October 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


Howfar:

The Republican party spent a good bit of time promoting torture as a useful technique for extracting information out of our "enemies". So yes, I do think at least some would have a different emotional reaction to a liberal.
posted by leviathan3k at 5:32 AM on October 7, 2012


I have not yet checked the link, but how capable is it when faced with relatively academic or intellectual text? It isn't clear to me that there would necessarily be any display of emotion as such, or if there would be I am curious to know how it would be expressed.
posted by mr. digits at 5:39 AM on October 7, 2012


Oh wow does it make me angry when I'm forced to misrepresent my emotions (or thoughts, or any other part of myself). This is a Bad idea, and using this would cause me to abandon whatever the website wanted me to do this for, and possible that website altogether.
posted by HFSH at 5:39 AM on October 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


At best this is a thought provoking artistic stunt. At worst, it does the opposite of what it claims to do - denies the humanity of some based on their interpretation of politically loaded statements.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:43 AM on October 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Also, "In Kosovo people are tortured in detention. How does that make you feel?" -- apparently the answer is "Unpleasant". No. No, I would not say that "unpleasant" covers my feelings here.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:43 AM on October 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Whether or not this is a good idea, I like the prospect of replacing the current captchas that I have at best a 60% success rate with.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:46 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


man who is writing this fucking future

i mean, shit, sure, it's funny, but i gotta live here
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:52 AM on October 7, 2012 [24 favorites]


Since the "right" answers are so obvious, this just becomes another hoop to jump through, with no thought required, and thus any actual meaning to the exercise can be ignored.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:57 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


somewhere in Montenegro:

IT MAKES ME FEEL GLORIOUS

GLORIOUS


GLORIOUS

JUST LET ME GET MY EMAIL FOR FUCK'S SAKE

posted by GenericUser at 6:00 AM on October 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


In the future, you will have to pass through basic emotional thoughtcrime filters in order to access webpages. How does this make you feel?

Redoubtable
Nonplussed
Peckish
posted by Navelgazer at 6:00 AM on October 7, 2012 [58 favorites]


Oh man, if they use nonplussed, I'm in trouble. I can never keep that word straight in my head.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:07 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ignoring the THOUGHTCRIME for a moment: making a gesture solely to "spread awareness" - without also clearly pointing out an opportunity to help somehow - doesn't really help.

As a captcha it's not really any good either - character recognition isn't really stopped by slight distortion and a few lines. Going purely on guesswork you'd get it right 1 out of 3 times, which is more than enough for dropping spam.
posted by GenericUser at 6:10 AM on October 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


This enables a simpler and more effective way of keeping sites spam free as well as taking a stand for human rights.

Often, I'm sitting or laying down, in my underwear and have crumbs on my shirt when using a computer. Standing up for anything will put crumbs on the bed or couch.

What kind of world does this captcha want us to live in?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:14 AM on October 7, 2012


A bot trap with 33,(3) percent failure rate is inadequate.
posted by hat_eater at 6:19 AM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Couldn't we just have people identify if an image is a Puppy or a kitty ?

Is that so difficult? (and it's not politically charged!)
posted by HuronBob at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


/ note to self (and good advice for the rest of you): never sit on Brandon Blatcher's couch.
posted by HuronBob at 6:29 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a researched verification rate on that puppy/kitty test? Just curious. It seems pretty awesome.
posted by mr. digits at 6:32 AM on October 7, 2012


Tell you what, Alexander Lukashenko will not be allowed to post on that blog.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:33 AM on October 7, 2012


Is there a researched verification rate on that puppy/kitty test?


Actually, the verification rate for the visual is pretty poor, the olfactory rate is exceptionally good, unless the cat is eating dog food, which screws it all up.
posted by HuronBob at 6:35 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Human rights defender Natalia Estmirova was abducted outside her home in Chechnya and shot dead later that day. How does that make you feel?

The options are: relieved, humorous and sorry.

I'm assuming that 'relieved' is *not* the right answer, here? Because let me tell you, I'm fucking relieved I don't live in Chechnya.

I just flipped through a few more and saw one describing some horrible thing and one of the words was 'homesick'. If I was someone visiting one of those countries where awful things happen (suspicious lack of awful things happening in the English speaking world thus far, btw) and I saw a caption about awful things happening in that country, I might feel homesick.

Emotions are complicated.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:45 AM on October 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Why can't we just have a catchpa where we give the entity food and ask them to describe the flavor?

I know it'll be worked around. I just want spambots that can eat.

Also, I want to be able to get free snacks.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:45 AM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is not "taking a stand" against anything.

It's taking a stand against people who don't have great English skills using the internet.
posted by John Cohen at 6:48 AM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Emotions are complicated.

Yes, but people who grandstand about the importance of "empathy" often mean their feelings are the right ones, while other people's feelings are the wrong ones.
posted by John Cohen at 6:50 AM on October 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I always feel slightly ashamed when I fail a captcha.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:52 AM on October 7, 2012


And, usually, they are right to do so. If you can look at someone being tortured and not be horrified, you are broken.
posted by Malor at 6:53 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


> And, usually, they are right to do so. If you can look at someone being tortured and not be horrified, you are broken.

Beyond denial. But using something as dreadful as torture to build something as trivial as a spambot stopper strikes me as trivializing and off.
posted by jfuller at 7:02 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


At the moment the correct answers seem to be basically synonyms for "unhappy", which will be from some fixed human-created list, so if this system ever got deployed and then seriously attacked all the attacker needs is text recognition that can pick out the unhappy words. If the system were extended to include some positive stories then the new limiting factor is the human-managed list of stories which the bot can be taught. That's not worth an attacker's time now but it would be if, say, Google or Amazon adopted this (not that they will).

The problem with CAPTCHAs is that computer text recognition has become too good, current CAPTCHAs cause problems for plenty of real humans and can still be broken by bots. Puppy-versus-kitty might well work better, but the problem becomes the human managed list of pictures - so that the bot just needs to be able to identify puppy-2918239.jpg rather than genuinely tell dogs from cats. Perhaps the answer is that Google can afford more people spending all day classifying puppy/kitty pictures than viagra spammers can?
posted by Slogby at 7:06 AM on October 7, 2012


You see torturers being tortured. This makes you feel:
A) conflicted
B) a sense of irony
C) anger at this CAPTCHA
posted by blue_beetle at 7:13 AM on October 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


"The Minister for Human Rights in Montenegro thinks that the existence of homosexuals in Montenegro is bad news."

Does he think it's bad news because he is anti-homosexuals or does he think that homosexuals are mistreated in Montenegro? Or does he just think that talking about them on the news makes for a poor quality news program?
posted by Apoch at 7:19 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the future, you will have to pass through basic emotional thoughtcrime filters in order to access webpages. How does this make you feel?

Redoubtable
Nonplussed
Peckish

Double Plus Good
posted by doctor_negative at 7:27 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why can't we just have a catchpa where we give the entity food and ask them to describe the flavor?

Cilantro tastes like:
heaven | soap | sadness
posted by nathancaswell at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2012 [18 favorites]


This is a great idea. The hilariously predictable appeals to "thoughtcrime" etc. from the tyrannically literal minded MeFites don't seem to realize that the chief purpose of the filter is to inform humans of current civil rights abuses and keep spam bots out. It's not, obviously, meant to keep humans who despise human rights out.

But you know, if a site uses this filter and you think there are "legitimate" oppositions to same sex marriage and a woman's right to choose, then you probably won't enjoy your time at the website.
posted by Catchfire at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


The CAPTCHA I'm looking for is PREACHY.
posted by arcticseal at 8:04 AM on October 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Select the correct emotion"? Creepy as fuck.
posted by Tom-B at 8:10 AM on October 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Beyond denial. But using something as dreadful as torture to build something as trivial as a spambot stopper strikes me as trivializing and off.

I feel similarly, but I also think frequent reminders of horrible shit, whether or not the remindee is in a position to "do something about it", are probably a good thing. There are no negative consequences if a certain proportion of users end up with another tab open and learn something.

The propaganda-and-manipulation potential is problematic, though. While there are lots of positions one can take on human rights issues about which reasonable people can't disagree -- an apologist for torture is motivated by some agenda other than being reasonable -- it's not right to state this in terms of feelings, or to posit the existence of a "correct" emotional response. Often (as illustrated by blue_beetle's "torturing the torturers" comment), one has to take ethical positions based on intellectual considerations, exactly because one feels the "wrong" emotion: I wouldn't necessarily feel strong negative emotions about violence being done to a known torturer, which is exactly why it's good that primarily intellectual processes are there to take over and remind me why I think that violence is almost categorically unacceptable, even if I don't always feel this way.

It's weird that an organization with "rights" in the name would make this mistake; if we all had the "correct feelings" all the time, there wouldn't have been a need for the idea of "rights" in the first place. The whole point of the notion of "rights" is that we can respect our fellow humans without having to sympathize with them, and this notion is powerful because our sympathies are unreliable and contingent on all sorts of vestigial animalistic shit; it's often much easier to acknowledge someone's rights than it is to like them. The Civil Rights CAPTCHA doesn't account for any of this, and can't do so within the constraints imposed by its tininess.

There are probably utterly sociopathic people who use abstractions like human rights to guide their behaviour so that they act ethically and respect others even though they feel no emotional impulse to do so. These folk (like people who have paraphilias whose satisfaction would entail something nonconsensual or icky, but don't act on them) are actually heroic. They aren't relevant here, though, because even prison guards and serial killers and Donald Rumsfeld have the right to look at any damn website they please, regardless of the fact that they can't answer one of these CAPTCHAs both correctly and honestly. So: I think this is sort of a Shitty Internet Thing.

(Another serious problem with Civil Rights CAPTCHA is the introduction of a language barrier, as noted above. For something fulfilling the function of a CAPTCHA, it seems like ease of use is more important than being an excellent Turing test.)
posted by kengraham at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


When was the last time anyone had to use a captcha to access a site? I'm genuinely curious, it's something people keep mentioning here, but I've never seen it in the wild. To post comments and so on, sure, I've had to use captchas, but I've literally never seen a website that made me jump through a hoop to get at it at all...
posted by Dysk at 8:19 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


MY THERAPIST SAYS MY FEELINGS ARE NOT RIGHT OR WRONG. THEY JUST ARE.
posted by drlith at 8:21 AM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


kengraham: I agree, but I also think this is not necessarily a test of one's empathy or ethics, but just a way of using the fact that people have this ability whereas bots don't. Even a serial killer knows what the right answer should be, but for a bot that wouldn't be as easy (assuming questing that have positive answers are going to be added).

It basically adds semantics to a captcha.
posted by mahershalal at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2012


I don't think this would be very hard to break. First, you'd compile a list of "bad" adjectives: "sad", "unhappy", etc. Then you would find a list of trigger words, e.g. "torture", that are always bad. If that word occurs in the question text, chances are that the answer is going to be the "bad" adjective.

With some more work you could do similar things for other causes.

Granted, this could be counteracted by making the test statements more complicated -- e.g. "the UN signed a declaration prohibiting torture" -- which have a less-obvious answer, but that would raise the failure rate for actual people as well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:28 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, usually, they are right to do so. If you can look at someone being tortured and not be horrified, you are broken.

"Usually" people are right to say that their feelings are the right ones and others' feelings are the wrong ones? Really?

This captcha thing isn't just saying you must be horrified. It's saying you must be horrified and you must have no other emotion at the same time. That's not empathy, that's a command to lack complexity.
posted by John Cohen at 8:37 AM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


people have this ability whereas bots don't

Using the similar sorts of text analysis techniques computers use to distinguish spam from ham, it would be pretty easy to teach a computer to answer these kinds of questions. A much easier problem than the character recognition that was required to defeat first-generation CAPTCHAs.
posted by grouse at 8:38 AM on October 7, 2012


Frist! posted by infini

Mr. Spock might have been genuinely fascinated by that question. Vulcan-ist!
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:42 AM on October 7, 2012


Preachy moralists of any political stripe are annoying. Plus this won't even be effective since it is language sensitive and a non-human will get it right 33% of the time.
posted by stp123 at 8:43 AM on October 7, 2012


30 ÅR / YEARS

Ah, should've known this was a Swedish project.
posted by Anything at 8:44 AM on October 7, 2012


In addition to all the other fun problems mentioned above, Internet filtering at a national level is alive and well. I bet implementing this would get your website, or at least your captcha function, blocked in a lot of the countries named in these little snippets.

So, hey, as long as you're just protecting your Justin Bieber fan page, no problem, he probably isn't all that beloved in Chechnya anyway. But if you are, say, trying to have a discussion on human rights abuses in former Soviet states, getting your site banned in Chechnya is probably not high up on your to-do list.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My emotion is WRONG?? Damn, when will I get this psychosocial development stuff right?
posted by Twang at 8:49 AM on October 7, 2012


You see a man steal a loaf of bread to feed his family, and then proceed to push a fat man off of a railing to stop a trolley to save five people from certain death.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:52 AM on October 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


man who is writing this fucking future

i mean, shit, sure, it's funny, but i gotta live here


It's the Universal Life Narrative creation service. It's their job to provide the curse of interesting times such that in this incarnation you can have little difficulty casting yourself as a hero by having clearly defined evil to oppose.
posted by Phalene at 8:52 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


John Cohen : Yes, but people who grandstand about the importance of "empathy" often mean their feelings are the right ones, while other people's feelings are the wrong ones.

Why oh why won't someone think of the aspies and sociopaths!
posted by pla at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2012


this is not necessarily a test of one's empathy or ethics

Agreed. It does posit the existence of a correct emotional response, though, which is the aspect that seems problematic. It's also doubtful, given the content of the CAPTCHAs and the organization responsible, that this is just about picking a task at which humans excel and bots don't. I'm vaguely okay with having some human rights propaganda making the internet work -- I'd have to be, since I'm apparently okay with advertising making the internet work -- but this is actually not pure human rights propaganda, and makes weird assumptions about private emotional behaviour, and thereby seems (like a lot of advertising) unnecessarily icky.

This problem will go away once the bots get smart enough that we come to acknowledge that they, too, have the right to access websites.
posted by kengraham at 9:00 AM on October 7, 2012


Catchfire: "This is a great idea. The hilariously predictable appeals to "thoughtcrime" etc. from the tyrannically literal minded MeFites don't seem to realize that the chief purpose of the filter is to inform humans of current civil rights abuses and keep spam bots out. It's not, obviously, meant to keep humans who despise human rights out.

But you know, if a site uses this filter and you think there are "legitimate" oppositions to same sex marriage and a woman's right to choose, then you probably won't enjoy your time at the website.
"

What if, say, GoDaddy, which is widely known to support conservative candidates, decides to use its own version of a captcha whose mores differ from mine?

Not only that, but when I got the captcha, my "negative" emotion was "sympathetic". When I hear about gays being beaten with sticks in some city somewhere, I may have many reactions, but "sympathetic" is not a good descriptor of any of them. Particularly when the wording of the sentence might easily make it sound like I am sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of those doing the beating.

This is an interesting idea for an awareness campaign but very ineffective as an actual spam blocker, and not at all appropriate if access to a particular website is critical to that human who may or may not have the same ideals as you do.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: "Granted, this could be counteracted by making the test statements more complicated -- e.g. "the UN signed a declaration prohibiting torture" -- which have a less-obvious answer, but that would raise the failure rate for actual people as well."

Not to mention that the appropriate human emotional response to that statement would be limitless cynicism. "Oh great, I'm glad they've got that sorted out, now torture will never happen again."
posted by Deathalicious at 9:05 AM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, won't it be ironic when there are sweatshops full of people getting paid a dime per thousand solved CAPTCHAs to answer questions about the correct emotional response to human rights violations?
posted by kengraham at 9:06 AM on October 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


What if, say, GoDaddy, which is widely known to support conservative candidates, decides to use its own version of a captcha whose mores differ from mine?

I won't care in the slightest, since I will never visit GoDaddy for any reason. Clearly, only sites with an investment in civil rights will be interested in this filter.

The braying about the sanctity of the right to hold anti-human views, or the criticisms about how a f'n spam filter doesn't quite capture the full complexity and verve of human emotions, strike me as so phenomenally wrong-headed that I start to wonder why so minor an experiment earns so emphatic a defence for the right to despise civil rights. Am I on Reddit?
posted by Catchfire at 9:25 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about a multiple choice question regarding an important topic? Nothing ambiguous—just facts. For example:

In the US, the top 1% of income earners receives about 20% of total income, while paying about ___% of total taxes?

   21%   38%   59%

How many times did Mitt Romney lie (misspeak/stretch the truth/whatever) during the first debate?

   10-18   19-24   25 or more
posted by she's not there at 9:35 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dysk: I sometimes have to solve CAPTCHAs to access some of the content on various sites. For example, since I use Tor, I find that about 70% of my Google searches require solving a CAPTCHA before I can see the results, if I'm able to do a Google search at all. (This is why Google is my search engine of last resort, after StartPage and DuckDuckGo.)
posted by kengraham at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2012


Telling people how to feel is dumb and obnoxious.

Whenever I am forced to go to certain "progressive" sites I am confronted with a pop-up with a "Yes/No" box and a question like "ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF LIBERAL THINGS?????"

I always check "no," because a) I don't want to join the spam list and b) I resent the trickery.

The same thing when the kid with the clipboard outside the store yells, "Sir do you support women's rights??" I either say "no" or just say nothing. It's an awful rhetorical trick to try to trap people into a conversation they don't want to have, by playing on the instinctual discomfort with saying something against your beliefs.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:40 AM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, I don't think we should be building websites that our own President would be unable to access.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:41 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The hilariously predictable appeals to "thoughtcrime" etc. from the tyrannically literal minded MeFites don't seem to realize that the chief purpose of the filter is to inform humans of current civil rights abuses and keep spam bots out.

Keeping spam bots out is easy - just remove whatever function allows them to spam. It's keeping spam bots out while letting regular people in that's hard. And it has to be done in a way that doesn't presuppose that those regular people know how your captcha is supposed to work.

If you only put it on sites that are already entrenched in a rights-aware worldview, you're pretty much preaching to the choir, not to mention reducing complex issues of great importance to trivial sound bites and using stuff like people's death and imprisonment in a trivializing way. Reducing human rights violations to 'those things you have to read about to sign-up for stuff' is probably desensitizing more than anything else - people aren't wired to go around being horrified for much of their day.

So, on the charitable assumption that this project is not actually meant to be seriously implemented anywhere, or, in fact to create awareness of specific abuses, but is instead supposed to create awareness of the lack of awareness, through people discussing the captcha instead of people filling in the captcha, I guess I give them a 3 out of 10. High marks for picking a mechanism the Internet likes to analyze, but low marks executing it in such a facile manner that we can pick apart the flaws in the mechanics, and the flaws in the content all without getting particularly self-reflexive on whether we are or should be aware of the specific incidents they are using as examples.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


so emphatic a defence for the right to despise civil rights

This is to some extent a straw-person, since there is at least one argument in this thread to the effect that the experiment (which is in principle laudable) doesn't do very much to advance the cause of civil rights at all; in fact, it teaches people to give too much weight to their emotional responses to nasty shit, instead of developing an ethical framework that will help them to respect and even fight for the rights of even those people who don't happen to elicit a sympathetic emotional response.

Given that a nontrivial fraction of the world's civil rights trouble is caused by people predicating their moral decisions on emotions, or mythology (see, e.g. the assumptions underlying prison rape "humour", the large US public support for capital punishment, and other shit founded on emotional moral reasoning leading to bullshit notions of justice), rather than on more socially practical ethical reasoning, this experiment is perhaps even counterproductive.

I'd have no problem with this experiment if they changed the "right feeling" language to, simply, "is this wrong?". We all have power over our moral reasoning, and a responsibility to engage in such reasoning with care and rigour, but we have little control over our particular emotions. Implicit statements to the contrary are both shitty and undercut the whole project of human rights, which is to ensure that everyone's human dignity is respected regardless of how anyone feels about it.
posted by kengraham at 9:50 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everything I know about computational linguistics I learned from a couple of conversations with a grad student, but isn't this exactly what latent semantic analysis is meant to solve? Seems like a bad idea to base your spam filter on a problem that's so thoroughly discussed in the literature.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:57 AM on October 7, 2012


> This concept really disturbs me, because it amounts to a Political Correctness filter.

The slope, it is slippery!
posted by ardgedee at 9:58 AM on October 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Seems like a bad idea to base your spam filter on a problem that's so thoroughly discussed in the literature.

I've never even talked to a grad student about computational linguistics*, but this sounds a little like advocating security-by-obscurity. CAPTCHA replacements should probably be based on CL problems that are well-studied and known to be very hard. It's obviously less important in this context than in cryptography, but shouldn't the principle be the same as in that context?

*If someone reading is a CL grad student, and wants to rectify this, I am game.
posted by kengraham at 10:10 AM on October 7, 2012


IT PUTS "LOTION" IN THE CAPTCHA, OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but this is a total waste of time.

first off - a captcha that gives a spam bot with a 33% success rate is going to make a bunch of spammers very happy. They can flood the site with requests and if only 1 in 3 gets through, that's more than good enough for them. In fact, you've just made their day.

second - the questions and answers are going to be selected from a database. They will simply mirror the database over time and track the questions and the answers that work and then push the accuracy up to 100%. How many synonyms for good, bad, happy, sad, ugly etc are there going to be?

If you want a captcha to work an important criteria it has to be random. This is not random.
posted by w.fugawe at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, there's no need for anything so brute-force. If I wanted to create a spambot capable of defeating the civil rights CAPTCHA one hundred percent of the time, I could do so easily:

1. Compile a comprehensive list of English words that describe emotions, tag each of these words as 'negative' or 'positive' and feed them to the bot.

2. Program the bot to recognize the civil rights CAPTCHA and read the options with traditional OCR.

3. If two of the words are 'negative', the bot will enter the 'positive' word. If two of the words are 'positive', the bot will enter the 'negative' word.
posted by Androgenes at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


DISCUSSING TECHNICAL WEAKNESSES OF THE PROGRAM IS A WRONG RESPONSE. YOU ARE FAILING TO ADEQUATELY PARTICIPATE IN THE MORAL RITUAL.
posted by Anything at 11:10 AM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is annoyingly preachy and awkwardly written. I'm totally with blue_beetle, but I think its more Red Dragon than Silence of the Lambs.
Alexander Lukashenko has changed the Belarusian constitution so that he can be president for life; Do you see?
Serbian police has cancelled the Pride parade in Belgrade; Do you see?
The Vice Minister of Defense in Albania, Ekrem Spahui, thinks gays should be beat up with a stick; Do you see?
posted by ethansr at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2012


When was the last time anyone had to use a captcha to access a site?

Forums commonly use them to screen account creation.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:21 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


When was the last time anyone had to use a captcha to access a site?

Earlier today. Alaska Airlines made me use one before being able to view the fare rules of one of my flights. I can only speculate as to why.
posted by grouse at 12:23 PM on October 7, 2012


The probabilistic weaknesses are, I think, an implementation detail. Orwellian and PKDickian concerns are more interesting. And I can't help but be reminded of this this.
posted by changoperezoso at 12:26 PM on October 7, 2012


Alaska Airlines made me use one before being able to view the fare rules of one of my flights. I can only speculate as to why.

Almost certainly they're trying to prevent auto-aggregators from data-mining their site.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:39 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm having trouble remembering a site that didn't have me use some sort of catchpa to create an account.

Of course, I also have a program called JDownloader that specializes in downloading files from MegaUpload-style websites that has a feature that cracks catchpas without human intervention very well. Which makes me wonder how much longer the anti-OCR approach can last.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2012


The audio version doesn't appear to actually work :(

A "civil rights defenders" organization is preventing blind people from using the web. How does this make you feel?

[ OKAY ] [ SWELL ] [ HOMESICK ]
posted by scottreynen at 12:51 PM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well-intended but badly thought out idea. It feels like a thought-police application - especially the message that if you don't support a particular view ( actually more than this - if you don't feel a particular correct emotion - so it's feeling police too) , you are not human or failing in your humanity (naive implication of humanness = goodness there too)

Also, they can't tell the difference apparently between civil rights and human rights.
posted by Bwithh at 1:26 PM on October 7, 2012


no see i'm going to defend this with sarcasm and mockery, then it will be not absurd

did we hit peak reality back in 2010 or something
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:10 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding "who needs a catchpa to access a site": The American Physics Society makes you pass a catchpa before you can download their journal articles, to prevent some kind of automated downloading (the articles are $30 a pop for non-subscribers which I consider unconscionable, actually, so I may be on the robots' side.) It's always "select which picture is Einstein," which seems like it would be pretty crackable to me, especially since it is always the same picture. But maybe their crackers are only so motivated.

I don't see them implementing this, but maybe they could ask physics questions instead. Ideally fill-in-the-blanks rather than multiple choice or calculator-driven. "Force equals _______ times acceleration." Any human that could't answer that wouldn't understand the article they were downloading anyway...
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:49 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the purpose of this is only to educate, a "fact of the day" text snippet and a real spam blocker will work much better.
posted by michaelh at 2:57 PM on October 7, 2012


Fuck this. I don't like any campaign, no matter how noble and forward-thinking, to tell me how to think or feel about anything.

I second the puppy/kitty captcha, especially if it hilariously surprises you with their butts.
posted by hellslinger at 5:49 PM on October 7, 2012


Just place an X on the lifeline, in the appropriate place
posted by Tom-B at 9:19 PM on October 7, 2012


I've literally never seen a website that made me jump through a hoop to get at it at all...

Free file-hosting services.

If there is a choice of three words, why do the words have to be obscured?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:18 AM on October 8, 2012


A CAPTCHA based on subjective questions with multiple-choice "answers." What? Is this is a logic test of WTF, or merely an ill-conceived trivialization of human rights abuses?
posted by desuetude at 10:03 AM on October 8, 2012


A CAPTCHA based on subjective questions with multiple-choice "answers." What? Is this is a logic test of WTF, or merely an ill-conceived trivialization of human rights abuses?

To me, the original falls so far short of the goal to educate that it's little more than a "trivialization of human rights abuses". For example,

Human rights defender Natalia Estmirova was abducted outside her home in Chechnya and shot dead later that day. How does that make you feel?

Any half-wit with an understanding of English will know the right answer. The overwhelming majority will enter "disturbed" and move on without giving this another thought. In fact, feeding people these disembodied facts at random intervals might effectively desensitize them to the issue.

But I doubt that Civil Rights Defenders is trying to education people "one fact at a time". The goal is to bring people to their website, which features comprehensive reports about human rights issues. The question is intended to pique your interest. Unfortunately, the captcha box seems like a particularly bad place for this strategy, i.e., like asking someone to go right while they are in the process of making a left turn. So, these random facts just become background noise.

In addition, the whole "how does it make you feel" thing is disingenuous to the point of being offensive. Reminds me of TV news reporters sticking a microphone in the face of someone in the midst of some personal tragedy, asking some inane question. You tell me a human rights defender was abducted and murdered and ask how I feel? How do you think I feel, asshole?

My not-entirely-serious suggestion was to ask an actual (i.e., not patronizing) question and was intended to address some important issues or commonly held misconception, i.e., that the top 1% are responsible for a disproportional amount of income taxes collected; that Romney was lying like the proverbial dog when he "won" the debate.
posted by she's not there at 3:03 PM on October 8, 2012


Malor: “If you can look at someone being tortured and not be horrified, you are broken.”

To some degree, but using emotions as a way to "raise awareness" or train moral thought is the absolute worst way to do it. It's going about the thing backwards. Holding up atrocities in front of someone and demanding that they feel outraged is like trying to train people to feel ill when they smell foods that aren't nutritious.

I mean, the emotions are a typical side-effect, but they have nothing to do with these things essentially, right? A horror movie fan can feel giddy glee at the site of buckets of blood and still not murder people; and tons of straights feel kinda squicked out by the notion of one guy putting his penis into another guy's butt, but that squicked-out feeling doesn't mean those people don't believe everyone should be free to do whatever they want in their own bedrooms.

The problem with this for me isn't that it encourages liberalism or discourages conservatism, or that it is some form of "political correctness." It's that it's flatly incorrect. What prevents tragedies and atrocities isn't a society of folks with well-tuned feelings – there is no such thing. What prevents tragedies and atrocities is a society with well-developed moral frameworks that are rational and consistent. And this CAPTCHA thingie does absolutely nothing to work toward that society.
posted by koeselitz at 12:46 AM on October 9, 2012


If you can look at someone being tortured and not be horrified, you are broken.

if you think that there are conditions wherein you cannot be made to applaud torture, you are naive
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:14 AM on October 13, 2012


if you think that there are conditions wherein you cannot be made to applaud torture, you are naive

I hate to be the slow-witted asshat who ruins someone else's joke by demanding that the joke be explained, but is the implication, here, that torture can be used to make anyone do anything, including applaud torture?

(Also: koeselitz! Your recent comment is awesome.)
posted by kengraham at 11:03 AM on October 13, 2012


It's not a joke. Literally anyone can be made to applaud torture, given the right circumstances. This is probably the furthest thing from a joke I have ever said.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:46 AM on October 13, 2012


By the "right circumstances", do you include some kinds of duress, or do you claim that for each person, there exists a set of circumstances under which that person will, in good faith, applaud torture? If so, what counts as "torture", and what constitutes "applause"?
posted by kengraham at 12:36 PM on October 13, 2012


Yes. Whether one circumnavigates this by claiming that what they're doing isn't "really" torture (prison, solitary confinement, etc.) or that the pain isn't "severe" (waterboarding, solitary confinement, various forms of non-physical abuse) or that it isn't "applause" (tacit agreement, "we had to") it seems to me that for every living person there is a point at which they will.

By "duress" do you mean the presence or pressure of their peers? Here we get into problems of false consciousness, so be wary.

As for the other terms, they're spectra too. I would define torture (I'm not a professional scholar at this time) as "inflicting severe pain on the subject that they cannot safely escape" and applause as "acceptance without disagreement as to its necessity".
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:46 PM on October 13, 2012


I agree with that characterization of torture (and possibly a more inclusive one, but certainly one including everything you mentioned), and I find that to be a reasonable definition of "applause", but I don't think it's true that there aren't people who would refrain from applauding, or even endorsing, any torture, even broadly construed.

The reference to duress was actually to torture itself, i.e. I was wondering if you meant what I think you do in fact mean -- that people are, by and large, more ready to approve of torture than they might claim -- or whether you were saying something about the potential effects of torture, namely: "Anyone can be made to (claim to) believe anything under torture, including belief in the necessity of torture."

The "without disagreement" part of your definition of "applause" raises the question of whether engaging in torture entails "applauding" it. Do you think, for example, that the Milgram experiment is evidence for your claim?
posted by kengraham at 5:17 PM on October 13, 2012


I don't know much about the scientific validity of the Milgram experiment, not enough to use it for this. If it's valid, then yes, I think it suggests that I'm correct in this belief.

I mean exactly that, that there is no one who won't approve of torture, given the right subject and circumstances. I doubt that having undergone strong duress (as opposed to the soft duress of peer pressure etc) figures into those circumstances for most if any people.

And yes, I would say that engaging in torture is applauding it.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:24 PM on October 13, 2012



I don't know much about the scientific validity of the Milgram experiment, not enough to use it for this. If it's valid, then yes, I think it suggests that I'm correct in this belief.


I brought up the Milgram experiment because it's interesting here in ways that don't even have much to do with its scientific validity. If you think that engaging in torture is applauding it*, then a great number of the experimental subjects applauded torture (surely if action entails applause, then believing oneself to be performing some action, even though one is not actually performing that action, entails applause in exactly the same way). I would say they did so under circumstances that amounted to psychological torture -- perceived authority was being leveraged to make them "choose" to perform an action that apparently caused them pain, in the form of guilt/shame/empathy with the "victim".

The authority component is key, here, I think, because I think that the definition of torture you gave earlier is actually missing a component, namely the exploitation of some pre-existing power difference, often for some coercive purpose. Thus, if we were cinematic swashbuckling types, Hispanophonically insulting each other while jabbing rapiers at each other, and it got to be where your back was to a high wall (no safe escape -- one of your criteria), and you had to fight your way out, and sustained nasty injuries, I would argue that I had not tortured you. But if I had inflicted those same injuries in a context where I wielded total control, and inflicted those injuries either for some coercive reason or as an expression of pure power, then that would be torture.

This means that, I think, some circumstances you might cite as being those in which a particular person would applaud torture are not actually torture, but instead some other form of violence that doesn't leverage or seek to increase a power differential (perhaps revenge for some brutal wrong). Maybe, however, you're asserting that everyone would countenance some torture by this, stricter, definition, too. In either case, I don't really see the evidence for your absolutist claim about all people, although I concede that the proportion of people for whom such circumstances exist is large.

*If the spirit of this belief is just to help condemn torture categorically, then I agree, but I don't think that, in general, engaging in a behaviour entails endorsement of that behaviour, although the counterexamples I can think of (e.g. a hungry person stealing food may genuinely feel that theft is wrong, but that their own survival trumps their perceived wrongness of theft in their moral accounting; I don't think it serves the integrity of the word well to call their attitude "applause of theft") involve behaviour that is way less bad than torture.
posted by kengraham at 8:24 PM on October 13, 2012


(perhaps revenge for some brutal wrong)

It's very easy for a person to convince themselves that this is the case (e.g. torturing Pakistanis as revenge for 9/11, torturing a cop as revenge for perceived police oppression), which is why I didn't include it.

It is never wrong when "we" do it.

This is part of why I believe that every person can be made to applaud torture.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:48 PM on October 14, 2012


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