Woke ‘cancel culture’ is a form of bullying and ‘no platforming’ an attack on free speech, pupils will be taught

Pupils will be taught that ‘cancel culture’ is a form of bullying and ‘no platforming’ an attack on our freedoms.

As part of the Government’s drive to protect freedom of speech, secondary school students will learn that people with controversial opinions should be respected.

In Department for Education training manuals, teachers are instructed to tell pupils that the ‘cancel culture’ which has taken root at many universities – where individuals call for a boycott of a person or company whose views they don’t agree with, in the hope they lose their job or clients – is not part of a ‘tolerant and free society’.

Pupils will be taught that 'cancel culture' is a form of bullying and 'no platforming' an attack on our freedoms [File photo]

Pupils will be taught that ‘cancel culture’ is a form of bullying and ‘no platforming’ an attack on our freedoms [File photo]

The move appears to be a direct response to incidents where mainstream speakers, including former home secretary Amber Rudd, have been blocked from speaking at universities by political opponents.

The comments are part of a slide presentation in a module on ‘respectful relationships’, as part of the new relationships and sex education curriculum beginning this year.

One slide says: ‘Reinforce that everyone needs to show the same respect to others regardless of how different they are to them. Explain the harm caused by ‘cancel culture’ and the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of association to a tolerant and free society.

‘Teach that censorship and ‘no platforming’ are harmful and damaging. Explain that seeking to get people ‘cancelled’ (e.g. having them removed from their position of authority or job) simply because you disagree with them, is a form of bullying and is not acceptable.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has repeatedly threatened legislation unless universities do more to protect freedom of speech on campus.

In another section, the department says teachers must not suggest that ‘children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests’.

It also warns schools not to work with organisations that promote the idea that ‘non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity’.

The move appears to be a direct response to incidents where mainstream speakers, including former home secretary Amber Rudd, have been blocked from speaking at universities by political opponents

The move appears to be a direct response to incidents where mainstream speakers, including former home secretary Amber Rudd, have been blocked from speaking at universities by political opponents

The rules appear to be a response to increasing criticism of activist groups seen as pushing children and young people into transitioning gender, with many children saying later they regret their decision.

‘We are aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive,’ the guidance says. 

‘You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests.

‘Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence-based.

‘Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external organisations that produce such material.

‘While teachers should not suggest to a child their non-compliance with gender stereotypes means either their personality or their body is wrong and in need of changing, teachers should always seek to treat students with sympathy and support.’

Motor Mouth: PDF owner’s manual can be printed out

Q: I read the recent item about PDF owner’s manuals with interest. I was in that situation when I bought my 2019 Honda Accord. I wrote to Honda that when I am on the road and find I need to refer to the manual to understand a warning light, I do not want to have to squint at a PDF on my phone to see what’s what. Honda printed out a bound manual for me at no charge.

A: I am not a technophobe, but I, too, prefer hard copies. When recently installing a mesh router, I printed out the manual — double-sided, to save paper, or course. If you don’t want to use up all your paper and ink, another reader suggested sending the owner’s manual PDF to an online print shop. The reader suggested asking for “booklet” size and getting it spiral bound so it stays open.

Babying the battery

Q: My 2016 Lincoln MKC display says “system off to save battery.” I replaced the battery, but the same message appeared. Should I be concerned that this is a software problem?

A: Your car is behaving normally. In order to prevent the battery from discharging to the point that you no longer can start the car, it shuts down nonessential systems. This happens mostly with cars that are not frequently driven, especially in very cold environments. One thing you might want to have checked is the charging system. The battery needs to be at full charge when you shut down the engine.

Mystery ailment

Q: I own a 2006 Cadillac DTS with the Northstar V-8 and 98,000 miles. For the most part, it runs well, and the engine has been serviced only by the dealer. But it has begun to cut off while in drive with no warning and no check engine light. It starts back up and runs perfectly for weeks or months. A mechanic did a diagnostic test, but there were no code errors. What systems should I investigate?

A: Dealers have very sophisticated testing equipment that, in the hands of a well-trained technician, can provide a ton of information. But not every problem sets a trouble code, only those that have something to do with emissions. Intermittent problems are tricky to analyze if the car is running fine when you bring it in. You could try a different dealer, but you might get the same answer.

Good timing

Q: My Toyota Camry Solara has 72,000 miles on it, and I’m concerned about when I should replace the timing belt. I’ve been told in the past that the belt probably won’t last for much longer than 72,000 miles, and if it breaks, it will cause severe (expensive) damage. What are your thoughts on this?

A: The four-cylinder engines have timing chains and the V-6s have belts, so it depends on your engine. For belts, we suggest replacement sometime between 75,000 and 100,000 miles. Timing chains are designed to last the life of the car.

 

Bob Weber is a writer, mechanic and ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician. His writing has appeared in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest. Send automotive questions along with name and town to motormouth.tribune@gmail.com.

Kim ‘sorry’ for COVID shooting of South Korean man

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has issued a rare public apology over the shooting death of a South Korean man on the border, whose body was also set on fire according to the South.

The killing, North Korea says, was to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking at a news conference, South’s national security adviser cited the apology letter from North Korea’s border department.

It included a line from the leader saying he was “sorry” over the incident and promises to prevent a recurrence.

The man who died was a South Korean fisheries official who went missing this week.

Soldiers fired more than 10 shots at him after he did not reveal his identity and tried to flee.

Seoul had said the soldiers then doused his body in oil and set it on fire.

But the letter claims they instead burned a floatation device he was using, according to their anti-virus manuals, and not his body.

The rare message comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in faces intense political fallout at home over the incident.

It coincides with a renewed push for policy to engage Pyongyang.

Moon issued an unusually stringent response calling it “unpardonable.”

IndieWire’s Favorite Books: Staffers Pick Their Top Film Books


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It’s always a good time to update your bookshelf, and today IndieWire staffers have selected some of their favorite film books, from screenwriting manuals to fascinating histories and even musings on the art of criticism itself.

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The selections are wide-ranging, so if you’re looking for a book specifically about film criticism then you can check out this list, and if you’re looking for a juicy memoir, check out this one.

But otherwise, read on for a broad spectrum of books about cinema, including behind-the-scenes accounts of major blockbusters, essays on film theory, and more.

Film Deputy Editor Kate Erbland’s Pick:

“Better Living Through Criticism” by A.O. Scott

In his 2017 book, New York Times critic A.O. Scott elegantly (and respectfully) unpacks the sort of questions that often linger in the terrifying dredges of the comment section, like “hey, what’s a critic anyway?” and “why should I care what you think, egghead?” Never snobby and wonderfully welcoming, Scott digs deep into just what criticism is — and how, yes, everyone truly is a critic — and the various functions it has in society. “Better Living Through Criticism” doesn’t just help clarify and crystallize the power of criticism, it also invites everyone to participate in it, thus helping eager art lovers of all stripes feel more engaged with culture and those who write about it.

TV Executive Editor Ann Donahue’s Pick:

“Sense and Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries” by Emma Thompson

It’s a glorious two-fer — you get to see the deftness of Emma Thompson’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” and then you get to laugh out loud at her set diaries. (Truly, I have taken photos of pages of quips and texted them to friends.) There are plenty of joyous details about the cast and crew, all at an inflection point in their careers: a just-out-of-Taiwan Ang Lee, a pre-“Titanic” Kate Winslet, a just-after “Four Weddings and a Funeral” Hugh Grant, the eternally beloved Alan Rickman, and a pre-married-to-Emma Thompson Greg Wise, among them. It’s delicious and delightful.

Creative Producer Leonardo Adrian Garcia’s Pick:

“Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!” by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon

Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon’s “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!” isn’t a screenwriting manual in the vein of Syd Field and Robert McKee (these are also good), but a more relatable how-to on marketing oneself and becoming a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The duo, who cut their teeth as part of the legendary sketch ensemble “The State” before graduating to “Viva Variety” and “Reno 911!,” have carved out a screenwriting and script doctoring career, where yes, the films they’ve written have grossed $1.4 billion at the box office. Half-primer, half-memoir, “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit” details their trials and tribulations, from how clueless executives can ruin your screenplay to how egomaniacal directors can ruin your screenplay. It’s a fun read, equally filled with anecdotes about their work on such films as “Night at the Museum” and “Herbie: Fully Loaded” as it is tips and tricks for the burgeoning screenwriter.

Crafts & Animation Editor Bill Desowitz’s Pick:

“The American Cinema: Directors and Directions” by Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris, the legendary Village Voice film critic/historian, made his reputation as the leading American advocate of the auteur theory — and this was his bible, an audacious and provocative ranking of 200 directors and more than 6,000 movies from 1929-1968. At the time, this was a radical departure from the norm because Sarris successfully altered the critical discourse from social to personal criticism, while elevating the status of Hollywood cinema. Sarris was the first American to promote John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ernst Lubitsch as masters in his “Pantheon,” and to champion Frank Borzage, Vincente Minnelli, and Preston Sturges in “The Far Side of Paradise.” By contrast, he dismissed David Lean and Billy Wilder in “Less Than Meets the Eye” and Stanley Kubrick and Sidney Lumet in “Strained Seriousness.” However, Sarris later reappraised Wilder by placing him in his “Pantheon” and admitted that later Kubrick wasn’t such a strain to admire after all.

TV Editor Kristen Lopez’s Pick:

“Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock” by Christina Lane

I read A LOT of classic film biographies and histories and it’s rare for an author to dig new ground, but author Christina Lane does in her story of a woman who blazed a trail in Hollywood and isn’t known. Joan Harrison was a producer who worked closely with Alfred Hitchcock before striking out on her own as a producer of unique features starring the equally underrated Ella Raines. Harrison lived by her own rules and it’s a shame that so many of her movies suffered from studio interference, especially considering she was the only female producer at the time. Read Lane’s book and then watch “Phantom Lady,” the movie that gives this book its title.

Contributor Tom Brueggemann’s Pick:

“The Parade’s Gone By…” by Kevin Brownlow

Though silent film was no more than 40 years past when this rich, fascinating survey of its history was published, it felt as ancient then to many budding cinephiles as it does to those today. Brownlow’s book, with its phenomenal interweaving of facts, anecdotes, interviews, and stunning array of pictures made what seemed dated and passe fresh and demanding to be experienced. Few books on cinema have ever made the movies they covered come alive as much as here to those who have not yet seen them. Among its achievements was the rediscovery of the mostly forgotten French pioneer Abel Gance. Though Brownlow somewhat oversells him as a master among masters, the focus here led to a restoration of his 1927 wide-screen epic “Napoleon,” more than justifying the excess.

Brueggemann also recommends Sarris’ “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions,” writing:

The game changer in analysis of American studio films is a bible for cinephiles with more influence on reputations, tastes, and viewing habits more than 40 years later. Like all bibles, it is not inerrant with its rankings of directors. But it is hard to explain to those in subsequent decades how much it elevated directors who either if known weren’t taken seriously (Hitchcock) or derided (Sirk among many others). It comes with a lengthy explanation of the auteur theory, to this day much misunderstood. In its description how out of a group effort such as the Hollywood factories were than in some cases an individual voice could elevate a film into art, it upended the late 1960s film criticism as personal taste was beginning to take hold.

Editor-at-Large Anne Thompson’s Pick:

“A Biographical Dictionary of Film” by David Thomson

Film & TV Craft Deputy Editor Chris O’Falt’s Picks:

“On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director” by Alexander Mackendrick

“A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930–1960” by Jeanine Basinger

“Lynch on Lynch” by Chris Rodley (Editor)

“The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era” by Thomas Schatz

“In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing” by Walter Murch

“Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks” by Adam Nayman

We Just Found the User Manual for the First Digital Computer Ever Built

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These days, losing the manual for some piece of electronics you’ve purchased is notable mostly because you had a printed document to lose in the first place. In the dead-tree dominated days of yore, of course, this was less true. Documentation loss is a major problem in the effort to understand old computer systems, and it’s part of what drives ongoing data preservation efforts across the industry. Until recently, the Zuse Z4 could have been a poster child for this sort of problem.

The Z4 was the brainchild of Konrad Zuse, a German who deserves to be better known than he is for his early, groundbreaking work. Zuse had the misfortune to be making some of his biggest breakthroughs immediately prior to and during World War II. It was Zuse who designed the first high-level programming language from 1942 to 1945. This is remarkable because, as Wikipedia notes, Zuse had no training whatsoever in mechanical computing devices. He independently discovered both propositional calculus and lattice theory, calling them “combinatorics of conditionals” and “study of intervals,” respectively.

The Zuse Z4 is the oldest preserved digital computer in the world and arguably* the first digital computer. The Z4 was developed through the end of the war and was moved multiple times while under construction to keep it away from the advancing Soviet army. After the war, it was expanded and became the second digital computer in the world to be sold. The preserved model is on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich and is pictured above.

Its documentation, however, was a different story. A recent blog post by the Association of Computing Machinery details how the rare documents were found. Archivist Evelyn Boesch, with ETH Zurich University, contacted Herbert Bruder of the ACM and informed him that her father, René Boesch, had kept a tranche of rare historical documents. These turned out to include a user manual for the Z4 Zuse, as well as notes on flutter calculations. Other documents, dated October 27, 1953, detail what the Z4 was working on. At the time, it was being used to perform flutter calculations on the Swiss FFA P-16 fighter aircraft, which was then in development. Details from the recovered documents show that it took the Z4 50 hours to simulate 2.4 seconds of flight time, which is slightly worse than the current version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The ACM blog post notes that “around 100 jobs were carried out with the Z4 between 1950 and 1955,” implying an average per-job computation time of about three weeks.

What We Learn From Manuals Like This

The recovered Z4 manual illustrates why this type of document preservation is so important. From their earliest days, computers were upgradeable — machines like ENIAC were outfitted with the equivalent of RAM upgrades and CPU improvements. In the Z4’s case, support for conditional jump instructions was added post-manufacture. The only problem was, nobody could remember exactly how the feature worked. ACM notes: “However, in a survey a few years ago, the few surviving eyewitnesses could not remember how it was executed.”

092120_Fig._3_Z4_emanuscripta_page_8_2856530

Page 8 of the manual provides this information. My German is rusty, my technical German is nonexistent, and frankly, the images are a bit tough to read, so I’m not going to try to translate exactly how the function worked. Without information like this, it would be impossible to precisely replicate or understand how the Z4 embodied or improved upon the computational capabilities of the time.

*The answer to “Who invented the first computer?” is essentially arbitrary and depends entirely on how you choose to define the term “computer.” The UK’s Colossus is declared the world’s first “programmable, electronic, digital computer,” by Wikipedia, but it was programmed by switches and plugs, not a stored program. The Z4 is considered to be the first commercial digital computer but it’s not electronic. The first electronic stored-program computer is the Manchester Baby, but Konrad Zuse’s earlier Z3 could store programs on tape — it just wasn’t electronic. Other obscure machines, like the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, were not Turing-complete and couldn’t store programs, but still contributed critical ideas to the development of computing.

Also, if you were taught that ENIAC was the first computer (or digital computer, or electronic digital computer, etc, ad nauseam), that’s more propaganda than fact. ENIAC was more directly based on machines like Colossus than was known at the time, because the wartime efforts of the British remained classified, while ENIAC was widely celebrated in the media.

Finally, reading up on the history of early computing is a good reminder of how many people, institutions, and companies contributed various technologies and principles to the field. One reason you can subdivide the question of “Who built the first computer” to such a fine degree is that there were so many “firsts” for someone to achieve. There was a time in the 1930s and 1940s when mechanical, electromechanical, and digital systems were sharing space and serious development dollars simultaneously. We don’t have anything remotely equivalent today, and even our wildest architectural departures from the x86 “norm” are still based on digital computing. That could change in the future, if Intel’s MESO architecture comes to fruition and proves capable of replacing CMOS in the long term.

But for now, the 1930s and 1940s represent a tremendously dynamic period in computing history that we don’t really have an equivalent for — though some of the quantum computing work is getting really interesting.

Now Read:

Boffins find world’s oldest computer manual

Not sure if anyone ever read it before

Boffins will be able to gain a deeper understanding of what’s considered the world’s oldest surviving (digital) computer after its long-lost user manual was unearthed.

According to Engadget, the Z4, which was built in 1945, runs on tape, takes up most of a room and needs several people to operate it. The machine now takes residence at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, but it hasn’t been used in quite some time. It was arguably the world’s first commercial digital computer.

The memory consisted of 32-bit rather than 22-bit floating point words. A special unit called the Planfertigungsteil (program construction unit), which punched the program tapes, made programming and correcting programs for the machine much easier by the use of symbolic operations and memory cells. Numbers were entered and output as decimal floating point even though the internal working was in binary. The machine had a large repertoire of instructions including square root, MAX, MIN and sine.

Archivist at ETH Zurich, Evelyn Boesch, discovered the manual among her father’s documents in March. Rene Boesch worked with the Swiss Aeronautical Engineering Association, which was based at the university’s Institute for Aircraft Statics and Aircraft Construction. The Z4 was housed there in the early 1950s.

Among Boesch’s documents were notes on math problems the Z4 solved that were linked to the development of the P-16 jet fighter. “These included calculations on the trajectory of rockets, on aircraft wings, on flutter vibrations [and] on nosedive.”

Federal Judge Refuses to Rule on Wisconsin ID Laws Before Election, Saying Ruling Would Cause ‘Chaos and Confusion’

With 41 days left until the U.S. presidential elections, a Wisconsin federal judge has delayed ruling on a case about the types of student ID cards required to vote. He feared his ruling could cause “chaos and confusion” on Election Day.

James Peterson, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, said on Wednesday that he would delay ruling on the matter until after the November 3 national elections, according to The Hill.

The case was an April 2019 civil suit filed by Common Cause Wisconsin, a state government watchdog organization, against the heads of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The organization sued the commission over its rule change involving the types of student ID cards allowed as valid identification for voting.

The commission’s rule change requires that a student’s college or university ID card must contain the student’s name, photo, issuance date, an expiration date not more than two years after the issuance date and the student’s signature. Additionally, students must also present proof of enrollment—such as an enrollment verification letter or tuition fee receipt—before being allowed to vote.

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In their lawsuit, Common Cause said the rule change requires “extraneous information that is wholly unnecessary to advance election integrity and prevent fraud and/or that is redundant with other registration and voting requirements.”

Peterson said that because voting in Wisconsin is already underway, the state election commission had already issued its Election Day manuals explaining the student ID voting requirements to municipal clerks and poll workers.

He wrote in his opinion, “If the court were to issue an order changing the status quo now, it would leave the Commission and municipal clerks with little time to issue new guidance and retrain staff.”

Ruling against the commission’s rule change and its “nearly inevitable appeal,” Peterson wrote, “would mean weeks of uncertainty as the case was reviewed by the court of appeals and possibly the Supreme Court.” He worried the back-and-forth could potentially mislead students into thinking they have the required ID as subsequent courts issue new rulings or injunctions on lower rulings.

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Wisconsin student ID voter law Common Cause
Voters wait in line at the Hamilton High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to vote in the Democratic presidential primary on April 7, 2020. On Wednesday a federal judge delayed his ruling on a recent change to voter ID laws requiring students at universities and colleges to obtain a special ID and proof of enrollment before they’re allowed to vote.
Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP/Getty

Of the 28 U.S. states with voter ID laws that require student ID for students to vote, Wisconsin is the only one that additionally requires a student ID to have only a two-year life span—even if it is issued by a four-year institution—and the only state to require students have a separate proof of current enrollment.

Common Cause also claimed that most colleges and universities don’t inform students that they need to obtain a special ID to vote, potentially disenfranchising thousands of students who don’t learn about the requirements until they’re turned away at a polling place.

Common Cause added that only some of the University of Wisconsin’s (UW) four-year institutions issue voting-capable student ID upon enrollment, while its others issue them only upon request. All of the UW’s two-year institutions issue voting-capable student ID upon enrollment, but only if students themselves add their signature on a blank space on the card where no indication is given for a signature.

Of the state’s 22 private colleges and universities, Common Cause said that nine automatically issue voting-capable student ID upon enrollment, 10 only issue such IDs upon request and three don’t issue them at all, even upon request.

Newsweek contacted Common Cause Wisconsin for comment.

Researchers found the manual for the world’s oldest surviving computer

Among Boesch’s documents were notes on math problems the Z4 solved that were linked to the development of the P-16 jet fighter. “These included calculations on the trajectory of rockets, on aircraft wings, on flutter vibrations [and] on nosedive,” Bruderer wrote in a Association of Computing Machinery blog post.

The computer itself has quite the backstory. German civil engineer Konrad Zuse invented the Z4 under the Nazi regime and is the likely author of the manual, according to Bruderer. At one point, the Nazis wanted Zuse to move the computer to a concentration camp, where the regime used forced labor to build rockets and flying bombs. He refused, and instead moved the Z4 to a barn in a remote town to wait out World War II.

Mathematician Eduard Stiefel later acquired the Z4 for ETH Zurich’s Institute for Applied Mathematics. It spent a few years at the French-German Research Institute of Saint-Louis before the Z4 was transferred to the Deutsches Museum in 1960.

Surveillance Company Explains How to Keep Facebook From Detecting Fake Accounts in Leaked Manual

Fake Facebook Account

Image: Cathryn Virginia/Motherboard

A company that markets an online investigations platform for government agencies, banks, and other businesses says publicly that it’s based on open source intelligence. But a leaked user manual obtained by Motherboard shows that, in reality, the company teaches customers how to create fake Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to gather information about people that is normally protected by their privacy settings on those platforms.

The guide also explains how to avoid detection by Facebook.

Blackdot Solutions, a startup based in Cambridge, UK, offers a product called Videris. On its official website, Videris appears to be just like any other open source intelligence (OSINT) collections tool. But in a user manual obtained by Motherboard, Blackdot offers step-by-step instructions to customers on how to mine data from Facebook and LinkedIn profiles that have certain privacy settings turned on. The idea is to create sock puppet Facebook accounts to befriend targets and mine their data, which is usually not available publicly on the internet.

Videris manual

A screenshot of the leaked Videris user manual.

“The surface part of the program was typical but I noticed the use of fake social media accounts and did not think that aligned with company values,” a person who saw a demo of Videris, and asked to remain anonymous because they were not allowed to speak to the press, told Motherboard. “The fake accounts were against social media platform policy and used algorithms to unravel private networks, which seemed like an invasion of privacy.”

Companies all over the world, including giants like Amazon, are increasingly employing intelligence analysts who can monitor their own workers, as well as prospective employees, to find data on their pasts and internet activities. Companies like Blackdot have stepped in to offer products to make those processes easier.

“In 2015 Blackdot started selling Videris as a standalone product to government clients, where it proved instantly transformational,” the company says on its official website. “Since 2016 we have wound down our risk agency activities and focused solely on our software, expanding to other sectors. Videris quickly gained a reputation for being the best open source investigations software available, and gained customers across the government, banking, corporate and professional services sectors.”

Do you work at Blackdot Solutions? Have you ever used its product Videris? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, on Wickr at lorenzofb, OTR chat at lorenzofb@jabber.ccc.de, or email lorenzofb@vice.com.

Adam Lawrance-Owen, Blackdot’s head of product, said in an email that “a core principle of Videris as a product, and a fundamental ethical and business principle for our company, is that the user can access publicly available, open source information only. Videris cannot be used to go behind privacy settings, as your email suggests. None of our customers use, or could use, Videris for such a purpose.”

When we showed Lawrance-Owen the relevant pages of the user manual, he said that he “not seen this document before and it certainly isn’t our user manual.” We then shared the whole document, and Lawrance-Owen said that he could not “really comment on the document you attach, except to tell you that, while it references our functionality, it isn’t our standard user guide. I wasn’t aware of this document and it also appears to be 2 years old.”

“Videris does not and cannot break privacy settings,” he added, while never denying that the company may help customers create fake accounts to get around those privacy settings, as the manual makes clear.

In the user manual, dated September 2018, Blackdot details how Videris can be used to scrape the internet for information about a certain person or company. Videris then organizes the data in easy to understand charts and graphs, according to the manual.

Videris interface

A screenshot of the Videris interface, according to a leaked user manual.

In case the target of the investigation has a Facebook profile where they protect information, such as their friends’ list, with their privacy settings, Blackout suggests customers “recreate” the list by adding “seed” Facebook profiles to Videris. This process, according to the manual, consists in extracting names of friends analyzing their interactions’ with the target such as likes in pictures.

The manual also suggests creating fake accounts to mine data, and includes detailed step-by-step instructions, such as creating a new Gmail account, linking it to a new phone number, and using a proxy server—all solutions to prevent Facebook and LinkedIn from spotting the fake accounts and banning them.

“After intense periods of data collection, certain data providers have been known to restrict the access of online accounts used by Videris. Videris automatically detects restrictions and disables affected accounts, removing them from use,” the manual warns.

After creating the fake account, the manual also suggests users should “break-in the account by randomly browsing and searching for 5-10 minutes.”

For LinkedIn, the manual suggests using a “non specific job title” like consultant and “a common and uninteresting company name and a broad industry (e.g. ‘Human Resources’).”

Just like with Facebook, the manual suggests users to “break-in” the fake account by spending a few minutes using the site, searching for profiles and “browsing around LinkedIn to reduce the chance of the LinkedIn account being blocked at a later stage.”