In this article we will discuss:
- What happened at the capitol [recap]
- How collecting public web data became the final frontier of law and order
What happened at the capitol [recap]
Watching the news lately, many of us saw images of American demonstrators illegally breaking into the Capitol in Washington. But for people concerned with using web scraping as a tool for social justice, that was not the most interesting part of the story.
How collecting public web data became the final frontier of law and order
Many of the rioters actually colluded on this premeditated breach weeks in advance on a platform many have not even heard of, ‘Parler’. This became the platform of choice after some social media platforms marked some of President Trump’s posts on their networks. Loyalists were looking for a platform with a less stringent content moderation policy, and that is indeed what they found.
But right before tech giants such as Google, Apple, and Amazon killed the site due to ‘incitement’, one ‘cyber activist’ who goes by the handle @donk_enby on Twitter, scraped millions of rioter data points. This included posts that were published in the weeks leading up to the riots, including:
Image source: Twitter
But why did she feel a need to do this?
Based on self-declarations and news reports from across the internet, this cyber activist did not do this for self-gain but rather had a social agenda. She was determined to collect publicly available information about those responsible for the disorderly conduct, which included, among other things ‘metadata’.
Quick definition: Metadata is the information associated with a certain file such as what type of device was used when publishing a certain post.
Metadata, which is unusually removed by most web services, was left intact by Parler. This development means that law enforcement officials will now be able to more easily identify certain suspects at the scene of the crime, as well as identify individuals who were masked at the time of committing the offense.
For those concerned about their personal information being compromised, @donk_enby was quick to clarify that only publicly available data was indeed collected from the social network.
She reaffirmed that no:
- Email addresses
- Phone numbers
- Credit cards numbers
Were scraped, further proving that her attempts were not concerned with self-interest but social justice. Modern culture is actually fairly familiar with this phenomenon and has even coined a term to define it:
The keyword here is ‘accountability’. This is not an isolated incident. Many cases in recent history point to a generation that is conscious of what is going on around them and demands accountability for others’ actions, be they politicians, bankers, or protesters.
Summing it up
‘Parler’ was merely one recent development in a long list of instances in which socially conscious men and women decided to use web data collection as their preferred instrument for achieving internet transparency and equality. As we begin a new decade, I foresee web scraping gaining popularity among individuals with strong value systems who want to fight for social justice. This will ultimately benefit our society at large in the form of driving both economic and political accountability.