The Social Media Stranglehold

Suspended

Introduction

Twitter suspended my 10-year, 5,000 follower account, apparently for asking Wil Wheaton a rhetorical question.

I haven’t always been the best behaved on Twitter, but have been for some years now as the platform, and my relationship with it have evolved.

To be suspended for such a silly reason, which doesn’t even breach any of their terms of service, is a bit of a shock but I’m not the only one. Twitter is suspending many people from the platform in a ‘purge’ which is barring people from all across the political spectra from having access to it.

In a horrible irony, many of the people who have been calling for more censorship (and who probably helped cause this to happen) have flounced off Twitter this month. They are demanding that the platform censor Alex Jones (of Info Wars fame) because of his conspiracy theory nonsense and the harassment and problems it has led to – even if not directed by Jones himself. They’re demanding even more censorship.

I consider myself aware of the implications and issues of the online space, I was a (relatively) early adopter of various aspects of the Internet, I have been a critic and have offered analyses of Internet culture and technology, and yet I was still blindsided by just how much of an effect this has had.

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Why this is Serious

Stop for a moment and consider how much you use your social media. The odds are that Facebook, Twitter – or perhaps your Google account – describe the primary method by which you interact with the Internet. You use these things to communicate with your friends and family, to serve up exciting content, to follow celebrities, topics and content you like. Moreso even more than you likely use search engines.

Social Media has also become a tool of convenience for logging into third-party sites, games, comment sections and applications of all kinds. Media interactions – participation in culture, art, news – are all driven by social media.

It is also an essential aspect of a business, cheap marketing, providing support, finding people to do contract work, calling for artists, writers and so forth.
It’s a route to fame, notoriety and success – by going viral.

It’s essential for crowd-funding, Kickstarters, raising money for charities or personal emergencies. To many people and businesses, if you’re not on Social Media, then you don’t exist.

The Internet itself was a transformative technology, social media has been a transformative use of that technology, but our culture, laws and social ‘rules’ are lagging far behind that technology, and this lies at the root of most of our problems when it comes to that technology. The public square is in private hands, but we fail to understand this.

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A Little Internet History (Web Portals)

Does anyone remember web portals?

Back in the earlier history of the Internet, this was how the significant sites of the time, like Yahoo or AOL, tried to provide usability to new users and to make the Internet less ‘scary’ by serving up content and links as a ‘front page’ to the Internet.

It didn’t work, it wasn’t personalised, and most people wanted to move well beyond that walled garden of advertising and the stories of the day that they decided you should know. That older way of doing things died off fairly rapidly.

How were people connecting with content? Mostly via email. Friends and family would send you links to something they thought you might find interesting. Unfortunately, this would also, often, include chain-emails and bloated files full of ‘funny’ images that took ages to download on dial-up but even so, your friends formed an informal Internet curation service of trusted links and material.

When social media finally took off, those companies – especially Facebook – found a way to monetise our trusted networks of friends, as well as to personalise advertising and to insert it into that trusted stream, gaining from second-hand trustworthiness via context.
Social Media is now your ‘frontpage to the internet’ with a great many people only really interacting with the internet via a handful of sites, social media topping the bill.

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A Little Internet Futurity

China’s a bit ahead of the curve than the rest of us when it comes to the likely future of social media. China’s government is bringing in a ‘social credit’ system to identify good citizens and more and more China is integrating anything and everything they can with social media. If you’re in China’s cities and don’t have Aliexpress or WeChat Pay you often can’t even buy anything.

China is using this system to throttle people’s Internet, restrict their travel and to enact numerous other modes of social control. With your neighbours and friends enforcing your compliant behaviour because – in part – their reputation in the systems is interdependent with yours.

This system sounds horrific and dystopian – and it is – but it is just a governmentally formalised version of what is already happening here in the west.

Not a day goes by where we don’t hear about someone being fired for a bad joke, perhaps even made years ago. Businesses are now in the habit of checking applicants’ social media before offering them a job. The line between your personal and professional life is eroding, and it often doesn’t matter if what you’ve done or are doing is legal, a company might still fire someone for exercising fundamental human rights that are supposedly guaranteed.

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Single Point of Failure

Different sites have different rules. Some will value free expression, many were founded with that as a fundamental principle (Youtube, Twitter) but have been beaten into submission by commercial interests and threats to their bottom line. When it comes to Social Media sites, it seems that you can have principles, audience and commercial viability – but you can only pick two.

Alternative sites have begun to spring up, but there’s something that they can’t – yet – overcome.

Money.

Whatever a site’s stance, whether it embraces free speech, political liberty, sexuality or not it just cannot sidestep the payment services.

You would think your money would be yours, that you could spend it on anything (legal) you wanted to, without repercussions. This is not how money in the modern age works, however. It’s a service, not something you own. The banks and payment services sit in judgement, and it’s their rules – not the law – that allows them to block payments, deny payments, charge higher fees, lock accounts and even to steal your money if they judge you’re engaged in ‘high risk’ or ‘immoral’ transactions.

People working in adult industries get hit by this all the time, but it has been spreading to the blockading of other content as well. The most recent case being Mastercard threatening to withdraw services from crowdfunding site Patreon if they did not block certain political commentators and sites from being funded via their service.

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Echo Chambers & Prisons Become Camps

A massive problem with the modern Internet, one made worse by social media and its content algorithms, is the phenomenon of the ‘echo chamber’. We surround ourselves with people we like and trust, people who agree with us. This self-insulating behaviour is only natural, nobody likes to be disagreed with or proven wrong, but it’s vital that different ideas mix and battle and at its best, social media has fostered that kind of discussion. Not so much any more, however.

Increased commercial pressure has increased the demand to serve up what we ‘want’ to see, rather than what we need to see. Political polarisation and social polarisation have fed each other, forming a dangerous positive feedback loop. How often have you seen people post on their social media platforms that if you ‘disagree on X’ then you should unfollow them?

There has also been a proliferation of blocking lists. People are even proud of the fact that they cut off tens of thousands of people on the opposite side of even the pettiest of issues. The effect of this is to force even the people who work hard to expose themselves to other points of view, into ‘echo-prisons’.

We’re now seeing the next stage of this process of dangerous division, the audiences which used to mingle and battle on shared social platforms, are now moving onto their ‘
?6yt;[p’own platforms, some for the ‘left’, some for the ‘right’, segregated and policed to one degree or another (or just by their nature) so that interaction and discussions become even less likely.

As bad as things are now, they’re going to get worse if this goes on.

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Solutions

I’m sorry to say that there are no real solutions. My eyes have been open to all these problems for years, and I’ve done what I can to avoid becoming too reliant on any single platform and not to exist in an echo chamber.

I failed, via a combination of sheer convenience and the adverse actions of others.
We can’t force anyone to do anything; we can’t make anyone do anything. All we can do is – in and of ourselves – to try and act how we wish others did. It’s a cultural change that’s needed, and we can’t legislate or bully that into existence, though many continue to try.

If we want this to change we need to make sure that we, as individuals…

  • Respect the right to free expression of people, even those with whom we disagree.
  • Separate personal and professional lives and stop punishing people professionally for what they do personally.
  • Support people, financially and socially, who foster conversations that reach across the fractures in modern society.
  • Seek out ideas, arguments and sources of news and information that disagree with us.
  • Be forgiving.
  • Take personal and individual responsibility for what media we consume and how we react to it. Control our own feeds, block, mute and unfollow, rather than asking for people to be silenced.
  • Spread these ideas, and hold others to these standards.

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Alternative Tech

Many tout so-called ‘Alternative Tech’ (unfortunate name) as a solution to this. They say that people should move to new social platforms that will respect their free expression and which have this as a founding value.

Twitter and Youtube had free expression as founding values. It’s only a matter of time until commercial pressures or a buy out compromise these new players – if they’re a success.

Another problem is that the first settlers of new media are most often those forcibly excluded from other forms of social media. Unfortunately, even if they were banned illegitimately, that does tend to mean that Alternative Media gets colonised by conspiracy theorists, crazy people and political extremists. Something which gets in the way of site growth by creating bad – undeserved – reputations.

Lastly, the monetisation problem often hits Alt-Tech sites hard, forcing them – almost immediately – to bend the knee to the demands of the payment processors or to move to crypto-currency. The problem there is that crypto is not user-friendly and is overrun with scammers, spammers and incompatibility issues.

Of the alternatives that are available, Minds.com appears to be the most viable for social/micro-blogging and Bitchute for video. There’s still a long way to go for there to be any challengers to the primacy of Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, but the only way to change that is to use the alternatives, even while they’re imperfect.

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Conclusion

We let these things get this powerful and this important, and we didn’t work to guarantee our rights and to make these companies live up to their professed values and obligations at the same time. The only way to create change is to do it ourselves, and that’s hard. Even understanding these things as well as I do, being aware of these problems, I was drawn into it and still managed to be shocked when the rug was yanked out from under me.

Social Media might seem trivial; you might well be able to get by without it – for now – but if you work online, rely on the internet in any significant way it is now critical and is only going to get more so as technology relentlessly marches on.

We need to make a concerted effort to update our social contracts and our laws to match this technological reality, and letting companies off the hook because they’re ‘private enterprises’ cannot be a valid excuse.

Still, it all starts with us.

Let’s begin.

Positive Discrimination?

cgon621lJust before going to bed (so not the best time) and on Twitter (not the best venue) I got into a discussion with a friend about positive discrimination, specifically in games. I tried to explain why a 50/50 hiring policy wouldn’t be representative of the state of play and wouldn’t be good for business. Twitter made that a bit ham-fisted though and it was apparently received that I was somehow in favour of discrimination.

This, then, is my attempt to expand on the point and as to why positive discrimination is a bad idea and that the problem lies elsewhere. At the end I’ll try to suggest some solutions.

None of the below example is meant to be realistic, just a mental exercise to illustrate the problem.

For the sake of argument, say that business boss, Mr Gamey McGamerson has a fat wad of venture capital and is looking to start up a new computer games company. He wants to hire the best he can and he needs 50 employees for his business. He has an available hiring pool of local talent of 100.

Talent, regardless of gender, for sake of argument, breaks down as:

10% genius, 20% good, 40% average, 20% sub par and 10% shitty. There’s also an unwashed mass of any number of zero talent people of both genders.

We rate these from 5 (genius) to 0 (unwashed mass) which means out of McGamerson’s hiring requirements, he can score a maximum of 250 talent, if he hired all geniuses.

Women in STEM fields runs at about 20% – depending which study you look at, but it’s a nice round number to use. It varies within STEM, since more women take biology for example, but for sake of argument let’s call it 20% (in comp sci it’s specifically less, 17% IIRC but you can look it up).

So, our potential hiring pool contains 80 men and 20 women, from which we can choose.

So, what would be the result of different hiring policies?

Meritocratic Hiring Policy Based on Talent

Workforce: 80% male, 20% female (proportionate to talent pool)
Talent Score: 190/250 (76%)

Gender Discriminatory Hiring Policy (Boys Club)

Workforce: 100% male (skewed in favour of men)
Talent Score: 182/250 (72.8%)

Gender Discriminatory Hiring Policy (Positive Female Discrimination)

Workforce: 50% male, 50% female (over double the actual proportions)
Talent Score: 140/250 (56%)

Obviously, the best option is to hire based on merit, since that garners the highest score, but in this environment, even though women are just as (proportionately) talented as men you’re still better off – as a business – having a sexist hiring policy than you are by engaging in positive discrimination. You lose a little by being a sexist prick, but you lose a lot by engaging in a gender-biased hiring policy.

Quotas are never going to work out and are always going to cause problems. Talent – and interest – in the necessary fields is unevenly distributed by gender, geography and many other factors but all else being equal, if the system was truly meritocratic and non-sexist, we would expect to see an 80/20 male favouring split in game development based purely on talent alone.

In fact, women make up 22%.

If you want a 50/50 split you’re essentially asking businesses to cripple themselves by using worse talent, and there simply aren’t enough women graduates in STEM fields to allow all the businesses to half-fill with women anyway. So this is an impossible proposition at the best of times.

If you want to see equally distributed results you have a lot of problems to tackle and you’re starting from the wrong end.

If you want more women in STEM in general, and computer game development in particular, you need to start from the education end, the meat that gets fed into the grinder. You need to encourage women to take these courses and gain these qualifications.

That has its own set of problems. We need more people in general to take up STEM fields and despite a lot of money and effort being spent to get girls into these fields, there hasn’t been much of a result (nor has a comparable effort been made to get men into female dominated fields, but that’s another issue). Indeed the evidence from places like Norway is that the more equal a society is, the more choice in career and education, the more people tend to gravitate towards their traditional gender roles.

In my opinion the best we can hope for is proportionate success based on equal opportunity. If people make choices we don’t personally like, we’ll have to cope with that.

Lay Layla Lay

The other day I watched a secular Muslim be outed and live-tweet what what happened next.

Life was ‘over’ she said.

Life wasn’t worth living.

Her family was ‘informed’ by someone who found out who she was.

Her mother in tears, playing ‘the call to prayer’ through her iPad as loud as it would go, over and over.

When you leave Islam, even in a western country, you take your life, the love of your family and the support of your community in your hands.

Before her account was deleted, the bio was changed to ‘I love Allah and his prophet Muhammed (PBUH)’.

I hope she’s OK, and if not, at least there’s these guys to help her.

Babysitting Tumblr

1975178_10153876833760545_301699648_nJust how bad could Tumblr ‘social justice’ be? That’s the question I asked myself after encountering many of the sort of ghastly people who have Tumblrs on Twitter during recent fusses. So, with that question in mind I stabbed myself in the eyes and nailed my scrotum to the wall made a Tumblr and a list of ghastly ‘social justice’ extremists on Twitter to give me a heads up what to look for.

Yes, it’s as bad as you think.

On the face of it, you might think that I would be a good fit for this crowd, given that I believe in the concept of social justice in that I believe in equality and fair treatment, am on the liberal left of the political spectrum, am for LGBTQWTFBBQLMAO rights, the professed goals of feminism in theory (but not in practice), etc, etc, etc.

As it turns out. No.

Where I try to take a reasoned and evidence based approach, examining individual issues contextually and fact checking on a case by case basis, Tumblr and the SJW crowd in general expects you to agree to absolutely everything, all at once, without question, reservation or fact checking. Memes like ‘Women earn 75% of what men do’ and ‘1/4 college women are raped’ do the rounds without challenge and it never seems to occur to anyone that bad statistics make you look like a liar and undermine your case – or in a best case scenario divert funds from genuine crisis areas.

These people are cartoons, each a rare and special snowflake with their own pronouns, gender interpretations, sexualities and descriptors that read like someone dumped a postmodernist textbook into a blender and plucked out fragments at random.

Anarcho-Feminist, blogger, survivor, triggered by spiders and monkeys in hats, PTSD because people were doubleplusungood to me on Twitter, genderqueer, genderfluid transexual hard-femme, pronouns (Mi/Xi/some other bullshit)

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Remarkable that people so fucking focussed on their own individual specialness can end up as a homogenous, glittery mass of ignorant fuckwittery dressed up as activism.

So why does it piss me off so much?

Because there’s absolutely zero room for discussion or debate. There’s absolutely no fucking interest in making or supporting a point. Call-out culture is all one way. When they do it, it’s heroic, when you call them on their bullshit, suddenly it’s magically transmuted into trolling (not agreeing with them) or harassment. Apparently there’s some magical alchemy in youthful pomposity that transmogrifies their behaviour into heroism when they do it and villainy when anyone else does it.

Nothing is ever good enough either. Any advancement or progress for any of their causes simply isn’t enough. Jared Leto has a high profile role as a transgendered person? NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Why wasn’t it given to a transgender actor? (Christ, I don’t even know if you’re supposed to say actor or actress for someone whose biological and expressed gender are the same, let alone trans people). Why didn’t he spend his speeches grovelling on the floor for mercy and praising the trans community to heaven? (Maybe because you appear to be a bunch of fucking dicks? Did that cross your minds?). Then there’s poor Lupita Nygongo whose deserved success and praise from the film making community is now being written off as ‘race fetishism’, poor woman.

Why would a creator or actor break new ground or try new things or seek to accommodate a strident, angry community that literally cannot be pleased by anything, ever? Why would they take the time for people who don’t appreciate the effort and whose idea of constructive criticism is to hulk out and smash the place up?

These people form mutually reassuring echo chambers in which the most extreme positions soon take hold and never have to be accounted for or backed up. They’re so utterly unused to dissent or question that it is treated as outright hostility or ignored. No accounting is made, no dissent is allowed.

This is particularly a problem when it comes to the concept of ‘Intersectionality’ which is supposed to mean considering how different networks of advantage and disadvantage interrelate but is actually more of a reason to divide into smaller and smaller mutually hateful groups until you’re alone in a room punching yourself in the genitals because you’ve nobody else left to hate.

Intersectionality is a cancer eating away at many social movements that were previously unified and varied. Examples include Atheism+, Feminism and LGBT. Why the idea that you don’t HAVE to agree on every. single. fucking. point. to fight for a common cause has never sunk in to these people I don’t know, but apparently it’s far more important to be victimised as individuals than to band together and increase your chances of getting things done.

Every day, more and more I am struck by the similarities between SJW extremism and religion. There’s a canon, which cannot be questioned. There are heretics, there is blasphemy, there are priests and leity and it all seems to be derived from largely unfounded fear. There’s also the patronising presumption that you just need to be educated, while at the same time refusing to substantiate or provide evidence for their positions. It never seems to occur to them that maybe you do know what they’re talking about – possibly more than they do – and have still rejected it. You get the same blank incomprehension or accusations of lying you get when telling one of the faithful that yes, you have read the Bible/Koran and no you didn’t find it perfect or inspiring, but rather ghastly and horrifying.

What really gets me is the hypocrisy. Racism is bad but they’ll insult you (or self loathe) for being white and the same goes for gender, education, class and anything else. The world I choose to inhabit is one where when people disagree they discuss, debate, argue and bring evidence to support what they’re saying and where if there’s sufficient evidence they change their mind. This is not the world these people inhabit however. Their’s is a world where any disagreement or question – or even prioritising different issues – makes you the devil and you can be safely ignored or wedged into some nice little stereotype that they’ve cooked up (they really have it in for Reddit, fedoras, atheism and beards it seems).

So, as a social progressive, concerned with everyone’s rights I find these childish motherfuckers to be divisive, cartoonish, unhelpful, damaging and pointless. They’re not doing things from a position of any thought, but rather from a kneejerk desire to be more special, more ‘liberal’ and more progressive than thou.

This is doubly ironic since so many of them are utterly conservative. Anti-Sex, anti-porn, anti-sex worker. A set of positions ripe for exploitation by more traditional conservatives (as is happening in the UK and Europe).

If you can’t convince me, you’ve got no fucking chance of convincing wider society Tumblr-Tots.

As you can tell, I’m rather incensed by all this bullshit.

Have a couple of edifying videos to finish and look, if you have issues with things I think and believe, fucking talk to me and argue your case. Be a human being, not a Tumblrbot. We may still not end up agreeing but that’s what adults do. Disagree, remain friends, consider and defend their thoughts and positions.

Pax.

(First video, about 16 minutes in is where the really solid point is made)

Antisocial Injustice

Two Sneetches-Taunt -Trans

But the straight, white, middle-class, cisgender sneetch had no stars at all.

Prompted by the unjustified hate and nastiness of the trans community towards @giagia

Write what you know they say.

Here’s what I know.

‘Despite’ being a white, straight and male and growing up in rural England I have man aged to achieve adulthood without any of the egregious prejudices that I’m supposed to have.

I didn’t encounter anyone of any other race who wasn’t on the television until, I think, a Sikh door-to-door salesman when I was maybe eight or nine years old. He was alright, but otherwise my formative encounters with practically any minority you care to mention – sexuality, disability, unconventional gender identity – have been negative. Still, I didn’t come out the other end of that with any real prejudices.

Sure, I’ve made mistakes now and then. Some genuine, some what people happen to consider mistakes, upon which I disagree.

I was raised ‘right’. I was raised to be as polite as possible, to treat people fairly and equally and to give them a fair crack of the whip whatever my first impression. To ‘judge people by the content of their character’, if you will.

If my friends exhibit racism, sexism or other prejudices, they get my disapproval and often a stern word. Yet, I find myself unaccountably tolerating the exact same prejudices in people who are of a minority or subjectively oppressed group.

Why?

I learned my lessons well. That treating anyone differently on the basis of race, gender etc was wrong. Surely these people – activists even – who have been on the receiving end of prejudice themselves should know this better than anyone, shouldn’t they?

If someone wants their feelings and problems taken seriously then they should extend the same to others, you would think. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Instead I find that people who claim to be activists, who claim to be fighting for equality and fairness are amongst the worst bigots I have ever encountered and the most dismissive of anyone else’s point of view.

If I am against racism, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who broad-brushes all white people or dismisses anything I might say simply for my relative lack of melanin?

If I am against sexism, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who regularly insults men as a gender, laughs off misandry as not existing and undermines genuine men’s issues?

If I am against the persecution of LGBT people, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who derisively refers to heterosexuals as ‘breeders’ or ‘cis’ in a sneering tone?

If I don’t think people should be judged for being poor, and I am, how am I suppose to react to someone who dismisses me (wrongly) for being affluent middle class?

Yet I find myself, more often than not, letting these things pass. Not because I don’t find them as objectionable as I do in other contexts, but because of the hypocrisy, the vitriol, the denial, the insults, the swarming pack tactics, the lies and misrepresentations are incredibly stressful and hurtful and aggravating.

And disappointing.

Here are the people who should be on the same page as me, succumbing to and excusing their own bigotry. Redefining *ism from prejudice to prejudice plus power to try and tell you people literally can’t be racist against whites, men, or heterosexuals. Something that is patently untrue.

Here are the people who want you to take their feelings and concerns seriously, no matter what any facts might be, but who will write off anything you say as ‘white tears’, ‘manfeels’ or some similarly dismissive variation thereof.

A person’s colour, gender, sexuality, gender identity etc has absolutely no bearing on the value of their ideas. Nor does being offended by something. I am offended by ‘cis’, ‘privilege’ and many other items of social justice terminology and ideology. Should you stop using them simply because I’m offended?

No.

You should stop using them because they’re useless bullshit that add nothing to discussions and instead anger, alienate and are used as ad hominems and to poison the well before a discussion even gets off the ground.

So what to do?

Being even handed, applying the same call-out culture rules will get one rapidly labelled a bigot, even if you oppose genuine bigots just as vociferously. A blog like this will doubtless attract some sarcasm and the very behaviour I’m talking about. Do I value friends and acquaintances over and above their attitudes? Then why not for the more typical bigoted views, rather than the less typical bigoted views of the activists? Why should activist bigots get a free pass from me that they don’t even give each other? (See the trans/TERF war).

It feels like an insoluble problem.

Here I am, white, straight guy, brought up to treat people equally finding the largest groups I know that don’t do this are the people supposedly campaigning for it. Further, before they know anything about me, they’re already ignoring and prejudging me on the basis of my sex, race, assumed social status and sexuality. I refuse to be held accountable for the actions of my ancestors or for people who aren’t me. I refuse to be tagged with some bizarre new version of ‘original sin’. I want to hold people to the same standards, after all…

If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.

Right?

Islam Spam: Redux

So previously I contacted eDialoguecentre.org about the spam on the #atheist and #atheism hashtags and got precisely nowhere with even getting them to admit it.

I had another conversation recently suggesting we address our complaints to info@edialogue.org which you’re welcome to try, but I don’t hold out much hope of even getting a response.

Anyway, I did a little more digging and with the help of @VorianK on Twitter and some others, discovered that the source of the spam Tweets is a site called islamtweets.com 

Now, if this were just people clicking on it to tweet some heartfelt Islamic nonsense, this wouldn’t be a problem. The problem is that these tweets come in great long strings, sometimes hundreds at a time, completely clogging up streams and making any genuine dialogue or discussion virtually impossible. It’s automated and amounts to botnet spamming.

A bit more tracking and I discover that the edialogue facebook page is posting advertisements for the Islamtweets website and that they share servers.

I’m consolidating this data here for my complaints to Twitter Support, the sites and the domain registrars (this is abuse). I encourage you to use this link to do the same.

Some people seem to have been able to manage to block the spam by using a mute filter that mutes by source/application. This works in Janetter, if you find means that work in other Twitter programs (especially Tweetdeck and Plume) let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: This may help users of some other Twitter applications (specifically Tweetdeck).

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Religious Spam Round-Up 7: There’s No Book Like it!

Every day social media users, especially those identifying as agnostics, atheists and skeptics, are subjected to a barrage of religious spam from true believers. This tends to be repeated, day in, day out, several times a day with no attempt to engage or discuss the matter. It’s spam, plain and simple. Some groups even seem to use small botnets, multiple accounts or proxies to spam hundreds of identical or similar messages all in one go.

Let’s look at some, all from one afternoon and evening on Twitter and only a small sample…

Magic Book

Typically Muslims, but sometimes other faiths, try to claim that there is no other book like theirs. That it is magical, irreplaceable, that it cannot be imitated.

Obviously this is somewhat subjective. What one person sees as brilliant another may see as terrible. However, there are certainly a large number of books and writings of this ilk, so nobody’s religious tome is unique or special. That’s without even taking into account fiction books that exceed the brilliance of often rather stodgey, boring and self-contradicting religious texts.

There’s only one real answer to this claim.

Orly

So, you don’t understand trolling?

shrugpony___derpy_hooves___by_moongazeponies-d3cvjx6This is related to this post about the current Twitter-explosion, but this follow up post seemed more suited to the atheism/skepticism blog. There is a hell of a lot of bullshit going around and I’m going to put things a little less delicately than I would in that blog. Maybe being a bit more emotive will get through to some people.

What is trolling?

The older definition of trolling is found in the previous article. The term is in a state of flux though and Wikipedia has what is probably a more modern and current definition.

 

 

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

 

 

Of these, the most typical these days is that of someone posting something ghastly in order to try and get an emotional reaction. This might typically include posting horrible things on memorial facebook pages, filling forums with porn images, or making horrifically prejudiced sounding statements based on race, gender, sexual preference.

What isn’t trolling?

There’s a lot of things that get called trolling, that aren’t. Calling something ‘trolling’ (or abusive) is a great excuse for ignoring it, but it isn’t necessarily true.

  • Genuine threats are not trolling.
  • Disagreeing with you isn’t trolling.
  • Insulting you isn’t trolling.
  • Criticism isn’t trolling.

Is trolling misogynistic?

Is shooting people in Halo murder?

No, obviously not.

Trolling is a ‘game’. A horrible game that is played by preying on people’s emotions but it is a game. You win the game by getting the biggest and most outrageous reaction to what you say. This means you tailor your trolling comments to your target. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily hold those beliefs.

If you’ve ever played Cards Against Humanity you may an easier time locking on to this idea.

Women, feminists in particular, are a favourite target of trolls because they can be almost guaranteed to deliver a huge, ‘game winning’ number of points in terms of the volume, length and emotional content of their outrage. The reaction is what the troll is after, if they’re using misogynistic terminology it’s only because it’s a winning move. Like equipping the BFG in a game of DOOM.

Is trolling OK?

No. It’s dickish and it upsets people. So it’s not OK, but it’s also not the end of the world and much as people like to claim it’s evidence for sexism, racism or whatever it isn’t. If anything, that these get such a powerful outrage reaction only goes to show how far we’ve progressed on these issues.

Why should we put up with trolling?

Don’t.

Block the person trolling you, ignore them, go on about your life. You already have the tools to do so (though some could be improved, such as an ‘invisible block’.

We should only ‘put up with it’ in that we shouldn’t allow our emotional reactions to trolling to guide our public or private policies.

Much like DRM and other measures designed to stop various electronic behaviours, attempts to control or stop trolls are unlikely to stop the trolls and very likely to cause issues for legitimate users. Tools supposedly to deal with trolls will cause far more problems for regular users and are likely to be abused themselves.

What about abuse and threats?

Genuine, kosher abuse and threats are not the same thing as trolling. Conflating the two is ‘crying wolf’. Ironically, many of the people complaining and calling trolling abuse are indulging in abuse themselves. If a threat is genuine and believable recourse already exists – go to the police. It seems like it might not be a bad idea to also charge people for wasting police time on spurious threats though.

What’s the difference between trolling and abuse?

  • A troll is seeking to elicit a reaction. They almost certainly do not believe the horrible things they say, they’re just doing it to get that reaction.
  • An abuser genuinely believes what they’re saying and isn’t just trying to get a reaction.

This is a troll being horrible to elicit a reaction:

photo_7

This is someone being abusive (and far from the only one amongst those claiming to be against abuse):

Screenshot from 2013-07-29 18:26:56

How can we deal with trolling?

The absolute best way we have to deal with it is to ignore it. To pay it absolutely no attention.

It is an elementary mistake to pay attention to trolls, to play up to what they say and do. It is a huge mistake to start some kind of public campaign and to make a Cameronesque move to try and turn outrage and ‘something must be done!’ panic into an ill-thought out public campaign which will only attract more trolls, the likes of Anonymous (as you begin to threaten internet freedom), and genuine creeps.

Quietly ban, block and move on.

Nothing else works, at least not without some really serious collateral damage. There are a few improvements to tools that can be made without opening them up to abuse but they need time, space and distance to be properly assessed.

People with various causes also really need to stop taking troll comments as evidence that the problems they’re fighting are particularly bad. Trolls only go after what elicits a reaction.

An amount of spurious abuse is the price we pay for some important and vital internet freedoms and a degree of anonymity.

Do as I say (on Twitter). Not as I do.

men_vs_women_6The last few days have been an aggravating time on Twitter with a couple of hashtag wars on the following topics:

#INeedMasculinismBecause

and

#ThankAFeminist

Both of them have rubbed in the point that while there are reasonable people that call themselves feminist and reasonable people that call themselves Men’s Rights Activists the majority of noticeable and loud people on either side are a bunch of fucking clowns.

It’s my considered opinion that both men’s and women’s rights issues need to be replaced with human rights issues. Egalitarianism – equal treatment – rather than dividing it up by gender.

There are injustices and inequalities that women face. There are injustices and inequalities that men face. Both need to be tackled.

The hypocrisy displayed by the Twitter feminists is painful to see though and undermines the legitimacy and regard of the cause that they claim to be championing as well as scuppering the claim that feminism stands for equality, rather than purely women’s issues.

#INeedMasculinismBecause raised more than a few legitimate issues around problems and inequalities for men from military service and the draft to child custody and support, circumcision, cancer research, lack of reproductive choice and many others.

The whole thing was met with stereotyping, dismissal, mockery, the very things deemed unacceptable when directed against feminism but by people who – apparently – consider themselves progressive and egalitarian.

For example:

@Toffer #INeedMasculismBecause white privilege and middle class privilege are just not enough privileges for me. Really, I need more privilege.

Privilege is a ghastly, stupid and usually misapplied term but let’s play for a moment. Women and men (and people of all kinds) have different arenas in which they’re privileged and in which they’re underprivileged. Pointing out women’s exemption or privilege in certain areas wouldn’t be tolerated as a means to excuse their lack elsewhere, but apparently not vice versa.

@xiombarg #INeedMasculismBecause something one women did to me once that hurt my feelings is totally something all women do.

The idea that feminists are only feminists because they’re bitter man haters is not a stereotype that could or would be tolerated so why is the reverse perfectly fine?

@crushingbort #INeedMasculismBecause I took my annoyance at the wife always being smarter in sitcoms and fashioned it into an actual political philosophy

I doubt that people saying this think that negative portrayals of women in media are ‘harmless’ and should go unchallenged simply because there are worse things going on.
@a_girl_irl #INeedMasculismBecause i am a mentally ill child who wants everything to be as easy for him as it was for an antebellum plantation owner.
That has to be the narrowest avoidance of argumentum ad Hitlerum I’ve ever seen while, at the same time being equally offensive.
None of this is, of course, to say that anyone covered themselves with glory in the #ThankAFeminist tag but there is an important and fundamental difference in that that tag attracted a great deal of the typical, provocative trolling (and much handwringing about it) while the Men’s Rights tag attracted trolling from people who publicly and genuinely hold to progressive viewpoints yet can’t seem to process their own hypocrisy here.
It’s all rather sad.
#INeedEgalitarianismBecause

Dognative Cissonance

As is depressingly usual, the internet exploded with nerd-controversy yesterday. One more personal, one more public. Both, however, serve my purpose in the ongoing struggle to examine and make sense of some of these peculiar interactions between radical feminism, geekdom and other strands of activism and ‘social justice’ (scare quotes justified by the hypocrisy of so many who self-label as this).

The more personal issue was an eruptive argument about perception and wording. Several rather contentious comments on twitter went up surrounding a blog post ( http://www.xojane.com/issues/i-am-going-to-dropkick-the-next-dudebro-who-tells-me-coercive-sex-is-consenting-sex ) about coercion in sex. Some of the comments within/around/next to the article and in the responses to it (positive and negative) seemed to me to be blurring the lines between coercion, persuasion and persistence.

This observation earned me an immediate branding as a rape apologist (again, le sigh) and some totally uncompromising ‘NO!’ shouting as well as perpetuation of the myth that the article I wrote earlier this year was rape apologism rather than a polemic against concern-troll, de-facto censorship of certain topics in creative endeavours.

Was I saying coercion is good and fine? No. I was saying that perceptions differ between people and from situation to situation. One person’s coercion may be considered by another person to be persuasion or simply being persistent. Consent is negotiated and any romantic or sexual attraction and courtship is an extended exercise in persuasion to acquire consent. The establishment of the idea that one is attractive, a safe bet, a pleasure to fuck.

Shockingly, but unsurprisingly, it was also said that the only thing that matters is the perception of the person on one side. Predictably, the person who decides they’ve been coerced. The feelings of the other party are entirely irrelevant, just as my feelings about being called a rape apologist – or worse – are irrelevant. Yet reverse the positions and feelings are absolutely essential and any insult cannot be tolerated. The problem with feelings is that they’re inherently subjective.

The second incident of note was Tony Harris (artist on Ex Machina) blowing up in frustration on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/tony.harris.313/posts/4441714834591 ) about cosplay girls. The gist of it is he’s unconvinced that cosplay girls are genuine, that they distract and detract from the purpose of the cons and pull people away from traders and creators. I don’t agree, but I can see where he’s coming from. I follow several cosplayers such as Yayahan because I find their craft amazing and, hey, full disclosure, doesn’t hurt that they’re hot too. Tony blows off some steam and in minutes he’s plastered all across the internet as being a misogynist dick which doesn’t particularly strike me as true.

In both instances what really strikes me is how it mirrors what one sees in other areas of argument, or even in the same area of argument. Hypocrisy is rife.

I’m an atheist and so I argue a lot with the religious. Sometimes you get someone willing to actually debate but more often you encounter people who only seek to proselytise, not to listen or discuss. Quite often simply disagreeing with any point is enough to get you written off as being ‘in the sway of the devil’ or similar. Anything you say can, then, be discounted and ignored no matter what it is while the fanatic blithers away on their points without pausing to back them up.

So it seems to go with these feminist arguments. Disagree on the most minor point of order and you will be instantly branded a misogynist, rape apologist or worse. This happens regardless of what you actually think or say and from that point on anything you do or say can be ignored. This most insidiously makes itself shown in the concept of ‘privilege’ where simply because you are a member of one or more ‘bad’ categories anything you say can be discounted.

Male? White? Well, you’re shit out of luck. Nothing you say can have any weight or point and you’re denied even the basic and fundamental human trait of empathy. The irony – given the people dismissing you are often fighting against similar dismissal of people on the basis of gender, race, etc – seems weirdly lost on people.

The fuss about Tony Harris also has its mirror. The comments he has made about cosplay are mirrored less far away than the arguments above. The kind of things he says in his rant are exactly the same kin of things said by feminists and white knights about booth babes. It’s almost exactly identical. ‘They’re not real nerds’, ‘They’re just there to lure people in’, ‘It’s all about the sex, not the product’, ‘They’re distracting’. Convention goers to events like Pax have even said these sorts of things about cosplayers themselves! This makes their criticism of Harris’ views ironic (again) and hypocritical (again).

Another mirror is in the behaviour of these internet social justice warriors and the behaviour of trolls. Just as trolls share the lulz and don’t stop to consider what they’ve actually done. So it is with internet warriors who – after an engagement – do the same backslapping and lulz-sharing dance that trolls do. At least trolls are honest about what they do and why though. Something that almost makes them better.

The reactions to this aren’t particularly helpful either. The reaction to the echo-chamber views of extreme feminism seems to have been for Men’s Rights Activists to create their OWN echo chambers where they can pursue their own, equally outlandish ideas. Again irony comes in as feminists dismiss MRA concerns in exactly the same way their own concerns have been dismissed in the past by sexists.

Dialogue isn’t possible without the venn diagram circles overlapping but so few people are willing to debate and discuss in good faith and with an open mind that compromise or tolerance seems impossible. Those of us who just want to create without our every thought being second-guessed with the intensity an stupidity of an English class dissecting a poem get caught in the middle.

It appears to be impossible to please anyone since the demands being made of the creators are contradictory. A great example of this is in ‘racefail’ ( http://fanlore.org/wiki/RaceFail_’09 ) where there are simultaneously complaints that there are not enough racial minorities in genre fiction but, at the same time, existing non-minority creators are not allowed to write them because they get it wrong, or it’s insulting, or it’s cultural appropriation.

An example closer to home is the insistence that rape is a huge, widespread and powerful issue but one that you’re absolutely not allowed to explore in fiction despite that. Somehow even writing about how bad it is or using it to reflect the harsh, wicked or evil nature of a society or a person is contributing to ‘rape culture’.

With these contradictions it is literally impossible to please these people and one will always be left open to a rhetorical broadside from some pretentious cunt with a bee up their arse about cause X, Y or Z.

If it doesn’t matter what we do or say? If we creators are not listened to. If our actual feelings and thoughts about topics are ignored in favour of what you THINK we do/say/feel then where is the motivation to listen to these critiques and the baseless lambasting of our work, politics or social views?

Whatever else it is, this kind of bullying definitely falls under ‘coercion’.

We need actual discussion, without the recrimination and with people actually willing to listen – particularly on the self-described ‘social justice’ side – to criticism without seeing it immediately as an attack or support for ‘Bad thing’. They need to deal with the cognitive dissonance that sees people supposedly against *isms being some of the most racist and sexist persons on the internet. Dissonance that lets someone simultaneously be outraged by mention of rape in fiction and at the same time threaten to rape my wife to ‘see how I like it’. The same dissonance that sees them supposedly campaign for women’s rights but spam me with anonymail saying things like ‘It figures a rapist would work with a whore’ or perpetuating lies and misconceptions in a way that would never be accepted the other way around.

Fat chance that such a debate can be had, but this door’s open if anyone wants to take the chance in good faith.