Lies

With the virtual world awash with fake news and unconfirmed rumour, navigating the Internet’s never been more fraught. How can we tell what’s real and what isn’t? In most cases, I use more than one ‘impartial’ news sources for a confirmation on big stories: Reuters, the Associated Press and the BBC News sites may not be everybody’s providers of choice, but if all three are simultaneously flagging up breaking news, that’s normally a good indicator of actual validity… if it happens in a country that is not mine (as was the case with the US pipe bomber story) then national news in that country is the way to follow things as they develop.

However, accepting that nothing read online as fact is becoming the far more sensible default state. Yes, you’ll encounter experts in your travels, and I’m not belittling anything such people say, but honestly you should start fact checking. Wikipedia isn’t bulletproof, but there are third part sites that can help separate wheat from chaff. There has been a story circulating on Facebook (for instance) suggesting a supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park is ready to erupt (a la the movie 2012) for… well, a long time. It’s all complete bollocks, part of a slew of urban myths and legends buried ‘in the cloud.’

However, there are more insidious lies being told of late that I find increasingly disturbing.

Twitter thinks it can fool me, but I know better. It doesn’t help that I run three separate accounts through my phone, and that on one there’s a lot more followers than the other two. This means that the phone thinks when I’ve read something the night before, I might want to follow that person the next day via the other accounts… that’s not how this works, and you know it isn’t. It’s like telling me 126 people I am friends with retweeted this picture and therefore why don’t I want to do the same? This is not organic engagement, algorithm. I see through your ploy. GO AWAY.

I knew that inbuilt paranoia would finally have some use.

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There’s a bigger issue here, of course: laziness. You wanna look like you’re up with news and current events, so you like all that stuff, and retweet those things… and after a while it is easier to let the AI think for you. Except, we all know how that ends up working out. Writers create dystopia for a reason, and a lot of it is wrapped up in those for whom fake news is easier to swallow, whose opinions don’t seem to mesh with the majority. For every individual shocked at the depths of depravity others can sink to, there’ll be someone seeing how much worse they can manage and still get away with it.

Welcome to human nature, which is only as restricted as the information that gets crammed into the average brain. With the Internet as our playground and AI the arbiters of space, time and knowledge…

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This is also where those of us who have mental shortcomings need to get quite tough, and the more sensitive or vulnerable to suggestion end up as prime vehicles for exploitation. It should not be a surprise that it is AI driving negative rhetoric either, it is a perfect vehicle for such dissemination. If you cannot distinguish noise from imitation, blocking out everything is just easier and less stressful, yet along the way a vital level of rationalisation simply withers up and dies. The truth can (and will) set you free but only if you are capable of distinguishing it from everything else that’s masquerading as the exact same thing.

When trustworthy companies intentionally blur the lines of truth to improve their third quarter figures and throw shade at their competition, we should be up in arms, but time and again, it never happens. There is a reckoning coming, like it or not, and it will end up with large groups of people happily sending themselves into wilful oblivion, probably based on a Facebook Poll which secretly took their assent by making them click on pictures of cute animals. As we stand in the smoking, dystopian remains of the planet, yet again, we will only have ourselves to blame.

Stop letting the Internet lie to you, because it is.

Personal Jesus

Here we are, at the start of a new week: already, there is a feeling of cautious optimism. There is a list of stuff I’d like to do before bedtime. That’s it. No stressing or forcing. Before arriving here there was some progress on written projects, a plan for today’s scheduled work and how I knock off the last two pieces of backlog. Arguto gets some love today. However, that’s not what I’m here for. Today, I want to talk about guilt.

Every so often you’ll see someone who’s catapulted to prominence have a hater go digging back though their tweets to find summat to smear them with. With over 200k’s worth of stuff to my name, that’s gonna be a fun ask when the time comes… but yeah, there’s probably a lot of regrettable stuff buried in all of this. In fact, should it ever come down to that situation, that might be the moment to start again. If you want to know after that, go look in the Library of Congress. They’ll have it all saved regardless.

Then I look at this, the story of a woman who has made her name attacking people and things she does not like in public, and increasingly finding that those actions damage her own existence, to the point where she’s now personally in financial trouble. I’m not sure if the fact her kids are protected from her shortcomings is really a redeeming action, and I certainly don’t possess Jack Monroe’s generosity of spirit. This is the perfect example of ‘actions have consequences’ and the warning anyone in the public eye should be using to think twice before ANYTHING stupid gets tweeted in anger.

So, does anybody really learn from Social media? It is hard to believe that’s the case when certain individuals continue to tweet hate-filled diatribes. Those who go to the other extreme and want only love and compassion might also find themselves in a bit of hot water if they’re not 100% watertight on the persona. That’s the thing with an abundance of data: at some point, somebody will test the waters. Spotify is the latest online giant being questioned by the media but honestly, wherever your data is shared, this is now a very real possibility.

There’s an answer, of course, to all of this. Just be yourself, and be honest. If yourself is decent, mostly fair and tries to be kind as often as possible? Really, not an issue. If you’re a racist xenophobe, well that could still be mostly okay because there’s 40% of the UK right up there with you. At least you won’t feel alone, but there MIGHT come a moment where you end up being challenged on those beliefs, and you never know. That could cost you a job too.

Some days, personal shortcomings are the least of your problems.

The Colosseum

One of the reasons why our holiday this year is in Europe was because of me. Italy’s always held a special allure, and with European travel (potentially) becoming a bit of a minefield starting next year (cheers Brexit) it seemed like a good idea to push for this trip before that happened. The fact Rome became a Bond location in SPECTRE is an added bonus (*cough* Florence and Lake Como on the way back *cough*) but this belittles a very important part of my real reasoning for being here. I’m a massive history nut, and the home of the Roman Empire’s been on the To Do list since I first learnt what a Gladiator was, and we’re not talking about the spandex clad athletes on ITV who used to battle with giant cotton buds.

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Our farmhouse is on the end of the Metro line which deposits tourists literally outside the front door: this was Nero’s grand plan, to transform the existing structure on the site to a massive stadium. Begun in AD 69, it became the Empire’s centre for entertainment and spectacle and, most importantly, one of the most famous examples of religious persecution in History. For a city that remains deeply Christian, this serves as the permanent reminder of how intolerance must take place for acceptance to flourish. I’ve never been religious but the multiple significances at play continue to fuel interesting and challenging moral dilemma.

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It is also a RIDICULOUSLY photogenic landmark, which has detail and depth that I suspect most tourists don’t even consider. The regulation in brickwork is frankly staggering, and the skill in construction means that it has survived several major earthquakes (and attempts to recycle its structure) to surprising effect. I will be poring over the books I’ve bought in the next few weeks, and the pictures taken are more than likely to end up in a collage in my working space at home. The place is a testament not only to the people who built the structure, but those who perished within it for their beliefs. This was entertainment, pure and simple, and there are still parallels we can draw from within the walls that mirror our own modern existence.

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There are those who will maintain that history is only useful if it provides the means to make good the mistakes that took place, but monuments like this are the exception to that rule. Here is a structure that mirrors the continuation of religious persecution for entertainment: these guys stuck believers in with lions, we vilify opposition via a global arena. When all is said and done, very little has changed in 2000 years. This monument however has survived attempts to destroy it, reminding us that sometimes, it isn’t about the memories of a place, but the place itself which defines an experience.

Once we’d done here, it was time for a change of clothes and then off to the institution that grew from their humble beginnings as cat-food to utterly dominate the same city that once considered them as heretics…

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting

Last night’s dream was good enough for the Twitters:

It also marks the first time I’ve been able to keep the dream running in my mind whilst aware and at least semi conscious and return to it for a conclusion. I take this as a really good sign that the brainmeats are functioning at optimum capacity, and although I may have trouble stringing sentences together without at least three cups of tea, the subconscious is sorted.

ON WITH THE DAY.

Your Cheating Heart

The national side progressed easily into the last sixteen of the World Cup last night, but they didn’t do it properly. There were no magnificent scenes of victory. Nobody punched the air, except the Belgiums. A newspaper this morning calls this a ‘basic misreading of hypotheticals’ like that phrase means anything to begin with. A manager, for the first time ever, looked at the game after the one they’d be playing and made decisions based on a long-term outlook. Football fans can’t look past the next game, we all know that. If you’re not living in the moment, you’re dead inside.

There is a fundamental problem here that needs to be addressed.

I had a conversation with my daughter on the way to school this morning about how the fine art of thinking about shit is being lost. In the clamour to be noticed in a World that increasingly values the cheap gag or the funny meme above actual facts and logic, a valuable resource is being squandered. My opinion on last night’s game is valid, but as I am not Gareth Southgate how the fuck do I know what his plan is? I have no right to question his tactical decision making now, I don’t get paid to be England manager, yet millions of fans like me feel they somehow now have a voice, because Social media gives them a stage. We stop thinking, and start ranting, and then everything goes Pete Tong.

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Some would argue it is just easier to get other people to think for you. That’s why we have websites like comparethemeerkat.com, who use SCIENCE to tell you that you can save money and feel awesome (no hang on, that’s the other lot). Except, if all you do is compare figures and don’t look at the ethical backgrounds of companies, is this saving worth the effort? So what if I can recoup £1000 a year? There are far better financial decisions to be made than this that most people don’t want to think about because they won’t consider their own unique circumstances. Having a website tell you to save is all well and good, listening to an ‘expert’ pontificate on what’s best is great… but what if that advice is potentially more harmful than good…?

I didn’t know the possible consequences of a Keto diet when I began it, until my gallbladder finally gave up the ghost and I was forced into surgery to remove it. When I watch people expound on my Social media of the benefits of fat bombs, there’s still a chill that runs through me. My body could have given up at any point, but had I taken better steps to read through possible consequences, a lot of fear and heartache might yet have been avoided. When someone else tells you X has changed their life, just blindly copying them may have its own consequences to shoulder. Thinking through options remains a better bet than simply chopping and changing when someone else tells you ‘this is a good idea.’

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As less people think and just do whatever the fuck they want, the danger of disaster becomes all the more apparent. Handing over decision making to automation will not give us an easier life if our ability to think independently and critically is compromised. Giving people platforms to pronounce opinion has always been fraught with potential disaster, but if these people simply spew hate and anger from LEFT AND RIGHT, nobody wins. Sure, you can get angry, but if you let your hatred colour and pollute everything? There will be consequences.

It is then that we all need someone to cut through the bullshit and say the things we’re all too scared to speak aloud.

Lots of you people genuinely frighten me. If you don’t think Piers Morgan’s a twat, it’s also highly unlikely we’ll have much to say of any value to each other.

The exit is that way —>

Freedom 90

On Saturday, it became apparent that one of my vanity e-mail addresses had stopped working. There may have been some quite important email that has vanished, but I will never really know the cost, and it is far too late to worry. What this prompted was a long, hard look at what happens to my email and what is merited as ‘important’. It transpires I have ten e-mail addresses, gathered across the years. At no point have I ever deleted a message on at least three of them.

The rest of the day was spent sorting out the chaos that lack of activity had produced.

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In the end, 25,000 messages were trashed. This includes mails sent when my first ever Gmail account was created, back in 2005. The vast bulk of rubbish was acknowledgements from sites such as Twitter, or online forum which I belonged to, that simply never got dealt with at the time. It took a couple of hours, but the effort was more than worthwhile, and it allowed me to see exactly what account was getting what trash mail. The long-term benefit is that the actual volume of mail into my Mac (which collects from all the Gmail accounts and the vanity domain addresses) has been reduced by over 80%. Using the GDPR fiasco to unsubscribe from multiple newsletters and online gumph that’s no longer needed, it’s like the last thirteen years of bollocks into my Inbox never existed.

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Needless to say, it’s a little embarrassing that it took my own stupidity to kick-start the action, but now that’s done, there is no going back. The sense of satisfaction and general organisation cannot be adequately overstated, either.

Like so many things, this should have been done years ago.

We Used To Be Friends

Yesterday, half a conversation arrived on my Timeline. It happens a lot less than was once the case, but with the overlap that (inevitably) occurs in a large group of like-minded individuals, there is an inevitability that eventually, someone who’s blocked me appears. I know the reason for most of them and continue to be impressed at the level of loyalty certain people create with their friends’ groups. I’m not sure I’d ever want anyone to close ranks like that for me if I’m honest. However, I think maybe I ought to start blocking back the people who’ve removed me from their lives.

Interestingly I discovered yesterday you can’t find who’s blocked you using the API. Twitter won’t allow that information to be discovered, despite what some online tools might suggest. Therefore it’s a process of waiting until someone pops up in my Timeline who has imported a particular person’s block list and then returning the favour. Yeah, it’s petty and largely depressing, but what can you do when people treat this medium not as a platform for change but the lunch room in High School.

It was also incidents like this that kept me from moving my life forward for a while, that obsession with feeling confident with myself that eventually had me annotating other people’s emails as if to justify actions were correct. I’ve  not stopped making mistakes since that point, it isn’t as if I’m not able to improve on how my life works after criticism. The prioritisation has altered, and (as should be the case) my focus has shifted to things that can be fixed, and people who will listen. If it is obvious that’s not the case, there are better things to do with my time.

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When I wrote down this topic yesterday I also added a line of secondary thought: if you write this, someone will assume you’re talking about them. This happened the last time I did a post like this, and it (for a while) dissuaded me from making such observations. The people who blocked me stopped caring about my words a long time ago, but I am still thinking about them. I remember the positive conversations we had, and then (undoubtedly) I said something which I can 100% guarantee wasn’t meant as an insult or abuse. It wasn’t posted in an attempt to offend them. However, that was what happened, and then it was Game Over.

I’m the one who needs to learn the lesson. Stop caring about people you’ve never met. Stop feeling you have an affinity with strangers because everybody on the Internet is evil and out to destroy your life. EXCEPT I DON’T WANT TO. I want to believe people can be decent and caring, and understand me. I want to experience the pain of loss and regret because that is how it feels to be alive. I absolutely do NOT want to spend my time with those who live in a sanitised, manufactured reality with no actual relevance to anywhere else. If that makes me unpopular and contentious, SO MUCH THE BETTER.

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If you block me from here on in, I don’t want you reading my stuff either, in any form, so I’ll be happy to return the favour. The truth is, of course, that you don’t have me blocked on that other account and I could still read those Tweets regardless, but I get how stalking works and no, you’re safe. The only surefire way you stop people consuming content is to go private, but that inevitably destroys the social part of the media anyway. The lesson everybody has to take from this is that if you want to play with the big boys, everything’s a potential argument, and you just take your chances regardless.

The online relationships never end, even though you’d sometimes wish they would.