There Goes the Fear

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The first thing I did this morning (ignoring the 20 minutes it took me to get my underwear on) was find out how much information Google has stored on me. The fact this will take ‘some time’ is not filling me with joy, I’ll admit. However, Google is the single biggest hoarder of online information that I possess and so, this is worth the effort.

Then I checked which email addresses use have been pwned.

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All of my concern might seem a bit desperate, but as this Guardian article suggests, the Internet is no longer just happy pictures of cats and glitter. It is a place where everybody scrapes your data for their own nefarious ends. Therefore, being self-aware was never more significant than it is now. It only takes five minutes to check, and has made me realise that even though I’m pretty cautious, maybe deleting Facebook isn’t enough.

There’s a lot more still to be done.

I’m kindof glad we don’t do Smart Gadgets in this house too…

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.

Even in the Quietest Moments

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I can now Tweet up to 280 characters. I don’t intend to do that with the majority of my output, and here’s why.

Watching the annoyance and frustration last night as the feature rolled out in parts of my social sphere and not others, it was almost funny to think that this change was, for so many, being considered as some badge of honour. The sole reason this change has been instigated is to help advertisers use space to sell more shit and make Twitter more money. This isn’t some great championing for more speech and understanding we’re talking about. For someone like me, it is a curse as well as a blessing. The biggest upshot is, undoubtedly, that people will just stop reading.

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The major winner for me will be poetry and short stories: I can now create longer works to post… but as some people mute the stuff I posted in 140 characters, to begin with, length will simply make those posts less appealing and not more. That means I’ll need to work harder on visuals and clever use of space in posts, that it isn’t about filling every character and ‘optimising’ the output. Undoubtedly the format can be finagled, but to do so requires a willing audience, and watching the annoyance last night as people simply posted 280 characters of ANYTHING to see if they had the new limit…

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Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should has become the phrase that really matters. 280 characters in a Twitter fight are just as useless as 140 if you’re unable to make the point without resorting to abuse and anger. Proving a point succinctly and well, without ambiguity is still something many people could do with learning. Word economy is useful: more significant still is an understanding of when a word dump is appropriate. That’s something I’m still learning after 51 years.

The moral of yesterday’s rollout is that sometimes, being first is all that matters to many. That stuff about the other person’s social media feed always being more interesting is all in the eye of the beholder, you know. I’m not special, you’re not lacking, it’s just tech, and what will matter more long-term are the people who use the system to their advantage by embracing the positives and eliminating the negatives. No, I’m not going to be clever with the format until I am TOTALLY confident it can be pulled off successfully.

Time to watch other people and learn.

Moving On Up

People like to tell me stuff.

I don’t belong in a particular group online, and have pretty much ploughed my own furrow ever since arriving in Internetland. This means that my feet straddle a lot of overlapping groups… and inevitably I’m nearly always standing at the fringes, looking in. This is absolutely not a problem, because what it gives is a brilliant level of objectivity. However, inevitably, there are days when this is not the case.

Occasionally however, I can’t avoid being the object of somebody’s ire, and when that happens there is only one meme that works.

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This was the first graphic I ever made for myself when LiveJournal was my home. Ironically I left that place after a Warcraft-related spat which made me realise that some people take that game far more seriously than others. Then came the swift reminder that the only way never to get involved in an argument is to have no friends. However attractive that might seem to be on certain days, it’s realistically impossible to live your life like that online. I have therefore tried my best not to contribute to any more virtual drama than necessary, but yesterday I broke my own rule and told someone something I was cautious about revealing to them when it initially took place, but on reflection I now have no problem now revealing.

It takes time to really get to know people. Social media expects a lot from its users on any given day, that the person you became fast friends with is different to the one who takes time to show themselves. Like life itself, judging everybody with the same set of criteria can often put you on a hiding to nothing. The problem is, of course,  judging anything is bad. Everybody should be equal. You and I know the truth behind that is a long way from reality on most days to begin with, so you accept what there is and deal with it. That means, at least for me that there’s a list of people who I don’t communicate with or consider as important who are very much the opposite for a large number of people in my sphere. Many of these people are muted in Tweetdeck for reasons that I’m not reticent over either. The key is that I don’t spend all day and night reminding people of the fact it is done.

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In the end, it is all largely irrelevant anyway, unless the person you got to know and then subsequently remove/spurn/ignore decides they don’t like this turn of events and decides to retaliate. As a rule, this for me goes one of two ways: brief flare of indignation and then silence, or else it is months and months of petty, vindictive spitefulness in the hope that I’ll change my mind or get deflected from the path forward. This blog is full of observations from both sides of that fence too: I use all my relationship failures as fuel for posts, so as long as you know that’s how I work, I think we’ll get along just fine. For the record, everybody gets treated the same. That’s a problem for some people, that much is obvious, especially when being kind and polite is mistaken for more than it really is. That’s my issue however, and not yours.

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Of course, the reality of virtual spaces is simple. I respect those who return the favour. I can hold a secret for a lifetime, and you’ll never know the real truth. The people who are my friends know this without needing to be told, but love to be reminded, and so I do. Caring and compassion are very simple when the World is not watching, and I’m doing my best work away from your prying eyes, and not using it as blog posts. This is a world of superficial distractions, like it or not, and the good stuff never gets seen unless both parties decide to make that happen. If you want relationships to really succeed on social media, cultivate them away from the screen. Your pocket friends may be brilliant and inspiring, but only if you give back to them as they do to you.

It is a significant relationship only when both real and virtual truly combine.

Walkaway

It is important, as we mentioned last week, to be able to step back and be objective when living in any space whose rules are defined not just by us. Obsessing about anything can be both destructive and ultimately dangerous, and nowhere is that more true than in an environment where it is easy to shout into the void and never experience dissent. The ‘echo chamber’ concept of social media’s used as a stick to beat me with on an almost weekly basis, and I thought it bore more investigation after the latest incident where someone cited the concept as the reason why a relationship had failed.

Wikipedia considers a media echo chamber as ‘a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system,’ which in this case will be your own feed and blogs. Effectively an individual ignores basic points which are obvious to those outside the space as not being fairly represented within, if at all. It is a basic concept of curation but executed at the expense of truth: as you remove people from a space which you can and should control and organise, it can appear from certain angles to be censorship of those who disagree with points of view or who cause contention when doing so.

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Since the US Election, I’ve made a point of being more politically active, and this has upset a significant portion of my existing readership, enough to cause many of them to leave of their own accord. It also happened in the run up last year, when it became apparent that being disparaging of Republican ideas and sentiments was going to get me into trouble, and yet I’ll still peddle this line regardless. The key here is that I’m not singling out anyone in my feed as an issue, but by being disparaging of a wider viewpoint, those who hold it as sacred will logically assume I’m attacking them. The same feeling is undoubtedly true when I won’t agree with people’s views on Warcraft, feminism, cosplay, breasts, chocolate… and the list goes on and on.

At no point do I ever single someone out as being unreasonable until the Unfollow button gets hit, and only then does it becomes personal. The very act of removal is confirmation to them that something has happened that I don’t like. That’s why Mute can often be considered the coward’s solution to a problematic follower: far easier just to remove them and kop the flack. In fact, it would be fair to assume that had I been more careful and considered my choices to begin with, then there wouldn’t be an issue, but it is often hard to form considered opinions of people when they’re not standing in front of you: that’s why Facebook’s friends of friends concept is such an addictive one. If person X knows you and two genuinely close friends, their choices will be people who mesh with you, right?

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The truth is, of course, utter bollocks. That’s why some of us refuse to allow Facebook to dictate terms, and will reassess ‘friends’ on an almost weekly basis. That’s even more true when there’s a contentious issue: I am more than happy to disagree with people, and that happens with predictable regularity. What I’m not prepared to entertain, at any point, is someone else deciding a) what I am thinking and b) what I should do as a result of this. We can not vote the same way, like the same music or even agree on anything at all. I am able to do civil and polite with the entire planet right up to the point where someone points a metaphorical finger at me and states what I have to do because this is what is wrong.

That is the moment when trust is lost, but not always for good.

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I’ve disagreed with people before, but if when engaging them in dialogue I can believe that there is still a basis for communication, that’s how it works. Everybody can not see eye to eye from time to time, after all. If it becomes apparent that there’s no point in trying to communicate because what I believe isn’t considered either relevant or important, then it is time to reassess. Maybe it is not just my outlook exacerbating the situation: this same person isn’t listening to others either, apparent by the interactions with others I can read and see taking place around us. If their interest is unnecessarily obsessive, or inward facing, or they’re just a shitposting troublemaker? Time eventually shows up the flaws.

If you wait, everybody fucks up eventually, and it is how those moments are dealt with that becomes the real measure of their online persona.

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Why do I do all this navel gazing, I hear some of you ask? I learn from it and it helps me understand how this part of the World works. It allows me to grasp how human beings react in certain situations. Many people, often without realising, reveal sides of themselves online I suspect they wish weren’t as public as are currently the case. It is a delicate balancing act, which most of the sane and sensible individuals deal with by not pressing Tweet or posting on Facebook to begin with, because their real lives are more important than the virtual one. As a writer I balance between disparate worlds on a daily basis, and sitting here trying to find the right sentences to use becomes another part of the understanding process. To communicate successfully to others is no mean feat, I am now discovering, and to make the best job takes far more effort than may people ever really grasp.

It is never an easy task to shout anywhere; to have confidence in a virtual space is not as simple as many would believe. What matters more is to find a voice, and once that is accomplished to learn the best means by which you can explain yourself to a wider audience than just yourself. It is a vital part of human development, and without that internal belief it can be a hard and painful journey to take alone. More importantly still, thinking why things happen and to understand you are as responsible for events that happen around you as anyone else is an important means by which one defines your overall significance (or otherwise) in the communities you are a part of.

The people that surround you are as much a measure of your personality as you are yourself, and knowing that means a constant reassessment of your aquaintances can never be a bad thing.

Gett Off

This is not the post I was going to write today.

I made a conscious decision early in the week to reduce the number of people I’m following. It appears that between 800-900 follows is the limit of what I can cope with, if everybody is polite and I’m capable of assimilating what I’m reading with a dispassionate air. However, if people start getting bolshy, this is hard work. I’m well aware that my mindset isn’t the same as a number of other people right now, but assuming everyone is civil and pleasant, it doesn’t matter. When that changes, and I get grief for refusing to engage, not agreeing with an outlook or generally feel uncomfortable talking to someone? Stuff needs to be done. In the interests of transparency, I will share my deselection process, and then explain why.

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First, a follower gets muted on the screens I use for daily work, but not on phone or tablet, so I can still see interaction if/when it happens. If I’m having a particular issue with someone I will keep half an eye on their feed too, as a lot of stuff gets said ‘out of earshot’ that can often be an indicator to someone’s current mood. Yes, I check up on people when I care about them, so what? Then, if when I take that mute off and it appears nothing has changed, I’ll quietly unfollow. Once upon a time I’d tell people, but now with 3k of them in the mix it becomes largely unhelpful, especially for the drama that creates. Occasionally, as has been the case today, I’ll know full well there’s trouble coming, which is all the more reason for not making a big deal about what you’re about to do.

The problem, and it is always this, is that people form unreasonable attachments to other people online. Over time, if you’ve done this with someone, I can guarantee it will go one of two ways. You’re either adults about it, or you’re not. Sadly, it doesn’t work if one person tries to be a grown up and the other one has a massive meltdown. However, if that makes you feel better in your feed, go right ahead, but there’s a good chance if that’s directed at me that I will read it and one of two things will happen. It will either mean a) that my decision to stop following you was completely justified or b) I’m glad I got out when I did. Of course, that subtweet saltfest could have been at someone else and I’m just assuming its directed at me, but if you’re going to do this to anyone who leaves quietly without trying to highlight this whole sorry episode to begin with… I still made the right choice.

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However, and this is directed at anyone whom I’ve unfollowed, if you feel that there’s merit in talking to me directly and trying to sort the problem, I’m all ears. No, seriously, if you wanna talk, you know where I am. I’ve made some Class A howlers in my life over the years with good people I’d love to still be talking to, and I have been responsible for quite a few horrendous personal choices in my time. If it matters enough to you then maybe we can sit down and talk the whole thing out. I will admit I wish I could do this still with a few people that have long since departed my sphere, but life isn’t just what I want. It remains a complex set of interactive variables which you can choose to try and grasp or just use for your own ends. The choice is yours.

Everybody needs an occasional reality check from themselves. I absolutely count myself in this process, and that’s why I’ve written this post. I believe I know people well enough on Twitter now to grasp who is likely to respond well to being unfollowed, who I can expect to leave eventually of their own accord and who’s here for the long haul. Setting a 900 figure on interaction right now is doable and acceptable, but if that changes you can rest assured I will let everyone know ahead of time that stuff will alter. This is my writing tool, after all, and without a level of comfortable interaction it becomes really hard to do the tasks I have set myself up to attempt to execute. That means trust as a two way process. Needless to say, if you think I take any of these decisions lightly or without considerable thought, you really don’t know me at all, because I am well aware of the consequences of pissing people off on the Internet.

I’ve been abused, Twitter stalked, belittled and attacked before. This is no longer going to hold me back from what I want to do. If you want to discuss choices like an adult, I’m happy to do so, but for everything else my life is too short and there’s better people here who seem to be able to meet me halfway. In the end, I don’t make the decisions to leave, in many cases other people do that for me when it becomes clear that communication has stopped being what matters. 

It’s a tough job to do well, after all.

Fight the Power

When I grow up, I’d like to be a Professional Troll-Slayer.

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No, not THAT kind (though I do have the beard for this) but the type that has enough brains, clout and sheer bravado to take the Internet Troll to task: news feeds are now littered with examples of how J.K Rowling slays all who deserve it. Often Trolls don’t care about anything but the attention: their actions aren’t motivated in order to provoke a response, it’s being able to spew hate without caring over consequence. Except now, with increasing regularity, trolls are being held to task in spaces outside of social media.

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Jack Monroe’s a local lass, friends with at least one person my husband knows, and extremely capable of not taking shit from anybody. The fact she’s now suing one of the most notorious spewers of arrogant and selfish rhetoric on the Internet, Katie Hopkins, fills me with a great deal of both satisfaction and comfort. This is the same Ms Hopkins whose employers at the Daily Mail were forced to cough up a six figure sum over another libellous claim only a few months ago: sadly however, it looks unlikely that this woman will ever change or discover the importance of considering consequence before speaking. However, one assumes that if you get libel proceedings posted against you enough times then eventually people will stop employing you… but we all know that’s not true either.

However, what this case (and others like it) will hopefully highlight is that you can’t just say whatever the fuck you want on the Internet any more without there being some kind of consequence. On the other side Twitter themselves are finally beginning to respond to many complaints that there’s simply not enough ways to deal with the speech at source. There’s been a number of new features that were introduced by the Company at the beginning of February, and indicators that certain behaviour may be being blocked completely. However there’s no independently verified confirmation of this, just the muttering of various websites with quite obvious and extreme right wing political bias. So, perhaps it is best simply to concentrate on the stuff we know is truth, from the source:

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I’ve used the Abusive Tweet service on several occasions since November and it is certainly a better and more thoughtful means of targeting what should be genuine abuse or attempts to spread disinformation. However, what this doesn’t provide for is twofold: the previously normal person who ‘goes rogue’ or the professional person such as Ms Hopkins whose presence on Twitter is as important as advertising for the platform, right up until the point it becomes detrimental. As we discovered with a certain young British chap who made his name via social media, you can get away with pretty everything until sex comes up, and then it’s Game Over. Twitter may have banned him last year but by then the damage was done. If the wrong person gets upset or angry, and goes on a rampage, even deleting those Tweets won’t be enough: as we have discussed with George Takei in recent days, people have surprisingly good memories, and everything can be screen-shotted.

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However, by far and away the best tool to prevent people from taking you to court is a brain. You simply don’t post, or step away to begin with. If you do go in with your axe held high, be prepared to fight clean and clever. Rowling’s undoubted brilliance is, unsurprisingly, as a writer, and her barbs aren’t hurled at the person but at their comment. Libel, strictly defined, is a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; effectively a written defamation. None of those sick burns are ever about the person themselves, simply the words used, and as long as you understand how thin that line is? You can tread it safely, secure in the fact that this is the way to approach Trolling with Style. The moment you start threatening a person physically or calling their personality into question is when the alarm bells should ring for everybody.

In essence, social media demands people to consider their anger in a literary context when it comes to people or events they find discomforting. If you can take the time to use your words well, they are better weapons than any you might find lying about to poke others with. In fact the damage these words can and will do should never be underestimated: it isn’t the sensitive or exposed at threat here either. On any given day, the President of the United States can be made angry and annoyed by what he hears on a TV screen or on Social media. Journalists can be offended. Prime Ministers can agree or disagree. I’ve seen this all in the last week, and all of this has happened with the power of letters, connected into sentences. Your words can destroy, or liberate, and yet so many people never consider their significance until it is too late.

Time to think more, friends, and hate less.