Hear My Voice

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A lot has happened on Social media in 2017 as it becomes apparent that a small, vocal minority has made a hobby of destroying high profile personalities. This has ultimately filtered down to the lower reaches of the system: I’ve suffered ‘anonymous’ abuse from sock accounts myself. However, it does not take a genius for me to work out who is responsible for the actions. When there’s a finite pool of people you’ve upset, working out who’s targetting you as result becomes quite easy to fathom.

Twitter’s response to this has not been to target those people responsible via subtle, well-considered changes to its UI. It has used sledgehammers, again and again, to crack nuts that clearly are considered not worth time or effort to target specifically. Instead, there are large, sweeping ‘mutes’ that the high profile user can use to effectively silence those individuals that Twitter has identified as being the largest groups of troublemakers. If you don’t have a phone number registered for recovery, or you never got around to making an avatar, then these people can be made to vanish with a click.

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Except this also removes a vast number of people from the interaction equation who may simply not wish to use their phone as security, or even know how to make an avatar. Not everyone is as tech savvy as their friends, and many people aren’t interested in becoming that invested in this platform as themselves anyway. It bothers me greatly that others celebrated these changes without considering the people they were silencing could also teach them stuff about themselves.

The ‘echo chamber’ nature of Social media becomes all the more disturbing with each passing day: I’m not just talking about far-right supporters either. Anyone with a perversion or a kink, the far left’s own radical supporters… fanatical sports fans, rabid gamers… and the list goes on. If you create a space that is excluding people, for whatever reason (logical or otherwise to you) there is the potential to distort what passes as reality on any given day. By doing so, there is a chance you’ll end up warping how life is perceived.

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On the flipside, I read increasing numbers of people who realise they simply cannot cope with the level of reality presented to them: the only means by which they survive on any given day is to simply switch off and ignore the timeline completely. However, the people they have made friends with via social media remain only means to help to understand this same chaos: where do you draw the line? How much consumption is healthy? Is it realistic to live with everything and still remain sane?

It is a question I ask myself almost daily, and the answer has begun to be the same each time when I do.

This man is a hero, inspiration and benchmark combined. The fact he can tweet a phrase that inspires me to write in response, read it and then retweet it, is one of the most amazingly magical things in existence. It is unreal and perfect, showing that there are ways for random strangers to interact with each other and nurture each other’s abilities. Although half a country separates us, for a moment there is a reminder that we both sit under the same sky and can eulogise about this in our own ways. I have no pretensions of being anything other than a fan of Ian’s work, but I know that these moments have a vital significance.

By taking away people’s right to do this with blunt, blanket swipes at a platform meant as means for free communication, such beauty will eventually be lost forever. The other problem, of course, is that as the modus operandi of Twitter becomes more and more about making money and less around freedom of expression, it won’t matter about the details anyway. By then, one hopes, we’ll find a new and better way in which to talk to each other without someone else making themselves rich on the back of it.

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I cannot help but sympathise with the increasing numbers of people withdrawing from Social media altogether. I, however, have decided to try and make my living using this platform as both soapbox and advertising media, and therefore this means spending time trying to work out how I can exist within the rules whilst at the same time not go insane. Some days, it is like being beaten unconscious with treacle. However, with sensible use and an increased ability to regulate me in response, things are getting better.

I may yet get the hang of this stuff in the end.

Sabotage

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The Internet is a great place, we all know this. However, like any massive playground where mob rule will undoubtedly apply if you screw up, there is NEVER a guarantee that people will play nicely, follow rules or indeed do what you want them to. That means that, if you’re trying to exploit any section within that playground, you need to do your homework REALLY carefully. Twitter’s been making new strides into ‘selling’ their marketplace this year, after disappointing previous attempts to find consistent ways of making money from the platform. Their latest adventure, on paper, looked like it might have some merit.

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For most ‘normal’ users, bots are annoying and frustrating things in your timeline, but now they’ve being used to ‘sell’ products through the wonders of interactivity. The concept’s sound enough: create a personal enough experience and people will engage with your campaign, and might end up buying the product as a result. What’s far more likely however, is that people will find a way to exploit your bot and make the company (and your lack of thought plus understanding of the marketplace) appear enormously stupid. This is exactly what happened to a multinational last week. On reflection, they really should have seen the issue coming.

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Sabotage is not the right word here, NetImperative. I really doubt this was individuals approaching a promotion with the agenda of conscious destruction. Walkers allowed people to upload photographs, assuming people would only want to use their own image as a ‘selfie.’ There were no checks and balances that pictures being provided were suitable. Using images of convicted criminals is what will happen when people grasp you didn’t think through the consequences as a company, and the Internet decides to show up your stupidity.

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I find it increasingly frustrating how the Internet is portrayed as the enemy by people who don’t grasp the first clue about how it works. Politicians assuming that this is where extremism happens don’t grasp that terrorism isn’t just undertaken by one easily identifiable group of individuals. If all you see is isolated, unrelated problems having single solutions, that the only way to fight to be right is to defeat those that are wrong… it is like the arguments I have with my kids. They don’t do subtle: I either told them to do it or I didn’t, asking them to consider subtlety is largely lost. However, on platforms such as the Internet, reality is no longer about one thing at a time. If you can’t multi-task, or consider that some people will be doing four or five things simultaneously whilst at the same time looking for ways to exploit your lack of foresight? You’re going to get burnt, just like Walkers.

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Ironically, talking to friends on Twitter, we saw this coming. Maybe there is money to be made in the future being a Freelance Provocatrix, driving my three wheeled tricycle from company to organisation, warning them of the dangers of not thinking your marketing strategy through online. However well you think you know the Internet?

They’ll always have the capacity to surprise you.

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.

Slave to the Rhythm

This is me, thinking about why Twitter works as well as it does when nobody has an agenda. Today, it’s all about how you interact with the platform, and then how other people do the same with you.

It’s Day Two of India vs England and suddenly, there’s an England batting collapse. Joe Root’s just gone for 53, caught at deep mid-off, and Charles Dagnall, one of the ‘new breed’ of radio Test commentators, is retweeted by @bbctms (Test Match Special‘s dedicated Twitter feed) saying what most of us just thought:

My first thought? Oh look, England’s gonna fuck it up again.

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I was talking to my daughter this morning on our way to school, about how Emojis are showing an interesting way forward for language in the future. In years to come, images might well replace spoken language as they are a far easier form of instant communication for people to understand. So, when I saw Charles’ comment, this GIF was the perfect response. So, I sent it, and in a moment of cosmic beauty the man decided to reply with an Emoji to boot <3

Here’s Reason #1 why having princes and paupers together is a great thing, especially when it comes to communicating intent. This platform allows you to get people with influence to read stuff that matters. Normally it works best when you aren’t the seller, however: altruism is always the best way forward. Asking your hero to read your shit? No, that’s not the plan here. Asking your hero to read someone else’s shit you think is brilliant? Much better idea. 

My mate Julia links me a website made by @clarabellum which suggests that instead of getting upset over the US Election, you could do something positive, like give time or money to make things better. I think this is brilliant, and try and work out how I get this more exposure, and the person on my FL who I think might appreciate this? Duncan Jones. We’ve chatted a little too, I know he’s a voracious Twitter consumer, and he’s on EU time because he’s filming in Germany. In this case, I don’t expect a reply, just sending the Tweet is enough. The fact I get one? So much the betterer.

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I created a link to a hero, over a subject I know we’re both passionate about. No, I won’t start stalking him any time soon, and this isn’t about anything other than sharing a love of the things that make us mesh. As a grown up you can do this and just move on, and yeah, you’re totally cool about it. Nah, it’s not a big deal at all.

Yeah, I lied. However, there’s a bigger issue tied up in this and it is worth explaining. I have a particular person who likes to ‘like’ my posts on pretty much a daily basis. They don’t follow me, but are still reading my timeline, presumably via a Twitter ‘List’ that somebody else maintains. I’ve found this increasingly uncomfortable, and only this morning did I work out why.

This is a significant epiphany. Unless I lock my account, anybody can and will read me. Just because I don’t have them on my feed doesn’t mean they’re incapable of communication, either. Mr Jones’ ‘like’ shows me he read the message. Twatface Otherbloke’s cursory liking feels to me exactly like I’m at the pole and he’s got the dosh because if I mattered enough, presumably, he’d have gotten off his arse and spoken to me by now. Instead he’ll just continue to smile and shove those fivers into my underwear. Even a retweet to his followers list might show that what I’m doing matters enough for him to expand my audience, but it could almost be as if I’m being baited. I feel like I’ve become his personal show, and that’s a lot why both sides of this platform often come to blows. Because if you assume to much, or not enough, or often any point in between? It will only end in tears.

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The best way this whole thing works is when you stop making it personal. It’s like being in the Pub when the famous bloke comes in, and you get to shake their hand and say how cool you think they are. That’s all it is, a moment of passing, the nod of appreciation that yes, what’s happening here is cool and you have relevance. I’m not after a Senpai noticing me, I’m chancing my arm and LOOK I DID IT. Tomorrow it won’t happen, and the trick to life is not to live on the belief of expectation and simply to life as you live.

Today, I learn the lesson that if I don’t want cash in my cleavage, I should become an accountant.

This is Mine

There’s a reason why I love this GIF as much as I undoubtedly do. I am an entertainer, like it or not. Whenever I plunge into a public space and decide to hold a specific opinion, there are undoubtedly consequences. If I make a particular decision to either embrace or ignore a particular voice? That person is going to react in a completely unpredictable fashion: I can’t see them, and only have the words they provide me as a prompt to how I in then turn again respond. So, I have to make a decision, based only on the history I have with the ‘name’ that’s attached to the Avatar. Sometimes you get it right, but sometimes you make mistakes. Often, what I see is often far more complicated and involved than the view of the person on the other side of the ‘fence’ Yesterday, the simple point that many people have tried to beat me with is that sex sells, and that’s all that matters. I know that’s only the tip of an enormous iceberg, and you can beat me with that outlook all day and night, but it will not change what I believe.

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What I can’t do in 140 characters is either explanation or nuance, and yet people demand both. When they challenge me on tone and intent I’ll do the same, but ‘discussion’ on Twitter’s not unlike sex in the back of a car: it does the job, but it’s a poor substitute for somewhere with space to spread out. If people want to really understand what I am I ask them to challenge me in blogs and podcasts that most won’t read or listen to, because that’s not what matters to them. What these people crave is the moment, their terms but when they enter my space? I deliberately curate to make people work. Some might try and argue this is a sanitised space that I won’t argue in, but I know the truth is that you make conscious decisions based on the time you have available, the person you’re dealing with and you own sense of whether the interaction ultimately will have any benefit. If you consider me a pathetic fraud in a space you think I won’t visit, and then challenge me in my own that I won’t act in a fashion YOU find acceptable? I’d say you’re perhaps not coming to the table with open arms.

So, I choose to respond in long form and I say this. I’m sorry if you don’t like the fact I assumed things about you. If you think this was malicious or dismissive, it was neither. It was based on the words you used to me. Having looked at all the words you’ve used, I see no desire for a mutual discussion or appreciation, I gain only anger from the opinions you have presented. However, I harbour no ill-feeling. I’ve watched all the exchanges you’ve had with me and with all of these considered? I’m surprised you still follow me.  However, I’m not a fool. When asked ‘do you remove people who agree with you or only those that argue?’ The answer is simple: I don’t have to do either. Those who agree choose to stay, those that argue (in 95% of cases) leave of their own volition. I curate, in more than 90% of cases, those people who just don’t take part. 

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For the 5% who fight, amazingly some come back. I’ve apologised to a few too and they’ve returned as a result, because I’m not a twat and when I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. If the person apologises and I am convinced they’re still going to fight? Nope, not happening. That leaves the 10% of people who I’ll decide aren’t really contributing anything other than noise, vitriol or trying to get me to notice them. I might get some of those wrong too, because it happens. Mostly, I am comfortable my curation is effective. That’s my choice, and in the end you don’t get to control either that or me, because in the end the buck needs to stop somewhere.

Sometimes, Tweets aren’t enough. However, in a surprising number of cases, they are more than enough to understand that some people, once you interface with them, will never agree with you, however hard either of you try.

Silence is Easy

When it became apparent in the week that Twitter wasn’t doing an about face on algorithmic timelines, another news story popped up that’s probably more significant in the long run than the order you read your news in. The Independent reports that ‘tailored filtering’ is already a reality for a number of Verified users: that is, the ability to ‘turn off’ tweets that aren’t relevant to the user, and effectively silence the noise that the platform generates. By noise, of course, I mean the trolls and the haters and the pornbots and the random crap that is produced by a small but significant number of users. This development comes as a result of a much publicised memo leaked from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo where he admits ‘we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls.’ Anybody who deals with the platform on a daily basis can attest and agree with the sentiment: however, is this really the way forward?

Is the means to deal with abuse simply to pretend it doesn’t exist?

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I’d like to bring Lindy West to the stand, as a witness in the defence for actually confronting abuse and not simply blanking it out. Lindy has a lot of experience of the brutal, cruel side of internet ‘life’ and how anonymity is pretty much always a curse and never a blessing:

Being harassed on the internet is such a normal, common part of my life that I’m always surprised when other people find it surprising. You’re telling me you don’t have hundreds of men popping into your cubicle in the accounting department of your mid-sized, regional dry-goods distributor to inform you that – hmm – you’re too fat to rape, but perhaps they’ll saw you up with an electric knife? No? Just me? People who don’t spend much time on the internet are invariably shocked to discover the barbarism – the eager abandonment of the social contract – that so many of us face simply for doing our jobs.

You really need to take time to digest this article on how West confronted a particular troll who decided to take on the identity of her deceased father in order to abuse her, and how she decided to deal with the consequences. If this story were the exception, then I’d not have an issue with simply cutting the noise completely, but it is anything but. I’m well aware of the people on my feed who suffer all manner of abuse, from casual posts on their blogs to full on psychopathic stalkers. The problem, of course, is that there is no consequence for these obsessives, and as long as police/law enforcement isn’t going to take the vast majority of these issues seriously because there’s not enough evidence to build a reliable case? It’s open season for the Troll population.

Twitter’s solution is, in effect, a fucking huge spam filter. It just takes the noise away, making no effort to solve the problem at source. However, the company could reasonably argue (with some measure of success) that, as a communications medium, that’s not their job anyway. All they do is give you a platform, after all, how you choose to use it isn’t their issue… until you get high profile cases where Twitter is clearly used as a weapon. Take the case of John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley, who threatened journalist Caroline Criado-Perez and were bought to court. I picked the Mail headline for a reason: the two perpetrators are described as ‘a binge-drinking college graduate’ and  ‘a jobless recluse living on benefits’ as if this somehow justifies their actions (which it absolutely doesn’t.) The thing is, perfectly normal people can be and are abusers. Just because you can turn their ‘low-quality’ tweets off doesn’t make them go away, nor does it provide any means to trace them or action them if their abuse is long-term. This is Twitter dodging a bullet that has real potential to kill many people, and only when that happens is there likely to be change. By then, however, it will be too late.

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The biggest single issue, it seems to me, for anyone under attack from an abuser is the accumulation of prosecutable evidence. Unless you can build a workable case, there’s nothing to be done, and that’s before you then have to come up with the legal muscle to prosecute… and all that costs money that many people simply won’t have. It is a sad and depressing incitement of modern life that the default for most people does become ‘well, just ignore it and hopefully they’ll go away’ which is so wrong on so many levels it beggars belief. For anyone vulnerable, and I’m looking at kids and adults alike here, by the time you realise what’s been happening with online abuse, it can often be too late. Sticking your hands over ears and just pretending that nothing’s happening might work for some things, but it won’t for others. This isn’t an answer, it is a dangerous development where Twitter practices a blanket censorship of material under the belief that all of this material is basically harmless. That might work for 95% of cases, but the 5% it doesn’t?

Pretending a problem does not exist is not the way to solve it.