Tag Archives: Twitter

Twitter still in trouble

Twitter is in trouble again, with another major round of layoffs after a number of potential buyers backed away.

There’s a lot of evidence of simple bad management, too many people with jobs that added too little value. But it’s also being said that Twitter’s ongoing failure to tackle trolls, bullying and harassment on their network was a significant negative factor for some would-be buyers.

It’s been an ongoing problem for a long time, and Twitter’s response has always been a case of too little too late. Banning a handful of medium profile right-wing figures “pour encourager les autres” is not a practical solution, and probably only serves to make matters worse.

What Twitter really needs is a clear and unambiguous Terms of Service, which is then enforced consistently and transparently. Such a thing would force everyone from GamerGaters to social justice witch-hunters to play by the same rules, which would surely be a good thing.

Cynically there’s the suspicion that Jack Dorsey is too close to some social justice witch hunters to be willing to implement anything that might cramp their style. So the harassment is allowed to continue, and their current TOS continues to be enforced in a selective and partisan way that benefits no-one. Much of the worst behaviour goes unpunished unless their target is a prominent member of a group Twitter’s management wants to curry favour with.

Have the technical solutions that have been proposed, many of them quite straightforward to implement, been squelched for the same reason? Or can we simply blame cluelessness?

Twitter at its best is a great conversation space and a great way of making new social and professional connections. But its weakness has always the way trolls can disrupt meaningful conversation. Twitter have been dragging their heels on this for far too long.

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Twitter Censorship: Incompetence or Malice?

I am glad I made the decision several years back to continue maintaining this blog rather than abandoning blogging in favour of social media as many others did. I own this domain, and in the unlikely event of the current hosting company going bad on me, I can move to another host.

Recent events in Twitter point to a disturbing trend, and show the perils of relying on a company you have no control over for the entirety of your online presence.

Now I know Twitter has a harassment and bullying problem, and the company has been unacceptably slow in dealing with it. I’ve said before the best solution is far better blocking and muting functionality rather than centralised moderation. But that doesn’t seem to be the way they’re going.

The suspension of Whores of Yore (now reinstated), and the shadowbanning of St.Rev point yet again to a moderation policy that’s entirely arbitrarily and lacks any kind of transparency. While I know any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice, you can’t help feeling that Twitter’s rules are deliberately vague and selectively enforced for a reason. Under Jack Dorsey’s leadership Twitter has taken an increasingly left-authoritarian turn and abandoned previous commitments to free expression.

Are they deliberately trying to make Twitter a more hostile place for people who do not share the right politics, either to force them to self-censor or to abandon Twitter in favour of smaller free-speech ghettos?

Now, Whores of Yore does post some rather rude images, but those are explicitly permitted on Twitter provided they’re appropriately labelled as for adults only. And St Rev is a robust libertarian who doesn’t have much time for the left. But I’ve seen no evidence that either of them are guilty of violations of Twitter’s terms of service. Certainly no signs of targeted harassment of individuals. What is going on?

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This is why we can’t have nice things

Late last night after the predictable comments on Twitter about the awfulness of the panel for BBC Question Time, I Tweeted this:

And on next week’s #BBCQT panel, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Jabba the Hutt, The Eye of Sauron, Mr Blobby and Davros.

It was intended as a throwaway humorous comment, and the names were the first ones that came into my head. But almost immediately came a response that my fantasy BBC Question Time panel was all male. Worrying that I’d thoughtlessly committed a sexist microagression I deleted the tweet and apologised if I’d caused any offence.

But it’s been gnawing away at me all morning. It’s most unlikely that the comment in response was an actual demand to take down my tweet, but it was from someone I barely know, and the 140 characters of Twitter don’t allow a lot of space for nuance. The comment may well have been as innocently intended as my original Tweer, and probably was. But the level of “performance outrage” on Twitter puts me on a hair-trigger, and I delete things on a reflex.

I don’t blame the person who responded. But I do blame the wider outrage culture that’s developed, making good people walk on eggshells. Nobody wants to be the next Justine Sacco or Tim Hunt. Is performance outrage killing spontaneous humour?

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged | 9 Comments

Fixing Twitter

According to JestersCourt, Twitter can fix Twitter with just a few lines of code

I don’t have inside knowledge of Twitter’s architecture, and so can’t really comment on whether a “few lines of code” is accurate, but the essence is this: When someone blocks you for whatever reason, you can’t @mention them in a Tweet. Whether you get an error, or it’s just silently deleted, the Tweet will go nowhere and won’t be seen by your followers.

That fixes the biggest single aspect of Twitter’s harassment problem, when someone with a large bully pulpit sets their followers on someone who’s incurred their wrath.

Unless there’s a flaw in the solution I haven’t see, it’s hard to see why Twitter doesn’t just go ahead in implement something along these lines. You’re forced to suspect that Jack Dorsey is less interested in solving Twitter’s actual problems than he is currying favour with particular activist cliques.  In other words, virtual signalling trumps positive action.

The problem with Jester’s Court’s solution is it’s politically neutral. The same mechanism that would stop racist and sexist trolls would also damp down the witch hunts popular in social-justice circles. And because that would cramp the style of the people Jack Dorsey wants to curry favour with, it’s a non-starter; they have a weird “punching up/punching down” dynamic where it’s only defined as harassment if it’s a member of their outgroup targetting a member of their ingroup.

So instead Twitter seem to be going down the route of top-down content politicng and filtering by keywords known to be popular with outgroups. What could possibly go wrong?

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Goodbye Nero

So Twitter have finally had enough and banned the notorious troll Milo Yiannopoulos, @Nero for his part in egging on the racist harassers of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. Much of Twitter erupted in cheers. His 300,000-strong alt-right fanbase cried foul.

Let’s get one thing straight. Yiannopoulos deserved to be perma-banned from Twitter. He’s repeatedly and flagrantly violated Twitter’s Terms of Service, not just sailing close to the line but driving a coach and horses through the spirit of the rules.

Kicking him off Twitter is probably a net gain for free speech. That’s because the fear of being the centre of a witch hunt has a silencing effect. The mob is as an effective censor as the bureaucrat with the red pencil, and as with all censors, the goal is for force people to self-censor, to make whatever things the censors don’t like become unsayable. And it’s all based on power.

Yes, it’s too little, too late. And it does look as though Twitter only acted because the latest ugly eruption involved a celebrity. Twitter does need to be consistent and transparent in the way it enforces its own rules, and needs to devote enough resources to do the job properly, things which are not currently happening. Making a public example of Yiannopoulos just looks like a quick-and-dirty fix, and a very political one at that. Especially when by no means are all of the awful, abusive people on Twitter on the right.

Twitter has had a problem with trolls and mobbings for years, and it goes back long before movements like GamerGate or the rise of the alt-right. Go back a few years and it was parts of the so-called progressive left who were leading the witch hunts and harassing people who said or did anything they didn’t like. The worst parts of social-justice call-out culture were a frightening thing, and one false move could put anyone in their crosshairs. That had the effect of legitimising the tactics that Yiannopoulos and his ilk would later use in the service of right-wing causes. One you claim there are no bad tactics, only bad targets, you hand a terrible weapon to your enemies.

Twitter does need a rethink about what it’s for and what it does best. At its best it’s a great conversation space that’s most effective for interaction with your peers rather than the unequal relationship between celebrities and ordinary people. And because it’s far more mainstream it breaks down when subsets of people try to import the values of subcultures that developed places like 4chan or Tumblr which become toxic outside of those spaces.

(Given the subject, comments are closed on this post)

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You’re not one of the cool people unless Mick Hucknall has blocked you

It seems that Mick Hucknall of Simply Red has blocked me on Twitter.

Yesterday he got into a Twitter fight with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, in which Labour officials called him a political and musical has-been. He then started blocking everyone who even mentioned his name, regardless of context, and not just people who mentioned him by his @mjhucknall Twitter ID. For a while his name was a trending topic on Twitter, and half the tweets were “Why has Mick Hucknall blocked me”?

What sort of person doesn’t just look at their Notification column but ego-searches their name too? Previously I’d had absolutely no opinion on Mick Hucknall or his music. His world simply didn’t intersect with mine. Now, on the evidence of his behaviour he comes over as a narcissist who dishes it out but can’t take it.

The irony was that his criticism of Corbyn was at least partly justified. I’ve said very similar things myself.

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Twitter hashtag activism is completely useless.

Hashtags are great fun for quick-fire humour, like the running joke hashtags that always seem to take off on Friday afternoons when people are bored at work. That’s the sort of thing that shows Twitter at its best. But when it comes to dealing with sensitive and nuanced topics, the 140 character limit is worse than useless.

There’s little point singling out any one hasttag in particular, because every single one plays out the same way, and you get that sinking feeling the moment one appears and the usual suspects start using it. They start out with what usually comes over as self-righteous in-group signalling. Then comes the inevitable angry backlash from those who distrust the agenda of whoever it was that started the tag. It spirals down in an all-too-predictable fashion of insults and name-calling, splitting communities along existing faultlines and making everyone bar the hardcore culture warriors miserable. It’s Twitter at it’s very worst. If we’re really unlucky it ends with risible hack-written clickbait hitpieces on sites like Salon, Breitbart and The Guardian.

Since these hashtags achieve nothing other than sowing discord, the only sensible response is to shoot them on sight using a client that lets you mute hashtags.

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The March of Technology

Goot post by Stephen Tall on why he has given up on Channel 4’s ‘Spin’. It’s because it seems to ignore the existence of the internet and social media, and that absence breaks suspension of disbelief in what is supposed to be a present-day drama.

* News breaks of French presidential hopeful Anne Visage’s affair with the recently blown-up former President. Her campaign manager is issued with the urgent warning… “this story will hit the news-stands in just a few hours’ time!”. Because, obviously, we’re all ignorant of what the newspapers are saying til we walk past les kiosques in the morning and Twitter stops at the white cliffs of Dover.

* A key witness — the one person who can testify to the motives of the President’s assassin — is being hunted by the French authorities desperate to ensure their state-sanctioned lie of terrorism isn’t challenged. Tensely, he hunkers down for a couple of days until a journalist with a TV camera can arrive and film his evidence. On tape. Seriously. No suggestion is made that he might tell his story using the smart-phone he’s carrying and post it to the Internet. Or even tweet his testimony.

If somebody had written that twenty years ago, not a word of it would have made any sense. We are indeed living in a science-fiction future, just not quite the science-fiction future we were promised.

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Twitter Flailing on Freedom of Speech

If Twitter had got its act together on harassment five years ago they wouldn’t now be in a position where suspending the accounts of a handful of right-wing loudmouths seemed like a good idea.

Freedom of speech means you can speak truth to power without government or corporate interests acting as a gatekeeper over what speech is acceptable.

But freedom of speech also means you can voice controversial opinions without being shouted down. The “heckler’s veto” of the mob is as much a censor as any bureaucrat with a red pen.

Unless you refuse to accept the existence of the heckler’s veto, freedom of speech isn’t as simple as absolutists would make out; there is some speech which can only exist at the expense of other speech. If you operate any space on the web, from a community site to a large social network, sooner or later you’ve going to have to decide who’s speech has the most value, the heckler or the heckled.

This is not a defence of Twtter’s recent actions; the arbitrary nature and the complete lack of transparency ring all sorts of alarm bells, and paints a picture of a clueless management flailing around with desperate short-term fixes. It comes over as little more than simplistic virtue signalling, which very few people are impressed by. It’s got to the point where nobody trusts them any more.

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First they came for the right-wing bellends

Following on from the shadowbanning nonsense, Twitter have now suspended the account of an aggressively anti-feminist right-winger with 90000 followers, with no hint of exactly what it was he said that crossed the line.

I am not going to defend this man’s speech or opinions, he’s an unpleasant and misogynist bigot. But again the lack of transparency suggests Twitter has adopted a policy of suspending high-profile accounts “pour encourager les autres” in a largely ad-hoc manner. And that does raise all sorts of concerns over the direction in which Twitter is heading.

This comment on Popehat sums up the concerns quite well.

Twitter’s getting too Orwellian for my tastes. No fun. I’ll be damned if I stick around if they’re going to let the likes of Arthur Chu and Anita Sarkeesian decide who gets voted off the island.

It’s probably going to be a while before the speech of liberals is threatened. Precedents in other spaces suggest that if they succeed in driving off the wingnuts the next targets are more likely to be those on the wrong side of sectarian disputes within feminism.

But the mention of Arthur Chu is a reminder that my card is already marked. I’m on his shared block list along with 30000 other people because months ago I criticised something he said. While it would be monumentally stupid for Twitter to decide one morning to suspend every single account on that blocklist, their recent behaviour means that can’t be trusted not to be that idiotic.

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