Retweeting to the scene of the crime

sysk-crimesceneselectWelp, it didn’t last. But being away from Twitter for a few days was helpful in focusing my mind on just what it was about the place that vexes me in particular. Sure, Nazis etc., but there were a thousand other things that niggled at me too. Many of these things also niggled at me on Mastodon.

So I feel like, coming back, I want to clear the decks a bit. I think I absolutely have to be ruthless about certain things, even if it means I lose some followers (I’ve lost one already – although I don’t use a service that tells me just who it was), and so I’m going to be unfollowing or muting a lot of accounts. It really is about the content, often in the form of retweets, rather than the people.

Let’s start at the top of the list, with the hate. I’m fairly liberal as far as free speech is concerned. I draw the line at harassment and inciting violence, but I think there’s another line I’ll draw, which is something that my brief time on Mastodon made me think about. On Mastodon, the interface doesn’t have an option to quote-retweet. I’ve used this feature on Twitter a lot, but I appreciate now that in certain cases there has been a power imbalance. For example, if someone with half a million followers quote-tweets someone with 250 followers, it’s like pointing a klieg light towards them with potentially unpleasant results. So I’m kind of done with people who misuse the power of their following. Anything that encourages the pitchfork wielding twitmob, in other words, whether that’s directed at political opponents, or poor customer service from brands. I did unfollow radio presenter Danny Baker some time ago because of his worrying tendency to get publicly mardy about a poor retail or customer experience. By all means, take it up with the organisation concerned, like the rest of us have to, but stop invoking a mob. Stop using your clout.

The twitmob has always been the absolute worst part of Twitter: everyone piling in. It doesn’t matter which side of the culture war you’re on: the majority is always wrong. And I’m not holding myself up as a paragon: I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone of piling in at times. But I’ll try hard not to.

It wasn’t just Mastodon’s no-quoting policy that brought this home to me, but the very fact of viewing a more or less unfiltered Mastodon timeline, on that first couple of days when a lot of twit-refugees were turning up. There were a lot of in-jokes, and a lot of jokes about toots, which is what the Mastodon equivalent of tweets are called. And watching all these people having their fun by all piling in and making the same kind of jokes over and over, well, it kind of irritated me. Because I’m not, as you know, a joiner. And when I see this kind of phenomenon, I just think, groupthink, yuk. And I turn away from it.

So twitter mob mentality is out, and when I encounter it, I’ll be unfollowing.

I also went through my follow list and cleared out some dormant accounts (at least two of the people I followed were dead 😔).

Temporarily, I have more followers than I am following. Wonder how long that will last?

A final word on Mastodon. In that unfiltered timeline, there was an awful lot of neediness and attention-seeking, disguised as joining in the fun. No different from Twitter in that respect. And there were a lot, as I’ve said, of passive-aggressive “helpful” messages to “new users”.

And I’ve been thinking about the final staw(s). One was just another passive-aggressive set of rules for new users (actually, the site already had a set of rules, so this was just a redundant set of snarky rules designed to put people in their place). The other was a message from one of said new users, asking for recommendations of people to follow, “who aren’t men”.

Well.

This new user appeared to be a man, first of all, from his profile pic. So it looked like a certain amount of self-loathing was going on. Now, I’m not going to go down the “not all men” route, but I am going to point out that one of the main problems with Twitter is/was not that men didn’t follow enough women. The problem has always been that men would choose to follow a lot of women, and then harass them endlessly. I mean, there are so many accounts that were essentially middle-aged white men following a lot of younger women. It’s a thing, on Twitter.

So the “problem” that this newbie was trying to be so right-on about was simply being reproduced in his self-loathing toot. He might as well have asked, “Please direct me towards some hot chicks I can follow.” So. My eyes continue their rolling journey back to their origin.

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The absence of tweeting

  • I’m not returning to Twitter for the nonce, but I have deleted my experimental Mastodon presence*
  • I don’t often wear plasters. But it struck me putting one on a blistered heel that your standard “flesh” coloured plaster is totally racist.**
  • There are apples everywhere.***
  • Went to a craft fare yesterday, and found a stall selling jewellery made of recycled Nespresso coffee pods. Cool stuff. There are lots of how-to YouTube videossummer - 1 (2)
  • Yes. But the only thing that interests me is how do you fall off a cruise ship in the first place?

Footnotes

*The overall atmosphere was “friendly” – very much with the inverted commas. My personal response to that was to see it as “passive aggressive”. As I said, Mastodon was not for me. I won’t share what the final straw was, but my eyes are yet to return back from the place they rolled to.

**Mostly, I cut myself when chopping or slicing, and I prefer the blue plasters for obvious reasons. They’re not so racist.

***We have loads of apple trees in the garden (as well as two apiece of walnut and chestnut), and a pear tree. Apples are falling all over the place, and throughout the village. I would like to get the kit to make cider.

 

 

Things I’d have tweeted etc. and thoughts on Mastodon

  • West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire? Are they on drugs?*
  • Too depressed to be on Mastodon much today.**
  • Spotted a tiny, tiny lizard at the front of the housesummer - 17
  • And this is what happened when Oscar caught sight of itsummer - 18
  • Today’s bike ride was up to St. Antoine again, an old favourite.***
  • Found a terrifying bug in the kitchen. Had the body of one of those black beetles and the back legs of a grasshopper****

Footnotes

*I never thought I’d say this, but I’m kind of glad right now that the school I teach at isn’t under local authority control. If this kind of thing spreads, if more local councils collapse under the burden of cuts, schools will be among the services suffering (even more than they currently are). What struck me about this story is the complete lack of joined up thinking in the naming of the two proposed “unitary authorities”. Seems symptomatic.

**Mastodon, the safe-space alternative to Twitter, has been around a couple of years, but didn’t gain much attention till this week, when so many people decided, en masse, to leave Twitter. It’s fun on a superficial level, in the stupid joke phase that Twitter went through in its early days; that said, its roots are starting to show to me, a “normie” (in the site’s terms) and a middle-aged white male – the kind of person many on the site were hoping to escape. I feel no resentment about this, but don’t think it’s really the place for me. I appreciate more than most people in my position the importance of pronouns, but it still grates somewhat to see people who are really only talking about themselves in the first person refer to themselves in the third. Anyway, I don’t belong over there, and I question my own motives. With just 300 followers on Twitter (lost very few after the bot purge) after nine years, the heart sighs at the thought of starting from zero again. (Probably just as much as a Twitter celeb with half a million followers.)

I’ve long held the belief that a minimum of 100 of my 300 have muted me. Probably 10-20 of them don’t even see my tweets in the algorithmic timeline. Another 100 or so probably have dormant accounts. And of the 80-90 remaining, probably only a dozen or so actually read my hilarious tweets.

Of course, the Twitter experience is asymmetrical, and I enjoyed reading more than posting, but, after the initial rush of interest, I’m really overwhelmed on Mastodon with feelings of ennui.

***The St Antoine forest is dark and beautiful, with roads that melt in hot weather, cascading waterfalls, and cold, cold mountain water. But getting there involves a lot of climbing. I’m always surprised, heading back down, how steep it was; still, I love the descent, once it gets flatter. It’s my kind of cycling: a long stretch of ever-so-slightly downhill road.

****It was too terrifying to photograph. I just took it outside and stamped on it. Mutation!

Things I might have tweeted today if I’d still been on the Twitter

  • I miss Twitter*muted-bird
  • Currently reading Shelby Foote’s narrative history of the (US) Civil War**
  • I don’t think I can be bothered to go through the rigamarole of finding new people to follow on Mastodon***
  • There’s a complete stranger of a German teenager coming to stay for the next week. I don’t know how this happened****
  • They found a concealed bit of the Berlin Wall. Is this a metaphor for something?*****
  • The seeds are in the sweetest part of the watermelon. Is this a metaphor for something?******

Footnotes

*Of course, if I was still on Twitter I wouldn’t have felt this sentiment, so this first one is a lie.

**A gift from my daughter, who has been very critical of me not starting it. But I was saving it for these dog days of August and now she’s nicked it off me. Shelby Foote was the engaging, bearded contributor to Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on the Civil War. He weaves a good yarn.

***Actually, Mastodon has been quite a lot of fun today, and I followed a  few people, although you don’t really need to. You can just scroll through the Local timeline, and it’s okay. Some of it is silly, but none of it is hateful.

****This has been organised by my wife and is the source of much tension around here, because nobody else thinks it’s a good idea. Inviting the daughter of an acquaintance (???) to visit for a whole WEEK? I said no, bad idea, but it happened anyway. Send help.

*****It was in the Mitte district, which is where I stayed when I visited the city. I think I even remember the park where they found it. If it’s where I think it is, I’m not surprised.

******Of course it is. I actually tooted this on Mastodon, along with a picture of a salad I made with it.

IMG_3604

Leaving (Twitter) on a paper plane

55-time-to-die1

Time to die

I just deactivated my Twitter account. I have 30 days to switch it back on if I change my mind. This post won’t be publicised on Twitter.

I’m doing this partly because I was encouraged to do so by the D-Day 17th August campaign, which I don’t think has gained much traction. I guess we’ll see about that. I’m only barely aware of Al*x J*ones and his conspiracy theories. I’ve been muting and blocking political Twitter for a while anyway, because it makes me miserable. I’ve never been abused or doxxed or anything like that. But I feel like unless Twitter does something about these issues, it’s not a place I want to be. It’s become increasingly clear that, actually, the people who run Twitter have no problem with nazis and purveyors of confidence trick conspiracy theories, and in fact might actually sympathise with them. At the very least, they see them as being good for business, like the proverbial fire fighter who is also an arsonist.

And I’m partly leaving because of Twitter’s continuing attacks on 3rd party clients. I get it: we users of Tweetbot and other clients don’t see any ads or promoted tweets. The problem, though, is that the official client is a horrible experience for other reasons. It’s not about the ads. It’s about the way Twitter has fucked around with the Timeline so that it’s not just in reverse chronological order. Instead you see boosted tweets by prominent people at the expense of regular users. In my own case, looking at Twitter on the web (on a Mac, so no other choice), I sometimes don’t even see my own tweets in my Timeline. That’s just humiliating.

And you see what other people have privately liked, which shouldn’t be on the public timeline at all. So I’d consider using the official client if it wasn’t for that, but Twitter doesn’t seem to understand how much some of us hate what they’ve done. Changing favourites from stars to hearts was bad enough. Now it looks like you “love” something you’re just bookmarking to read later. They’ve been doing stupid stuff like this for years, and those of us who use 3rd party clients have been somewhat insulated. But now they’re coming for the clients, making them less and less functional, so maybe it was time to leave anyway.

And finally, I’m doing it because Twitter hasn’t really been much fun for a long time, and maybe I need this push. A platform that hosts nazis and abusers and inciters of violence is not a good place to be, even if your own corner of it is relatively free of that stuff.

I’m trying Mastodon (I’m The_Obald@mastodon.social), but: it just brings into focus how little I enjoy this kind of thing. And it’s a bit of a ball-ache to set up, and nobody I care about is on it. Time, perhaps, to let it lie die.

Shut down, log off, fade away

Mini DV TapeWe are surrounded by digital ephemera.

A while ago now, I reactivated the Facebook account (total of friends = 1), just so there would be one place on the internet where you could find me by my actual name. My timeline consisted almost entirely of my Instagram feed. But I hate Facebook, always have, and as Zuck appears to be preparing to run for office (as a Republican, according to one thing I read), it’s time to kill it. So that’s gone.

I still use Instagram. Although owned by Facebook, it’s fairly harmless, and since I stopped using Flickr (destroyed by Yahoo), it’s the only place I upload photos. But my finger does hover over the button sometimes.

I was attempting to put together a Photos book for 2016 the other day, and I had an enormous number of those red warning triangles, because the “original image could not be found”. Massive database corruption in my Photos library – perhaps caused by my use of CleanMyMac. The photos are there – I can export them and re-import them and fix the triangle issue – but the application doesn’t know they’re there. So that is a massive pain in the arse, and brings to stark relief the eternal problem of what is going to become of all our digital photos in 5–10 years. Apart from low-resolution uploads on early Flickr, I’ve got whole clusters of photos missing.

This came up again when I was rewatching my kids’ childhood DVDs a while ago. A couple of years have gone missing, and one of the DVDs wouldn’t play (though I managed to rip the file off it). I noticed an old MiniDV camcorder at work the other day, which nobody (probably) is ever going to use, and it reminded me that I have a case full of MiniDV tapes with my kids’ (unedited) childhoods on, and I have nothing to play them on.

Digital ephemera. We live in a streaming world. Timelines flick by, news churns 24 hours a day, people are up in arms about one thing after another, ricocheting between issues of import and issues of no import as if it were all the same.

I spent half an hour this morning unfollowing a bunch more people on Twitter. People I like and respect, even admire, but I cannot bear to read their political and news tweets, because they make me feel impotent with outrage, powerless, depressed. Muting keywords doesn’t work because things always leak through, and in the end I came to the conclusion that, for the foreseeable future and for my own sanity, I’ll probably end up unfollowing most of the Americans on my feed, and many more besides.

I’ve said it before: complaining on Twitter achieves nothing; the people you need to reach are not on there; it’s not a substitute for activism. Twitter is for jokes, for people-watching, for aphorisms, art, wit, photos, videos, all of that digital ephemera. But it’s not for politics or climate change, or bringing down capitalism or fighting nazis. People get mad about stuff, sure, but never so mad that they put down their phones and do anything.

 

Shifting paradigms while Rome burns

k41. Copernican revolutions

Changing people’s minds is a hard, hard thing. When Copernicus correctly identified our heliocentric solar system, it was not an overnight “revolution” as it is often characterised, but the culmination of over a thousand years of observations not matching the dominant model. The Ptolemaic model lasted from the 2nd century to the 16th. All the observations, all the maths, were telling scientists that their paradigm was wrong. Geocentric astronomy was the “fake Facebook news” of its day. Copernicus simply made the mathematical model match the observations. Even so, his “revolution” did not lead to an overnight change in the dominant paradigm. Copernicus died 20 years before Galileo, who was still persecuted (albeit for political reasons) when he used his observations to confirm Copernicus’ work. It wasn’t until 100 years after Galileo’s death that the Church lifted the ban on books advocating heliocentrism.

So much for your overnight revolutions.

2. Not feeding the trolls

The lesson that people’s minds are hard to change was learnt – with difficulty – in the first years of the public internet and World Wide Web, when forum and chat room moderators first encountered trolling, flame wars, and Godwin’s Law, which asserts that,

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1

So it went and so it goes. Whether you’re in a 1994 vintage AOL chatroom, or on The Facebook or the Twitter, you will encounter people who are immune to the figurative Copernican maths. Immune to the facts, or science, statistics, the evidence of their own eyes, or whatever else you care to throw at them.

As Robert M. Pirsig put it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the only way not to lose this fight is not to enter the arena. In other words, don’t feed the trolls – especially the ones that reside in your own head.

3. We built our own dystopia

Over the past 25 years, those online virtual spaces that were once called things like Second Life, have steadily leaked into the so-called real world and become not secondary but primary. Second Life is now just life. Those online flame wars have become modern political discourse. The made-up facts, the agent provocateurs (trolls), the inevitable comparisons to Hitler, the trading of insults and disrespect, have become normalised. The leopards have broken into the temple and have now become part of the ritual.

Back in 2010, when Twitter was young and the Arab Spring was in its early flowering, I was naive enough to believe that Twitter was a potential force for change we could believe in. Obama, against all the perceived wisdom and seemingly against all the odds, had been elected President of the United States. Smug Britons, who were used to casually branding Americans as ignorant racists, were brought up short by the realisation that it was eminently more possible for there to be a black US President than it was for there to be a black British Prime Minister.

And then there  were the democratic uprisings across North Africa and in the Arab world, and it seemed as if the people were able to organise themselves more effectively with social media tools, and that the tyrants’ days were numbered. Even here, in the UK, it was apparent that smart protestors could outwit the police and bypass the kettling, by sharing instant information based on tweets and maps. The future was here, the future was a flashmob.

But here’s the thing.

Flashmobs, as conceived by Larry Niven in his short fiction, are dystopian. And the tools that allow students and other citizens to organise protests can be used by everyone, including the nastiest people in the world.

And so – like a monster from the id come to life – an internet troll who starts flame wars and is always, inevitably, compared to Hitler has become the President of the United States. That style of online discourse – driven by anonymity, intolerance, and hate – is now just discourse. And your paradigm, my paradigm, about how politics would be changed by social media, is wrong.

I started to suspect I was wrong in 2010 when – in spite of the economic disaster visited upon the world by the bad actions of the banks – a hard-line neoliberal government was elected in the UK. I knew I was wrong in 2015 when – after five years of malicious cuts to public services and widely publicised suffering – they were re-elected with a proper majority.

And then Brexit, and now Trump.

All of the tweets that shared the suffering of disabled people over the bedroom tax, all of the publicity about cuts to the NHS, or housing benefit, or people being told they were fit for work when they were clearly not: useless. No matter how many times you retweet the fact that thousands of people are depending on food banks: it changes nothing.

It’s not just that you’re living in an echo chamber. It’s that everything you say and do online is a waste of time and energy – and it may even be counterproductive. The people who are doing this to their fellow human beings cannot be made to care. They are conscience free and actually glad to hear that unemployed people are having their benefits cut. They are secretly – and not so secretly – gleeful when the bodies of refugees wash up on beaches. They are full of hate, and they are not listening to your facts about the earth circling the sun. Twitter is just another medium designed to entertain and distract you, like a Soap opera, the news, or Game of Thrones.

4. While Rome burns

Is there an answer? I dunno. I’ve been on the edge of giving up the Twitter, not that I tweet much about politics or expect anything I say to even be seen by most people. (I’m muffled by the algorithms, not important enough to appear in people’s feeds.)

But given what a lot of hot air it all is, I’m suppressing the politics on my feed. Nothing anyone says is going to make me any more left wing than I already am. Nothing you tell me about how awful this government (or Trump) is behaving is going to make my opinion any lower than it already is. What do I do with all the upset and the outrage that these tweets create? I’m as powerless to do anything about Trump’s fascist advisors as I am to fix an earthquake in Italy. It’s just more news, and the ultimate effect is to make me feel helpless. So I’m unfollowing all the political twitterers (most of whom don’t follow me, so no impact there) and muting people who are just upset and angry at the moment and therefore venting a lot.

It takes me back to the last royal jubilee and my feeling that people tweeting about the fucking queen when they clearly hate the monarchy aren’t really helping themselves or the rest of us: giving headspace to your foe is to give them part of yourself.

The only thing that will ever have an impact on the powerful and the wealthy is for people to start smashing things up: not on the internet, but out on the streets. And if that happens there will be gas, batons, firehoses and all the other apparatuses of state oppression, of course there will. Because while they don’t give a shit about people, they do care about property. Which is why smashing it up is the only way to get their attention. Everything else is twittering while Rome burns.