This story from 2014 keeps coming to mind. I fear we’re much closer to this than we think.
This story from 2014 keeps coming to mind. I fear we’re much closer to this than we think.
From my Twitter thread on January 6:
That thing where you draft a dozen tweets and publish none of them.
Because you have no faith that anyone is able to have rational, reasoned discussion on this platform. Or anywhere else for that matter.
It’s easier for level-headed individuals to be silent. And that’s part of the problem. When only the angriest, most divisive voices speak, those are the only voices heard.
To clarify, this should in no way indicate that I’m in support of the events from today. The people who broke into the capital should be charged in a federal court — throw the book at them.
I’ve seen a lot of outlandish comments since publishing this thread — a lot of anger and erratic calls for extreme measures of various sorts. And I get it, it was a truly sad day for our country and heightened emotions are to be expected. But this should not be met with further escalation. Escalation is what brought us here.
We need to find a way to calm everyone down, to reduce the ever-widening gap between the two groups in this hyper-polarized society. To find a way for us all to coexist peacefully. If we don’t, things will only get worse. I don’t want that to happen, no one should.
The goal should be to de-escalate, not create further division. And there’s not enough people of influence acting in favor of the former.
John Gruber, on the difference between Facebook and algorithm-free anonymous message boards:
We instinctively think that 8kun is “worse” than Facebook because its users are free to post the worst content imaginable, and because they are terribly imaginative, do. It feels like 8kun must be “worse” because its content is worse — what is permitted, and what actually is posted. But Facebook is in fact far worse, because by its nature we, as a whole, can’t even see what “Facebook” is because everyone’s feed is unique. 8kun, at least, is a knowable product. You could print it out and say, “Here is what 8kun was on December 29, 2020.” How could you ever say what Facebook is at any given moment, let alone for a given day, let alone as an omnipresent daily presence in billions of people’s lives?
John’s gone off the rails a bit when it comes to some of his writing lately, including some portions of this piece, but I agree with this specific section.
8kun, 4chan, and sites of their ilk are more honest than Twitter and Facebook because they’re a known quantity. You know what you can expect when you go there. Their open and anonymous nature means that they’re filled with some pretty despicable content, but everyone’s words are on equal footing and there’s no algorithms influencing what you see. There’s no platform using their weight to condone or discredit any of the commentary. The speech is what it is.
But with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube there is an invisible hand influencing what you do and don’t see. And because of this, it’s impossible to truly know what people with opposing viewpoints actually think and what information you should or shouldn’t pay attention to.
Every person is influenced by their surroundings — their friends, family, the shows they watch, the publications they read, and so on. You as a person and the opinions you form about, just about everything, are a product of what you surround yourself with. And when you spend a fair amount of time scrolling through social networks where the invisible hand is deciding to some degree what you see, that invisible hand has a tremendous amount of influence on your world view.
But here’s where it gets even worse. One would assume that you could simply delete your Facebook account, stop visiting YouTube, and abstain from Twitter to prevent that influence from entering your life, but that’s not actually enough. When all of your friends and family use these services, they carry that influence with them and pass it onto you through their actions and communication. It’s practically inescapable.
I still hold out hope that the open web will prevail in the end. That these platforms will eventually fall out of favor as we collectively move toward technologies that let you own your content and control what you read without the influence of an invisible hand. It’s only a matter of time before the accessibility of the tools, level of frustration with existing platforms, and cost reaches a tipping point.
But if Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others wanted to, at the very least, delay the inevitable, they could start deemphasizing the algorithmic timelines and move to reverse chronological feeds based on posts from your friends/follows. But I don’t expect that to actually happen. The services are fueled by engagement. And anything that diminishes engagement is doomed before it even has a chance to see the light of day.
Patrick Collison, writing on Twitter:
These platforms have tough jobs, no doubt. But I’m worried that the embrace of “misinformation” as a newly illegitimate category may have costs that are considerably greater than what’s apparent at the outset.
It’s dangerous for platforms to categorize content as “misinformation”, label it as such, and/or suppress its reach. What if they get it wrong? What if a commonly held opinion is the exact opposite of the truth and the people that are trying to share the evidence are being suppressed?
Perhaps you trust the current team in charge of classification, but what happens when those members are filtered out and a new group with more nefarious motives take over?
How can you be sure that you’re getting accurate information when it’s being filtered by a company that’s primarily motivated by “engagement”?
Josh Ginter, on his latest attempt to limit Twitter usage:
I’ve felt very much indifferent to the whole thing — there’s no anxious fear-of-missing-out, nor do I feel like my life is noticeably happier or more jolly because I’ve cut the Twitter cruft right out.
Instead, Twitter has been relegated to Facebook status — something I check once a week. A quick scroll through, a noted angry tweet talking about how terrible something is, and a subsequent exiting of the app has been my general experience in the month since.
And I am more up to date on my RSS and read-later queues than ever before.
An excellent example of Digital Social Distancing.
A handful of weeks ago I started unfollowing people on Twitter. Whenever someone consistently shared anything that made me upset or angry, whether I agreed with their position or not, I unfollowed them.
Before I started unfollowing, I made extensive use of Tweetbot’s mute feature to remove this type of stuff from my timeline. Initially doing so by muting some keywords, but too often things would slip through the cracks. So I began muting individuals for a period of timing — sometimes for a week, and other times for a month. But what that resulted in was the anger and frustration returning to my timeline once the mute filter lapsed.
So I began unfollowing. And some of the people I unfollowed are genuine friends of mine. But I’ve sort-of reached a breaking point. I was becoming more and more miserable with each passing day and my Twitter timeline — a place that used to be filled with links to neat applications, interesting gadgets, and positive ideas — was filled with political stories that just made me unhappy.
I don’t want to lose those friendships, though, I simply want to take a break from their ability to inject those sorts day-wrecking tweets into my life. So for every person that I unfollowed, I added them to a private list on my Twitter account. That way, once things have settled down a bit — hopefully in about a month or so — I’ll be able to refollow and start conversing more regularly again.
But I propose a term that can be used for this:
Digital Social Distancing: the act of distancing yourself from others on social networks — by unfollowing, muting, etc. — with the goal of preventing anger from infecting your mental health.
Álvaro Serrano, on taking a break from social media:
It’s taken a lot of introspection, but I’ve realized that social media has been slowly poisoning my character in ways I don’t even fully understand. Being constantly exposed to an endless stream of negativity has made me more angry, and it has shortened my fuse significantly. My tolerance for disagreement is at an all-time low, and I find myself being defensive even when there’s no apparent reason for it. Perhaps more importantly, it’s been draining my capacity for joy and my ability to appreciate the little things in life. All of this has had an impact in my everyday life, my work and my relationships, and I’ve had enough.
It sounds like Álvaro is taking more drastic measures than I am, but I can’t fault him. The level of anger and frustration I experience from my timeline has increased exponentially over the past few years. It’s finally reached a breaking point.
I tried mitigating it with mute filters, but too much snuck through. So I’ve decided to unfollow some folks for a bit to see if that’s a more effective method. I’ve made note of everyone I’ve unfollowed and plan to refollow many of them at a later date.
Much of the tweets that leave me angry and upset are regarding news stories that I’ve already seen through other outlets — primarily RSS and Reddit. So it’s not as if I’m going to miss anything that I want to or should know about. But removing those from my timeline is a way to manage my exposure to topics that effect my mood.
And hopefully these steps will improve my mental health and turn Twitter into a service that I actually enjoy again.
I’m a bit behind on the Twitter hack story, but Michael Tsai does a great job collecting some of the more interesting takes from around the web.
I’m sure this isn’t a unique thought, but having a single, centralized system for publishing and communication is inherently insecure. It would be wise for high-profile individuals to buy a domain, install some publishing software, and start sharing their thoughts on something they completely control.
If one site gets compromised, it will only effect that single individual. And because they’ll own their own platform, they won’t be beholden to Twitter in regards to what security measures can be put in place.