Tag Archive | social media

Monday Update 2/8/2021: Infamy, Defamation… but also a bit of good news

Let’s play…

I put all my blogging time over the weekend into finishing my WandaVision episode review and a book review that will publish later in the week. There were a number of news stories that broke or had new developments after I composed this week’s Friday Five, So here are a few of those stories that I want to share and comment upon before next Friday.

First up, we have a number of news stories involving media, social and otherwise:

Rudy Giuliani lashes out at his employer, WABC, for adding a legal disclaimer to his radio show – Giuliani: This “gives you a sense of how far this free speech thing has gone and how they frighten everybody. I mean we’re in America, we’re not in East Germany. They’ve got to warn you about me?”. Giuliani has been pushing the lies about the election everywhere, including on his radio show. That includes unfounded (and in some details, impossible) claims about one voting machine manufacturer and an unrelated election software maker. The two companies have filed lawsuits against some of the networks that repeated those lies for weeks. So, the radio station decided to try to avoid being named in one of the lawsuits by putting a disclaimer on the show. Exactly what a lawyer that is worth his fees would advise, right? Rudy’s reaction is wrong in so many ways.

I mean, it’s been clear for a while now the Rudy is woefully ill-informed, has very poor reasoning skills, and doesn’t actually understand the law very well. I keep running into people online who point out that Rudy was a successful prosecutor years ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He could well have been one of the guys who was completely reliant upon his staff to write all the briefs, draft this questions for witnesses, and so forth. He may have been really good when he was younger at delivering the lines that had been scripted for him by his staff, without much understanding. But clearly he doesn’t have that kind of assistance now. It is also possible that he’s just suffering some sort of mental decline/neurological issue. In any case, the radio station that pays him to make his show is not censoring him if they put a legal disclaimer in front of it. They are still broadcasting his show in its entirety.

Free speech has always meant the government can’t stop us from speaking in advance, and that many types of speech are protected from legal repercussions. It has never mean that there will never be any consequences when we shoot off our mouths. Sometimes the consequence is that someone argues with us. Sometimes the consequence is that make fun of us. Sometimes the consequence is they block us on social media. And in the case that we knowingly lie about someone in a manner that harms their reputation, and so forth, the consequence can be getting sued.

If the statement is false, is published (or broadcast, et cetera), caused harm to the person—then it is defamation. It could be argued that the two corporations qualify as public figures, and if so, to prevail in court they would have to prove that the statements were made and/or published with malicious intent. And it looks like they have a good argument for that.

Meanwhile: Trump Lost Twitter and the Presidency. Guess Which One Hurts More? One of the stories that almost made it into another post asserted that the Grifter has been writing down insulting things he wants to say about certain election officials and public figures and trying to get other people who haven’t been banned from Twitter to post them for him. That’s just so pathetic. But that also tells us both how twitter aided and abetted the Grifter’s agenda, and why he didn’t just start walking into the press room the make statements once he was suspended: his twitter account was never about communication. It was always about trolling, bullying, and harassing. And even the most sycophantic news networks would try to phrase things to have at least the appearance of being news.

And somewhat related: Parler Wanted Donald Trump On Its Site. Trump’s Company Wanted A Stake – Documents seen by BuzzFeed News show that Parler offered Trump 40% of the company if he posted exclusively to the platform. The deal was never finalized. I’m not completely certain, but it seems to me offering the sitting president a large chunk of stock in exchange for him granting them exclusivity windows on each of his public statements would constitute a bribe, right?

Of course, the so-called Free Speech alternative to Twitter has other problems: Parler CEO Is Fired After ‘Constant Resistance’ Inside The Conservative-Friendly Site. And they still don’t have the service up. The managed to get a static page back on line, but so far that’s it.

Meanwhile, Twitter permanently suspends Gateway Pundit Homocon founder’s account. This guy has been pushing racist lies conspiracies from many years. A long overdue ban.

Speaking of long overdue things: Facebook to take down posts with false claims about vaccines.

And also: We Won’t Have Lou Dobbs To Kick Around Anymore. Dobbs was even more in the tank for the former Grifter in Chief that any other Fox host. A lot people are assuming the sudden cancelation of his show is because of the big lawsuits being filed about the false election stories. Dobbs is mentioned as a co-defendant and if the suit proceeds through discovery, he’s going to be deposed under oath. And Dobbs’ show was the highest rated of the Fox Business shows, so they didn’t cancel it because of bad ratings. There are other Fox hosts named in the lawsuits that haven’t been fired—at least not yet. On the other hand most of them have—after being forced by the network to read on air a statement disclaiming all those election stories—shift emphasis away from those election claims. Whereas Dobbs couldn’t seem to stop bringing them up. So maybe the network did fire him because of the lawsuit. It’s possible that Dobbs had become a problem in some other way that hasn’t been made public.

Dobbs, of course, isn’t taking it well: Lou Dobbs is lashing out at Fox on Twitter for dropping his show.

The important thing is that the lying racist homophobe is off the air. At least for a while.

Let’s shift gears to something more pleasant:

Dr. Fauci talks about his visits to gay bars & bathhouses (for scientific reasons) – He also contrasted the AIDS activists that once targeted him with COVID deniers, saying the former “ultimately were on the right side of history.”. I love the bit where he talked about going to meet about 100 angry AIDS activists by himself: “not for a second did I feel physically threatened to go down there, not even close. I mean, that’s not the nature of what the [AIDS] protest was.” The COVID deniers, on the other hand..

You can hear the whole interview on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast: Dr. Fauci On Vaccinations And Biden’s ‘Refreshing’ Approach To COVID-19.

Monday Update 11/23/2020: Taking their marbles and going home

“Parler is the adult version of getting mad at your parents so you move to a tent in the yard... then come back inside for snacks and t remind them you moved out.”

“Parler is the adult version of getting mad at your parents so you move to a tent in the yard… then come back inside for snacks and t remind them you moved out.”

I’m still trying to spend most of my free time working on NaNoWriMo, so here is another short post with lots of links.

Fact-Checked on Facebook and Twitter, Conservatives Switch Their Apps – Since the election, millions have migrated to alternative social media and media sites like Parler, Rumble and Newsmax.

Daring Fireball: Petulant Wingnuts Push Parler.

Daring Fireball: Parler’s Lead Investor Is Rebekah Mercer.

“The Mercers, if you’re not familiar with them, are the money behind Breitbart and other wingnut propaganda efforts.

The whole thing boils down to a “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality. You’re either on board with spreading any and every bit of wingnut propaganda (pre-election: Hunter Biden’s laptop was a major scandal being overlooked by legit new media who were in the bag for Biden; post-election: the election was rigged against Trump, but, somehow, not rigged against House, Senate, and state legislature Republicans) or you’re the enemy.”

Parler says it’s the last place for free speech online. But it’s restricting speech, too – The conservative alternative to Twitter wants to be a place for free speech for all. It turns out, rules still apply.

Here’s is a screenshot of a message from one of the owners of Parler explaining just what kind of fine people are signing up for the service:

And it isn’t just people who think a photo of poop is an effective argument. Related to the article above about the Mercers funding this, it was reported back in January that anyone they identified as not being in the alt-right tank, or anyone who challenged any alt-right arguments, were being banned: As Predicted: Parler Is Banning Users It Doesn’t Like.

None of this should surprise anyone who are had extended interactions with the rightwingers who scream about free speech. Because it is clear that their definition of free speech as always been that they get to say whatever they want, and they get to shout down anyone who disagrees with them. Contrariwise, they think censorship is when other people push back on things they say, or when private citizens or private companies choose not to amplifly their opinions or allow them to use our forums for their opinions.

And when I say “our” I am including me. I just love those comments that I sometimes get from people demanded that I approve their comment full of racist and/or homophobic and/or misogynist and/or anti-semitic BS in response to something I posted. It’s my blog, I moderate comments. If you try to leave a comment it tells you that you will be moderated. If you want to spew that hatred on your own blog, go ahead. On your own blog.

If you want to have a good faith, respectful discussion, I can do that. But I’m not going to publish your irrational, counterfactual hate. And that’s all Twitter or Facebook or the others are doing when the (very inconsistently) enforce their rules. The sad thing is that Twitter and Facebook and the like actually bendover backwards to let alt-right wingnuts post their hate and vitriol. But that’s a topic for another day.

Not All Like That, part 3, or, If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, I Ain’t Talking About You

“A man is known by the company he keeps.” —English ProverbSometimes insight into important parts of human behavior and social interaction comes from unexpected places. For instance, because of my father’s work, my childhood was spread over 10 elementary schools in four states: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska. It was mostly very small towns where everyone attended church and it often seemed as if football (whether the local school teams, regional college teams, or pro teams) was at least as important as religion. Because the professional football team that was geographically closest to most of the small towns was the Denver Broncos, a lot of the people were Broncos fans.

But not all.

In almost every one of those towns we lived in, we attended a Southern Baptist Church. Because of the origins of the denomination, at least half of every congregation seemed to be people who either had spent their childhood in the South or Former Confederate States, or their parents had been from there. Consequently, there were always some Dallas Cowboys fans.

Now, clearly, no one is obligated to be from the region a team is headquartered to be a fan, but there is at least a correlation.

I can’t recall a time in my childhood where I didn’t consider the Dallas Cowboys a horrible team. I know part of that is because they were one of the least favorite teams of both my dad and my grandpa. But as time went by, my dislike for the team grew stronger, such that I now feel an intense, visceral revulsion when the team is mentioned.

A few years back, a good friend who isn’t much into football (or sports in general), asked me why it was that I hated the Cowboys so much. Beyond saying that the management of the team (at least back when I was kid) was notorious for not taking care of the players, I didn’t have much. I mean, the guy who was general manager of the team for a long time once famously said to the leadership of the player’s union, “You have to understand: we’re ranchers, and you’re cattle. And we can always find more cattle.”

I’m sure he was hardly the only general manager or team owner across the league to feel that way, but he was willing to say it in a public forum, so take from that what you will.

As I was trying to think of some actual logical reasons, the truth finally hit me: over the years I had met (and often been classmates with or students of) a rather large number of Dallas Cowboys fans. And almost every single one of them that I could remember were the most arrogant unfeeling pricks that I had ever known.

Seriously. In a few posts on other subjects I mentioned a pastor (not of the church I was a member of) who was essentially a camp counsellor at Bible camp. He was fond of, if a boy did or said something he didn’t agree with, grabbing their hand and bending it back into a stress position—you know, a move the cops use to put a person much bigger than themselves down on their knees in agony? But he was a big (and I mean big) man, doing this to 11, 12, and 13-year-old boys in his care. And when one us (like me) actually had tears in our eyes because of the pain, he would snap, “Don’t be such a faggot!” Any time he stepped outside at the camp, he was wearing a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap.

That’s when I realized that my hatred for the Cowboys team was fueled entirely by the many, many, many unpleasant experiences I have had interacting with Cowboys fans. And just as a couple years ago Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said in answer to a question about his opponent, “I didn’t say he is racist, I said that racists believe he is a racist,” sometimes you can judge a person based on the character of people who are his/her biggest fans.

So when, in two different election cycles four years apart, I see among the fans of one specific candidate people who pile on with misogynist and homophobic attacks directed at anyone who expresses skepticism about their candidate, or has the temerity to favor a different candidate, I have to ask myself, “Why do all these hateful people like him so much?”

Weekend Update 11/2/2019: Seamy underbellies everywhere

(click to embiggen)

Normally, this would be another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five, or didn’t come to my attention until afterward, or that didn’t quite make the cut, or about a previously linked story which has new developments.

This week I’m starting with something else. A story I very emphatically did not bookmark last week after reading it, because I knew no matter how sparse my list of possible stories were by the end of the week, I didn’t want to link to it. It was yet another “Millenials Kill…” story, this one about so-called “power lunches” at swanky Manhattan eateries. I admit I only clicked on the headline when I saw because I thought that surely this was from the Onion, so I was expecting to read something funny.

No, it was dead serious. While the article did admit that part of the “problem” for these famous restaurants in downtown New York City aren’t raking in the weekday cash like they used to is because many corporations have moved large portions of their workforce to cheaper locations outside the city. But otherwise it was all about how office workers eat lunch at their desks instead of going out.

Now, to be clear, I classified as a Baby Boomer under the currently most prevalent definition of the generation. And this Baby Boomer eats lunch at his desk, it isn’t a Millenial thing. And the reason I do it is the same reason that hundreds of thousands of other office workers out there do it: our employers keep demanding more and more productivity from a smaller work force. That’s it. If I take the time to leave the office, walk to a nearby restaurant, order food, wait for my meal and eat it there before sauntering back to the office, that means I have to stay even later that I already do to meet my deadlines.

Also, like most Americans in the workforce for the past three decades, while I do occasionally get a raise, the raises don’t ever seem to get ahead of the increase in the cost of living. And because the length of time between raises keeps getting longer, well, I can make my own lunch a whole lot cheaper than it will cost me to got out at lunch.

The other issue is that these “traditional power lunches” were never attended by rank and file office workers. Older white male executives and younger ambitious white men who wanted to become executives were the vast majority of people at those three-martini lunches.

I’m just going to start ranting angrily if I keep going, so instead here are two stories (one from nearly a year ago that I’m pretty sure I included in one of the Friday Five posts then) which cover things quite well:

Millennials Didn’t Kill the Economy. The Economy Killed Millennials – The American system has thrown them into debt, depressed their wages, kept them from buying homes—and then blamed them for everything.

12 Industries Experts Say Millennials Are Killing — And Why They’re Wrong.


Usually I have a lot to say about the other stories I include in a Weekend Update, but I’m doing NaNoWriMo at the moment, so here are a few quickies:

Beto O’Rourke Packing Up His Air-Drumsticks And Your Diner’s Countertops And Going Home. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Beto as a Senate candidate. And clearly, after the mass shooting in his home district when he found his voice and demonstrated a lot of spine in the gun control topic, I became more fond of him in the Democratic debates. But I think the three-term Congressman could serve the country better as, say, a Senator from Texas (the climate is going to be more favorable to Blue candidates this next time against John Cornyn that it was last time against Ted Cruz). He’d probably make a decent cabinet secretary, and he’d look lovely standing beside President Warren or President Harris as veep. I’m just sayin’.

Conservative Supreme Court Justices Are Showing Their Biases On Twitter Now – If only the Supreme Court had ANY ETHICS RULES AT ALL. Since we can now prove that one of these guys committed purjury during his confirmation hearings, I really hope we can do something about him in the not too distant future.

Smugglers Easily Cut Through Trump’s New Border Wall. All you need is a $100 reciprocating saw. Like we said!

Inside The Seamy Underbelly Of Trump’s Twitter Feed – The New York Times has done a deep dive into Trump’s Twitter feed, examining how extremists and lunatics use his audience – and more importantly – his attention, to springboard their agendas of hate. I’m linking to this excerpt because the main story is behind a paywall.

Public Service Announcement: How to Delete Online Accounts You No Longer Need

Wireless communications as predicted 113 years ago! (click to embiggen)

Wireless communications as predicted 113 years ago! (click to embiggen)

People are sharing this article that Consumer Reports printed last week, and I think it’s worth sharing. The upside is that of the services they list, the link does indeed take you right to the Delete Account page. The downside is if you don’t remember your old login credentials you may not be able to delete the account. Especially if you no longer have access to the email account (if any) associated with the social media account.

Old accounts like this are a long term security risk for a few reasons. If you’re like millions of others, there has been a time when you were using the same (or substantially similar) passwords for lots of services, so a data breach at a service like that gives hackers database with thousands of people’s username and password pairs that will work at other sites. The bigger issue as that these accounts often have information that can be used to confirm your identity somewhere.

Those “recover your password” security questions, like first car or mother’s maiden name or name of first elementary school teacher. I had one friend once dismiss a big data breach someone by saying, “I don’t give true answers to those question. I have a set of fake answers that I use everywhere instead.” It took me explaining to him a few minutes before he realized that having the same answers to those questions everywhere meant that learning the fake answers from one site gave other people access to his accounts elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if the answers to the personal security questions are true, just whether they match the answers you’ve give before.

In theory, deleting old accounts should remove all of that kinds of information at the service in question. So, this article may be useful to more than a few of you:

How to Delete Online Accounts You No Longer Need — Having too many digital accounts raises your risk of data being misused or stolen. Here’s how to clean house.

Time to say bye-bye to LiveJournal

I had gotten a couple of error messages informing me that the LiveJournal cross-posting wasn’t working the last couple of days, but hadn’t had time to look into it. Now I suddenly know why some people were making cryptic comments about not agreeing to new terms of service. This isn’t quite how I expected that service to start killing off the non-Russian content when I predicted that was the next logical move after they removed all of the mirrored servers outside of Russia and disabled secure socket login. The new Terms of Service include a lot of weird and concerning stuff but the real deal- breaker is this:

[The user must] Mark Content estimated by Russian legislation as inappropriate for children (0-18) as “adult material” by using Service functions.

And because of their various anti-gay laws, that means any mention of, oh, say that fact that I’m gay must be marked as inappropriate for children. And that’s B.S. It’s B.S. when YouTube is doing it, it’s B.S. anywhere. There are also clauses that say the journal will be deleted if you don’t sign in for several months, and it seems to say if your journal doesn’t generate a minimum number of hits in a period of time it will also be deleted and so on. There’s some analysis of the situation here and here and here.

The real kicker is that the English translation of the Terms of Service, which you have to click “Agree” to in order to sign in right now, says that only the Russian version is valid. Well, I can’t read Russian, so I have no clue what I’m really agreeing to if I can’t rely on the English translation they’re offering, right? A user who can read Russian has kindly posted a translation of the applicable laws here, if you’re curious.

I’m still weighing whether to log in, clicking “Agree” then delete all the entries except one that says the journal is closed? I mean, I’d be abiding by the terms as quickly as I could if I did that, right?

I migrated my journal to Dreamwidth a long time ago and downloaded back-ups. I do most of my blogging on my FontFolly.Net blog with cross-posting elsewhere. I didn’t delete the LiveJournal earlier because I still have some hold-outs on the friends’ list there who as far as I can tell have not moved to Dreamwidth or followed any other blogs.

Regardless of what anyone still using LiveJournal decides to do with their journals there, I hope that you will at least make a note of the ways to find me on the net: follow my WordPress-based blog on FontFolly.Net (you don’t have to have a WordPress account to do so); follow me on Twitter at @FontFolly, follow the cross-posting from FontFolly.Net to my Dreamwidth journal. If you don’t mind the dozens of reblogs of weird and fannish stuff, you can even follow me on Tumblr (where FontFolly.Net also cross-posts).

Why Livejournal isn’t the best way to follow me

Lisa Simpson reading her friends' posts in an image from The Simpsons © Gracie Films, © Fox Television, et al

Lisa Simpson reading her friends’ posts in an image from The Simpsons © Gracie Films, © Fox Television, et al

I’m going to post this on my blog at own domain as a placeholder, though this is primarily aimed at people who still follow me on LiveJournal.

LiveJournal is almost certainly going away. By which I don’t mean that I’m deleting my LiveJournal. What I mean is that the owners of LiveJournal in Russia continue to make it clear that customers outside of Russia are operating on borrowed time. This week for a while they blacklisted Dreamwidth’s servers, meaning that crossposting, importing, and so-forth between the two services stopped working for a while. I exported and moved my entire LiveJournal archive to Dreamwidth years ago for reasons explained before. And then have subsequently purchased my own domains (FontFolly.Net) and maintain my journal there. I still cross-post to Dreamwidth from FontFolly.Net which triggers a cross-post to LiveJournal, but how long that works is entirely up to the owners of LiveJournal.

And if you still aren’t aware of why this is an issue: LiveJournal is laying off it’s U.S. staff, and has moved their servers to Russia, which means your data and so forth is no longer protected by U.S. laws. The owners have also removed HTTPS security on everything but the payment page which should concern you, because ack of secure socket technology means hackers, spies, governments, and yes, even your nosy next-door neighbor may be able to spy on you while you’re on LJ.

I’m not accusing the owners of anything nefarious, here, I just think it’s very clear that the majority of their business and interest is in Russia, and all journals originating outside Russia are not a priority. Service for those of us outside the U.S. is almost certainly going to continue to degrade. Our journals may simple vanish altogether.

A lot of people are archiving their LiveJournals so as not to lose those years of journaling (instructions to do so HERE). I did that some time ago when I imported everything to Dreamwidth. Dreamwidth uses a fork of the original open source LJ code, so if you’ve stuck with LiveJournal because it’s easy and familiar, you’ll find using Dreamwidth is a very similar experience. You’ll also find that a lot of people who used to be on LiveJournal are over there. Some still crossposting like I do, so you may not be aware that some people you’re following here have actually decamped.

I have two selfish reasons I’m posting about this again. The first is that I would hate to lose the readers who still follow me here (regularly clicking over to my journal at FontFolly.Net, and occasionally leaving comments here). The other is that for a few of you, the only way I get any news about what’s happening in your life is by checking your Livejournal on my Friends’ feed, and I would hate to lose contact with you that way.

Regardless of what anyone still using LiveJournal decides to do with their journals there, I hope that you will at least make a note of the ways to find me on the net: follow my WordPress-based blog on FontFolly.Net (you don’t have to have a WordPress account to do so); follow me on Twitter at @FontFolly, follow the cross-posting from FontFolly.Net to my Dreamwidth journal.

To repeat: I’m not doing this to tell anyone you must stop using LiveJournal (though the current lack of secure socket support is extremely worrying). I’m seriously considering disabling comments on LiveJournal because I have to log in to their now NOT-secure site to reply, and that just doesn’t seem wise.

Bubbles and misinformation (going way beyond confirmation bias)

A so-called American Patriot tries to explain to my Senator that repealing Obamacare has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.

A so-called American Patriot tries to explain to my Senator that repealing Obamacare has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.

A bunch of people are sharing a Facebook conversation from a guy cheering the repeal of Obamacare while a bunch of acquaintances and strangers try to explain to him that the Affordable Care Act, which is where the guy’s health insurance comes from, is Obamacare. And him not believing them. And many of those people sharing it are asking if this could possibly be real.

Let me answer that for you definitively: it is very real.

I have had the exact same argument with a number of my relatives for years. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that their ACA health care is Obamacare, and that if Obamacare is repealed they will lose their health insurance, they don’t believe me. It doesn’t matter how many articles I show them about it. It doesn’t matter if I get other people to explain it, they keep listening to the Obama-hate spewed by friends and acquaintances and Fox News and start talking about how Obamacare must be repealed because it’s a failure.

It’s like the whole birther thing. I don’t know how many times I have explained to my sister that 1) the Obamas aren’t muslim, they’re Methodist, 2) even if they were muslim, what part of religious freedom does she disagree with, 3) Obama was born in Hawaii, it has been settled and proven many times… she falls back into listening to the rantings of the Fox News echo chamber and feels the need to tell me again how much she is looking forward to the day that the Muslim pretender is out of the White House so real Americans can have their country back.

When people talk about how we all live in bubbles, what they’re usually referring to is either confirmation bias or the groupthink effect. We tend to hang out with people who agree with us on many things, we get our news from sources that tend to reinforce our beliefs, et cetera. Recently I linked to an article that showed even which shows we watch for entertainment have polarized: people who tend to vote conservative watch different comedies and dramas and such than people who tend to vote liberal. So our pop culture, presumably, subtly reinforces those worldviews. The notion is that these folks who are voting against their own self-interest are doing so because they never hear information that challenges or contradicts their beliefs, hence the term “low information voter.”

But it isn’t a lack of information.

Some of it is the backfire effect. If your deeply held beliefs are challenged with facts, you hold the beliefs tighter. You rationalize reasons to dismiss the new information. You talk about bias or lies. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information is given to you unsought, when it challenges you.

There’s a related phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “rumors are sticky” or a subset of the availability cascade effect. In order to debunk a misconception, you have to repeat the misconception as you explain whats wrong with it, right? The repetition of the falsehood actually reinforces it in the mind of the person you’re trying to enlighten. They heard the rumor from several sources, including you, the person who usually disagrees with those sources. Never mind that what you said was, “vaccines don’t cause autism, and here’s the proof” the part that sticks is the part that aligns with information the person already had “vaccines… cause autism.”

Then there’s something some people call the just world hypothesis, the belief that this world is fundamentally just (because, for instance, god is in control) and therefore anything which appears to be unjust that happens to someone must have been deserved. That same notion has a lot of corollary effects, particularly if the religious beliefs underlying the just world hypothesis are of a fundamentalist nature. Because then everything that happens in the real world is seen as proxies for the “true battle” between good and evil happening behind the scenes. And once you’ve gone down that rabbit hole things get really weird. To come back to our original question about Obamacare: they’ve been told again and again that Obama is a tool of the dark forces, so anything associated with him must be evil. Obamacare is obviously one of these bad things, otherwise it wouldn’t have his name on it, right? They don’t have to know what it actually is, so long as they know it’s his.

And that’s how they get people who depend on the Affordable Care Act to vote for and cheer for its repeal.

Living in a bubble–more thoughts on social media

“Broadcasting: The fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.”  (Vintage Social Media Twitter parody © 2010 6B Studio

“Broadcasting: The fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.” (Vintage Social Media Twitter parody © 2010 6B Studio)

Lots of people have been talking about bubbles, lately. People who lean left politically are accused of living in an elitest bubble out of touch with hardworking ordinary folks. People who lean the other way are accused to living in a faux news echo chamber devoid of information about the real world. I’m not going to argue that both of those perceptions are equally incorrect. I’m sorry, I can prove statistically that one side ignores more facts than the other. But it is true that everyone has blind spots, and everyone is susceptible to confirmation bias.

But there is a difference between an unconscious blindspot and willful ignorance.

For example, there’s a complaint I’ve heard a million times from many people, most recently it is usually directed at social media, but I remember as a kid hearing it directed at newspapers: “I already know the world is full of bad things, I don’t need to read/view/listen to {fill-in-the-blank} to be reminded.” Another popular variant is, “How can you look at {fill-in-the-blank}? It’s just a cesspool of hate and drama!”

So, for instance, not too long ago I was commenting about a really wonderful comic series that I had discovered thanks to Tumblr, and several acquaintences felt compelled to explain why I shouldn’t look at Tumblr because everything they saw there was inter-personal drama and hate and outrage. And they didn’t seem to understand when I said, “You must be following the wrong blogs, because I never see that?”

Okay, so never is a slight exaggeration. There have been a couple of blogs that I followed because the person running it posted several cool things that I really liked, and then later the blog devolved into the person posting angry rants about people I’d never heard of, but you know what happened next? I unfollowed that blog. Similarly on a lot of other internet services. I make liberal use of blocking, muting, and unfollowing functions.

On social media that is sometimes a tricky thing. But social interaction always has the potential for awkwardness. We meet someone in a particular setting, have a wonderful time chatting about something we’re both enthusiastic about, and everything seems wonderful. Then, after we’ve known them for awhile, sometimes an incident happens and we discover this person we thought was the life of the party is actually just another version of that awkward uncle that everyone tries to avoid getting stuck sitting next to at family gatherings because he’ll spout off his embarrassing racist or sexist or religious opinions, right? And just as you can’t simply tell Uncle Blowhard he’s not welcome at the next Christmas Eve get-together without upsetting a bunch of other family members, you can’t always block a social media contact without experiencing a little blowback. So sometimes there is a trade-off to be considered.

That’s not the only kind of trade-off you have to consider. While I am a firm believer in making choices about how you spend your time, I’ve always been frankly baffled at people who make the blanket decision to never pay any attention to the news. Sure, no one wants to hear about bad things all the time… but blocking all news altogether is like putting on a blindfold before you drive somewhere because you don’t want to see any of the bad drivers. You’re exponentially increasing your odds of having not just an unpleasant experience, but a disasterous one!

And before you say my analogy is flawed, remember: humans are social animals. Working together and taking care of each other is a survival trait of our species. Unless you’re living as a hermit in some distant part of the wilderness and not using any resources ever produced by another person, and never interacting with another person, you’re taking part in society. You’re on the road, behind the wheel.

Does this mean that I think you are an irresponsible member of society unless you pay attention to as much news as I do? No. A responsible driver doesn’t just watch the road, they also take pains to eliminate distractions. Just as I unfollow blogs that I don’t find valuable, I try to exercise some discretion in what news and politics and science and other types of information I do pay attention to. And I think other people should do that as well.

But I do know that it’s unwise to blindly ignore entire swaths of the world. And it’s a mistake to pretend that ignorance is a virtue.

More social media thoughts

© 2010 6B Studio

Vintage Social Media. © 2010 6B Studio

One of the things I listen to semi-regularly is The Blabbermouth podcast sponsored by Seattle’s own snarky weekly alternative paper, The Stranger. In my most recent Friday Links post I included an article from the Stranger about former Stranger contributor Lindy West’s decision to leave Twitter, as well as linking to Lindy’s article written for the Guardian explaining why she had decided to leave Twitter. Lindy’s writings for various publications have appeared in many editions of my Friday Links over the last few years. She’s funny and insightful and writes about topics I like.

She was on the Blabbermouth podcast after writing about her decision to leave Twitter, and one of her comments there hit on a topic I’ve found myself thinking about a lot. “One of the things that makes Twitter so useful is because it’s the place everyone is.” I made a similar observation about LiveJournal last week. It was so useful for many years because it was the place everyone was. To different degrees and Facebook and Twitter have supplanted that particular aspect, but they’ve done so in very different ways.

Facebook has become, for many of us, a place we’re obligated to be on if we want to have any hope of getting news from family members. Facebook in particular has some serious drawbacks in this regard. A few years ago I missed my niece’s wedding because rather than send out invitations of any sort, my niece mentioned the date on Facebook. And she expected everyone who she wanted to be there to see it and attend. When I tried to explain later that Facebook only shows some of the things you post to some of your friends, she didn’t understand, because other people saw it and showed up. One of the professional writers I follow on Twitter recently pointed out that her official Facebook author page has 8000+ followers, and those followers have lately been sending messages asking when a particular new book is coming out. But the announcement answering the question which she put up on that page was only shown, according to Facebook’s own states, to 136 of those 8000 followers. If she wants more of them to see it, she needs to pay Facebook to promote the announcement. And maybe for something you’re trying to sell that’s a not unreasonable expectation, but the same sort of distribution algorithms are applied to people’s announcements of deaths in the family, weddings, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And both Twitter and Facebook have issues of mixing all of our communities together, so we wind up offending each other whether intentionally or not with various political and religious comments.

Not that this is something new because of social media. We have a tendency to blame the new technology for dysfunctional behavior that are simply manifestations of human nature. For instance, two times recently things have come up that reminded me of a particular instance of dysfunctional family communication:

Back in the late 80s, when I was still mostly closeted as a queer man, I was informed by at least three relatives (one of my grandmothers, an aunt, and my mom) that one of my cousins (specifically, a first-cousin-once-removed1) who I hadn’t seen in years (but we had spent a lot of time together as kids) had died. Which was a bit upsetting on its own, more so because we were the same age, so he was in his late 20s. But the other upsetting bit was that both mom and my grandma told me, in very hushed tones, that they had heard it was from complications of AIDS, which of course we weren’t supposed to mention to anyone outside the family2. My aunt went much further, telling the lurid tale of how the cousin had been incommunicado and secretive for a few years, and then how his mother (who lived in northern California) had gotten a call from a hospital in San Francisco, and she had barely made it to his death bed before he died, and isn’t that a horrible scandal?

As if I needed more reason to be worried about how my family might take the news that I thought I might be gay, right?

Over the years, any time I happened to mention a story from my childhood involving that particular cousin, various family members would either say what a tragedy it was he had died so young, or change the subject, or in at least one case act as if they didn’t remember his existence4.

Then a few years ago this same aunt posted an old photo on Facebook of a whole bunch of us cousins from a big family get-together that happened in the 70s, and she tagged all of us that were in it with our Facebook accounts. Including D–. To say I was confused is an understatement. So I sent a friend request to this person with the same name as my supposedly dead cousin. And he accepted and the next thing I know I’m looking at photos of him and his husband, along with recent pictures of a holiday get-together with some other members of that branch of the family, including a few who had talked to me personally about his tragic death years ago.

What actually happened? (You’ve probably already guessed.) He came out of the closet back when we were both in our 20s. His immediate family did not react well, at all. At least one of his parents begged him to essentially go back into the closet. When he refused, a decision was made to disown him and treat it as if he had died, and some of the family members went along. Others thought he really had died (and since many of us lived far away and hadn’t been in touch for a while, it was easy for us to believe). He lived his life maintaining contact with those few immediate family members who were supportive.

As time went on and attitudes shifted, less effort was made to maintain the ruse. Until now another form of denial has set in, where almost none of the family members (who are still alive, anyway) who went along with the original ruse wants to even admit it happened.

I came out of the closet in my early 30s, and so far as I know no one on this side of the family told people I had died5. But there was a period of about six years or so when I was estranged from most of my closer family members. The main parallel to my cousin’s situation is that a narrative has been adopted with a bunch of the family that I’m the one who cut everyone off for reasons none of them could fathom, and it was only after my first husband died and I became involved with Michael—who many of them now adore6—that I came back.

Cousin D– and I have had some interesting conversations since all this. It’s been particularly weird this last year during all the election hype where some family members have been saying and sharing extremely homophobic things, while expressing shock and dismay that we don’t feel loved or safe around them because of it8.

All of which is to say: it isn’t just social media algorithms that hide information. It isn’t social media that makes humans react irrationally to news or opinions or decisions we don’t agree with. It isn’t social media that makes some people gaslight others by insisting something we experienced together never happened, or didn’t happen the way we remember it. It isn’t merely because of social media that we put ourselves in bubbles where we never see information that challenges our assumptions. Social media and modern communication in general can make some of that happen faster and have further reach. But our tools have these sorts of functions (hiding information, proliferating misinformation, et cetera) because those are things that we humans sometime chose to do to ourselves and to each other.

And when I say “we” I am very intentionally including myself. There’s more to say on this topic, but I think I’ll try to tackle that in a separate post.


Footnotes:

1. I was lucky enough to have all four of my great-grandmothers live until I was at least in my teens (one actually lived until I was in my 30s!). And all of my great-grandparents had rather large families that tended to try to keep in communication. So I knew most of the siblings of all of my grandparents, as well as their kids and their grandchildren. Some family gatherings when I was a child were huge!

2. The reasoning being that because dying of AIDS meant that he was probably queer, and having a queer family member was something to be deeply ashamed of. There was also an uncle who died of complication of AIDS in this same time period, but anytime that Uncle B– was mentioned after that, someone was quick to point out that he had contracted the virus through intravenous drug use3, which was also a shame and a tragedy, but clearly, since we were allowed to talk about Uncle B–‘s death and the drug use, but not this cousin, not nearly as shameful.

3. At least that’s the family story. Uncle B– served time in prison more than once in his tragically short life, and he was a much smaller than average man, and if you know anything about prison rape culture, you know there was more than one probable vector for B–‘s infection.

4. There was one particularly weird moment about 15 years back when we were going through great-grandma’s photo albums that had been in storage for a long time. We happened upon a picture of the cousin and someone asked who that was, and I said, “so-and-so’s youngest son, D–” and my aunt listed off the names of all of the cousin’s siblings and said, “That’s the only kids they had! They never had a son named D–.”

5. On that side of the family. On my dad’s side of the family people weren’t allowed to mention my name within earshot of several family members. I had this confirmed by multiple sources, but mostly just ignored it for a variety of reasons, not the least being that I was already persona non grata long before I came out for the incredible betrayal of telling the judge overseeing my parents’ divorce that I didn’t want to live with my physically abusive father.

6. I honestly don’t understand why their brains don’t explode from the cognitive dissonance. They do genuinely seem to love my husband, and claim to love me, but they actively pray that we’ll somehow magically be cured of our queerness and leave each other to marry nice christian girls. They also mention us by name as proof they aren’t homophobic while explaining how we’re going going to burn in hell for eternity and deserve any hate crimes that might befall us7

7. That was literally the last post I saw on Facebook from one relative before I blocked her in November—not even being metaphorical.

8. I understand the concept that we can disagree about things and still be friends. But that depends entirely on the nature of the disagreement. When the disagreement is whether I get equal protection under the law, or whether I’m allowed to get health care or any other service, or whether it is okay for me to be the victim of hate crimes, or even whether I have a right to live9, then no, you aren’t my friend.

9. When you post or endorse statements that homosexuals are deserving of death, or if you claim that merely allowing us to live openly and enjoy some legal rights is going to cause god to destroy the nation, you are giving encouragement to gay-bashers to kill us. And then when juries refuse to convict our murderers (which happens a lot) on various flimsy grounds, that just proves my point.

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