Troll Taxonomies

“The internet doesn’t turn people into assholes so much as it acts as a massive megaphone for existing ones, according to work by researchers at Aarhus University.

-Tom McCay, “Online Trolls Actually Just Assholes All the Time, Study Finds.” Gizmodo. August 27, 2021.

I think there is a troll gravity online, where the megaphones of a few draw people into their troll orbit. And like gravity, there is a difference between super massive jackholes of trolldom, where galaxies of individuals revolve around them. On the other end, there are the asteroids and comets of trolldom, not there all the time, but occasionally, they fly in and are a spectacle. If you are going to have this kind of discussion, you probably need to develop a taxonomy of trolldom.

Also, the reason people behave differently online is because there is not a threat of physical violence. A grief troll online can just ask questions that offline would likely end in a beating.

The Social Obscene

“In certain young people today…I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

I find it obscene.”

-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “IT IS OBSCENE: A TRUE REFLECTION IN THREE PARTS.” chimamanda.com. June 15, 2021.

I found this discussion of the “controversy” around this essay pretty interesting. Why did she choose to write this? It seems like setting yourself up for a lot of bother. But, I think the central idea that the incentives of social media tends to do something to people’s perspective – removing nuance of thinking, increasing self-centeredness, etc. is valid. How do you mitigate this problem, for yourself and in relationship with others using these platforms?

Silence & Wanting to Be Heard

“Is it necessary that every single person on this planet expresses every single opinion that they have on every single thing that occurs all at the same time?” he asks. “Can anyone, any single one, can anyone shut the fuck up about anything, any single thing? Can any single person shut the fuck up about any single thing for an hour? Is that possible?”

Burnham seems aware of the irony of him not shutting up about anything for an hour and a half, but maybe that’s the point: It’s an impossible request. It’s human nature to want to be heard, and the internet has amplified our voices, sometimes for the better, but often for the worse. Now, it’s up to us to recognize when the world has heard enough. Burnham knows it better than anyone: No one really wants to shut the fuck up.

-Scaachi Koul, “Why Bo Burnham, Jenna Marbles, And Shane Dawson All Logged Off.Buzzfeed. June 16, 2021.

I had never heard of Bo Burnham, Jenna Marbles or Shane Dawson prior to reading this piece of criticism. I read the quote above and it resonated. I guess, for me, I have found a happy medium for this blog in just trying to find one thing interesting a day to point to or talk about. But, there are days, and some weeks, when even that feels like a lot, where I think to myself, perhaps it would be better to post nothing at all and be silent.

But, on the other hand, I also enjoy the discipline. I’ve had at least one idea worth capturing or came across some snippet that is worth preserving as I’ve gone about my life today, haven’t I? Of course, it depends on the time scale too doesn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, nothing we do will be preserved.

As a reference point, think about all the time that Medieval monks spent copying manuscripts. This was certainly a valuable service that preserved writing from antiquity, but where is their work now? If it still exists, it is stored away in a special library or rare books collection, rarely seen by anyone. Even for something digital and assuming infinite storage capacity, what is the value of preservation anything we might say. Who is going to read it?

Or, consider how many people actually spend time reading the works of Shakespeare outside the classroom. Among a small subset of people, I’m sure he is well read. But, for most? He’s a name only. Pick a major piece of literature from antiquity to the present, and it is the same. However, maybe it is like the Japanese idea of tsundoku, of buying books and never reading them. Perhaps the value is simply that they are there as potential, whether they are ever read is besides the point.

But, perhaps, we are just engaged in wishful thinking on that score. Perhaps, the Rule of St. Benedict was right, and it is best to keep in silence.

The Misinformation Virus

“Online media has given voice to previously marginalised groups, including peddlers of untruth, and has supercharged the tools of deception at their disposal. The transmission of falsehoods now spans a viral cycle in which AI, professional trolls and our own content-sharing activities help to proliferate and amplify misleading claims. These new developments have come on the heels of rising inequality, falling civic engagement and fraying social cohesion – trends that render us more susceptible to demagoguery. Just as alarming, a growing body of research over the past decade is casting doubt on our ability – even our willingness – to resist misinformation in the face of corrective evidence…

…To successfully debunk a myth, the authors conclude, it helps to provide an alternative causal explanation to fill the mental gap that retracting the myth could leave. Counterarguments work too, as they point out the inconsistencies contained in the myth, allowing people to resolve the clash between the true and the false statement. Another strategy is to evoke suspicion about the source of the misinformation. For example, you might be more critical of government officials who reject human-caused global warming if you suspect vested business interests behind the denialist claims…

…[When personal identity and values are involved, people tend to cherry-pick their data towards pre-determined conclusions, which] hints at a vexing conclusion: that the most knowledgeable among us can be more, not less, susceptible to misinformation if it feeds into cherished beliefs and identities…

…Since each individual has only negligible impact on collective decisions, it’s sensible to focus on optimising one’s social ties instead. Belonging to a community is, after all, a vital source of self-worth, not to mention health, even survival. Socially rejected or isolated people face heightened risks of many diseases as well as early death. Seen from this perspective, then, the impulse to fit our beliefs and behaviours to those of our social groups, even when they clash with our own, is, Kahan argues, ‘exceedingly rational’. Ironically, however, rational individual choices can have irrational collective consequences. As tribal attachments prevail, emotions trump evidence, and the ensuing disagreement chokes off action on important social issues.

-Elitsa Dermendzhiyska. “The misinformation virus.” Aeon. April 16, 2021.

This article hits at many of the main points of why there are so many bad ideas floating around: a funky media environment, our need to make sense of the world, personal values that conflict with the demands of reality, in-group/out-group dynamics, etc. Thinking about it as a pathogen is probably a useful mental model. Social media is like the Plague and we are in the early 1350s in its transition. Humanity will likely need a few centuries to develop cultural antibodies for its effects, and while there may be policy interventions that might have some effect in the short term, it’s still going to take a long while for us to come to grips with the social disruption of this new kind of communication.

If you think about it, this is true of every type of new communication format, even in just the last two centuries. Telegrams, radio, and television all changed the landscapes of societies, and they are still doing it. Part of what makes the Internet so powerful is that it creates an abstracted layer for these forms of communication that can also be tailored to focused audiences, mass media transformed into media for one, which is much more engaging. It’s going to take awhile to come to grips with it.

Capitol Crimes

“The only good thing I can think of about the tsunami of stupid that crashed into Capitol Hill on Tuesday is that so many of those idiots posed for pictures or appeared in videos that show them committing one or more crimes. In most cases, they are easily identifiable in these images, often because they posted the evidence against them to their personal social media accounts. As we have discussed many times before, that is a very stupid thing to do. So it isn’t too surprising that it happened so often the other day.

[Precedes to cite some of the applicable statutes] …there’s also the federal Anti-Riot Act (18 U.S.C. § 2101, up to five years), and I feel pretty confident in saying that the rioters violated that one. See 18 U.S.C. § 2102 (defining “riot”). Under federal law, it only takes three people to constitute a riot (in California and many other states, it only takes two), so that isn’t an issue.

And those are just some of the crimes they committed simply by being part of the riot.” [Then, lists examples.]

-Kevin Underhill, “Dear Idiots: Please Keep Posting Pictures of You Committing Federal Crimes.” LoweringTheBar.net. January 8, 2021

Jumbo

“Jumbo (Android, iOS) isn’t a social media app replacement as such, but it can help you lock down the social networks that you’re already signed up for (and where your friends will already be). At the moment it comprehensively covers Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and though some of its features require a subscription, you do get a lot for free.

One of the best features that Jumbo brings to the table is auto-deleting your posts after a certain amount of time has elapsed, so you’re never leaving behind a long digital trail. It’ll also advise you on ways in which you can limit your exposure and increase your privacy on the apps you’ve got connected (by turning off face recognition or photo tags, for instance).

—David Nield, “6 Privacy-Focused Alternatives to the Apps You Use Every Day.” Wired. December 13, 2020.

Message Board Rot

“This ties into something I’m extremely interested in that I like to call “message board rot”. I like looking for signs that social networks are dying or atrophying. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found it fascinating that one day Myspace was the biggest thing in my social life and then one day it wasn’t. And while working over the years as a community moderator and then as a reporter who covers online communities, I’ve tried to put together a criteria for how you know if a social network is on its last legs. I’m not sure I’ve finished building it out, but I’ll share with you what I have so far:

* Power users aggressively dominate discussion on the site.

* Public harassment and inter-community elitism has created a culture of indirect communication, where users no longer directly say what they’re actually trying to say.

* There is no longer any internal cultural memory.

* Users have become so obsessed with the minutiae of the community that the site now functions as a meta discussion of itself instead of whatever its intended purpose was.

* Poor or lax moderation has created a sense that nothing on the site is genuine — fake users, fake trending topics, fake threads, fake engagement.

* Users, reacting to the inauthentic behavior, public harassment, and elitism that occurs due to bad moderation, create their own self-policed communities within the larger community, which typically only exacerbates these problems and creates warring factions within the site.

-Ryan Broderick, “tfw a crustacean.” Garbage Day. December 2, 2020.

Social Chronophage

“The social industry doesn’t just eat our time with endless stimulus and algorithmic scrolling; it eats our time by creating and promoting people who exist only to be explained to, people to whom the world has been created anew every morning, people for whom every settled sociological, scientific, and political argument of modernity must be rehashed, rewritten, and re-accounted, this time with their participation.

These people, with their just-asking questions and vapid open letters, are dullards and bores, pettifoggers and casuists, cowards and dissemblers, time-wasters of the worst sort…Time is not infinite. None of us can afford to spend what is left of it dallying with the stupid and bland.”

—Max Read, “Going Postal.” Book Forum. Sept/Oct/Nov 2020.

Review of Richard Seymour’s The Twittering Machine, which is worth reading in its own right.

h/t Velcro City Tourist Board.