social media

HomeTag: social media

One rule for me, one for thee.

One of Facebook’s main content-moderation hubs outside the U.S. is in Dublin, where, every day, moderators review hundreds of thousands of reports of potential rule violations from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. In December, 2015, several moderators in the Dublin office—including some on what was called the MENA team, for Middle East and North Africa—noticed that Trump’s post was not being taken down. “An American politician saying something shitty about Muslims was probably not the most shocking thing I saw that day,” a former Dublin employee who worked on content policy related to the Middle East told me. “Remember, this is a job that involves looking at beheadings and war crimes.” The MENA team, whose members spoke Arabic, Farsi, and several other languages, was not tasked with moderating American content; still, failing to reprimand Trump struck many of them as a mistake, and they expressed their objections to their supervisors. According to Facebook’s guidelines, moderators were to remove any “calls for exclusion or segregation.” An appeal to close the American border to Muslims clearly qualified.

The following day, members of the team and other concerned employees met in a glass-walled conference room. At least one policy executive joined, via video, from the U.S. “I think it was Joel Kaplan,” the former Dublin employee told me. “I can’t be sure. Frankly, I had trouble telling those white guys apart.” The former Dublin employee got the impression that “the attitude from the higher-ups was You emotional Muslims seem upset; let’s have this conversation where you feel heard, to calm you down. Which is hilarious, because a lot of us weren’t even Muslim. Besides, the objection was never, Hey, we’re from the Middle East and this hurts our feelings.” Rather, their message was “In our expert opinion, this post violates the policies. So what’s the deal?”

On consistency.

One of the things moderating my own communities over the years has taught me is that the more you pretend your rules are “neutral,” the more trouble you’re going to get yourself into in the long term.

A private community is not a state; it doesn’t have rule of law and the institutions needed to support it, like separation of powers between the body that makes laws versus the body that enforces them. It also has no accountability; general users can’t change Facebook’s TOS if they don’t like it, for example. And pretending that this sort of system is workable in private communities in general—particularly ones held or owned by individuals—is extreme galaxy brain STEM-kid-needed-to-take-a-humanities-class bullshit…

2021-01-04T10:27:10+11:0016th January, 2021|Tags: , |

Communities, not commodities.

In a federated software system, groups of users are built around small, neighborly instances of servers. These are usually small servers, sporting only modest resource requirements to support their correspondingly modest userbase. Crucially, these small servers speak to one another using standard protocols, allowing users of one instance to communicate seamlessly with users of other instances. You can build a culture and shared sense of identity on your instance, but also reach out and easily connect with other instances. […]

And, because there are hundreds or even thousands of instances, the users get the privilege of choosing an instance whose rules they like, and which federates with other instances they wish to talk to. This system also makes it hard for marketing and spam to get a foothold — it optimizes for a self-governing system of human beings talking to human beings, and not for corporations to push their products.

The costs of scaling up a federation is distributed manageably among these operators. Small instances, with their modest server requirements, are often cheap enough that a sysadmin can comfortably pay for the expenses out of pocket. If not, it’s usually quite easy to solicit donations from the users to keep things running. New operators appear all the time, and the federation scales up a little bit more.

 Drew DeVault on federation.

Big, centralized social media has been one of the worst things to come out of the early 21st century, on basically every measurable metric, from exacerbating social inequality to reducing individual happiness. There are alternatives and, more importantly, we need to stop automatically reaching for The Facebook Model every time someone gets mad and wants to make a new Facebook. Facebook is bad because it’s Facebook! Ditto Twitter, et al. You are not going to make a “better Faceboook” by re-inventing Facebook only colored purple this time, and yes fandom I am looking at you on this one, c’mon.

2020-12-04T08:28:39+11:0016th December, 2020|Tags: , , |

Happy birthday!

So according to my calendar, two years ago I impulse-bought a domain with the idea of running a fandom-focused Mastodon instance. was the result.

It has been a pretty wild ride,1 but I’ve met some amazing people, learned some valuable lessons, and had an absolute blast. Big shout-out to our user community and Patreon supporters, and here’s to many more years of tooting as we please.

  1. KPopocalypse, anyone? []
2020-12-03T09:15:20+11:003rd December, 2020|Tags: , , , |

Bad systems.

The reason Facebook’s engineers, managers and leadership don’t and will never take operational responsibility for their code – the reason they won’t ever put the people who write their software and the people subject to the worst consequences of it in the same State, much less the same building – is simple: if Facebook’s engineers and managers had to spend one week every quarter doing the moderation work they fob off on underpaid contractors, Facebook wouldn’t exist in a year. And everyone working there knows that.

If you work at Facebook, quit. You might have good intentions – the best intentions, just really great intentions, fantastic intentions – but you know who you are and what you’re complicit in. Your intentions are just the bedtime stories you’re telling your conscience so you can sleep at night. You have a choice. Do better.

Mike Hoye on complicity.

2020-11-18T09:31:40+11:0030th November, 2020|Tags: , , , |

The feed.

For any of you that may have ever perused a pornography website, you may have noticed the scenarios getting increasingly preposterous over the years. Multiple partners and medically improbable appendages are the base case. I am cognizant that the situations presented are not representative of ‘real life’. They are not representative of typical sexual relations. I’m sure the scenarios presented on porn sites really do happen sometimes, but they’re highly exaggerated outliers.

I’ve been a tech platform cassandra for my non media+tech friends for a few years now, but trying to explain how ad-based business models and algorithms combine to create a completely distorted understanding of reality has been difficult. The one thing that almost instantly breaks through is to equate the reality presented in a social feed to porn. Yes, the things you are presented with are real and do exist, but they are not representative of the mundane nature of everyday life. Again, highly exaggerated outliers.

In the same way none of us are going to pornhub and searching “suburban pudgy 40something couple missionary” (maybe you are and kudos to you) the algorithm does not promote the uninteresting and the unstimulating. If there is any censorship on these platforms, it’s of the tedious and routine elements of life.

To look at your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feed as representative of reality is to look at Pornhub and think “this is how most people have sex”.

Ranjan Roy on outliers.

Kind of an aside, but as someone who’s porn consumption is pretty much limited to fanfic, I would point out that “pudgy 40something couple missionary” is indeed very popular, and the only reason I’m removing the “suburban” part is that it’s difficult to apply when you’re dealing with, like. People on spaceships or imaginary military bases or fantasy medieval castles or whatever. There’s even an entire fic term for this genre; “established relationship”, particularly when coupled with other tags like “domestic fluff”. Possibly unsurprisingly, it seems—at least in the fandoms I’ve been reading—to’ve gotten a huge boot in popularity in 2020, along with all the other related “soft (◕ω◕✿)” tropes.

(Incidentally, this doesn’t even detract from Roy’s point, because one of the reasons I… don’t particularly gel with a lot of fic in this genre is even it tends to present weirdly unrealistic versions of its otherwise allegedly mundane scenarios. Ref. for e.g. the hugely popular “The Avengers cuddle and watch Disney movie marathons in Avengers Tower” genre which I just… I get the appeal of intellectually but as someone to whom this scenario is pretty much the antithesis of my id, I just cannot get over the fact that, like. Half these people are, like. Middle aged men, man. They just… are not. Doing that. Highly exaggerated outliers, indeed.)

2020-11-16T10:24:46+11:0025th November, 2020|Tags: , , |

Big and small.

[Jane] Jacobs’s perspective was that urban life happens at street level, and that access to a wide range of other people on the sidewalks of a city allow for an emergent culture that is unpredictable and messy, vital and communal. On the other hand, [Robert] Moses’s idea of progress involved sweeping away the mess and unpredictability, creating regimented highways and high-rises that would allow for urban life to be planned, and therefore improved. In many ways the contrast is also about scale — for Jacobs, the city should work at the scale and speed of the pedestrian, whereas Moses believed a modern city should reflect the scale and speed of the automobile.

Today, most urban planning theory has evolved to reflect Jacobs’s thinking, as Moses’s initiatives failed on many levels — far from ushering in the utopia he imagined, his housing projects became even worse than the slums he sought to remedy, and his highways destroyed neighborhoods and disenfranchised those without automobiles.

The current conversations about what our digital ecosystems should be and who they are for almost exactly mirrors these tensions.

Alexis Lloyd on space.

This is about platform-based social media versus indie/open web communities, though while we’re on the subject of comparing online to offline spaces, it’s also worth remembering Robert Moses was pretty demonstrably racist, and his urban planning reflected that.

2021-01-11T09:23:14+11:002nd November, 2020|Tags: , , |

The wrong problem.

Some of you might remember how, back when we used email accounts that were from our ISPs, or from our work, we used to get a lot of junk mail and spam. The majority used their own desktop clients, and in order to avoid the junk mail, we had to add plugins and additional software to our desktop clients. We had to keep upgrading our junk filters to fight the madness. The email providers and ISPs turned managing junk mail into our problem.

Eventually, Google came along with Gmail and started killing spam at the cloud level. Over a period of time, a whole network layer intelligence developed around spam and junk mail. It allowed the big email providers to come together and collectively hunt down the sources — and while not entirely successful, it was a good fight that has given us a semblance of control over our email inboxes. Almost! […]

What Twitter and Facebook are trying to do [with bot accounts and misinformation] reminds me of those early days of email. It’s the same old mistake: Adding labels is not the answer.

Om Malik on the fake internet.

Malik, of course, points out that the main reason “traditional” social networks are seemingly incapable of handling bots is that they’re financially incentivized not to; bots drive user numbers and engagement, i.e. the sole method by which social media sites make money, via the commoditization and sale of user information and behavior to third-parties.

2020-08-23T20:41:48+10:003rd September, 2020|Tags: , |

Melted peach.

Privately owned social media websites are not bound by the First Amendment, Ninth Circuit rules.

One to pull out the next time you have to argue with That Asshole, for whatever reason.

2020-07-31T08:52:36+10:0015th August, 2020|Tags: |


How to have a good time on Twitter:

  1. Delete Twitter.

Failing that, here’s a suggest blocklist of terms.

Relatedly: While I no longer actively post on Twitter, I do (confession) have a specific list of political commentators I use to keep up with The Great Horse Race. Realising that I could just straight-up block accounts that show me ads, in which case I’d never seen their ads again in my timeline, 100% improved the experience of indulging my vice…

2020-03-03T08:25:42+11:0027th June, 2020|Tags: , |
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