The owner of a prominent podcast network tweets:
I sit here on holiday in France: a trip made possible by technology. I made that trip with my girlfriend: we met 15 years ago, through technology. I’m currently writing on a laptop, able to share my thoughts at the touch of a button: something made possible through technology. And I’m here at all because I survived pneumonia last year: an infection which nearly killed me, and which I only got through because of, y’know, technology.
Technology is what we make it, and we can make it for good or evil. And of course, there needs to be far more focus on making it work for good right now, which is something Silicon Valley needs a sharp lesson on. But to say “technology is generally bad for us” avoids the very issues which we need to focus on, just as much as the tech bros who laud technology over everything. Both are distasteful.
All of which I thought was obvious, and I’d never bother writing about this usually. But I thought the owner of a podcast network famous for many, many tech-orientated shows saying the above was especially perverse, and worth pointing out. Where wan platitudes replace considered thought we all lose, whatever those platitudes are. And much like this mistake from Jeffrey Zeldman, people look up to Dan and his like for an example.
Still, if I was making shows about something I thought was bad for us, I’d run as far away from them as possible. Through some flowers, perhaps, holding the hand of someone I loved. But don’t trip up and smash your head on a rock. You might need some of that damn technology to fix that.
Last month, I complained about The Independent not knowing that porn is allowed on Twitter. Today, I regret to inform you that TechCrunch does not know that porn is allowed on Twitter.
Yes, TechCrunch. The site self-described as “a leading technology media property, dedicated to obsessively profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products, and breaking tech news”. Oh dear.
“I’ve been following the rise of social media for most of a decade and I was angry – but not surprised – when most social media services actively shut down erotic images a few years ago even as they simply accepted all other content without comment.”
Twitter has never shut down the posting of erotic images.
“It is obviously in Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook’s best interest to keep the kids from seeing boobs but where does that interest in public comfort stop?”
Twitter didn’t do this. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook all have very different attitudes towards “seeing boobs”.
“If we’re measuring from some esoteric vision of absolute freedom (except for boobs) then Twitter and Facebook shouldn’t be policed at all.”
TWITTER NOT ONLY ALLOWS BOOBS, BUT ALSO SPUNK-COVERED BOOBS.
If you’re going to write an article about what Twitter will and will not allow on its service, I suggest you read through their policy document. You might save yourself an awful lot of embarrassment.
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Have we all finished laughing yet at Ted Cruz’s Twitter account liking a porn video? I haven’t, you know. Just give me a second.
Right, I’m back. Now, I haven’t got anything useful to say on the actual incident. (Though I feel duty-bound to point out that I only find it funny because of hypocrisy, not because Sex Is Wrong. Go and check through the people I follow on Twitter and play spot-the-pornstar if you don’t believe me.) What I want to concentrate on is The Independent‘s reporting of the story.
We’ll skip past their description of “posted the pornography” – I don’t think likes count as posting, but whatever – and skip straight to the bit which is categorically wrong:
“Twitter prohibits pornography on its platform.”
Erm, no it bloody well does not. See Twitter’s media policy:
“…you may not feature graphic content (such as media containing pornography or excessive violence) in live video, or in your profile image or header image.”
So: no porn allowed in your profile image, header image, or live video streams. Fine. But there is absolutely no prohibition on posting pornographic images or normal videos.
The thing is, this isn’t some kind of obscure point. Twitter allowing porn is something which distinguishes it greatly from other services such as Instagram or Facebook. Surely a journalist tasked with writing a story about social media should know this? It’s pretty damn basic stuff.
It’s also important stuff. And it’s important because of the very next line in The Independent‘s article:
“Catherine Frazier, senior communications adviser to Mr Cruz, tweeted: ‘The offensive tweet posted on @tedcruz account earlier has been removed by staff and reported to Twitter.'”
Again, we’re going to have to ignore the clunky wording here – I don’t think a like counts as it being “posted”, but whatever. The crucial thing here is: Frazier stating the liked tweet was “reported to Twitter”. But the tweet wasn’t forbidden by Twitter’s rules of conduct. Catherine Frazier is bullshitting us all by pointing somewhere else and hoping we’ll all look over there instead.
But The Independent doesn’t mention any of that. Because the writer of The Independent‘s piece thinks that porn isn’t allowed on Twitter. And so Catherine Frazier isn’t held culpable for her nonsense.
As someone pointed out to me: The Independent‘s story was written by someone who couldn’t even work out that if Twitter prohibited porn, this whole story wouldn’t exist. A failure of research, a failure of logic, and a failure to bring people to account who should to be brought to account.
Excellent work, The Independent, well done.
I’ll admit it. Whenever I write an article I’m particularly proud of, I enjoy going on Twitter and yelling about it at the top of my voice. I don’t know whether that’s a particularly brilliant side of my personality, but it’s there. I’d be a bloody liar if I said I didn’t enjoy people telling me something I’ve written is good. TELL ME SOMETHING I’VE WRITTEN IS GOOD, DO IT.
And yet sometimes… that’s just not what I’m aiming for. Sometimes I write something I want to write, but I know most people who follow me on Twitter just aren’t going to be interested. Or sometimes I write mainly to work a few things out in my head, and if anyone else enjoys the piece, that’s a bonus. Or sometimes I just want to write something small – a piece which might be fun for a reader to come across randomly when browsing a site, but not something anyone would want to visit a site just to read.
When I first ran a blog – now stupidly deleted off the web, but partially available on The Wayback Machine – things were different. Social media was far less of a thing: people would see you had written a new piece through your RSS feed, or even – shock horror – just from visiting your site. Amazing. These days, very few people see any of my stuff unless I tweet about it, or somebody links to it on Facebook.
I can deal with that. But sometimes tweeting about something I’ve written feels right… and sometimes it just kinda feels wrong.
Some pieces don’t want to be tweeted about. Some pieces don’t want that attention foisted on them. Some things absolutely do not warrant me waving my arms around above it, yelling “Look at me!” Some pieces just want to exist… ready for the right people to stumble across them. That used to be so easy. Now, it isn’t. Social media is about yelling to get attention in a way that an RSS feed is not. These days, something has to be made a fuss about… or it disappears into the ether. And that’s a shame.
I will not be tweeting a link to this post.
The following is the most popular tweet I have ever written. (In fact, the only tweet I’ve ever made which has seriously gone viral in any meaningful way.)
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Despite howls of protest – at least among the hardcore users – Twitter is obsessed with trying to give us non-chronological timelines. And not just with its show “best” tweets first feature – at least that can be turned off. No, we’re talking about the dreaded ‘In Case You Missed It’, cluttering up our timelines something rotten. Which you can helpfully request to be shown less often… but can’t switch off entirely.
Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much if those tweets you missed were actually worth catching. But in my experience, they so rarely are. Still, as an extremely unscientific test, I asked people to send me examples of my own tweets which Twitter somehow thought they needed to see again. With thanks to Mike Scott, Paul Buckle, Richard Goodwin, and David Swallow, here’s what delights from my feed Twitter thought needed a second chance.
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Is there anything more boring than some tedious article pontificating about Twitter? I suspect not, but seeing as in the past I have written this piece here, that piece there, and indeed this other piece over there, I clearly haven’t got the memo yet.
With that in mind, I’ll make this short. Three weeks into my break from Twitter, how am I feeling?
- I am generally happier and less stressed. I thought maybe just being upset/irritated/angered by loads of stuff was simply how I’d feel reading things everywhere online these days. But no, it’s the misery being delivered in concentrated form in my Twitter timeline that I can’t deal with.
- On the other hand, I genuinely do feel like I’m missing out on fun stuff. Every time I poke my head in, I see something fun or a great article which I would otherwise have missed. I’m also missing important things I want to know about; a steady diet of misery was making me sad, but it’s not like I want to avoid certain topics entirely.
- Nearly every single day I have something short I really want to say, but now have nowhere to say it. I mean, maybe the world doesn’t need to hear about my criticisms of the later Nice Family sketches in Absolutely, but I’m sure there are at least a few people who would be interested.1
Maybe all the above seems massively obvious, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I am currently eliciting a few eye-rolls. But confirmation that it really was mainly Twitter which was causing me problems is a slight surprise. I thought maybe I’d just find other parts of the net to be just as frustrating these days. Nope. Twitter is both immensely useful and fun… and also an absolute pain in the arse.
The answer: a suitable client, and a hell of a lot of extensive muting, I think. There are people I really want to hear from on some topics… and need to avoid other things they post entirely for the sake of my own sanity. At least my little break provided me with confirmation of that, rather than just guessing.
A quick piece of housekeeping: if you follow me on Twitter, I’m currently taking a little leave of absence. So if you want to keep up with what’s going on with this site, make sure to follow @dirtyfeed instead. Unlike my main account which had all kinds of rambling nonsense, this new account1 will only have links to site updates, and nothing else. (For now, anyway.)
I’m certainly not leaving Twitter because it’s merely “quips and outrages”, and I expect I’ll be back properly again next year. For now though, I need some time where I’m not bombarded with things which are a bit much to deal with at the moment.
Brent Simmons, on leaving Twitter:
“Twitter was always a 51-49 thing for me — barely worth it. The company has not dealt with harassment.”
“It has treated its third-party developers shabbily.”
“And, at best, it was just quips and outrages — a diet of candy.”
This is where I start to struggle. Because my feed isn’t just quips and outrages. It contains both, of course, but it’s also full of a hell of a lot of other things.
It’s full of people suggesting I read articles I never would have seen otherwise. It’s full of television archeology… and television history as it happens. It’s full of films I have to see, right now, straight away. It’s full of news on important preservation projects. And luckily for me, it’s full of some very lovely people indeed.
Perhaps more importantly? Twitter has made me a better person. I used to be the kind of person who said they weren’t really a feminist, but was for “equality for everybody”. I look back on that and absolutely fucking cringe. Well-meaning, not evil, but fundamentally missing the entire point. I had absolutely no idea the absolute fucking shit most women go through on a daily basis. But from listening on Twitter… well, I know more than I used to, put it like that.
The point is: what your timeline consists of is under your control.1 If you want more than quips and outrages in your timeline, unfollow the people who provide them, and follow people who post stuff you find interesting instead. This is the fundamental basic rule of using Twitter. Most of what I linked to above would bore the arse off most people. But that’s OK. So much of human life is on Twitter. Go find some of it.
“And then it was part of the system that helped elect a fascist President. This tipped it over for me: it’s no longer worth my participation. The shitheads can have it.”
Of course, it is part of the system which helped elect a fascist President. It also – despite the horrific abuse problems – helps gives a voice to those who need it, and a way for people to listen. It’s a personal judgement call as to whether it’s worth it. I think you can justify either position. Some days I have my doubts as to whether I want to stay, for many different reasons, and I’m in pretty much the most privileged position it’s possible to have.
But to condemn Twitter for containing “just quips and outrages” merely indicates you’re terrible at using the service. Follow interesting people.
I enjoy watching other people have arguments on the internet. All the fun of the fight, without actually getting hurt yourself. It can be immense amounts of fun.
After watching one such fight on Twitter recently – which cumulated in a load of deleted tweets and a half-assed apology – the person involved tweeted the following immediately afterwards:
“Spend time with people you love. Interact with the world directly. Climb/lift/eat/enjoy something. Run. Read. Play. Cry. Smile.
Once you’ve finished vomiting, there are all kinds of issues you could take with that. It seems to be a plea for the reader to step aside from the internet and do other things instead… ignoring the fact that on the internet I still spend time with people I love, read, play, cry, and smile.
If we want to take things further, I’d point out that for some people – disabled, physically ill, or with mental health issues – being told to climb, lift, or run instead of spending time online with people who care about you is not only thoroughly ridiculous, but actively harmful.
And to get philosophical for a moment, the phrase “interact with the world directly” sets off alarm bells in my head. As though there isn’t something direct about how we can interact on social media. And I’ve walked through real places that I should have appreciated in a complete daze. Being there doesn’t always mean that you’re there. Some of the most engaged I’ve ever been with the world has been online.
But all that isn’t the worst thing about this tweet. The mistake here is that this person took their own bad behaviour… and projected it outwards. They knew they’d behaved ridiculously, and clearly thought that stepping away from the net for a while was best for them – which is a perfectly valid choice. But to make themselves feel better, they decided to turn what was best for them into some kind of motto for good living for everyone. A motto which certainly suited them at that particular moment… but is not a general guide to life.
To repeat: that tweet is not actually about helping others. It’s simply about making themselves feel better. It’s merely a useless platitude which is too simplistic to be truly useful to anyone.
My advice would be: when you’ve screwed up, sometimes you should wallow in your mistake. Not for long – doing that can get very unpleasant indeed. (At some point I need to stop beating myself up for mistakes I made twenty years ago, but that’s my own issue which I need to work on.) But sitting back for a moment and simply appreciating your error, rather than turning it into some kind of grand teachable moment for the world, is often the best option. Learn the lesson you need to learn, not paper over your cracked ego by giving out useless platitudes.
Of course, I’m not saying nobody can ever give advice for life. That would not only be utterly ludicrous, but considering this article, ridiculously hypocritical. I’m just saying you don’t need to leap straight to the teachable moment when you’ve fucked up… and that teachable moment needs to be carefully considered, not an instant reaction to your own personal circumstances.
Sometimes, when you’ve behaved like a bit of a dick, the only thing the world needs from you is to recognise that you’ve behaved like a bit of a dick.