October 14, 2016

Twitter’s ailing business model

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I’ve been on Twitter for several years, and I have to admit that along with John Brandon, I’m finding it less useful as time goes by:

What does it mean when a major tech company starts slipping like a seal on wet rocks? Rumors about an acquisition start to rumble then quiet down, the CEO seems beleaguered and frustrated, there’s more news about Internet trolls beating up on people than the firm adding any new features, and an identity crisis becomes so pronounced it obfuscates any real purpose. Who you once were becomes less important; the big news is that you’ve lost all momentum. That’s essentially the story of Twitter, a company that seems perpetually stuck in the past. They created micro messaging and now they can’t seem to do anything else.

I use Twitter all day, but the truth is — tweets are becoming like white noise on a lost FM radio station. A colleague mentioned how the service is mostly used by celebrities, journalists and Donald Trump. That’s a vast oversimplification, but of 20 or 30 friends, not a single one bothers with the service anymore. That means my friends not only removed their account long ago, they don’t browse the feeds anymore and don’t care what anyone posts. Guess what? They’re too busy using Facebook, which provides all of the social networking they will ever need. Twitter has lost the mass market.

The phrase “pedaling backwards” comes to mind. Also, the one about “reliving former glories”. Oh, and you might as well throw in “retracing your steps” to the mix.

My primary use of Twitter these days is my various lists: my Vikings list, my Military list, and my Libertarian list are the ones I most frequently look at. My main Twitter feed? Too busy and too unfocussed to be worth more than a few minutes of scrolling. That, plus the “shadowbanning” of certain controversial users (so they’re not actually banned, but their tweets aren’t being propagated to their followers, who have to actually visit the poster’s feed to see the tweets), help to make the service less than it used to be.

H/T to Andrew Torba on Gab.ai for the link.

October 5, 2016

“You have to die to eventually get out of the taxes […] few people are willing to take that step”

Filed under: Business, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle addresses the social media outrage at revelations from Il Donalduce‘s partial tax returns leaked to the media:

The big news this weekend was the leak of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times. The returns showed that in that year, Trump claimed $916 million worth of business losses; those losses, said the Times, “could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.”

Liberal social media dissolved into an ecstatic puddle; conservative social media, at least the part that is supporting Trump, angrily denounced the Times for publishing this tripe.

A few sensible people tried to explain that while the story might have well show that Trump was a bad businessman, it didn’t really show any sort of interesting tax shenanigans. And since we had long known that Trump lost a bunch of money in Atlantic City, a story that has been amply and ably covered by folks like our own Tim O’Brien, it didn’t even really offer much news.

Why did people see scandalous tax avoidance in this case? At issue is the “net operating loss,” an accounting term that means basically what it sounds like: When you net out your expenses against the money you took in, it turns out that you lost a bunch of money. However, in tax law, this has a special meaning, because these NOLs can be offset against money earned in other years. You can use a “carryforward” to offset the losses against income made in future years (as many as 15 future years, under the federal tax law of 1995). You can also use a “carryback” to offset those losses against income you made in past years (three in 1995, which when added to the 15-year carryforward term, gives us the 18 years the Times refers to).

To judge from the reaction on Twitter, this struck many people as a nefarious bit of chicanery. And to be fair, they were probably helped along in this belief by the New York Times description of it, which made it sound like some arcane loophole wedged into our tax code at the behest of the United Association of Rich People and Their Lobbyists. They called it “a tax provision that is particularly prized by America’s dynastic families, which, like the Trumps, hold their wealth inside byzantine networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.”

Every tax or financial professional I have heard from about the New York Times piece found this characterization rather bizarre. The Times could have just as truthfully written that the provision was “particularly prized by America’s small businesses, farmers and authors,” many of whom depend on the NOL to ensure that they do not end up paying extraordinary marginal tax rates — possibly exceeding 100 percent — on income that may not fit itself neatly into the regular rotation of the earth around the sun.


Rich people do manage their income to minimize their taxes, and some of the means they use to do so should probably be written out of the tax code. But the wealthy individual who manages to make a lot of money while paying absolutely no taxes on it is more a creature of myth than reality. That myth, like many myths, has some basis in fact: It used to be eminently possible to do, thanks to loopholes in the tax code that allowed people to take advantage of real estate losses, among other things. Those loopholes, however, were mostly closed by that notorious liberal crusader Ronald Reagan, during the 1986 tax reform package.

If Trump managed to pay no taxes for years, the most likely way he did this was by losing sums much vaster than the unpaid taxes. This is fair, it is right, it is good tax policy. There are many valid indictments of Trump as a candidate and as a businessman. But on the charge of unseemly tax avoidance, if this is all the evidence we have, then the grand jury would have to return … no bill.

Some politicians absolutely love tax laws, because they get to write them in ways that force taxpayers (both individual and corporate) to behave in certain ways to minimize the taxes they pay, and then they get to pillory disfavoured individuals or corporations in the media or on the campaign trail when they actually follow those arcane and intricate laws and end up paying “less” tax than the politician thinks they should. Win/win from the political hack’s point of view, but lose/lose for the law-abiding taxpayer.

October 4, 2016

When you suppress hate speech, you don’t actually eliminate it

Filed under: Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

People seem to be surprised that censorship generates pushback from the censored. In this case, the more active censorship of certain words by Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies has encouraged the targets of the censors to come up with other ways to communicate with fellow-minded people, in this case a simple substitution code:

Now a new type of hateful internet code appears to be emerging: The systematic use of innocuous words to stand in for offensive racial slurs. Search Twitter for “googles,” “skypes,” or “yahoos,” and you will encounter some shocking results, like this tweet: “If welfare state is a given it must go towards our own who needs. No Skypes, googles, or yahoos.” Or this one, reading “Chain the googles / Gas the yahoos.”

What does this mean? Nothing good. In this lexicon, “googles” means the n-word; “skypes” means Jews; and “yahoos” means “spic.” The word “skittles” has come to refer to Muslims, an obvious reference to Donald Trump Jr.’s comparing of refugees with candy that “would kill you.”

By all accounts the lexicon seems to have been conceived on 4chan — a message board famous for its trolls — as a response to Google’s improved method for identifying pages and comments with offensive content and potentially removing or flagging them. The title of the 4chan post that seems to have started it all is “RIP alt-right trolls, SkyNet is coming for you.” The trolls responded with a loosely organized effort called “Operation Google,” which aims to get around these algorithms, and to trick them into blocking the names of their own services and companies.

Hence the use of “google” to mean what is arguably the most offensive term of them all. For a fuller list, including coded anti-LGBT terms, click here. (Warning: It’s not pretty.) This list appeared on 4chan’s “Politically Incorrect” /pol/ board, and has been widely shared on Twitter and elsewhere, and similar terms can be found as well.

August 23, 2016

Hey, EU! Two can play this silly medal total game!

Filed under: Europe, Media, Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one variant of this bit of EU self-puffery going around:

EU fake 2016 Olympic medal ranking

As Guido Fawkes points out, under those rules the British Empire completely eclipses the medal total of all the EU states:

The former countries of the British Empire won 396 medals – 138 more medals than a post-Brexit EU. While the European Parliament invents an EU state to “win” the Olympics, the medal tally of a one-time actual supra-state leaves Brussels for dust. Former member countries of the British Empire accrued 76 more medals than the rest of the world (24%). In all, the Empire’s score of 137 gold medals trounces the EU’s, which after removing Great Britain sits at just 79.

Looking at other alliances NATO countries took a stunning 443 out of the 974 medals on offer (45%), while Anglosphere countries grabbed a whopping 288 – 30% of the world total. This is compared to Francophone states’ measly 87 (9%), even with Canada’s 22 (2%) generously included. Hoisting the colours appears to have been good luck; countries with Union Jacks in their flags took a massive 115 medals, of which 40 were gold!

August 14, 2016

When virtue signalling became the dominant form of social media content

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Dan Sanchez explains why political “discussions” on social media tend to be worse than useless:

When children are free to learn from undirected experiences, they learn to conceive of truth as something that guides the successful pursuit of their own goals. But in the domineering, tightly-directed environments of school and the modern household, we condition our children to conceive of truth as received wisdom handed down by authority.

Children are largely deprived of the noble joy of discovering truths as revealed by successful action. Instead they are left with the ignoble gratification of pleasing a taskmaster by reciting an answer that is marked “correct.” And this goes far beyond academics. For the modern child, learning “good behavior” is not about discovering through trial and error what kinds of behaviors are conducive to thriving socially. Instead, it’s about winning praise and avoiding censure from authority figures.

Thanks to this conditioning, we have all become approval-junkies, always on the lookout for our next fix of external validation: for the next little rush of dopamine we get whenever we are patted on the head by others for being a “good boy” or a “good girl,” for exhibiting the right behavior, for giving the right answer, for expressing the right opinion.

This is why the mania for virtue signalling is so ubiquitous, and why orthodoxies are so impervious. Expressing political opinions is not about hammering out useful truths through the crucible of debate, but about signaling one’s own virtue by “tattling” on others for being unvirtuous: for being crypto-commies or crypto-fascists; for being closet racists or race-traitor “cucks;” for being enemies of the poor or apologists for criminals.

Much of our political debate consists of our abused inner children basically calling out, “Teacher, teacher, look at me. I followed the rules, but Johnny didn’t. Johnny is a bad boy, and he said a mean word, too. Teacher look what Trump said. He should say sorry. Teacher look what Hillary did. You should give her detention.”

You can’t expect much enlightenment to emerge from this level of discourse.

July 26, 2016

The “international sporting event” in “a major city in Brazil”

Filed under: Americas, Law, Media, Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Every four years, the world’s media turn en masse to a new location for the summer Olympic Games. This time around the games event is in Rio de Janeiro a major city in Brazil. I’d give more details, but the IOC is determined to reserve as much of that information to themselves and their official sponsoring media partners:

As the Olympic Games approach, the tension between athletes and non-sponsors with the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee has ratcheted up once again.

In recent weeks, the United States Olympic Committee sent letters to those who sponsor athletes but don’t have any sponsorship designation with the USOC or International Olympic Committee, warning them about stealing intellectual property.

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” reads the letter written by USOC chief marketing officer Lisa Baird. “This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

The USOC owns the trademarks to “Olympic,” “Olympian” and “Go For The Gold,” among many other words and phrases.

The letter further stipulates that a company whose primary mission is not media-related cannot reference any Olympic results, cannot share or repost anything from the official Olympic account and cannot use any pictures taken at the Olympics.

This isn’t really a new or surprising thing, as we had warnings about any discussion of the “‘international sporting event’ in ‘the capital of the United Kingdom'” back in 2012. More recently, Toronto’s Pan Am Games organizers did the same sort of trademarks-out-the-wazoo-and-lawyers-on-speed-dial stuff over their 2015 international sporting event in ‘a large city in Ontario’.

If nothing else, it gives me an excuse to not blog anything about those every-four-years international corruption championships…

June 25, 2016

QotD: It’s a bad time to become a parent

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The title of this Time piece, “Parenting is Now Officially Impossible,” made me sit up. It’s true. Anything we do as parents can and may be used against us. It’s like living in a totalitarian state—we are not free to raise our kids as we see fit because we are being watched and judged. We make choices based on fear of busybodies and the authorities they can summon by punching three digits into their phone.

This surveillance society has become so normalized that yesterday I was listening to a June 9 episode of Marc Maron’s WTFpodcast where Marc and guest Daniel Clowes are chatting about their slacker ’70s parents. (It’s about 50 minutes in, if you want to hear it.) As they marvel at the freedom they had as kids, and some bad experiences, they agree that this kind of parenting was totally wrong. Unironically they concur, “You don’t let your kid get on the bus at 11 [years old]. Never! I would turn MYSELF into the police.”

Isn’t that phrasing remarkable? The idea, “Disapprove of a parent? Call 911,” has become so unquestioned, so automatic, that citizens don’t even realize they have been seduced into the role of Stasi.

Lenore Skenazy, “Busybodies and Complicit Cops Make It Impossible to Parent: When mistakes become crimes”, Reason, 2016-06-15.

May 21, 2016

“Social media needs social relevance to disguise the narcissism at the center of its appeal”

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Daniel Greenfield explains how Facebook got into the business of “curating” your user experience:

Despite the denials, the stories about Facebook’s bias are real. But the bias isn’t there because of the company’s new technology. Facebook is biased because of its reliance on the biased old media.

Facebook’s trending topics wasn’t the automatic system that the company wanted people to think it was. Instead it hired young journalists with new media experience to “curate” its news feed. And plenty of them proved to be biased against conservative news and sources. Meanwhile someone at the top of Facebook’s dysfunctional culture wanted to play up Syria and the Black Lives Matter hate group.

Mark Zuckerberg’s fundamental mistake was recreating the biases and agendas of the old media in a service whose whole reason for existing was to allow users to create their own experience. The big difference between social and search is that social media is supposed to let you be the curator.

But, like Facebook’s trending topics, social curation was another scam. Facebook users don’t really define what they see. It’s defined for them by the company’s agendas. This includes the purely financial. It would be foolish to think that the fortunes that Buzzfeed spends on Facebook advertising don’t impact the placement of its stories by Facebook’s mysterious algorithm. And there is the more complex intersection of politics and branding in an age when business relevance means social relevance.

Twitter piggybacked on the Arab Spring to seem relevant. Facebook has used Black Lives Matter. Social media needs to be associated with political movements to seem more important than it is. Zuckerberg doesn’t want to head up a shinier version of MySpace that was originally set up to rate the attractiveness of Harvard girls. Being socially relevant is better for business. Especially when the business is vapid at its core.

Social media needs social relevance to disguise the narcissism at the center of its appeal.

May 20, 2016

Mommy blogger blows the whistle on Mommy blogging

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The actual blog post by Josi Denise has been removed (go to the original URL and you get an “Account Suspended” notification), but Robert McCain quoted perhaps the key part of the post here:


I mean no one. Even the people you think are reading your shit? They aren’t really reading it. The other mommy bloggers sure as hell aren’t reading it. They are scanning it for keywords that they can use in the comments. “So cute! Yum! I have to try this!” They’ve been told, like you, that in order to grow your brand, you must read and comment on other similar-sized and similar-themed blogs. The people clicking on it from Pinterest aren’t reading it. They are looking for your recipe, or helpful tip promised in the clickbait, or before and after photo, then they might re-pin the image, then they are done. The people sharing it on Facebook? They aren’t reading it either. They just want to say whatever it is your headline says, but can’t find the words themselves. Your family? Nope. They are checking to make sure they don’t have double chins in the photos you post of them, and zoning in on paragraphs where their names are mentioned.

Why? Because your shit is boring. Nobody cares about your shampoo you bought at Walmart and how you’re so thankful the company decided to work with you. Nobody cares about anything you are saying because you aren’t telling an engaging story. You are not giving your readers anything they haven’t already heard. You are not being helpful, and you are not being interesting. If you are constantly writing about your pregnancy, your baby’s milestones, your religious devotion, your marriage bliss, or your love of wine and coffee…. are you saying anything new? Anything at all? Tell me something I haven’t heard before, that someone hasn’t said before. From a different perspective, or making a new point at the end at least if I have to suffer through a cliche story about your faceless, nameless kid.

You’re writing in an inauthentic voice about an unoriginal subject, worse if sprinkled with horrible grammar and spelling, and you are contributing nothing to the world but static noise.

No blogger, Mommy- or other, wants to be told that nobody is reading their posts. Something like this could ruin your whole day…

April 23, 2016

Politics, your social bubble, and you

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last week, Megan McArdle looked at the Hindenburg-crashing-into-the-Titanic-during-a-volcanic-eruption how so many people’s assessment of the US general election is so at variance with reality:

Call it “the big sort” or “demographic clusters” or whatever you like, it all comes down to the same thing: Even as Americans talk more and more about diversity, they are increasingly dividing themselves into like-minded bubbles where other people, with other experiences and viewpoints, almost never penetrate. This is the message of books by Charles Murray and Robert Frank, and indeed of our own social media feeds.

All of those articles on “how to talk to your family about politics this Thanksgiving” might as well be called “how to discuss politics on the one day a year when you find yourself in a group that has not been hand-curated to remove dissenting viewpoints.”

I don’t exclude myself from this. I live in one of the most rarefied bubbles on the planet, a community of policy-focused knowledge workers in which I practically qualify as a proletarian because I have spent years in jobs that did not involve writing about what other people have done or ought to do.

Even the socialists here in Washington are often notable for their lack of personal familiarity with their side in the class war. Outside of family circles, I almost never meet anyone who does not have a college degree and a 401(k), unless I’m buying something from them, or giving a talk at a university to people who are on their way to having a college degree and a 401(k).

Social media, of course, makes this problem worse. Even if we are not deliberately blocking people who disagree with us, Facebook curates our feeds so that we get more of the stuff we “like.” What do we “like”? People and posts that agree with us. Given that Facebook seems to be the top news source for millennials, and an increasingly important one even for folks who grew up skimming dead trees for information, that matters quite a lot.

December 20, 2015

Are you the customer or are you the product?

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Howard Tayler explains why he’d be willing to pay real money to Twitter for the use he gets out of the service and in the process, change from being a product to be resold into an actual customer:

Facebook’s actual plans were far more problematic. At a high level, the plan was to monetize their user base as a product, rather than as customers. This meant selling the product to OTHER customers — advertisers and market research firms, for starters. I don’t mind being advertised to, but in order for the monetization to work, Facebook had to step into our feeds and adjust the content we were seeing.

Facebook became less useful to us, and this loss of utility was hidden much of the time. When we actually noticed it, it was status quo.

Twitter is doing similar things to monetize their user base. The insertion of Promoted Tweets is the most immediately intrusive, but recently they’ve begun mucking with our timelines in order to adjust the content we see.

Look, I get it. These companies are providing an exceptionally valuable communication service to hundreds of millions of users. They deserve to be paid for that. The question is, what’s the best way to pay them? What will make them the most money, while keeping their users not just happy, but loyal?

Twitter’s 2014 revenue was $1.4B. They have over 900 million users, but most of those users do not tweet things. If we assume, conservatively, that there are only 100 million human beings actively using Twitter’s service, they were worth $14 each during 2014. Much of that money was paid in by advertisers.

$14 isn’t much. It’s less than $1.20 per month. I would cheerfully round up, and pay $20 for an annual Twitter membership without batting an eyelash.

For that money I would obviously expect to NOT be monetized further. Don’t market to me, don’t promote Tweets, don’t mess with my feeds. Maybe give me instead some cool tools that let me better manage this awesome communications tool.

If those 100 million users were willing to pay $20/year for “Twitter Prime,” Twitter’s revenues would be $2B. It’s not beyond the pale to further assume that their profit margins would be better, since all the overhead that goes into making a useful advertising engine could be dust-binned. Additionally, Twitter would become far more valuable to its users (who are now CUSTOMERS,) and they’d attract more paying users pretty quickly.

My ISP is Rogers, and I’ve been a customer for more than a decade. I use their web client for my personal email most of the time and it’s part of the services I pay for. At some point, Rogers decided that they needed to take over part of the screen to advertise at me. That was what finally induced me to install AdBlock Plus in all of my web browsers. Had the email been a free service, I wouldn’t have objected, but I was paying real money for it and chose not to be subject to having to put up with animated ads every time I needed to read or write an email message.

October 11, 2015

Take all the negative aspects of social media … and then tie in your political and financial activities

Filed under: China, Government, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Welcome to China’s idea of the perfect social media environment. Charles Stross describes the proposal and its likely impact on Chinese life:

So, let’s start by synopsizing the Privacy Online News report. It’s basically a state-run universal credit score, where you’re measured on a scale from 350 to 950. But it’s not just about your financial planning ability; it also reflects your political opinions. On the financial side, if you buy products the government approves of your credit score increases: wastes of time (such as video games) cost you points. China’s main social networks feed data into it and you can lose points big-time by expressing political opinions without prior permission, talking about history (where it diverges from the official version — e.g. the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square — hey, I just earned myself a negative credit score there!), or saying anything that’s politically embarrassing.

The special social network magic comes into play when you learn that if your friends do this, your score also suffers. You can see what they just did to you: are you angry yet? Social pressure is a pervasive force and it’s going to be exerted on participants whether they like it or not, by friends looking for the goodies that come from having a high citizen score: goodies like instant loans for online shopping, car rentals without needing a deposit, or fast-track access to foreign travel visas. Also, everyone’s credit score is visible online, making it easy to ditch those embarrassingly ranty cocktail-party friends who insist on harshing your government credit karma by not conforming.

The gamification of social conformity, overseen by an authoritarian government and mediated by nudge theory, is a thing of beauty and horror; who needs cops with nightsticks to beat up dissidents when their friends and family will give them a tongue-lashing on behalf of the government for the price of a discount off a new fridge?

But don’t worry, I could make it a whole lot worse.

The first notable point about this system is that it’s an oppressive system that runs at a profit. Consider the instant no-collateral loans for online shopping: the Chinese system only grants these to folks who are a good credit bet. The debt will be repaid. Meanwhile it goes into providing a Keynesian stimulus for the productive side of the economy. And it rewards people for political right-thinking. What’s not to like?

Governments love nudge theory because it offers a cheap shortcut to enforcing social policy, even when the social policy in question is utterly broken. Paying a cop costs money — not just their salary and the cost of their uniform, but the station they work out of, the support personnel who keep the police force operating (janitors, human resources, vehicle maintenance), and the far less tangible political cost of being seen to wield a big stick and force people not to do what they want to do (or to do things that you want them to). Using big data to give folks a credit score, then paying them bright and shiny but essentially cost-free bonuses if they do what you want? That’s priceless. You may not be able to track folks who like to toke up directly (if it’s illegal in your jurisdiction), but you can penalize them for hanging out with known cannabis users and buying paraphernalia. More to the point, you can socially isolate users and get their family to give them grief without the unpalatable excesses (and negative headlines) of no-knock raids and cops kicking down the wrong door and shooting children by mistake. One may ask whether the medical marijuana movement and decriminalization pressure would have got off the ground in the United States if a citizenship scoring system with downvotes for pot users was in place. Or whether emancipatory rights movements could exist at all in a society that indirectly penalizes people for “wrong lifestyle choices” rather than relying on imperfectly applied but very visible and hateful boots and nightsticks.

October 10, 2015

Free design advice for Facebook from the kindly folks at The Register

Filed under: Humour, Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Facebook is reportedly rolling out a new button for their users to “dislike” posts they see on their feeds. The helpful souls at The Register offer their free, expert advice on how to go about doing this right:

The Register's Facebook Dislike buttons

  • Like: The classic.
  • Click Bait: For article links that people click on despite themselves and then feel like they’ve let themselves down shortly afterwards. The sort of posts that make you feel society has just got a little worse. Upworthy and BuzzFeed articles will be tagged with this option as a default.
  • Idiot: To confirm that the author of the post is lacking in common sense and/or rational analysis. Most useful for politics and health issues.
  • Umm: A useful passive-aggressive way of letting your friends know that you may want to take this post down or at least edit it heavily before others read it.
  • Fresh Air: A positive, life-affirming choice that says to people: “Maybe it’s time you took a break from your laptop and went out into the real world for a bit.”
  • Privacy: A direct link to the privacy settings for this particular post’s author so you are able to block, unfriend, or report them in one easy tap.
  • Holiday: A “Fresh Air” Superlike. A firm encouragement that perhaps it’s time both you and the author take an extended holiday from Facebook and do something useful with your lives rather than just read others’ mindless thoughts and respond to them with equally mindless comments and emojis.

September 4, 2015

America’s grievance culture

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Kevin Yuill on the Virginia shootings and what it says about the wider culture in the west:

Had [Some Asshole]* carried out the killing of two ex-colleagues at Virginia TV station WDBJ 10 years ago, it might have been dismissed as just another case of a disgruntled former employee ‘going postal’ – a phrase referencing several incidents from the mid-1980s onwards involving United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shooting and killing fellow workers. But the fact that [Some Asshole]’s shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward was filmed, in a world dominated by YouTube and Facebook, ensured the story gained global coverage.

Predictably, we heard the calls for gun control before the victims’ bodies were cold. Opportunists like broadcaster Piers Morgan, President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton appear to welcome such tragedies so they can sanctimoniously read their pre-prepared statements. As a hysterical Morgan put it, the Virginia shooting ‘sum[med] up [America’s] appalling, senseless gun culture’. This kind of emotive finger-wagging is to be expected. Those on the other side of the political spectrum blamed mental illness. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump said of the incident, ‘This isn’t a gun problem, this is a mental problem’.


The Virginia shooting draws attention to disturbing elements of American culture that undercut the simplistic ‘blame the guns’ media coverage. It points to the brittle culture of offence, whereby any behaviour considered disagreeable to some is understood as a personal slight. It touches on the bizarre narcissism of the selfie, in which only moments caught on camera are deemed real. And it indicts a powerful sense of entitlement, in which individuals demand automatic acceptance of who they are from others, and assume that any problems they create are always someone else’s fault.

An experienced newsman, [Some Asshole] also played upon the voyeuristic appetite for online sensation (something the Islamic State has successfully exploited). By filming his murders, he achieved a notoriety far in excess of his ‘going postal’ predecessors. Yet even that notoriety is someone else’s fault, with commentators also blaming Google and Facebook for allowing people to watch what was essentially a snuff movie. This is an evasion of responsibility on the part of all who searched out the video of the shooting.

Rather than blame guns, social media or mental illness for the Virginia shooting, perhaps we should look at the poisonous complaint-and-grievance culture that has flourished as a result of people’s refusal to take responsibility for their lives.

* Rather than give the killer any “glory” by using his name, I’m following the recommendations of the Some Asshole Initiative.

The problem of moral pornography

Filed under: Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Spectator, Brendan O’Neill explains why sharing a photo of a dead Syrian child is a symptom of moral pornography:

Have you seen the dead Syrian child yet? Look at his lifeless body. His head buried in the sand. His sad, resigned posture after he and his family made the treacherous journey from Syria to Turkey only to wash up dead on a Turkish beach. Isn’t this just the saddest photo you’ve ever seen? And gross too? Quick, share it! Show it to your friends — on Twitter, Facebook — so that they will feel sad and grossed-out too. Gather round, everyone: stare at the dead Syrian child.

We all know about the problem of sexual pornography on the internet. Now we need to talk about the problem of moral pornography. And nothing better illustrates it than the photo of Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian who drowned alongside his five-year-old brother Galip, his mother and others fleeing the hell of Syria.

The global spreading of this snapshot — which appears on the front page of the Independent today and inside the Guardian, and is even callously being turned into a meme by sections of the weeping Twitterati — is justified as a way of raising awareness about the migrant crisis. Please. It’s more like a snuff photo for progressives, dead-child porn, designed not to start a serious debate about migration in the 21st century but to elicit a self-satisfied feeling of sadness among Western observers.


Did the newspapers who put this kid on their front pages contact his remaining family members in Syria to seek their permission? Doesn’t look like it. When it comes to producing moral porn for the right-on, it seems the normal rules of journalism — and civilisation — can be suspended. And he’s only Syrian, right? It’s not like his poor, war-battered next of kin will be looking at the internet. Except the Guardian has now discovered that he has family in Canada, so they will very likely see the photo. Oh well, no matter: crack on, publish it, marvel at the purity of your emotional response to it, and be sure to tell everyone what your emotional response was. ‘I cried so hard’ thousands of tweeters are saying. The operative word here being ‘I’.

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