Quotulatiousness

February 20, 2015

My Twitter word cloud

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

If you’d like to generate one of these for your own (or someone else’s) Twitter account, the instructions are here.

Click to see full-sized at imgur.com

Click to see full-sized at imgur.com

Because I use my Twitter account primarily for auto-posting links to my blog, the word “post” is by far the most common word, followed by “qotd” for my daily quotation posts. After that, it seems pretty representative of what I’ve been blogging about for the last year or so.

February 11, 2015

Farewell to The Dish and Andrew Sullivan as a blogger

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

Megan McArdle wasn’t a blogchild of Andrew Sullivan (as such relationships used to be known), but still regrets his decision to pack it in:

Long ago, when blogging was a fresh new form that attracted a lot of chin-stroking journalism, Glenn Reynolds said something that stuck with me: Journalism is a lecture; blogging is a conversation. That’s not as true as it used to be, and it gets less true every day, as old bloggers leave and are not replaced. Ezra Klein attributes much of this to social media, which is certainly part of the answer; Facebook does not reward Part Seven of a back-and-forth about affirmative action. It wants neat, self-contained, authoritative statements about The Way the World Is, preferably ones that bolster your ideological commitments by eschewing caveats, ambiguity or serious engagement with the other side. As I frequently joke with my writer friends, the ideal blog post for the social media world would be headlined: “Everything You Already Believe Is Completely Correct, and Here’s Some Math You Won’t Understand That Proves It.”

I imagine that a number of bloggers breathed a sigh of relief when the form became less conversational — no need to respond to all those uncomfortable questions the other side is raising! The great thing about Andrew was that he kept up the conversation. He is passionate in argument, and he and I have had some fierce disagreements over the years. But right up to the end, he kept asking uncomfortable questions and offering answers from both sides. That’s pretty rare, and pretty admirable, and I’m deeply sad that one last vestige of the old days is soon to be no more.

But the problem with the old model of blogging is not just social media; it’s that blogging is exhausting. Two or three items a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but it takes a long time just to find something you want to write about. And the slowly dying ecosystem of other blogs makes it harder, because there’s no longer a conversation you can just easily hook into. Instead of plopping yourself down at a table where people are already talking, you have to wander through a room filled with people who are speaking to an audience through a megaphone and decide which of these oratorial topics might interest your own audience and a few thousand of their Facebook friends. It’s much lonelier, and consumes more energy, than it was in days of yore. This is why I spend so much time on my comments section; it is the one remainder of the old back-and-forth that made me love blogging in the first place.

Most of us, one way or another, stopped doing what we used to do. I write fewer, longer items; others stopped blogging entirely. Andrew kept up the volume, even increased it, but by the end, it took a staff of 10 to do it. It’s no wonder he burned out; the wonder is that it took so long.

January 5, 2015

Britain’s social media police … are really the police

Filed under: Britain,Law,Liberty,Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

James Bloodworth on the attempt by British police forces to extend their role beyond actual crime prevention to virtual crime detection:

At some point saying “offensive” things online stopped being a social faux pas and became a potentially criminal act.

Dare to be rude about the wrong person or group and, in a bad parody of Erich Honecker’s East Germany, you could hear the knock on the door in the middle of the night and be dragged off to some dreary police cell for questioning.

I exaggerate of course, but not much: around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online, with around 20 people a day being looked into by the forces of the law, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The overused Orwellian cliché has finally become the reality: Big Brother in the form of an overzealous and under regulated police force really is watching you. As Police Scotland terrifyingly informed us this week, “Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media and any offensive comments will be investigated.”

November 25, 2014

The rise of the Stepford Students

Brendan O’Neill is disturbed that the very people who should be most welcoming of intellectual challenge and alternative points of view are the very ones who are most militant about “safe spaces” and allowing no platform to dissenting views:

Have you met the Stepford students? They’re everywhere. On campuses across the land. Sitting stony-eyed in lecture halls or surreptitiously policing beer-fuelled banter in the uni bar. They look like students, dress like students, smell like students. But their student brains have been replaced by brains bereft of critical faculties and programmed to conform. To the untrained eye, they seem like your average book-devouring, ideas-discussing, H&M-adorned youth, but anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in their company will know that these students are far more interested in shutting debate down than opening it up.

[…]

If your go-to image of a student is someone who’s free-spirited and open-minded, who loves having a pop at orthodoxies, then you urgently need to update your mind’s picture bank. Students are now pretty much the opposite of that. It’s hard to think of any other section of society that has undergone as epic a transformation as students have. From freewheelin’ to ban-happy, from askers of awkward questions to suppressors of offensive speech, in the space of a generation. My showdown with the debate-banning Stepfords at Oxford and the pre-crime promoters at Cambridge echoed other recent run-ins I’ve had with the intolerant students of the 21st century. I’ve been jeered at by students at the University of Cork for criticising gay marriage; cornered and branded a ‘denier’ by students at University College London for suggesting industrial development in Africa should take precedence over combating climate change; lambasted by students at Cambridge (again) for saying it’s bad to boycott Israeli goods. In each case, it wasn’t the fact the students disagreed with me that I found alarming — disagreement is great! — it was that they were so plainly shocked that I could have uttered such things, that I had failed to conform to what they assume to be right, that I had sought to contaminate their campuses and their fragile grey matter with offensive ideas.

Where once students might have allowed their eyes and ears to be bombarded by everything from risqué political propaganda to raunchy rock, now they insulate themselves from anything that might dent their self-esteem and, crime of crimes, make them feel ‘uncomfortable’. Student groups insist that online articles should have ‘trigger warnings’ in case their subject matter might cause offence.

[…]

Stepford concerns are over-amplified on social media. No sooner is a contentious subject raised than a university ‘campaign’ group appears on Facebook, or a hashtag on Twitter, demanding that the debate is shut down. Technology means that it has never been easier to whip up a false sense of mass outrage — and target that synthetic anger at those in charge. The authorities on the receiving end feel so besieged that they succumb to the demands and threats.

Heaven help any student who doesn’t bow before the Stepford mentality. The students’ union at Edinburgh recently passed a motion to ‘End lad banter’ on campus. Laddish students are being forced to recant their bantering ways. Last month, the rugby club at the London School of Economics was disbanded for a year after its members handed out leaflets advising rugby lads to avoid ‘mingers’ (ugly girls) and ‘homosexual debauchery’. Under pressure from LSE bigwigs, the club publicly recanted its ‘inexcusably offensive’ behaviour and declared that its members have ‘a lot to learn about the pernicious effects of banter’. They’re being made to take part in equality and diversity training. At British unis in 2014, you don’t just get education — you also get re-education, Soviet style.

August 16, 2014

Stupid people and stupid arguments

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:59

Megan McArdle on the phenomenon of dismissing other people as “stupid”:

Ultimately, calling people stupid is simply a performance for the fellow travelers in your audience. It’s a way that we can all come together and agree that we don’t have to engage with some argument, because the person making it is a bovine lackwit without the basic intellectual equipment to come in out of the rain. So the first message it sends — “don’t listen to opposing arguments” — is a stupid message that is hardly going to make anyone smarter.

The second message it sends is even worse: “If he’s stupid, then we, who disagree with him, are the opposite of stupid, and can rest steady in the assurance of our cognitive superiority.” Feeding your own arrogance is an expansive, satisfying feeling. It is also the feeling of you getting stupider.

I’m always fascinated by the number of people who proudly build columns, tweets, blog posts or Facebook posts around the same core statement: “I don’t understand how anyone could (oppose legal abortion/support a carbon tax/sympathize with the Palestinians over the Israelis/want to privatize Social Security/insert your pet issue here).” It’s such an interesting statement, because it has three layers of meaning.

The first layer is the literal meaning of the words: I lack the knowledge and understanding to figure this out. But the second, intended meaning is the opposite: I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to such obviously wrong conclusions. And yet, the third, true meaning is actually more like the first: I lack the empathy, moral imagination or analytical skills to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me.

In short, “I’m stupid.” Something that few people would ever post so starkly on their Facebook feeds.

July 20, 2014

The struggle of progressive comedians to be funny without offending

Filed under: Humour,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

Jon Gabriel attends a panel discussion on progressive comedy at Netroots Nation. It wasn’t very funny:

Netroots Nation is an annual conference for online progressive activists. Over the past few days, the group held their ninth annual event in Detroit — America’s finest example of unchecked liberal policy.

Unbeknownst to the organizers, I attended the conference to see what the other side thinks about economics, education and the midterms. If their presentation on comedy is any guide, conservatives don’t have much to fear.

“The Left is supposed to be funnier than the Right, damn it,” the panel description stated. “So why do we so often sound in public like we’re stiltedly reading from a non-profit grant proposal?”

This defensive tone was apparent throughout the hour-plus session, brought up repeatedly by speakers and audience members. Much like a co-worker who doesn’t get anyone’s jokes but insists, “I have a great sense of humor!”

[…]

The audience had several questions about what they were allowed to joke about and even how comedy works. A white septuagenarian proudly stated that she no longer tells jokes to black people because that might expose them to unwitting racism. Camp and White sadly noted that her preface of “I’m not a racist, but…” confirms that she is, in fact, a racist.

Another audience member asked how progressives can shut down funny, effective lines coming from the right on talk radio, blogs and Twitter. “The right has short, pithy things to say because they lie,” Halper replied.

She explained that clever jokes by conservatives aren’t actually funny because such people lack empathy and nuance. “Progressives are more nuanced, statistically speaking,” Halper said. The science is settled.

June 30, 2014

Has your Facebook feed been particularly “down” lately?

Filed under: Media,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:42

If so, you may have been involuntarily recruited to take part in a “scientific” study as Facebook tailored hundreds of thousands of users’ feeds to show them only good news or only bad news:

As you may have heard (since it appears to have become the hyped up internet story of the weekend), the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) recently published a study done by Facebook, with an assist from researchers at UCSF and Cornell, in which they directly tried (and apparently succeeded) to manipulate the emotions of 689,003 users of Facebook for a week. The participants — without realizing they were a part of the study — had their news feeds “manipulated” so that they showed all good news or all bad news. The idea was to see if this made the users themselves feel good or bad. Contradicting some other research which found that looking at photos of your happy friends made you sad, this research apparently found that happy stuff in your feed makes you happy. But, what’s got a lot of people up in arms is the other side of that coin: seeing a lot of negative stories in your feed, appears to make people mad.

There are, of course, many different ways to view this: and the immediate response from many is “damn, that’s creepy.”

Did you know that your terms of service with Facebook allow this? I suspect a lot of Facebook users had no clue that their newsfeeds could be (and regularly are) manipulated without their awareness and consent.

If anything, what I think this does is really to highlight how much Facebook manipulates the newsfeed. This is something very few people seem to think about or consider. Facebook‘s newsfeed system has always been something of a black box (which is a reason that I prefer Twitter‘s setup where you get the self-chosen firehose, rather than some algorithm (or researchers’ decisions) picking what I get to see). And, thus, in the end, while Facebook may have failed to get the level of “informed consent” necessary for such a study, it may have, in turn, done a much better job accidentally “informing” a lot more people how its newsfeeds get manipulated. Whether or not that leads more people to rely on Facebook less, well, perhaps that will be the subject of a future study…

Related: Brendan posted this the other day, and I found it quite amusing.

June 21, 2014

ISIS displays mastery of modern social media recruiting techniques

Filed under: Media,Middle East,Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:09

Lara Prendergast on the successful techniques of recruiting-by-social-media being used by ISIS propagandists:

Yesterday evening, I returned home, made a cup of tea and slumped down to catch up on the day’s news. A piece on Twitter caught my eye. Posted by Channel 4, it was titled ‘#Jihad: how ISIS is using social media to win support‘. Click. Soon I was learning about how ISIS was calling for global support via a sophisticated social media campaign, branded the ‘one billion campaign’. Click, click. Onto YouTube, where I found graphic videos recorded and uploaded by ISIS members. Click, click, click. Ten minutes later, and I was on Twitter, being recruited by jihadis to come join them.

Clearly, I am not about to head to Syria or Iraq. But I was struck by how quickly I found material asking me to show support and help the cause. If I was an impressionable young Muslim man, perhaps I would have found it alluring. I came across a podcast uploaded by the British jihadi Abu Summayyah al-Britani, which suggested that fighting in Syria was better than playing Call of Duty.

The imagery ISIS promotes is also absorbing, in a dark, sinister way. The black and white flag is the new Jolly Roger; balaclavas and AK47s the new uniform. ‘Come fight with us, brother’ it screams. It looks dangerous and exciting. This belligerent propaganda has zipped round the world at an unprecedented speed. It’s a potent mix of graphic imagery and piratic behaviour blended with a fanatical message. It’s hard not to look, no matter how much you try.

June 10, 2014

Andrew Echevarria uses Tinder to connect with Trinity-Spadina voters

Filed under: Cancon,Liberty,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:45

Liam asked if I’d covered the innovative voter reach-out campaign being conducted by Libertarian candidate Andrew Echevarria in the Trinity-Spadina riding:

Andrew Echevarria Libertarian Tinder postMuch like love, wooing voters sometimes requires dabbling in the art of seduction.

That’s how MPP hopeful Andrew Echevarria sees it. The Ontario Libertarian Party candidate for Trinity-Spadina is using Tinder to connect with young people in the downtown riding, hoping to score votes the same way others score dates.

“I catch their eye,” said Echevarria, who joined the online dating app recently. “Tinder is a great moment to catch someone when they’re just hanging out.”

Toronto Tinder users may recognize the dark-haired, well-suited Echevarria as they swipe left and right through the app’s GPS-enabled library of potential romances. He set his search limit to the scope of the riding and has already been inundated with love connections.

However, he keeps his intentions up front.

“Tired of dating the same old politicians who lie just to get your ballot? Hook up with Liberty!” he teases, listing his age as 24. Those interested can “swipe right to debate or learn more.”

About 50 people — 60 per cent men, 40 per cent women, Echevarria guesses — have swiped right.

While it might sound like a gimmick, the neuroscience grad from the University of Toronto said he genuinely believes Tinder is an effective way of enticing students and young professionals who are unfamiliar with libertarian politics, which he says are defined by “the protection of individual rights and freedoms.”

May 26, 2014

It’s fair for the government to track social media activity

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:36

In what might sound like a break with his long-established credentials on surveillance and privacy issues, Michael Geist says it’s fine for the government to track social media:

For most of the past decade, many people concerned with digital rights have used the Internet and social media to raise awareness in the hope that the government might pay closer attention to their views. The Canadian experience has provided more than its fair share of success stories from copyright reform to usage based billing to the Vic Toews lawful access bill. Yet in recent weeks, there has been mounting criticism about the government’s tracking of social media. This post provides a partial defence of the government, arguing that it should be tracking social media activity provided it does so for policy-making purposes.

[…]

With those caveats, I find myself supportive of the government tracking social media activity, if for the purposes of staying current with public opinion on policy, government bills or other political issues. Facebook and Twitter are excellent sources of discussion on policy issues and government policy makers should be tracking what is said much like they monitor mainstream media reports. Too often government creates its own consultation forum that attracts little attention, while the public actively discusses the issue on social media sites. It seems to me that the public benefits when the government pays attention to this discussion. Users that tweet “at” a minister or use a searchable hashtag are surely hoping that someone pays attention to their comment. To see that government officials are tracking these tweets is a good thing, representing a win for individuals that speak out on public policy.

There certainly needs to be policies that ensure that the information is used appropriately and in compliance with the law, but if the current controversy leads to warnings against any tracking of social media, I fear that would represent a huge loss for many groups that have fought to have the government to pay more attention to their concerns.

April 29, 2014

Allowing freedom of speech also means allowing hate speech

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:24

Greg Lukianoff explains why free speech is so important and why attempts to restrict “hate speech” are toxic to the long term health of a culture or society:

Last month was a bittersweet seventh birthday for Twitter. The Union of Jewish French Students sued the social-media giant for $50 million in a French court in light of anti-Semitic tweets that carried the hashtag #unbonjuif (“a good Jew”). In January, Twitter agreed to delete the tweets, but the student group now wants the identities of the users who sent the anti-Semitic messages so that they can be prosecuted under French law against hate speech. Twitter is resisting. It claims that as an American company protected by the First Amendment, it does not have to aid government efforts to control offensive speech.

Internationally, America is considered radical for protecting speech that is highly offensive. But even in the U.S., Twitter should not be surprised to discover ambivalence and even outright hostility toward its principled aversion to censorship, especially in that once great institution for the open exchange of ideas: American higher education.

“Hate speech” is constitutionally protected in the United States. But the push against “hurtful” and “blasphemous” speech (primarily speech offensive to Islam) is gaining ground throughout the world. Last fall, for example, when many thought a YouTube video that satirized Mohammed caused a spontaneous attack on our consulate in Benghazi, academics across the country rushed to chide America for its expansive protections of speech. And as someone who has spent more than a decade fighting censorship on American college campuses, I run into antagonism toward free speech on a regular basis, most recently last month, when I spoke at Columbia Law School. After my speech, law professor Frederick Schauer criticized his American colleagues for not being more skeptical about the principle of free speech itself.

[…]

No doubt the open, anarchical, epistemological system that was celebrated in the Enlightenment — which Jonathan Rauch dubbed “liberal science” in his classic work on the value of freedom of speech, Kindly Inquisitors — has resulted in a flowering of creative and scientific thought. It has helped reveal what we consider to be objective facts (e.g., the Earth is an oblate spheroid; gravity is a fundamental force). But the free exchange of ideas benefits society not only by unearthing “Big T” truths; more importantly, it continually exposes mundane yet important pieces of information about the world. I will call this “Little t” truth. “Little t” truths include: who disagrees about what and why, what people feel about a particular issue, what events the newspapers think are important to report. The fact that Argo is a movie is truth, whether or not it represents an accurate view of history, as is the fact that some topics of discussion interest no one, while others are radioactive.

Twitter provides a powerful way to view the world. Never before have human beings been able to check the global zeitgeist with such immediacy and on such a massive scale. Its primary service is not to dispense the Platonic ideal of Truth (“the form of beauty = x”), but rather to provide unparalleled access to the peculiar thoughts, ideas, misconceptions, genuine wisdom, fetishes, fads, jokes, obsessions, and problems of a vast sea of people from different cultures, classes, countries, and backgrounds.

In order to be an effective mirror to global society, Twitter thinks of itself primarily as a platform and does its best to get out of the way. Therefore, we know things we simply would not know otherwise — from the trivial to the serious. The people who want to scour mass media and cleanse it of all hateful or hurtful opinions miss that their purge would deny us important knowledge. Simply put, it is far better to know that there are bigots among us than to pretend all is well. As Harvey Silverglate, co-founder of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I serve as president), likes to say, he supports free speech because he thinks it’s important that he know if there’s an anti-Semite in the room so he can make sure not to turn his back to that person.

April 17, 2014

Think carefully before clicking “Like” for a branded product

Filed under: Business,Law,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

Did you know that if you’ve “Liked” a product’s page on Facebook, you may have given up your right to sue the company?

Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights?

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.

“We’ve updated our Privacy Policy,” the company wrote in a thin, gray bar across the top of its home page. “Please note we also have new Legal Terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.”

The change in legal terms, which occurred shortly after a judge refused to dismiss a case brought against the company by consumers in California, made General Mills one of the first, if not the first, major food companies to seek to impose what legal experts call “forced arbitration” on consumers.

March 22, 2014

QotD: The “B-word”

Filed under: Media,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:27

To me, the Ban Bossy campaign is one of those unnecessary feel-good, pat-yourself-on-the-back schemes that puts lipstick on social media’s most dubious achievement, the sanctification of rampant self-promotion disguised as content. You could say it’s the Facebook-ization of feminism.

There’s even product placement. You can go the Ban Bossy website store and buy a Ban Bossy T-shirt, mug or tote. There’s even a Ban Bossy case for your iPhone 5. (Insert your own snarky Apple joke here.)

Big names — Beyoncé, Jennifer Garner, Melinda Gates — share inspirational quotes, to which no reasonable person could object because all of the edges have been blunted.

If ever there is a sign of the feminization of America, it could be that one Ban Bossy celebrity spokesman is former Gen. Stanley McChrystal. That’s right, the former head of NATO command in Afghanistan — whose swagger and irreverent attitude toward the Obama White House was so pronounced that he had to resign — has been reduced to piggybacking onto a campaign that exhorts little girls not to let themselves be stereotyped and suggests that teachers conduct “no interruptions” conversations so that every child has a chance to speak.

A wartime general wants to ban bossy? Why even have an army?

Debra J. Saunders, “Sheryl Sandberg, how about banning bossy billionaires?”, SFGate.com, 2014-03-19

Turkish Twitter users work to circumvent the government’s ban

Filed under: Europe,Government,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:00

In the Guardian, Constanze Letsch reports from Istanbul as users of Twitter actively flout the government’s peevish ban of the online service:

Turkish users of Twitter, including the country’s president, have flouted a block on the social media platform by using text messaging services or disguising the location of their computers to continue posting messages on the site.

In what many Twitter users in Turkey called a “digital coup”, Telecom regulators enforced four court orders to restrict access to Twitter on Thursday night, just hours after the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vowed to “eradicate” the microblogging platform in an election speech.

The disruption followed previous government threats to clamp down on the social media and caused widespread outrage inside and outside Turkey. In a first reaction to the ban, Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European commission, tweeted: “The Twitter ban in #Turkey is groundless, pointless, cowardly. Turkish people and intl community will see this as censorship. It is.”

Štefan Füle, EU commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, said in a statement: “The ban on the social platform Twitter.com in Turkey raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.”

The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly rose to the top trending term globally. According to social media agency We Are Social the number of tweets sent from Turkey went up 138% following the ban.

March 18, 2014

These buttons would be a vast improvement to the Facebook user interface

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:55

John Donovan posted this image, and I wholeheartedly agree that it really would make the Facebook experience so much more enjoyable:

Facebook needs these 24 buttons

Update: Whoops! Forgot the link to the original source.

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