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I Did Nazi Crustpunk Bar Fail, Redux [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. Updates to appear at bottom of post. /~Rayne]

Because you people will NOT stop whining about the bird-logoed crustpunk Nazi bar sinking even further below the waterline, I am putting up a dedicated post for that subject.

RULE NUMBER ONE: Nothing but Twitter and social media related comments allowed in this thread.

RULE NUMBER TWO: Do NOT take your comments about Twitter and other social media platforms to other threads.

RULE NUMBER THREE: See the first two rules, and don’t expect this site to have any power to do anything to change the crustpunk Nazi bar or other similarly centralized social media failures like Reddit and that scofflaw Meta (home of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp).

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 8:30 P.M. ET —

Here’s a rough tick-tock leading to today’s huge uptick in new Mastodon account sign-ups —

Wednesday, May 24 — Ron DeSantis’ live campaign launch via Twitter Spaces was an utter disaster; DeSantis’ supporters try desperately to put a positive spin on it.

Thursday, May 25 — Twitter’s chief engineer resigned.

Friday, May 26 — Apparently Twitter had not paid the software company which provided service for live video feeds used in Twitter Spaces.

Sunday, June 11 — Engadget reports there may be problems ahead for Twitter:

More platform instability could be in Twitter’s near future. In 2018, Twitter signed a $1 billion contract with Google to host some of its services on the company’s Google Cloud servers. Platformer reports Twitter recently refused to pay the search giant ahead of the contract’s June 30th renewal date. Twitter is reportedly rushing to move as many services off of Google’s infrastructure before the contract expires, but the effort is “running behind schedule,” putting some tools, including Smyte, a platform the company acquired in 2018 to bolster its moderation capabilities, in danger of going offline.

Thursday, June 29 — Some folks observe difficult sporadically with accessing Twitter links.

The New York Times reported new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino ordered Google to be paid after she spoke with the head of Google’s Cloud division.

Friday, June 30 — Persons attempting to access any Twitter page are unable to do so unless they are a logged-in registered user.

Elon Musk later confirmed access has been deliberately cut off for all outside users, claiming Twitter is being scraped aggressively.

There is a lot of speculation the service is degrading because Twitter didn’t pay Google, but NYT’s report suggested otherwise.

Saturday, July 1 — Twitter users note Twitter is down. Musk also tweets that users will be rate limited on the amount of tweets they can read each day.

Before the widespread outage, observers noted Twitter had been DDoS-ing itself:

Twitter and Mastodon user Sheldon Chang offered more detail:

Sheldon Chang 🇺🇸 @[email protected]
This is hilarious. It appears that Twitter is DDOSing itself.

The Twitter home feed’s been down for most of this morning. Even though nothing loads, the Twitter website never stops trying and trying.

In the first video, notice the error message that I’m being rate limited. Then notice the jiggling scrollbar on the right.

The second video shows why it’s jiggling. Twitter is firing off about 10 requests a second to itself to try and fetch content that never arrives because Elon’s latest genius innovation is to block people from being able to read Twitter without logging in.

This likely created some hellish conditions that the engineers never envisioned and so we get this comedy of errors resulting in the most epic of self-owns, the self-DDOS.

Unbelievable. It’s amateur hour.

#TwitterDown #MastodonMigration #DDOS #TwitterFail #SelfDDOS

Jul 01, 2023, 11:03 · Edited Jul 01, 13:02

You can see the videos he shared at the link above.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick offered his opinion about the rate limiting:

I don’t have words for this clusterfuck except to say I expected this level of fail and worse to come, even with a new CEO on board. Good luck, Yaccarino. I hope you got a guaranteed payout.

~ ~ ~

Meanwhile, at Mastodon:

Mastodon Users @[email protected]

12,916,975 accounts
+4,614 in the last hour
+34,484 in the last day
+108,119 in the last week

[Graphic alt text: Four time-based charts

Upper blue area: Number of Mastodon users
Upper cyan area: Hourly increases of number of users
Lower orange area: Number of active instances
Lower yellow area: Thousand toots per hour

For current figures please read the text of this post]
Jul 01, 2023, 19:00

~ ~ ~

If there is more news in the next 12-24 hours about Twitter, I will update this post.

Leaving Las Birdas

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Marcy asked Sunday about a checklist of actions:

It’d be useful for someone to put together a checklist for journalists to prepare for the inevitable banning: download archive, delete DMs and phone number, update Masto follows… What else?

I started drafting one but as I was doing so, Elmo was changing the rules. I had to toss some parts, rewrite others, do more research than I expected all because Elmo decided he was going to ban a journalist permanently (WaPo’s Taylor Lorenz) and ban all references to certain other social media platforms.

And then Musk did a 180-degree turn and deleted a bunch of the new rules late Sunday evening.

A flood of new users over the weekend combined with increased posting volume flooded Mastodon servers again, making everything a bit slow. It will speed up again once everything settles down into a new stasis.

Anyhow, here’s the list journalists probably could have used already.

1) Get your Archive — Do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you have requested an archive of your Twitter history which includes all your tweets, retweets, quote tweets, media, more.

— Select Settings and privacy.
— Choose Your account.
— Select Download an archive of your data.
— Confirm your password, then select Request archive.
— Watch for notice in your Settings within the next 2-5 days that your archive is ready to download. Don’t count on an email notification as those appear to be spotty.

This archive will not be readily readable to folks who don’t code, but there are tools to format it into readable structure.

2) Obtain 2FA backup passcodes — you need a way to access your account if Twitter’s 2FA service crashes. It has in Ukraine and India and spottily in the US since November 1.

Once you have your 2FA backup passcodes, make sure you have 2FA set up on your account. Next step will help a lot with 2FA.

3) Remove your phone number from your Twitter account. Lifehacker published a how-to. If you must keep a phone number attached, consider either switching it to a dedicated cheap burner or leave the existing number but get a new number wholly separate from Twitter for everything else.

Unauthorized use and sale of phone numbers may violate the FTC’s consent decree, but Musk has already proven repeatedly he doesn’t care what the FTC’s consent decree says, having violated it multiple times since taking control of Twitter. Don’t assume regulation can restrain him or that regulatory bodies in the U.S. or EU can act before the damage is done.

4) Leave contact information as to where else you can be found.

Musk is now suspending accounts for sharing Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, Post, Tribel, TruthSocial, Nostr addresses and links. To ensure readers can still obtain addresses at these platforms, try these alternatives:

— There are three open source link shorteners available which can mask an underlying link. See https://opensource.com/article/17/3/url-link-shortener for information about Lessn More, Polr, and Yourls; or

— Use Glitch.com to cite all your social media addresses and identities in one link. You can ‘hide’ your Mastodon address in it and use the URL on your Twitter profile;

— Another approach is to collect your identities and put them in an image file and add it to a pinned tweet (do not include any text referring to the image’s content). So far I haven’t seen any indication Twitter is using OCR to detect ‘forbidden’ addresses except perhaps in profile header images;

— If you already have a blog, you can draft a post or a page with all your contact information in it and link to that page/post. (I’ve done this, it’s very easy.)

5) Delete your Direct Messages (DMs) — this may take some time if you haven’t had a practice of deleting them as you go along. In the future use Signal for private messages with auto-deletion so you don’t have this albatross to deal with if you need to leave another social media platform.

Protect your sources and ask them to make sure they’ve deleted on their end as well.

6) Delete your Tweets — this is not a necessity and may actually cause problems if others have relied on your tweets in their reporting. Unlike DMs, tweets are assigned a unique URL; deleting one can create a 404 error for anyone who cited one of your tweets. Think long and hard about doing this.

It may be difficult to delete more than your last 3200 tweets. I couldn’t; the service I used choked on the copy of my archive for one of my accounts. So I left it as it was.

If you have sensitive tweets which could end up deleted by Twitter’s current or future regime, consider archiving them in the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

7) Pull a list of follows/followers if you’re headed to Mastodon — technically speaking, this information is in your archive copy but without the right tool it can be difficult for the non-coder to read. Use tools like Fedifinder or Twitodon to pull a list of follows/followers identifying those who’ve migrated to Mastodon already. Log into your Mastodon account and follow the emigres as desired.

8) Nuclear Options: a) Lock your account, or b) Deactivate/Delete your account.

a) Locking your account means it is only visible to your existing followers at the time it is locked. You won’t get spammed/trolled by non-following accounts while you’re locked. Other accounts may try to follow you but you’ll have to approve them and at this point most may be spammers or troll/bot accounts not worth your time to screen let alone approve.

b) Deactivating/Deleting your account will freeze your username for 30 days but after that the username is available for use by another new user. I do NOT recommend this; if your name is your brand, you don’t want someone misusing it. Just make sure the account is secured by 2FA and walk away.

Between my two accounts I have less than 3000 followers and I’d informed them the account was going on hiatus and left info on how to find me. I locked my accounts and haven’t logged back in.

9) Prep your other social media/future social media home — I’m not going to assume journalists are headed to Mastodon though many are. Some media figures are heading elsewhere.

— Make sure to update your other/new media accounts with new addresses as appropriate;

— Make sure you’ve activated 2FA or MFA secured logins on your other/new accounts;

— If you’re leaving Twitter, remove buttons and links from your social media accounts and — blog/website which take readers to your Twitter account;

— Share a post as soon as possible on your alternate platform(s) advising your status, and then make sure to sustain some level of consistency in posting there to develop audience.

10-a) If you are moving to Mastodon — find the circulating lists of journalists who’ve opened a Mastodon account. Follow your peeps from that list, have yourself added to that list.

an ongoing Google Doc of journalists prepared by Tim Chambers, administrator of indie.social (@[email protected]):

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13No4yxY-oFrN8PigC2jBWXreFCHWwVRTftwP6HcREtA/htmlview

The list is at least 1280 entries long. When clicking through the link above, note the link at the top to a form to collect new entry’s personal information.

an ongoing active list of verified journalists prepared by Dave Lee of the Financial Times (@[email protected]):

https://www.presscheck.org/

Caveat: Dave is swamped, there’s a backlog of requests by new accounts.

10-b) If you are moving to Mastodon — you have a lot to learn in a short period of time; make sure you understand how Mastodon’s culture differs from Twitter’s, and how the lack of algorithms and nominal analytics may change your mode of operation.

— YouTube video introduction by Jeff Jarvis (@[email protected]), journalism prof at CUNY Newmark School:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xnbct41Sxnk

— Introduction to Mastodon at Washington Post:

A guide to getting started with Twitter alternative Mastodon (gift link)

There was another intro at Wall Street Journal this weekend as well — which says something interesting, doesn’t it? I don’t have a link to it, though, as I don’t have a subscription.

~ ~ ~

Now, a note about reporting on Elmo and Twitter going forward: ARCHIVE TWEETS BEFORE REPORTING ABOUT THEM. Make this an automatic practice.

I’ve run in to a number of situations where journalists have posted in Mastodon about Twitter rules and Elmo’s tweets, sharing links to the Twitter-based content. Because I refuse to give Twitter traffic I copy the URL of the tweet and check the Internet Archive first for an archived copy instead.

I can’t tell you how many times the shared tweet url had NOT been archived, even this Sunday during the height of Musk-ian confusion about the new rule regarding mentions of social media competitors.

Do not trust Elmo not to delete content whether tweets or administrative content under Help, Twitter Support, or other Twitter organization account. Take a screenshot, document the hell out of it. Add any links to the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

Polititweet had been archiving Musk’s tweets including tracking those deleted, but I can’t be certain it’s up to date.

Just don’t trust him or the business he runs because it’s not the Twitter you once knew.

~ ~ ~

Go. Remember you’re supposed to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Do it from a better place than the circus Twitter has become.

Held Hostage by the Barmy Bird

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Of all the journalists suspended by Elmo on the bird site, I was bothered most by that of Voice of America’s Steve Herman.

I mentioned before he’s a straight news kind of guy. I’d followed his account at Twitter so far back I can’t remember which of us had a Twitter account first. He was one of the few early Twitter sources I could rely on for news about earthquakes in Japan. His coverage of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011 was invaluable.

But the most important factor about Herman’s suspension is that he is a U.S. government employee.

Herman works for us. He’s paid with our tax dollars.

And a single foreign-born billionaire offering weak excuses after the fact had OUR public employee suspended for doing their job.

Once again, I’ll point out that Elmo was exercising his own free speech rights by suspending journalists on the social media platform he owns.

Popehat said it better, of course:

Remember: Twitter is Elon’s company, he has the free speech and free association right to run it pretty much however he wants and to ban people for petty narcissistic reasons.

And we have the right to laugh and point at his ridiculousness and at the free-speech pretenses of his gullible fans.

But even Popehat said that on Mastodon.

Elmo may be within his rights to capriciously decide to suspend journalists, but in suspending VOA’s Herman it became crystal clear that the U.S. government should not allow its resources to be subject to the whim of a single individual when the entire country relies on those resources.

Thankfully, Herman was already on Mastodon before the suspension and has been ramping up posting on that open platform since he launched his account.

But it’s who else is NOT on Mastodon which is now a problem.

Every member of Congress who has an account on Twitter is vulnerable to suspension.

Every U.S. government department and agency still on Twitter is likewise at risk.

Let’s say Musk becomes annoyed with the Federal Aviation Administration because of its regulations on airspace and planes, commercial and private. Could he suspend the FAA’s account?

Or perhaps Musk gets his pants in a knot about National Aeronautics and Space Administration because he and NASA don’t see eye to eye about a SpaceX-related matter. Could he suspend NASA accounts (there are multiple for this agency).

One might say, “Surely Musk wouldn’t be stupid/crazed enough to do that.”

Except he’s already suspended one employee of a U.S. government agency, and holding that person’s account hostage until content is deleted from that person’s account.

Elmo might have the right to do this, but the U.S. should not be held hostage by a pasty excessively-monied git with an unmanaged ego.

Look at this situation from another angle: this is ransomware denying service to a user until a specific deliverable has been provided.

In VOA’s case, Musk by way of Twitter Safety has demanded Herman delete a tweet before service will be resumed.

How should a government agency respond to demands for ransom like this, when an open platform is ready and waiting to provide alternative service?

There’s no good reason why each department and agency is still on Twitter but not on Mastodon, nor is there any good reason why each member of Congress doesn’t have an account on Mastodon.

None of the work government departments, agencies, and employees do should be impeded by the private sector let alone by a single butt-hurt billionaire.

Contact your members of Congress and tell them this needs to be fixed going into the next session of Congress. Each of them and their caucuses need to have a non-commercialized open social media platform account.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121 or use Resist.bot (which has a Mastodon account, by the way).

After the Deluge: What’s Next on Mastodon for Journalism? [UPDATE-2]

[NB: check the byline, thanks. Updates at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

After Thursday’s Musk-ian tantrum booting off more than eight journalists from Twitter, there was a stampede of new users opening accounts on the open social media platform Mastodon.

It bogged down performance considerably on the largest servers. My timelines lagged by nearly three hours at one point on mstdn.social. But that was Friday; there wasn’t a lot of urgent news. We could afford the lag.

Though service improved greatly over 24 hours later, servers may still be throttled a bit. They’ll likely be upgraded over the next week or two depending on the instance and if traffic continues to level out over the next 48 hours.

The lag will be more obvious than some of the corporate-owned commercial platforms, but we’ve all seen now what the price is for the responsiveness of commercial Big Tech.

Besides, we’ve been here before during early rapid growth of a platform.

We’ll get through this.

~ ~ ~

Now that journalists have finally been confronted by the reality their go-to social media platform is run by an erratic narcissist, it’s time to ask what’s next.

Some of the outlets employing these journalists are already turning a blind eye to what happened now that Musk has lifted the suspension on several journalists. The selective approach should be yet another signal to media outlets that there is no return to normal. The big name outlets like CNN, NYT, NBC saw the ban on their journalists lifted, but the smaller independent outlets and freelance journalists are still suspended.

Among them are the only woman of color who was banned (Linette Lopez) and a commentator who’s retired from political commentary (Keith Olbermann). Hello racism, misogyny, ageism, and not a single complaint from the big media outlets about this because they’re not affected (wow, if that doesn’t say something else).

Not only is the Musk-ian problem of throttled journalism continuing, it will happen again. It’s just a matter of time before some other issue arises which trips Musk’s hair trigger and a journalist or outlet will be suspended.

(While I was writing this piece, Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz was suspended from Twitter without explanation. Her account also happens to be on the so-called antifa list circulated last month — surely just a coincidence, hmm?)

There’s purpose to this beyond an expression of Musk’s shallowness. It’s now a means to change the subject and redirect journalists’ attention — even away from some of the journalism being throttled.

What was it that Lopez reported which triggered Musk? Why isn’t that getting more attention?

And as I asked in my previous post, what really tripped the suspension of Matt Binder? Was it about Tesla’s performance?

This is among the what’s next actions: journalists and their employers need to stop getting played by Musk the same damned way they were played by another malignant narcissist who mastered undermining and marginalizing the media.

Stop navel gazing and start doing more and better reporting about Musk and his effect on free speech and press freedom.

Publish it on an open social media platform, which the narcissist’s platform isn’t.

Do that with all reporting.

~ ~ ~

Consultant Dan Hon has posted a few observations, assessments, and recommendations of media outlets’ next steps. He began writing about news organizations moving to open web platform Mastodon back in October just before Musk took ownership of Twitter, before journalists were banned:

— News outlets need a Mastodon instance;
— Instances should be associated with organization’s existing website URL to ease discovery while building on and enhancing brand;
— Instances should verify its journalists’ (and opinion columnists’) identities through the Mastodon instance;

Thursday’s journalists’ suspensions emphasize the importance of Hon’s recommendations. News media shouldn’t be held hostage by a single billionaire with an attitude, especially if these outlets don’t have financial relationship with that billionaire and his social media business.

It’s possible the big name media outlets whose journalists’ suspensions were lifted have or have had advertising purchases with Twitter which influenced Musk’s handling of the suspensions.

No outlet so far has copped to this though it’s certain some participate in Twitter’s video monetization program Amplify. We only know that some of the outlets begged for mercy *cough* asked for reconsideration of the suspensions.

The New York Times asked its reporters not get into confrontations with Musk in public view on Twitter.

In one case the news outlet has punished the journalist for their coverage of Musk. NBC dressed down Ben Collins and pulled him off coverage of Twitter for his tweets earlier in the month which were characterized as “not editorially appropriate.”

NBC’s behavior may have emboldened Musk.

Entities pleading with Musk like the American Foreign Service Association on behalf of VOA’s Steve Herman may only have fed Musk’s ego.

FreePress.net’s insistence Musk step aside as Twitter’s CEO is laughable given how much of his own wealth is invested in the business, not to mention Musk was exercising his own free speech rights suspending journalists.

None of these actions deal with the problem, which is that a media platform has been taken over by a billionaire fascist narcissist with no genuine interest in free speech and a free press.

Dealing with this effectively means building a better mousetrap which can’t be overtaken by a single person’s whims.

There have been some instances established on open platform Mastodon for some media outlets listed below:

— USA —
https://c.im/@ABC (bot)
https://c.im/@CNN (bot)
https://c.im/@NBC (bot)
https://journa.host/@onthemedia
https://journa.host/@[email protected]
https://mstdn.social/@RollingStone
https://newsie.social/@TheConversationUS
https://newsie.social/@themarkup
https://newsie.social/@Chalkbeat
https://newsie.social/@STAT
https://newsie.social/@ProPublica
https://newsie.social/@damemagazine
https://mastodon.world/@FAIR
https://mastodon.world/@foreignpolicy
https://mastodon.world/@theprospect
https://mastodon.social/@niemanlab
https://mastodon.social/@GovTrack

— US Local —
https://mastodon.social/@gbhnews
https://mastodon.social/@KCStar (bot)
https://texasobserver.social/@TexasObserver
https://newsie.social/@Chron
https://mastodon.tucsonsentinel.com/@TucsonSentinel
https://journa.host/@msfreepress
https://journa.host/@berkeleyscanner
https://sfba.social/sfchronicle
https://sfba.social/@sfgate
https://sfba.social/@sfstandard
https://sfba.social/@thevallejosun
https://verified.mastodonmedia.xyz/@theoregonian
https://mas.to/@sltrib

— Technology —
https://c.im/@Mashable (bot)
https://c.im/@Engadget (bot)
https://geeknews.chat/@arstechnica
https://mastodon.social/@macrumors
https://restof.social/@restofworld

— Sports —
https://c.im/@NBA (bot)
https://c.im/@NFL (bot)
https://c.im/@MLB (bot)
https://c.im/@NHL (bot)
https://c.im/@Soccer (bot)

— International —
https://botsin.space/@bbcworld (bot)(UK)
https://bylines.social/@BylinesNetwork (UK)
https://bylines.social/@BylinesScotland (Scot)
https://bylines.social/@BylinesCymru (Wales)
https://bylines.social/@YorksBylines (UK)
https://bylines.social/@NEBylines (UK)
https://bylines.social/@BylinesEast (UK)
https://bylines.social/@CentralBylines (UK)
https://bylines.social/@NWBylines (UK)
https://bylines.social/@KentBylines (UK)
https://bylines.social/@SussexBylines (UK)
https://bylines.social/@WEBylines (UK)
https://c.im/@BBC (bot)(UK)
https://c.im/@DW (bot)(German)
https://mastodon.social/@riffreporter (German)
https://mamot.fr/@lesjoursfr (France)
https://mamot.fr/@mdiplo (France)
https://piaille.fr/@Vert_le_media (France)
https://piaille.fr/@politis (France)
https://amicale.net/@lemondefr (bot)(France)
https://masto.ai/@linforme (France)
https://mastodon.social/@Reporterre (France)
https://mastodon.social/@Mediapart (France)
https://mastodon.social/@citizenlab (Canada)
https://mastodon.social/@rferl (International, Ukraine)

Note those marked (bot) — these may not have been established by the news organization but instead by some other entity whose identity is not clear. They are cross-posting news headlines from somewhere, possibly Twitter. Each (bot) is a failure; it may share the organization’s news articles faithfully, but the site isn’t verified and its posts will never answer any questions from readers. It’s a loss of control over IP and branding, at a minimum.

The real successes are those which set up their own instances, like the Texas Observer. Best in class is the Bylines Network which has not only established an instance but accounts for each of its local news subsidiaries. Ideally this is what news organizations like Gannett or McClatchy would do with their network of local papers.

Of course these are all news outlets which still focus on print; television news should take the same approach.

And all of the journalists who report for these entities should have verified accounts with their employers’ instance.

Not a single thin dime need be spent on Twitter Blue to achieve verification.

Every instance is an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with readers in ways Twitter couldn’t provide. Because Mastodon is RSS friendly, every one of the news outlets above can be followed with an RSS reader by simply adding .rss to each address and then adding the address to a preferred RSS reader.

~ ~ ~

Why haven’t or won’t media outlets migrate to an instance on open platform Mastodon? As Don Hon wrote, it’s a bunch of work! It needs maintenance not unlike a website, and it needs a level of creative thinking which Twitter/Facebook/Instagram haven’t required because they’ve been fairly stable for years. The open web and the Fediverse is terra nova for news organizations, and it will take some craftiness to develop an new media ecosystem with measures to determine success of any invested effort.

It’s also too tempting to look at another billionaire-funded closed platform like Post.news and assume from its polished finish that this might return media outlets to normalcy.

Sadly, no. Many users are turned off by what has been characterized as a hollow echo chamber effect with little community building.

There are still more opportunities but each has has major drawbacks. Hive.social has had a major security problem; Jimmy Wales’ WT.social in beta phase is based in the UK and subject to entirely different laws regulating speech and intellectual property; no one wants to go back to relying on Facebook or Instagram, and LinkedIn wasn’t designed for the kind of community usage Twitter has had.

I have yet to hear anyone express interest in Jack Dorsey’s BlueSky which is still in development.

At some point media outlets need to face reality, as UCLA Associate Professor of Information Studies Dr. Sarah T. Roberts explained:

As people are leaving Bird for good, I find that many are engaged in what I believe is a dangerous and misguided game of mixing apples and oranges. After what just happened, and all that it has revealed about reliance on for-profit corporate entities for interpersonal and community interaction, why advocate for another such environment? Substack is already known garbage, and Post provides no future-proofing. When I say, “seize the means of your social media production,” this is why.

Seize the means, indeed.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 12:15 P.M. ET 18-DEC-2022 —

Community member Laura Hoey informed us The Oregonian (OregonLive.com) has a Mastodon account. I’ve added it to the list of local news outlets above.

It’s a particularly interesting addition because the host instance, https://verified.mastodonmedia.xyz, is a dedicated server for use by journalists or media personalities. The owner/operator is Matt Karolian, who describes himself as “Boston Globe by day, Mastodon Admin by night.”

If you know of a local news outlet which has a Mastodon account but isn’t on the list above, let me know in comments and I’ll add it as long as comments are open on this post. Thanks!

UPDATE-2 — 3:50 P.M. ET 18-DEC-2022 —

Another local news outlet added to the list, courtesy of community member Katrina Katrinka. See Salt Lake Tribune at https://mas.to/@sltrib.

If you are a newer user of Mastodon and find the site laggy, it’s because of a crush of new accounts and more posts. I’m trying to write yet another post which should address the reason for this influx.

Live Thread: U.S. Senate Commerce Hearing with Facebook Whistleblower [UPDATE-5]

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

The Senate Commerce Committee is conducting a hearing right now; Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is currently testifying before the committee.

You can watch the hearing at C-SPAN at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?515042-1/whistleblower-frances-haugen-calls-congress-regulate-facebook

You can also catch up with the backstory leading into this hearing by catching CBS’s 60 Minutes feature from this past weekend at:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-misinformation-public-60-minutes-2021-10-03/

Haugen is the former Facebook insider who leaked corporate documents to the Wall Street Journal several months ago, culminating in reports published a couple weeks ago. Sadly, the work is paywalled.

These are the key points WSJ reported on based on the documents:

– Facebook internal documents outline an exempt elite who can operate without prohibitions.

– Facebook’s Instagram platform knowingly relies on toxicity dangerous to teen girls.

– Facebook’s 2018 tweaks to algorithms heightened polarization between users.

– Facebook’s response to known use by organized crime from trafficking to drugs is grossly ineffectual.

– Facebook’s own algorithms undermined Zuckerberg’s efforts to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.

All this in addition to its complicity inciting genocide of more than 25,000 Rohingya minority members in Myanmar means that Facebook is beyond toxic. It’s deadly.

I’ll update this post with additional content. Share your comments related to Facebook, social media, and today’s hearing in this thread.

~ ~ ~

On a personal note: I don’t use Facebook for many of the reasons outlined in Haugen’s disclosures and the reasons that the Federal Trade Commission issued a consent decree against Facebook back in 2011 (which Facebook violated, resulting in a $5 billion fine in 2020).

I already had strong doubts about Facebook because my oldest child was bullied by a classmate on the first day they opened a Facebook account. They had begged me to let them open an account and in spite of all my precautionary measures and coaching, they were still tormented immediately and out of view of the other student’s parents.

That was more than 14 years ago. Think of what 14 years of this kind of behavior alone will do to our children and young adults, let alone what troll farms masquerading as children on line will do to them.

And now we know Facebook has known about this toxicity targeting young women and girls, and that it has continued to develop a platform aimed at monetizing children and teens’ use of social media.

Kill it now.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 12:30 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

I missed the earliest part of the hearing, am now going back through earlier portions.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) at 9:27 am expresses reluctance to break up companies or deem social media platforms to be utilities, calling it heavy handed.

Uh, not heavy enough. Yesterday’s outage proved Facebook is a communications system when WhatsApp went down with Facebook and Instagram.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) is prodding about regulatory oversight. Haugen says Facebook’s closed system traps the company and prevents them from changing their operations – a closed loop which it can’t break – and government intervention through oversight would break that loop for them.

Nation-state surveillance comes up next; Facebook could see other countries surveilling users. Haugen says the U.S. has a right to protect Americans from this kind of exposure.

UPDATE-2 — 12:36 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Live hearing again. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) says he sent a letter to Facebook about related concerns well before this hearing. He asks Haugen about age restrictions for users; she feels the restriction should be changed to 16-18 years of age because of teens’ weaker impulse controls and concerns about addictive behaviors.

How to screen for age is tricky, IMO. Kids have gotten around this and parents have been just plain neglectful.

UPDATE-3 — 12:47 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (calls Facebook a “black box,” designed as such by Mark Zuckerberg, referencing legal obligations under Section 230.

Haugen adjusts the point he’s making by noting Facebook had said it could lie to the courts because it had immunity under Section 230.

Well that explains why Zuckerberg believes he can lie to Congress as well, as he has in at least one hearing, and why a representative for Facebook lied just this week to Congress in spite of Facebook documents liberated by Haugen proving otherwise.

Haugen says she doesn’t like seeing people blaming parents. Sorry, too bad — as a parent I know the ultimate authority over internet use at home with parent-funded devices is the parent, and I know far too many parents are just plain lazy when not willfully uniformed about social media use. More parents should have been up in their representatives’ faces all along about social media’s impact on their children.

UPDATE-4 — 12:55 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Haugen is responding to questions from Sen. Todd Young (R-IN). She says Facebook knows how vulnerable people are who’ve had big life changes like divorce or death of a friend/loved one, how they can lose touch with surrounding community in real life because they are framing their perspective on thousands of distortive posts on Facebook.

She also doesn’t believe in breaking up Facebook.

Too fucking bad. The outage yesterday proved Facebook needs to be broken up.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has been given a copy of a tweet by a Facebook employee, Andy Stone, who rebuts Haugen’s credibility based on her work experience. Blackburn invites Mr. Stone and Facebook to be sworn in and testify instead.

You know there will be more concerted attacks on Haugen’s credibility. Sure hope there’s nothing on her in Facebook’s data.

UPDATE-5 — 1:06 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asks about Facebook studying children under 13 about eating disorder and whether the company is pushing eating disorder-related content children that age. Haugen implies they are getting ground this by encouraging inauthentic accounts.

Klobuchar asks about banning outside researchers; Haugen says the blocking is an indication that federal oversight is necessary when Facebook goes so far out of its way to block them.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) says he sent a letter to Facebook ten years ago asking if the company was going to collect data on child users on its platform, and now Congress is back revisiting the issue. He plugs further regulation including controls on AI.

Haugen earlier in this hearing said AI was a known problem referring to bias.

Markey brings up the Children’s Television Act of 1990 he authored which protects kids up to age 12.

Sounds like Facebook must have used this as a jumping point for its existing prohibition on accounts for those under age 13.

Haugen responds to Markey saying removing Likes/Comments/Reshares which encourage more engagement aren’t enough to protect children. They’re still exposed to dangerous “extreme and polarizing” content.

Markey asks if Haugen thinks any visible measures of content popularity should be removed on content for children – she’s not quite as forceful on this as his question about removing targeted ads aimed at children to which she’s firmly agreed.

Not All Influencers Are Celebrities on YouTube

[NB: Note the byline. ~Rayne]

There’s something hinky going on with news curation in Twitter. The story at the top of the Moments/Trends yesterday in the mobile app was this one:

We now know the GOP anticipated additional accusers when the story above was published. This morning the story at the top of Twitter’s mobile U.S. news feed is this one:

Which seems really odd that both of these stories push the White House/GOP angle promoting the troubled nomination of Brett Kavanaugh by attacking accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s credibility.*

Meanwhile, the New Yorker story by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow about a second victim alleging an assault by Kavanaugh published last evening set Twitter timelines ablaze immediately and overnight. Yet that story isn’t the one at the top of Twitter’s US News this morning.

Is this an example of poor or biased curation by Twitter? Or is this the effect of a public relations campaign (by a firm like CRC for which Ed Whelan has worked) paying to promote a news article without any indication to the public that this elevation has happened?

Would such a PR-elevated piece written by a news outlet ever fall under the scrutiny of the Federal Trade Commission as YouTube influencers’ embedded promotions have recently? Or would it slip by without the public’s awareness because it’s First Amendment-protected content?

The Federal Communications Commission won’t want to touch this subject because its chair Ajit Pai won’t want to open up a can of worms about the internet and its content as a regulated commodity like broadcast radio and television.

The Federal Election Commission hasn’t looked at news-as-campaign-ads when such content is produced in the U.S. related to an unelected/appointed official position.

Google News is a little better this morning:

Note the position of the New Yorker piece in the feed. But it’s not clear how any of the news related to Kavanaugh surfaces to the top of Google’s news feed due to a lack of transparency let alone a particular story. The public doesn’t know if there have been any attempts to manipulate the elevation/submersion of a news story favorable/unfavorable to any subject including unelected/appointed officials.

As a majority of Americans increasingly obtain their news online instead of by broadcast or print media, we’re going to need more clarity about social media’s role as a publishing platform and whether social media giants are still being used to manipulate public opinion.

__________

* First image is the expanded version as I didn’t realize at time of screenshot there would be a relationship between top of Twitter news feed on September 23 and this morning’s top of news feed. All images in this story are used under Fair Use for purposes of media criticism

Parkland and the Twittered Revolt

Marvel at the teen survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Their composed rage is terrifying to a generation or two which have not seen the like since the 1960s and early 1970s. They are leading a revolution — but note the platform they’re using to best effect.


I can’t tell you how much use they are making of Facebook as I haven’t used it in several years. What I find telling is the dearth of links to students’ and followers’ Facebook posts tweeted into my timeline. I also note at least one MSD student exited Facebook after receiving death threats.

Twitter’s platform allows the authenticity and immediacy of the students’ communications, as easy to use as texting. There’s no filter. For whatever reason, parents haven’t taken to Twitter as they did Facebook, leaving the micro-blogging platform a space without as much adult oversight.

These attributes terrify the right-wing. There’s nothing limiting the reach of students’ messages — no algorithms slow their tweets. The ability to communicate bluntly, efficiently, and yet with grace has further thrown the right. The right-wing’s inability to accept these students as legitimately speaking for themselves and for their fellow students across the country is an expression of the right’s cognitive dissonance.

The students’ use of Twitter redeems the platform, asserting its true value. It’s 180 degrees from the problems Twitter posed as a toxic cesspool filled with trolls and bots. Parkland’s tragedy exposes what Twitter should be, what Twitter must do to ensure it doesn’t backslide.

Minors shouldn’t have to put up with bullying — especially bullying by adults. Donnie Trump Jr. is one of the worst examples of this bullying and should be booted out of the platform. Other adult bullies have also emerged but Twitter’s user base is ruthless in its swiftness, dealing a coup de grâce to Laura Ingraham’s sponsorships.

If only Twitter itself was as swift in ejecting bullies and trolls. Troll bots continue to flourish even after a large number were removed recently. Victims of tragedies should expect an ethical social media platform to eliminate trolls and bots promptly along with bullies.

Ethical social media platforms also need to ask themselves whether they want to make profit off products intended to maim and kill. Should it allow certain businesses to use promoted tweets to promote deadly products, or allow accounts for lobbying organizations representing weapons manufacturers as well as owners? Should Twitter remove the NRA just as it doesn’t permit accounts representing tobacco products?

Not to mention avoiding Facebook’s ethical crisis — should Twitter be more proactive in protecting its users now that Parkland’s Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School students have revitalized its brand?

In Praise of Day Two

I know everybody is looking at that thing right now on social media. Hang back — don’t tell me what’s happening with the active shooter. Don’t tell me about the flood in progress. I don’t need to know about the skewed path of the car or the janky homemade bomb that might have gone off a thousand miles from me. I don’t even need to know the path of the plume that might be spreading into that community, far from me.

I can wait for these stories. In fact, there’s nothing else I can do in the vast, truly vast, majority of cases.

I am not saying I want to be ignorant, I’m not for shutting off all the news. I would like to be aware, expand and deepen my understanding of the world. I would like to be able to position myself to act constructively, where I can. I would like to be in a position to inform and contextualize events for myself and others. But right now, the way we consume the news does the opposite. And that’s on you, dear reader. It’s understandable, and it’s natural, but it’s on you.

About a year into my journalism career my old editor sent me off to cover the launch of a very difficult to understand piece of technology. The specifics aren’t germane, but I had kept an eye on this for six months, and I was eager to cover it. I also had to get someone home from the hospital that day, so I knew filing on time wasn’t going to be easy. Still, I made the event, and hung around doing on and off the record interviews, looking at how everyone from schools to defense contractors were thinking about using this tech. I never got to publish my story. I was too late to file and my frustrated editor said we’d turn it into a day two story. We ran a wire story instead of mine. When I got up the next morning and read through everyone else’s coverage, I felt mightily vindicated. Nearly everyone had misunderstood the tech, just about every story was wrong. The ones that weren’t were just uninformative. I went and triumphantly pointed this out to my editor, and he said something that would shape my career ever after: “It doesn’t matter if you’re right, if no one reads you.”

It was true, and it hit me hard, harder than I think he realized. I could chase the scoop, I could evolve into the hot take, the fast and consolidated posts of tech news, with the occasional in-depth reporting as a reward for other work. But I was pretty sure I would not only be bad at all of those things, I would be miserable. But that was also the path to a staff job, benefits, something tangible for a resume. That was the career path, and I was on it.

I decided that if I couldn’t write the first story, then I’d try to write the last. I turned down a contract and said I’d stick with piecework. I decided that I could write slow, and build a mutual trust with my readers: I will put in the work, and you will click the link, after you’ve waited, because you know I’ve put in the work.

This has gone remarkably well for my career. Maybe not in money, but in every other way. I did work that was defining, work that came back to me in other art and media, in forms I never expected. I got to bring a depth into my writing that I’m proud of. Some pieces took a few days, or weeks, and some, I’ve been working on for years.

Looking at this way of producing information for you, and how much richer it’s been, sent me back to thinking about how I consume information, back to thinking about that day two story that sent my career in such a different direction. Those stories were still all wrong, and that was a fucking product launch. If that was so bad, what the hell was happening with wars and disasters and complex geopolitics? It was pretty clear by the 2000s we were getting all those wrong too. It’s only gotten worse from there. We all know it’s a disaster, and surely it’s Facebook’s fault, but I saw this starting before Facebook was a thing. I saw this before I was a journalist—back in the days of cable news. Facebook made it worse, but only because we wanted them to make it worse.

Right now we are swamped in news that is ultravioletly hyperemotional. You can actually feel media fritzing out your nervous system, and it’s not a metaphor. Media is an exhausting physical experience of fight or flight. I can watch and listen and read things delivered to me all day that make me feel like I’m dying, or like I want to die, from this quiet flat in this sedate neighborhood of Luxembourg*. It switches up, changes from one life ending moment to the next, a constant feed of urgency and importance we are addicted to like junkies who never even got to chase a high.

We chase lows. Lows feel important. But are they? For the people on the scene, they certainly are. But news is rarely written for the people who are being directly affected by events. They’re using direct and localized communications. The eviction, the hurricane, the shelter-in-place order, where your children are. The cancer diagnosis, the suicide, the kid who just OD’d. No one thinks you should read the news when these things are going on in your own life. You are the news, you are the statistic, but at the moment you’re the only one allowed to prioritize for action rather than emotion.

When it’s not about you, when you’re not there, all you do is respond with emotion. Rarely does our immediate emotional response help anyone, anywhere. Our informed awareness can help people, it can help the whole damn world, but there’s little academically, and even less in recent global results, to show that grabbing emotions creates informed awareness that people act on productively.

Here’s what I propose: Slow it down. If you’re hundreds of miles away, and not trying to find your family, wait for Day Two. Look for stories with depth and context that may not stimulate you, make you want to run and smash things or rip out your wallet at once. Maybe even wait for that news source trying to write the last story, outlets like Reveal and ProPublica are good for this. Consider the usefulness of you knowing something and where it fits into your ability to see the world and act before you decide to spend some of your precious time on Earth and limited mental space. Construct what you know out of quality information, don’t just consume everything and try to make something meaningful out of it later. That’s not your job. Let me, and my colleagues in the slow news business do our jobs, and give you something healthier for you, for us, for the whole damn planet. Day two stories, and the slow news they represent have always been what lets the body politic think and act like a better creature. It’s also hard in this environment of constant urgency and heightened emotionality, and stress makes it worse. But when we slow it down, when we take responsibility for how we construct our knowledge, we don’t make as many mistakes and we don’t get played so easily by bad actors.

Day one is always feelings, and day one feels like the story you need. Day two is when we can start to get it right. Wait for day two. Wait for next week, wait for the story that needs you.

 

 

*All the neighborhoods of Luxembourg are sedate.

My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon.

Truck-sized Holes: Journalists Challenged by Technology Blindness

[photo: liebeslakritze via Flickr]

[photo: liebeslakritze via Flickr]

Note: The following piece was written just before news broke about Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden. With this in mind, let’s look at the reporting we’ve see up to this point; problems with reporting to date may remain even with the new disclosures.

ZDNet bemoaned the failure of journalism in the wake of disclosures this past week regarding the National Security Administration’s surveillance program; they took issue in particular with the Washington Post’s June 7 report. The challenge to journalists at WaPo and other outlets, particularly those who do not have a strong grasp of information technology, can be seen in the reporting around access to social media systems.

Some outlets focused on “direct access.” Others reported on “access,” but were not clear about direct or indirect access.

Yet more reporting focused on awareness of the program and authorization or lack thereof on the part of the largest social media firms cited on the leaked NSA slides.

Journalists are not asking what “access” means in order to clarify what each corporation understands direct and indirect access to mean with regard to their systems.

Does “direct access” mean someone physically camped out on site within reach of the data center?

Does “direct access” mean someone with global administrative rights and capability offsite of the data center? Some might call this remote access, but without clarification, what is the truth?

I don’t know about you but I can drive a Mack truck through the gap between these two questions.

So which “direct access” have the social media firms not permitted? Which “direct access” has been taken without authorization of corporate management? ZDNet focuses carefully on authorization, noting the changes in Washington Post’s story with regard to “knowingly participated,” changed later to read “whose cooperation is essential PRISM operations.”

This begs the same questions with regard to any other form of access which is not direct. Note carefully that a key NSA slide is entitled, “Dates when PRISM Collection Began For Each Provider.” It doesn’t actually say “gained access,” direct or otherwise. Read more